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Once They’re Gone, They’re Gone Forever

By Kary Vannice

As we come into a new year, many of us get rid of or eliminate things in our lives that no longer have a purpose to make room for the new. We’ve become accustomed to lightning-paced technology turnover as we willingly and regularly upgrade to the latest and greatest smartphone on the market.

We, in our plastic and metal world, have become so used to “planned obsolesence” that we now simply accept that in a few years, most of our everyday objects will be outdated and worthless. And we’ve started to see it as a sign of progress … out with the old and in with the new.

Unfortunately, in the natural world, there is no research and development team working on new species to replace the many that are rapidly being extinguished from our planet. New mammal, amphibian, and insect species are not coming online as fast as Apple comes up with a new version of the iPhone.

No, once a species is lost to us, it is gone forever, and with it a critical piece of biological biodiversity, which upsets the balance of an ecosystem forever. There are no replacements or upgrades in the natural world. Each species is integral to the healthy functioning of the whole.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes a yearly “Red List,” which lists most of the threatened and endangered species on the planet.

According to the IUCN, “Currently, there are more than 142,500 species on The IUCN Red List, with more than 40,000 species threatened with extinction, including 41% of amphibians, 37% of sharks and rays, 34% of conifers, 33% of reef-building corals, 26% of mammals and 13% of birds.”

In 2015, IUCN listed Mexico as the country with the most threatened or endangered mammals globally – 101. And of course, that number didn’t include any insect, amphibian, bird, plant, reef coral or reptile species, all of which are included in Mexico’s top threatened species.

In recent years, studies conducted in Mexico have confirmed the vulnerability of the monarch butterfly (insect), the leatherback sea turtle (reptile), the Mexican axolotl salamander (amphibian), the scarlet macaw (bird), elkhorn coral (reef coral), the white nun orchid (plant), in addition to several mammal species including the Mexican grey wolf, the jaguar, the ocelot, the Mexican long-nosed bat, along with dozens and dozens of other lesser-known mammal species here in Mexico.

Just a few months ago, The New York Times ran an article online titled “Here’s the Next Animal That Could Go Extinct,” and yes, that animal only exists in the waters of Mexico. It’s the vaquita, a small ocean porpoise. Only ten are known to be living in the wild, in the waters off the coast of San Felipe, a small fishing village on the Gulf of California.

One of the main reasons Mexico has so many threatened and endangered species is that its diverse landscape translates into high biodiversity. Mexico is number four in the world for the highest number of mammal species, boasting over 500 species. But the sad fact is, nearly a fifth of them are in trouble. Most are threatened because of habitat loss due to clearing to create agricultural land or commercial development.

Many of the species on the “Red List” are collateral damage from commercial activity, such as farming or fishing. Of the 101 species listed in 2015, 60 were rodents. At that time, the San Quinton Kangaroo Rat had not been seen since 1986 and was declared possibly extinct in 1994. However, in 2017 researchers caught one in a survey trap, proving that, while their numbers are small, they are still surviving on Baja California’s coast. That is encouraging news, but one species among nearly 100 just doesn’t seem like a big enough win.

Eighty percent of the threatened or endangered species on the IUNC’s “Red List” for Mexico are endemic, meaning that they do not exist anywhere else in the world in the wild, which means if they go extinct in Mexico, they are gone forever.

In nature, there is no such thing as planned obsolescence; all species strive to survive. It is only a system out of balance that causes extinction. And right now, man’s manipulation of nature is the number one cause of species loss both on land and in the sea. If you’d like to do your part to prevent extinction in your area, support local land conservation efforts and pitch in to keep green spaces clean and safe for all species.