Ayla Reau TSEA per.3 May 17, 2010 Vanishing Act It is a sad day indeed when your children might never see a live polar bear in the Arctic or anorangutan swinging through the forest of Borneo. The only place future generations will have a chanceto possibly see these endangered animals will be in pictures and zoos, since we humans are nowcausing the greatest mass extinction of species since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million yearsago (Ulansey). In the last two centuries alone the Earth has witnessed world-wide accelerated rates ofanimal extinction and endangerment, which has taken place alongside industrial progress and rapidhuman population growth (“Animal Extinction”). So just what is an endangered animal and whyshould we care? A broad definition is an endangered animal is a species that is threatened withextinction. The extinction of a species is a catastrophic event that impacts the whole planet and itsinhabitants including humans, as all life on Earth is interconnected. Therefore, humans should attemptto conserve the natural habitats of the Earth and in turn the animals that live in them. However, that isnot the reality, for humans are one of the main causes of animal extinction and endangerment. As JuliaMarton-Lefevre, IUCNs Director General said, “hundreds of species could be lost as a result of ourown actions”(qtd. in Goodman). In the entire Earth’s history there has only been five great massextinctions, we are now in the midst of the sixth great mass extinction, driven by human demand fornatural resources and the wildlife trade, in addition to other detrimental human actions (“NationalSurvey”). Southeast Asia is one of the regions in which numerous species are going extinct, soSoutheast Asian governments should be more concerned with the immediate threat of animalextinction in Southeast Asia. The exploitation of natural resources is a key factor in economic growth and development for acountry and Southeast Asia certainly has a wealth of natural resources and ecological and biological
diversity (“Exploiting”, “Population”). The development of natural resources for domestic use andexport has been an engine of growth for resource-rich developing countries such as many of theSoutheast Asian countries. For steadily rising global demand for raw materials, industrial products,and energy all require the exploitation of natural resources (“Exploiting”). Yet population growth andeconomic development are threatening Southeast Asia’s ecosystems through the destruction of thenatural habitats that so many animals depend on. The exploitation of natural resources is having agrave negative consequence on the Southeast Asian environment, exemplified by the “destruction anddegradation of old growth forests, the depletion and pollution of water resources, the decimation offisheries, and the despoliation of land in order to extract mineral resources” (“Exploiting”). All ofwhich affect the animals that live in these exploited areas, for the animals depend on their habitat andthe destruction of their natural habitat and the exploitation of the natural resources it holds correlatesdirectly to the endangerment of the many Southeast Asian animals. The International Union forConservation of Nature has said that “the loss or degradation of natural habitats is affecting 40 percentof the worlds mammals” particularly in Southeast Asia (Goodman). Take the two-horned Sumatranrhinoceros whose entire population is thought to be only 300 to 500 individuals (Benders-Hyde). Theyare critically endangered due to the loss of their natural habitat and currently are surviving in smallforest pockets of Sumatra and Borneo (Benders-Hyde). The Asian elephant is another animal, whichneeds large amounts of forest to survive, and sadly “human encroachment and logging are shrinkingtheir habitat to the extent that they can no longer support the elephants” (Benders-Hyde). Some specieshowever like the Javan rhinoceros and Javan tiger have already become extinct (Benders-Hyde).Therefore, the drive for economic progress and the consequent exploitation of natural resources oftenlead to the extinction of animals that live in a region. “World-renowned not only for its diversity of animal and plant species, but also for cultural,linguistic, political and religious diversity, South-east Asia encompasses a range of lifestyles that allrely in some way upon wildlife resources for food, medicines, clothing and other products”
(“Wildlife”). The people also rely on the national and international wildlife trade for income throughsuch things as the pet trade, as the illegal wildlife trade alone totals billions of dollars a year globally(“Southeast”). The animals involved in the trading usually end up as trophies, in specialty restaurants,or as ingredients in traditional Asian medicines or perfume (“Southeast”, Christy). “Every year China,the U.S., Europe, and Japan purchase billions of dollars worth of wildlife from biologically rich partsof the world, such as Southeast Asia”, however the wildlife trade is destroying the biodiversity of theregion as it is fast being emptied of wildlife (Christy). Since Southeast Asian countries aresystematically draining their wildlife to meet the growing demand for exotic pets in Europe and Japanand traditional medicine in China, the wild life trade is posing a greater threat to many species thanhabitat loss or global warming (Adam). In the past decade more than 35 million animals were legallyexported from Southeast Asia and millions more could have been taken illegally (Adam). This wildlifedrain is so serious that experts have invented a new term, empty forest syndrome, to describe the holesin biodiversity that the wildlife trade has caused (Adam). Also these animals that are getting traded arekept in poor conditions and despite international laws, endangered animals are still being traded aroundthat world (“I am”). An illustration of this is the Roti Island Snake-necked turtle; they were prevalenton the island of Roti in eastern Indonesia (“I am”). “However after its discovery in 1994, it has beenunder intense collection pressure for the international pet trade market to the point where the specieshas become extinct in the wild” (“I am”). The growth in use of traditional medicines has also spreadthe trade of endangered species such as the Asian pangolin, whose population is rapidly declining dueto poaching for use in traditional Chinese medicines (“I am”). The wildlife trade does have immenseeconomic benefits but the loss of biodiversity is a serious threat to both the environment and humanwell-being. Not only human demands endanger animals but also human actions intentional and unintentionalhave hastened animal extinction. There are other causes not related to the immediate demand foranimals or natural resources but that are still initiated by human actions such as farmer/rancher
shootings, invasive species, pollution and global warming (“Animal Extinction”). Farmer and ranchershootings occur when farmers shoot wild animals on spot when they feel that they threaten thefarmer’s livelihoods, as occurs with Asian elephants eat crops (“Animal Extinction”). Introduced orinvasive species introduced to biodiversity-rich areas damage the habitats of the native species, sincethey can change an entire habitat, placing ecosystems at risk (“Animal Extinction”, Simberloff). Boththese intentional human actions accelerate the risk of animal extinction. Pollution is another cause foranimal demise, for there is “no doubt that excessive levels of pollution [is] causing a lot of damage tohuman and animal health, plants and trees including tropical rainforests, as well as the widerenvironment” (“Pollution Effects”). This unintentional human action is causing harm to animalscoupled with another human action, global warming, which is a serious threat to animals. “Globalwarming is predicted to put at least 20-30% of plant and animal species at risk of extinction, and up to40-70% in worst case scenarios” (“Animal Extinction”). Rising global temperatures are putting richbiodiversity tropical rainforests, such as those in Southeast Asia, at an extremely high risk ofdisappearance (“Global Warming”). Global warming is undoubtedly affecting animals through the lossof their habitats, and this is especially a problem for tropical frogs that are extremely sensitive, “theloss of these habitats leads to extinction of the amphibians dependent on these forests for theirsurvival” (“Global Warming”). Another example of how global warming affects animals can be that ofthe orangutan. Orangutans “may be seriously affected by the spread of viruses and bacteria whichnormally thrive in warmer conditions. This, among many other things, may push these animals evencloser to the brink of extinction” (“Global Warming”). However, it is not only habitat loss and spreadof diseases that may cause animal extinction, it is also the availability of food and water that will likelybe more scarce as a result of global warming (“Global Warming”). Therefore, not only humandemands endanger animals but also human actions are also having a dire consequence and posing athreat of animal extinctions.
Thus the governments of Southeast Asia and around the world should attempt to prevent animalextinction in Southeast Asia. Since, even though humans have a demand and need natural resources tohelp sustain our society, the consequential destruction of the natural habitat of animals lead to theendangerment of animals. Furthermore, although national and international wildlife trade (especiallythe pet trade) has mass economic benefits, the unintended results are damage to biodiversity in theregion. Moreover, the human race both intentionally and unintentionally has accelerated and amplifiedthe threat of animal extinction. So, it seems imperative that governments take action to conservenatural habitats and diversity of animal life in Southeast Asia, not only for the environment andprotection of biodiversity but also for the insurance of future human well-being. Efforts have beentaking place to attempt to encourage the conservation of the Earth’s habitats such as this year, 2010,has been declared the International Year of Biodiversity. To prevent animal extinction and animalendangerment, humans should learn from the mistakes of the past and try to eliminate as many causesof animal endangerment as possible. Humans should try to find a balance between human and animalwelfare, as said by Mohandas K. Gandhi “there is a sufficiency in the world for mans need but not formans greed”.