Earth's wildlife is slipping away
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And doctors in Texas removed a 23-week-old fetus from her mother’s uterus, took out a life-threatening tumor, returned the fetus to the womb, then delivered the healthy baby 12 weeks later. Yes, Lynlee Hope Boemer was born twice.
Humans can do amazing things.
And yet we can’t stop killing our wildlife.
Most of us are dimly aware of this. We hear a report of the decline of African elephants or some other species, grimace and move on. But a new analysis is out, and its staggering numbers demand sustained attention.
The number of wild animals in the world declined by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012, and we’re on track for a 67 percent loss by 2020. The picture is even bleaker for freshwater species, which have suffered an 81 percent plunge.
This mass extinction comes entirely at our hands. Researchers at the World Wide Fund for Nature and the Zoological Society of London, who collaborated on the report, blame hunting, pollution, climate change, and the destruction of wild habitats to make way for activities like farming. That’s all on us.
Some scientists say we’re now living in the Anthropocene age — a term that refers to the time when human activity started to change the Earth’s ecosystem. The report documents that in a startling way: By 2012, humanity needed the resources of 1.6 Earths to provide what we consumed in one year.
And as we lose all those elephants and gorillas and vultures and salamanders, we lose biodiversity. And when we lose diversity, we start to lose life itself. Because all species — including humans — depend on other species for their survival.
I’ve written about the wolves in Yellowstone National Park, but it bears repeating. When they were hunted and poisoned to extermination by 1926, elks rebounded. And voraciously ate vegetation. Without that food, songbirds and beavers disappeared. Without ponds created by beaver dams, moose, muskrats and otters declined. Without wolves, coyote returned, and feasted on mice, voles and pronghorns. In 1995, balance was restored — when the wolves were reintroduced.
That’s one ecosystem. And there are other good singular developments. Giant pandas are no longer endangered, merely vulnerable, thanks to conservation efforts in China. Most humpback whales came off the endangered list, too, helped by a commercial whaling ban started a half-century ago. Lynx are rebounding in Europe, and the California condor continues its comeback from near-extinction.
Saving the Earth is more complicated. But, the report makes clear, it can be done if we get serious — about creating more protected areas and committing to more sustainable ways of producing energy and food. That requires cooperation between all nations, a tough lift, but the climate change pact from last year offers hope.
I wrote last year about Sudan, the only remaining male northern white rhinoceros in the world. Since then, a couple more females have died. The species now consists of Sudan and two females that live with him in Kenya. But Sudan is 43, too old to reproduce.
So researchers froze sperm samples from him, and took eggs from a female, and they plan to impregnate surrogate mothers — southern white rhinos living in the San Diego Zoo — in the next 10 to 15 years. And maybe save the species.
But amazing isn’t enough.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.