We all remember the story of the dodo well, the fearless, flightless bird native to Mauritius which was driven to extinction by hunters, because it was such an easy prey. Rampant hunting and deforestation caused this highly populated bird to become extinct in less than a century, which was barely noticed initially but brought to light the danger of human intervention in extinction of an entire species! But it is not the only species in the world to have gotten extinct in recent times. Evolution does naturally cause certain species to become extinct through natural selection, but this slow process has been picking up great pace due to human involvement and activities. Deforestation, hunting, poaching, global warming have all contributed to this; and the twentieth century saw several species of animals driven to extinction, ten of which are:
10. Cascade Mountain wolf
Also known as the brown wolf, it was of medium size and had a grayish brown coat. Found in abundance in southwestern Canada and in Northern California, North American Pacific Coast Mountains, very little is known about these wolves. Their numbers began to subside due to the rampant hunting of these wolves during the twentieth century on account of the danger possessed to livestock and sheep of the settlers, by these wolves. With government announcing bounties this species was gradually driven to extinction by 1941.
9. Caribbean Monk seal
Native to the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico and the West Atlantic Ocean, these seals grew up to 8 feet and were brownish or grayish in colour. They lived in groups of 20- 40 and were docile by nature which made them easy to hunt. In the 17th century widespread hunting of the seals were carried out by plantation owners to obtain oil for lubrication of plantation machinery, and also by fisherman for oil for their lamps. By and large, their numbers had greatly reduced by the end of the 19th century due to the nonstop hunting for the oil in their blubbers. Another reason that contributed to their diminishing numbers was the reduction in fish and crustacean numbers due to overfishing in the reefs, which reduced the food supply for the seals, that died due to starvation, or stopped reproducing due to lack of food. By the beginning of the 20th century, they were barely seen anymore with only a few countable reported sightings, of which the last confirmed sighting was in 1952 at Serranilla bank between Jamaica and Nicaragua. They were declared to be in the endangered list in 1967, but after several expeditions by the NOAA there was no sign of these seals, and finally in 2008 it was confirmed that they had become extinct.
8. Barbary Lion
Also known by the name Atlas lion, Barbary lions were native to North Africa. Reputed to be the largest and heaviest of the lion subspecies, they were used by the Romans to battle with gladiators in the Colosseum. Also considered exotic, they were given as gifts to Ethiopian and Moroccan royals. Slowly dwindling in numbers since the early eighteenth century, based on sightings and observations, they existed in surprisingly small numbers in only Morocco and Algeria in the twentieth century, and the last known sighting of the Barbary lion was one that was killed by a hunter in 1922. But according to recent research there might have been several Barbary lions still alive in 1965, but which soon became extinct.Several circus and zoos claim to have this species in captivity, but most environmentalists agree it is an extremely rare possibility that we may not have lost such an amazing animal after all.
7. Dusky Seaside Sparrow
Endemic to Florida’s Merritt Island, these black and white birds thrived in abundance in the moist cold grass at 10 to 15 feet above sea level for nesting, making its habitat requirements particularly specialized. It was this limitation that led to its extinction in 1987. Its decline started with the spraying of harmful DDT in the marsh next to the Kennedy space centre in 1940, for mosquito control. The marshy habitat surrounding the rivers, were drained for construction of highways and for real estate development. Eventually only seven male dusky seaside sparrows were alive in 1979, and the attempts for cross breeding were failures, leading to their extinction.
6. Carolina Parakeet
Found from southern New York and Wisconsin to the Mexican gulf, it was the only species of parrot indigenous to the eastern United States. Once existent in numerous numbers in the tree hollows of the cypress swamps, these gorgeous, colourful birds were declared extinct in 1939 by the American ornithologists union. Their extinction could be caused due to several reasons, but the confirmed reason is yet unknown. It is widely speculated that this vibrant parakeet with green, yellow and blood orange plumage was widely hunted for its feathers as well as trapped to be sold as caged pets. Apart from deforestation in the 1800’s, they were also slaughtered in large numbers by farmers whose orchard fruits were being destroyed by swarms of parakeets. By the end of the nineteenth century their population had greatly reduced, and the last known parakeets named Lady Jane and Incas died in the Cincinnati zoo in 1917 and 1918 respectively. Though there were reported sightings of these birds in the 1920’s and 1930’s, they were never confirmed.
5. Arabian Ostrich
Formerly found in the open desert and desert plains of the Middle East, it is believed that this species existed since prehistoric times based on ancient carvings and drawings. Considered as an exotic gift for emperors in the tang china, as food for the Romans, these ostriches also came to represent wealth and prosperity for the Islamic faith. With the introduction and rising use of firearms and vehicles it became easier to hunt these fast paced creatures than it was before with bow and arrows. Their numbers had declined considerably by the beginning of the twentieth century,and the last reported sighting was that of an ostrich dying in a flood in south Jordan. A sad end to such a beautiful bird that had inspired several generations before us, the Arabian ostrich became extinct in the twentieth century.
4. Golden Toad
Small sized toads, measuring about 2- 2.2 inches, the males were brilliant bright golden orange in colour with shiny skin while the females were dark olive to black with yellow rings encircling red spots. Usually observed in large numbers during their mating season in April, they are believed to have lived under fallen leaves in moss in high altitude, cloud covered tropical forests in Monteverde city in Costa Rica. First discovered in 1964, these vivid coloured creatures disappeared around the 1990’s and were announced extinct in 1992! With no concrete proof of the cause of their extinction, there are several theories postulated to explain the reason. The first reason is attributed to the climate change in 1986 and 1987 where the rainfall at Monteverde was severely low causing high temperatures and dry weather. Amphibians are sensitive to climactic changes,and tadpoles need moisture to survive; which could have led to their decline. Another reason could be the spread of chytridiomycosis, a fungal disease which thickens the skin and gradually causes suffocation. Other factors could be UV-B radiation exposure and El-Nino southern oscillation which caused rapid drying up of mating pools.
One of Australia’s most fabled species of marsupials, Thylacine more popularly known as the Tasmanian tiger was declared extinct in 1936. Resembling a large long dog with stripes a large head and a heavy stiff tail, they were shy, quiet and secretive and were the world’s largest marsupial carnivores. In the nineteenth century they were widespread in only Tasmania owing to competition from Dingos for habitat in the rest of Australia. Their decline started soon after the arrival of European settlers in Australia. Considered as a threat to their livestock, the government in the 19th century introduced a bounty scheme to get rid of them. Every effort was made to eradicate this species by snaring, trapping, shooting and poisoning them. But a sudden plunge in their numbers occurred only in the beginning of the 20th century due to the added danger of habitat loss. By 1910 they became a rarity and began to be sought by zoos all over the world. The last Thylacine was captured in Florentine valley and sold to the Hobart zoo in 1933 where it died in 1936. In 1986 after several failed searches, Thylacine was declared extinct by international standards.
2. Caspian Tiger
This royal creature also called Persian tiger was found widely in Iran, Azerbaijan, and Afghanistan, turkey, Mongolia, Iraq and other neighbouring countries. Believed to be closely related to the Siberian tiger, its genetic roots can be traced to a million years ago. Growing to a height of nearly ten feet, it had a thick reddish coat which was striped. It mostly inhabited the regions near the drainage basins among the reeds, preferring to hunt while hidden in dense vegetation. In Russian central Asia, these tigers began to be killed prior to human settlement during the early twentieth century. Hunted and poached for their pelts and as a threat to livestock, they were also deprived of their natural habitat which began to be cleared for cultivation and settlement, and the overuse of water for irrigation in the cotton fields ruined the ecosystem balance hence making the other riverbed regions uninhabitable for the Caspian tigers. By the 1950s their population had reduced drastically and though hunting was banned in 1947, poaching wiped out the remaining individual numbers of this species by 1970s, depriving the world of this magnificent animal.
1. Passenger Pigeon
One of the most shocking extinction stories of any species, the passenger pigeons which were probably at one point of time one of the most abundant birds in the world. They made their habitat in the forests that covered North America east of the Rocky Mountains, and there were sightings in Cuba, Burma and Mexico. According to the nineteenth century estimates their population was anywhere close to 1 billion to 4 billion, and it is believed that their during migration, flocks flying overhead were so dense and large, they could be seen for hours! A member of the pigeon and dove family Columbidae, it had a slate blue head and rump, slate gray back, and a brownish red breast. The tail had white outer edges with black spots. During the nineteenth century, their numbers began to dwindle due to the deforestation of the North American woodlands, which caused a loss of habitat and food. Apart from that they were shot for sport and food, since young pigeons were regarded a delicacy. Their extinction started with the large scale commercial hunting that began in the 1800’s since it was a cheap source of meat, killing about 600, 000 a year. The females laid only one egg hence their reproduction rate could not match up to their rapid death rate, and by the 1890’s there were few several hundred pigeons left. The last surviving passenger pigeon ‘Martha’ died in captivity at the Cincinnati zoo in 1914.