50 species that no longer exist in the wild
There are an estimated 8.7 million species currently living on planet Earth. However, experts estimate that between 0.01 and 0.1% of all species go extinct each year. According to the United Nations, extinction rates are accelerating at the fastest pace in human history. In light of the current biodiversity crisis, it is necessary to quantify current species that are facing down extinction.
Enter the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which, since it was founding in 1964, has assessed more than 105, 700 species for the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
To quote famed naturalist Sir David Attenborough, "The IUCN Red List tells us where we ought to be concerned and where the urgent needs are to do something to prevent the despoliation of this world. It is a great agenda for the work of conservationists."
The IUCN has developed a standard system for classifying species at high risk of global extinction. This system organizes species on a scale from least concern regarding possible extinction to extinct, with specifications for plants and animals that are have not been evaluated or don't carry enough data to make a call. Additional categories include near threatened, vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, and extinct in the wild.
The IUCN defines extinct in the wild as a plant, animal, or fungi known only to survive in cultivation, in captivity, or as a naturalized population (or populations) well outside the indigenous range. A species is presumed extinct in the wild when exhaustive surveys conducted in known habitats have failed to record a single individual. Surveys should be conducted over a time frame appropriate to the species' life cycle and life form.
These classifications help identify species in urgent need of recovery efforts and also pinpoint the habitats that need to be restored to possibly re-establish the species in the wild. The best recovery example is that of the California Condor, whose numbers declined so much in 1987 that they were marked extinct in the wild. The 27 condors left in the world were bred in captivity and reintroduced into their original habitat beginning in1992. Now, the IUCN lists the California Condor as critically endangered—an upgrade from their previous status.
Using 2019 data from the IUCN Red List, Stacker chose 50 such species categorized as extinct in the wild from across the globe. Most of these species have declined due to urbanization, agriculture, and human alteration of the species' habitat, pushing them towards extinction. The list offers a glimpse into the smallest-known areas that could be home to a living creature, and how every little change humans make in their behavior can be life-altering for other species.
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- Scientific name: Abutilon pitcairnense
This plant with beautiful yellow flowers was found only on Pitcairn Island, an isolated volcanic island southeast of Tahiti in the south-central Pacific Ocean. It grew in the forests alongside another plant endemic to the island called the Homalium taypau. The only specimen of Yellow fatu found in the wild on the island was destroyed in a landslide in 2004.
Scientists also found that the island was losing its native species, mostly due to invasive species like Syzygium jambos (Roseapple) and Lantana camara. Now, the National Botanic Gardens of Ireland have teamed up with the Pitcairn Island Conservation Department to develop an invasive species control plan and restore native vegetation. The organization has proposed the reintroduction of the Yellow fatu to the islands.
- Scientific name: Allotoca goslinei
This ray-finned Goodeid fish was once found in the Ameca River Basin of Mexico and first described in 1987. By the late 1990s, it had disappeared from the Ameca, but remained moderately common in the Río Potrero Grande, until non-native swordtails (Xiphophorus hellerii) invaded the river in the early aughts. Once abundant, these fish have experienced a rapid decline. Extensive searches in 2005 and 2006 didn't turn up a single individual. The last record of the species in the wild dates back to 2004.
All is not lost. The Goodeid Working Group is an international non-profit organization of volunteers that is maintaining the aquarium population of banded allotoca.
[Pictured: Allotoca zacapuensis]
- Scientific name: Anaxyrus baxteri
Also known as Wyoming toads, Baxter's toad was last observed in the wild in 1983. They were listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act in February 1984, but, per the IUCN, they have been marked extinct in the wild.
Historically, Wyoming toads were abundant in the vicinity of Laramie, Wyoming, where they were found in the floodplains of the Big and Little Laramie rivers. However, in the mid-1970s, they disappeared from most of their range. Surveys in the early 1980s yielded few animals.
The toads have been reintroduced under a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recovery plan to Mortenson Lake, about 14 miles southwest of Laramie and the site of the last known population of toads, but the population continues to struggle. Agriculture, aquaculture, invasive species, and forestry effluents seem to be the major threats to the toads. Captive populations of the toad are being maintained at seven American zoos and aquariums.
- Scientific name: Aylacostoma chloroticum
Aylacostoma chloroticum is a snail that inhabits high-energy environments, such as the Apipé rapids in the Paraná River, in the region known as Alto Paraná, between Argentina and Paraguay. The species is endemic to the region, with a range of distribution that covers just under 90 miles of river. Though it appears as extinct in the wild on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, in Argentina, it is listed as endemic and vulnerable as a captive population remains.
The snail suffered severe habitat loss after the filling of the Yacyretá reservoir in Argentina, which led to flooding and modification of the coastline. According to this research, the species is being maintained in captivity through an ex-situ conservation program involving the Yacyretá Binational Entity, the Argentine Museum of Natural Sciences "Bernardino Rivadavia," and the National University of Missions.
[Pictured: Hemisinus globosus]
Brome of the Ardennes
- Scientific name: Bromus bromoideus
This species of grass was first discovered in Belgium in 1821, where it was only found in the calcareous meadows of the provinces of Liege and Luxembourg. By the end of the 19th century, the species became progressively rare, and, since being harvested for the last time in 1935, the Brome of the Ardennes has been absent from Belgian meadows.
Its extinction has been blamed on agricultural practices. Though the University Botanical Garden of Liege continued to grow the grass, it closed down, and with it, the seeds of the grass were thought to be lost.
In 2005, Dave Aplin, a botanist at the National Botanic Garden of Belgium in Meise, unearthed seeds in the Meise seed bank and is now helping bring the grass back to life.
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- Scientific name: Bromus interruptus
Interrupted brome is a very rare grass that is endemic to the UK. It became the first endemic plant to go extinct in the wild in the U.K. in 1972. In 2004, it also became the first extinct plant to be re-introduced back into the wild in Britain.
The plant was discovered in 1849 and spread very rapidly. It grew like a weed along with common sainfoin, a legume that was used as fodder. As motor vehicles replaced horses and better seed cleaning methods came into practice, interrupted brome became rarer and rarer.
Huanduj (B. aurea)
- Scientific name: Brugmansia aurea
The bell-shaped flowering plant Huanduj, or Brugmansia aurea, belongs to a family of plants that are similar in look and blossoms. Brugmansia aurea derives from the Andes region spanning Ecuador, Colombia, and Venezuela. It occurs at a higher altitude, from 2000 to 3000 meters, and is thus adapted to cooler temperatures but is highly sensitive to frost. There are many hybrids of this particular species, such as the B. candida, that make it difficult to distinguish the non-hybrid flowers. It has been described to have white, yellow, and pink flowers.
Known also as angel's trumpets, most botanists accept four species: B. arborea, B. aurea, B. san-guinea, B. suaveolens. All the other names refer to forms, subspecies, hybrids, and races. Each of these plants have been used since prehistoric times as hallucinogens and in rituals. While the true B. aurea might be extinct in the wild, its hybrid varieties exist worldwide.
Huanduj (B. insignis)
- Scientific name: Brugmansia insignis
Brugmansia are defined by their large, fragrant flowers that give them their common name of Angel's Trumpets, a name sometimes refers to the closely related genus Datura as well. All seven species, including B. aurea from the previous slide, are listed as extinct in the wild by the IUCN Red List of threatened species. These flowering plants contain the tropane alkaloids atropine, scopolamine, and hyoscine. The bark appears to be particularly rich in alkaloids and has medicinal as well as psychoactive properties. The flowers manifest in shades of white and pink.
This particular species was endemic to the Andean foothills of western Amazonia, but hybrids are now found in many countries.
Huanduj (B. versicolor)
- Scientific name: Brugmansia versicolor
The tropical Brugmansia versicolor can be recognized and differentiated from its similar-looking cousins by its vertically hanging flowers. All seven species of the Brugmansia family have been declared extinct in the wild. B. versicolor was primarily found in Ecuador and Northern Peru, but there are several hybrids and cultivars developed for use as ornamental plants.
The University of Connecticut study observes that there are no herbarium collections of any species of this genus made from confirmed wild plants. No botanist specializing in this genus has ever reported seeing wild plants of any species. The cultivation usually occurs from vegetative propagation. The complete lack of evidence of fruit dispersal or spontaneous seedlings suggests their dispersers are extinct. Hence, all the species are regarded as extinct in the wild.
- Scientific name: Corvus hawaiiensis
Hawaiian crows, or 'Alalā, have been extinct in their natural habitat since 2002. The last wild pair occupied less than 13 square miles of habitat on the western slope of Mauna Loa. There have been no fledglings in the wild since 1992 and no eggs produced since 1996. The reason for their decline includes feral rats, mongoose, and cats that preyed on eggs and chicks, diseases like avian malaria, and loss of habitat owing to agriculture and ranching.
Concerned by the decline in numbers, a captive breeding program of this native bird of Hawaii began in1973, but the birds released either died or did not reproduce. Now, the government's 'Alalā project is trying to restore the bird's habitat and release more specimens into the wild.
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