On Earth Day, how we play a role in extinction

BY Elizabeth Shell  April 22, 2014 at 5:06 PM EST
A white rhinoceros. Photo by Wikimedia user Coralie

A white rhinoceros. Photo by Wikimedia user Coralie

There are more than 40,000 endangered species in the world — plants, animals, mollusks, reptiles, etc. — according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources’s Red List.

How much of that is due to us?

“The majority of species listed on the Red List are threatened or endangered due to human activities, such as loss of habitat, direct killing, climate change, etc.,” said Matt Lewis of the World Wildlife Fund.

However, “some species are naturally found in very small numbers or in very specific or isolated habitats, which puts them at risk of extinction naturally. Think of examples such as certain cave species that have evolved very specific ecological niches restricted to only one particular habitat. A natural disaster could wipe out that species through no fault of human disturbance at all.”

But sometimes humans can have positive impact.

“The Southern White Rhinoceros is one of the most compelling species recovery stories of all time,” Lewis said. “From less than 100 at the turn of the 20th century to over 20,000 today.”

We’ll have more from Matt Lewis and animal extinction soon.