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8 Fascinating Extinct Animals

Published September 18, 2012 in Love For Earthlings, What's New |
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In just the past few centuries, several of the world’s most fascinating animals have disappeared completely from our planet. Though some are certainly just the natural course of things, most of the animals on this list became extinct through human activity. Here are some truly fascinating but extinct animals…

1. Tasmanian Tiger

Though its name and appearance may suggest otherwise, the Tasmanian Tiger was not a tiger at all, but a marsupial. They became extinct on the mainland of Australia before the arrival of Europeans, but persisted on the island of Tasmania, which is famous for the Tasmanian tiger’s close relative, the Tasmanian Devil.

2. Elephant Bird

Measuring in at a whopping 10 feet tall and 880 pounds, the four species of elephant birds that lived on Madagascar were once the biggest birds on the planet. It’s unclear exactly when and how these massive flightless birds became extinct, though it is likely that human activity wiped out the elephant bird in the 17th century.

3. Quagga

When European naturalists and explorers first ventured into the plains of South Africa, they encountered the Quagga and its close relative, the zebra. Because the two species’ stripes varied so much between individuals, it was difficult to tell whether they were simply variants of the same species or distinct from each other. Before they were sorted out into two distinct species, unfortunately, they were hunted into extinction. The last known Quagga died in captivity in 1883.

4. Baiji

The Baiji dolphin, native to China’s Yangtze River, is thought to have only recently become extinct. With the rapid industrialization of its native waterway, the Baiji’s population suffered considerably. About 5,000-6,000 of the dolphins were living in 1950, and, during the last official survey in 2006, none were found.

5. Steller’s Sea Cow

Sea cows were the epitome of the “gentle giant” — something that, ultimately, led to their swift extinction. Growing to about 30 feet long, the slow-swimming sea cow was once abundant across much of the North Pacific. After less than 30 years of hunting by European seal hunters, fur traders, and sailors, Steller’s Sea Cow became extinct in 1768.

6. Irish Elk

With no living relatives alive today, and the latest fossil record dating back 7,700 years, it’s hard to fully imagine the Irish Elk today. Well, maybe not: picture a deer, only bigger. A lot bigger: the Irish Elk was, in fact, the largest deer to ever live, averaging about 7 feet just up to its shoulders, not to mention its nearly 90-pound antlers that had a width of 12 feet.

7. Passenger Pigeon

With a population once estimated to number in the billions, likely one of the largest bird populations in the world at the time, it’s astounding to consider that the North American Passenger Pigeon became extinct in just a century. So how exactly did that happen? Well, the pigeons were a cheap and abundant source of meat — an ideal protein source for slaves and the poor. The birds grouped together in massive flocks, where it was easy to kill many, usually several thousand, at once. Though conservationists attempted to save the bird, the last surviving passenger pigeon died in captivity in 1914.

8. Dodo

The Dodo bird earns the dubious distinction of being one of the most famous extinct animals of all. The extinction of the flightless bird opened the eyes of humans to the role we have in the demise of a species, or “[going] the way of the Dodo.” Native to the tiny island of Mauritius, which was uninhabited before the 1500s, the Dodo bird was unaccustomed to, and thus unafraid of, humans. This made them easy prey, and led to their extinction in just about century.

6 Species Facing Extinction Without Protection

Published August 13, 2011 in Love For Earthlings, What's New |
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Tigersblack rhinoceros, and giant pandas attract a lot of attention from conservationists and wildlife lovers — and with good reason. The global populations for these species number in the thousands or even less and their habitats are rapidly degrading.

Dig deeper into endangered lists, however, and hundreds more species turn up which — while they may have a greater population — are facing challenges that make their futures look grim. But just because a species is not on the Endangered Species List does not mean it is safe from harm. From the millions of frogs harvested each year for their legs to the sage grouse facing encroaching oil drillers, species struggle even without special conservation designations.


Around the world, frogs are in trouble. Threatened by disease — notably Chytridiomycosis — pollution, and habitat destruction, some areas have experienced an 80 percent decline in local populations.

The losses are not limited to endangered species. One of the growing threats to frogs is the global demand for frogs legs. Targeting typically common frog species — like the green pond frog — the world’s insatiable appetite for frogs legs — including 2.08 million kilogrammes  in the United States, 1.99 million kilogrammes in Asia, and 4.17 million kilogrammes in Europe annually — is proving to be unsustainable. Billions of frogs a year are harvested for their legs, pushing some local populations past the point of collapse.

Photo credit: j / f / photos / Creative Commons

Sage Grouse

In Wyoming, the story of the imperiled sage grouse highlights the challenges faced by imperiled species. Since the 19th century, the grouse has experienced a 50 percent reduction in its rangeland and a 90 percent reduction in its population. In spite of this, it was denied endangered species status last year. In the announcement, Secretary Ken Salazar commented that “we must find common-sense ways of protecting, restoring, and reconnecting the Western lands that are most important to the species’ survival while responsibly developing much-needed energy resources.”

Now, the grouse is facing the challenges of this attempt to simultaneously develop and preserve habitat. Earlier this summer, the Bureau of Land Management granted permission for oil and gas companies to drill in sage grouse habitat. The proposed region includes sage grouse breeding areas, suggesting that drilling could greatly disrupt this imperiled species.

Photo credit: USFWS Pacific Southwest Region / Creative Commons

Grey Wolf

The on-again off-again status of the grey wolf in the United States is indicative of its controversial place in the United States. Today, the grey wolf has lost its protected status almost everywhere — with the notable exception of Wyoming, where conservation plans were deemed to hollow to allow for delisting.

The decision was based on the sizable recovery wolves have made under protection the last 30 or more years. Biologists, however, believe that the populations are still not significant enough to merit delisting, let alone hunting.

Photo credit: Arran_Edmonstone / Creative Commons

Pacific Walrus

During the 18th and 19th centuries, walrus around the world were exploited heavily by hunters, leading to extirpation and near extinction. Since then, populations have rebounded thanks to reduced pressure from hunting.

As a result, the walrus is largely considered a species of “least concern” by conservation groups and has achieved the status of “warranted but precluded” by the US Department of the Interior — essentially, a place on the endangered species waiting list.

Climate change, however, means that the walrus’ preferred habitat — ice sheets in the arctic — are vanishing quickly. At the same time, key foraging grounds have been auctioned to oil and gas companies.

Photo credit: USFWS Headquarters / Creative Commons

American Pika

The adorable American pika, too, could end up a victim of climate change. Warming temperatures in the Western United States have forced the pika — which thrives in rocky, alpine, terrain — to move to higher elevations. The problem is that eventually, the small mammals run out of higher ground.

In spite of this, the pika has been denied endangered species status.

Photo credit: M Hedin / Creative Commons

Whitebark Pine

The whitebark pine — a foundation species in the American West that serves as a cornerstone for several ecosystems — is also threatened throughout its range due to climate change. Warmer winters have allowed mountain pine beetles to survive and thrive at higher elevations — places where the whitebark pine has traditionally retreated to weather beetle outbreaks.

Even though it has not received endangered species protections, biologists estimate that the whitebark pine will be functionally extinct in and around Yellowstone within the next 10 years.

Photo credit: National Park Service

Curated and adapted from The Tree Hugger

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