ANY REPTILES GONE EXTINCT IN MODERN TIMES?
March 25, 2012
we hear about animals that are on the verge of extinction or that have
gone extinct in modern times, most are birds or mammals. We all know
about the dinosaurs, but have any reptiles gone extinct recently? Are
any seriously endangered? What environmental threats do reptiles face
are correct that birds and mammals get most of the attention when talk
turns to the plight of wildlife and the environmental threats to their
existence. Nonetheless, many critically endangered reptiles around the
globe are circling the drain of extinction. And one need not go back
to the time of the dinosaurs to find examples of reptiles that have
the most publicized group of imperiled reptiles are the sea turtles,
of which six species are listed as critically endangered. Five species
of the 23 living species of crocodilians are also at risk. The Chinese
alligator, closest kin to the American alligator, was once thought to
be extinct in the wild in its native home along the Yangtze River. Today
only 150 individuals are known to exist in the wild.
Conservation Union is an international organization that rates the conservation
status of species globally based on the best available research and
population assessments. Defining extinction for a plant or animal is
relatively straightforward--no living member of the species exists anywhere.
But proving that something no longer exists is not always easy.
of reptiles that clearly seem to have gone extinct are some of the giant
tortoises that once lived on oceanic islands visited by early European
adventurers. Take, for example, the island of Mauritius. Less than a
century after it was discovered by European explorers, one of its avian
denizens, the dodo bird, had completely disappeared, and by the early
1700s the Mauritian tortoise that inhabited the island had also been
driven to extinction. The demise of the tortoises on Mauritius and other
islands is believed to have been the result of overexploitation by the
first human visitors to the region.
are another group of reptiles in which some species have disappeared
in modern times. As if extinction of the dodo and the tortoise were
not enough to lay at the feet of Mauritius's discoverers, a lizard known
as the Mauritianus giant skink disappeared during the 1600s. Virtually
all lizard species confirmed to have gone extinct have not been seen
in at least a half century and most not since the 1800s. Some were once
found on Caribbean islands, including Jamaica and Navassa Island near
Haiti. The introduction of mongooses to Jamaica is considered by some
authorities to be a contributing factor in the demise of several lizard
species. Specimens of the now-extinct lizards were preserved in museums
long ago thus confirming that they once existed.
group of reptiles, the snakes, are so secretive that countless species
have probably gone extinct without our even knowing that they existed
in the first place. Others that we were aware of have disappeared. A
snake known as the Round Island burrowing boa was last reported from
the island in the Indian Ocean in the 1970s. Goats and rabbits brought
to the small island by settlers are the presumed cause of its disappearance.
Like that of the dodo and the giant tortoise, the fate of the Round
Island Burrowing boa adds another mournful note to the sad ballad of
dinosaurs are not the only reptiles that have gone extinct; extinction
in modern times has occurred. Of course, the likelihood of people discovering
a new island and subsequently causing the extinction of its native wildlife
is close to nil. But a far greater threat exists: environmental complacency--the
mistaken belief that the world's animals and plants are doing fine.
They are not. And the time to protect the environment and preserve natural
habitats is not when a specific plant or animal is endangered or borders
on extinction. The time to act is now.
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