In 2013 the Formosan Clouded Leopard was officially declared extinct. Its population had been declining due to extensive logging of its natural habitat in Southern Taiwan. But why should we care? What’s one extinction when so many species are declared threatened, endangered, or extinct all the time? What difference does it make?
The difference it makes is we did not know what potential this animal had, and didn’t really know what role it might have played, just like any other of these organisms we doom. Species of organisms are found all the time that have medicinal applications, some have even changed history.
Penicillin, which is used as an antibiotic to counter many diseases that were once very dangerous, was discovered in 1928 by Alexander Fleming who derived it from the fungi Penicillium. This fungus has also been a major food spoiler throughout history. Prior to the discovery of medical applications, we probably would have rid the world of the fungus were we able. We take for granted many different organisms just because they are a nuisance, or seem like they don’t do anything, but for the good of humanity, we can’t just dismiss them.
It’s not always just the one organism that is affected. The removal or reduction of a species can have huge effects on the area. We all know and hate the ridiculously large amounts of seaweed that washes up on our beaches and makes the coast smell like rotting fish. Have you ever wondered why there is so much? The answer is because a single species was removed from the ecosystem.
The sea otter was hunted to near annihilation between the 1700s’ and 1900s’ for its exquisite fur. The sea otters primary diet consisted of sea urchins and abalone, and following the otter’s removal, these populations exploded. The sea urchins main source of food is giant kelp, and as a result many kelp forests in California have been devastated beyond recovery. Unfortunately for us though, urchins will eat the roots of the kelp. This results in the kelp being cut loose and huge amounts floating to the surface and onto our beaches to begin decaying. So, our beaches smell like death, but at least we get fur coats.
We cannot predict the effects of a loss of a species but we can help prevent it. The natural rate of extinction for species is about five a year however, with human activities, this has increased to between 1,000 and 10,000. This range is so wide because we just don’t know how much damage we are actually causing. But this can be reduced through green practices. Recycling, driving less, conserving energy and many more, are ways we can reduce our impact.
Each of these species has a place and is where they are for a reason. Any reduction in a population should be dealt with extreme care and caution. We cannot save everything, but we can do our best help those that are not yet lost.