Extinction rates spark Holocene theory

By Stephanie Lingenfelter
Editor in Chief

An estimated .001 to .1 percent of all species go extinct each year, which means we lose 200 to 2000 species yearly, according to experts at World Wildlife Foundation. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, more than 26,500 species are threatened with extinction. That extinction rate has led to a theory called the Holocene extinction, also known as the sixth mass extinction event.

The theory is that over hunting, deforestation and climate changes are the three greatest factors causing the extinction rates to be 100 to 1000 times higher than natural. Mass extinction decreases biodiversity and many scientists believe the rapid deterioration of the coral reef and rainforests is causing the extinction of species before they’ve even been discovered.

Although it is just a theory, according to Noah Greenwald, Endangered Species Director for Center for Biological Diversity, the fact that we’re losing species at an expedited rate is indisputable.

“Solid science shows we’re losing species at a rate 1,000 times background. Species have always gone extinct just at a slow rate, but that has all changed because of the habitat destruction and spread of non-native species we’re causing. One difference between the current extinction crisis and the past five is that it is slower. The Cretaceous extinction, for example, was caused by a meteor, so all the extinctions happened quite quickly. What this means is that we still have time to change,” Greenwald said.

In an attempt to combat the high extinction rates, zoos keep threatened and endangered animals. According to Melanie Laurendine, Conservation Public Relations Specialist at the Indianapolis Zoo, zoos educate the public on the issue of extinction.

“The mission of the Indianapolis Zoo is to empower people and communities, both locally and globally, to advance animal conservation. That effort begins by engaging our guests and educating them about the needs of animals both in our care and in the wild. The number of species on the threatened and endangered lists is always growing, and the Indianapolis Zoo partners with animal conservationists across the globe to help reverse that frightening trend. In many ways, the animals living at the Indianapolis Zoo are ambassadors that promote the need for global animal conservation,” Laurendine said.

Zoos work hard to educate the public and preserve biodiversity.

“Zoos are educating the public; working extensively together for the purposes of breeding, with the collective goal of creating diverse networks of social groupings capable of bolstering a species’ overall population; and providing financial and on-the-ground support for conservationists in the field,” Laurendine said.

According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Act passed by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1973 has prevented extinction of 99 percent of the species protected in the act. The U.S. and United Nations have made many strides to improve extinction rates, but according to Greenwald, the sixth mass extinction event, “will only end if we drastically change the way we live.”

Greenwald recommended various ways to help out the Center for Biological Diversity and reduce one’s ecological footprint.

“They can sign up to get our alerts at biologicaldiversity.org, which allows them to send comments to their Congressional reps in support of endangered species protections. They can also financially support our organization along with others that work to protect habitat. They can eat less meat and make other changes to reduce their footprint,” Greenwald said.

Visiting and donating to the zoo are also ways to help out.

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