The earth’s biodiversity is a wonderful thing and there is an incredible number of as of yet undiscovered species out there. Yet there is also an ever-growing number of species that are on the brink of extinction, mostly because of man. While Mother Nature or the occasional asteroid have caused the vast majority of species to go extinct man is having an increasing impact through habitat destruction and climate change. Whether by man or by nature, here are ten awesome species that are now extinct.
What’s better than a whale? How about a whale that walks? This awesome ancestor of the whale is halfway in its evolution between a whale and a wolf-like mammal that dared to venture into deep water. Ambulocetus went extinct almost 50 million years ago but its descendants are the ones we should really be worried about as we are quickly hunting them to extinction!
9. Stephens Island Wren
This flightless wren had the same unfortunate fate as many other species of flightless birds in the Pacific (and elsewhere) round the time when western colonists arrived. The Stephens Island Wren has the dubious posthumous honour of being a species that was killed almost entirely by a single animal, a cat named Tibbles. Flightless and without any known predator the wrens didn’t stand a chance. While several other members of the species were discovered in the next years the fate of this little bird remains unbelievably tragic.
8. Steller’s Sea Cow
The largest of the Sirenians, the order that gave us the Dugong and Manatee, went extinct incredibly fast after its discovery because of it being hunted both as food (by sailors and natives both) and for its fat which was used in oil lamps. Sadly, the Sea Cow didn’t live past the eighteenth century and we lost the biggest non-whale marine mammal.
7.The Woolly Mammoth
While it’s easy to blame industrialised society and our modern greed for the extinction of most species the Mammoth stands as testament to the fact that human beigns have always been vicious and greedy. This massive mammalian was hunted to the brink of extinction by our ancestors during the stone age and then nature juszt finished the job. The saddest thing isn’t the fact that Mammoths were hunted through wasteful genocidal tactics with herds being driven off cliffs by early humans but that today’s modern humans are close to driving another of its relatives, the African Elephant, to extinction in similar wasteful fashion, hunting the big mammals exclusively for their tusks.
Though most mammalian megafauna, carnivores in particular, went the way of the Mammoth, there was one plant-eating survivor that managed to make it to the last millennium. The Aurochs was the ancestor of the modern cow, a massive bovine that was nearly twice as large as your average cow, sometimes weighing as much as a mid-sized car. The Aurochs was hunted and poached incessantly even after poaching it became punishable by death and its habitat dwindled from basically all of Eurasia a few thousand years ago to a few wild forests in central Europe in the late 16th century. The last remaining specimen is believed to have perished in 1627.
5. Short-Faced Bear
Despite its funny name the short-faced bear was a monster. Weighing about twice as much as an adult grizzly this North American beast was a frightening sight to behold. A consummate carnivore, unlike modern bears, the short faced bear needed to feast on three dozen pounds of meat a day to survive. Unsurprisingly, once humans arrived in America and started driving the larger mammals to extinction the large carnivores like the Short-Faced Bear or the Dire Wolf died out as well.
4. The Great Auk
Out of the realm of fantasy and straight into fully-fledged tragedy. The Great Auk once was the northern hemisphere’s answer to the penguin (which lives only below the equator. A large flightless bird, the Great Auk was the victim of both rampant hunting and particularly restrictive breeding conditions. The Auk was partial to isolated, rocky islands with abundant food supplies, something quite rare in nature. And while the bird had been hunted for millennia by native populations their difficult breeding spots and large numbers had kept them safe. Professional Auk hunters with guns and modern boats, hunting the birds for down were a lot more prolific driving the birds to extinction within two centuries.
3. The Dodo
What list can be complete without the Dodo? This symbol of man’s ability to ravage an ecosystem was killed off so fast, within a generation or two, that it was believed by many to be no more than a legend. Hunted by sailors and their animals, with its eggs ravaged by rats and other invasive species, the Dodo never stood a chance.
2. The Thylacine
The Thylacine, or Tasmanian Tiger is a recently extinct species that many still have hopes for. Officially extinct in 1936, this little canine-looking marsupial was once the apex predator in Tasmania. When the island was colonised by humans, though, it became public enemy no. 1 for farmers who started paying bounties on dead tylacies. The schemes worked too well and the animals were driven to extinction. Tragically, the same fate had befallen their brethren on the continent well before sheep farmers and bounties: the Australian Thylacines had already been killed off by native aboriginals and invasive dingoes 2000 years ago.
1. The Passenger Pigeon
The Great Auk and Dodo were both tragic cases of extinction by human intervention but no case is sadder than that of the Passenger Pigeon. Once the most numerous birds species in America, if not the entire world, the passenger pigeon lived in enormous billion-individual flocks flying and migrating together, even nesting together. And yet, in only 50 years the pigeons went from the most numerous species to extinction, all thanks to them being considered cheap food and pests. The passenger pigeon was hunted at an industrial scale and it was completely extinct by 1914, sickening proof that mankind can drive anything to extinction.