Conservation efforts have failed for many of them
As much as new scientific and technological advancements help us realize how much potential there is out in space and off of our native planet, the Earth is all we have, and from its deepest oceans to its tallest mountains, it’s absolutely filled to the brim with countless species and diversity.
Scientists and amateurs alike discover new species and biodiversity almost constantly. The World Resources Institute reported a single 1980 study of just 19 trees in Panama where researches stumbled across 1,200 species of beetles, 80% of which were previously unknown to science.
With thousands of new species discovered each year, a 2011 estimate put the total number at 8.7 million unique species. But for each species that we discover, we are losing even more. According to the World Wildlife Fund, we are seeing a rapid loss of species at a rate between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural or background extinction rate (that is, the rate at which extinctions would occur without humans).
While some of these extinctions may take hundreds or more years to happen—or could be completed avoided through changing human behaviors and increased preservation—others are much more immediate and even likely to happen in our lifetime.
Northern White Rhino
This week, Sudan, the last male northern white rhino, died at the age of 45. He escaped rampant poaching in the 1970s when he was moved to a zoo. Many of the remaining members of his species were killed during armed conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo in the 1990s and 2000s, and by 2009, there were only four left in the world.
Though he was able to sire two females, Sudan was the last male of his species, so now the future of their kind lies in scientists’ ability to successfully use IVF to produce more offspring from the remaining two females.
Also known as a Mexican salamander or a Mexican walking fish, this curious creature is critically endangered in the wild, mostly due to water pollution, urbanization around Mexico city, and the introduction of predators and invasive species into their native waterways.
Between 1998 and 2008, researchers saw a decline from 6,000 to 100 axolotls per square kilometer in their primary habitat. A 2013 study found no surviving individuals in the wild, but Mexico City is working on a preservation plan for some found since then. They are relatively easy to breed in captivity.
Axolotls are especially useful to scientists due to their ability to regenerate limbs. As of 2018, it is the animal with the largest completed genome currently known to science.
South China Tiger
With fewer than 20 believed to be left in the wild, the South China tiger has been critically endangered since 1996. It is mostly believed that the species is already extinct in the wild, but in recent years there has been more success at preserving the species in reserves, a possibility mostly threatened by the small extant population and genetic inbreeding.