Loss of Biodiversity Over Time

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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - General Deforestation

Research studies by the FAO indicate that the total global forest area decreased from 4,128 million hectares in 1990 to 3,999 million hectares in 2015. According to WWF, the global rate of deforestation is 18.7 million acres per year.

Deforestation Statistics

Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)

World Wide Fund (WWF)

Climate Focus

  • According to Climate Focus, since 2014, the Earth has lost an area of "tree cover" equal to the size of the United Kingdom on average per year. A significant percentage of this lost tree cover was composed of irreplaceable primary forest.
  • Tropical forests constituted 91% to 94% of the total deforestation from 2011 to 2015.
  • Statistics released by Climate Focus indicate that every year, Latin America loses the most tree cover. The rate of deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon in June 2019 grew by 88% compared to the same month in 2018.

Major Causes of Deforestation

Effects of Deforestation

  • Figures released by the FAO in 2006 indicated that deforestation constituted nearly 25-30% (1.6 billion tonnes) of the greenhouse gases released into the atmosphere each year, causing global warming.
  • According to more recent figures released by the World Bank, deforestation and forest degradation contribute to nearly 12% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Globally, 1.25 billion people rely on forests for shelter, water, livelihood, and fuel. Nearly 750 million people live in forests. Forests are a direct source of livelihoods of 90% of the more than a billion people living in extreme poverty. Deforestation has devastating impacts on the lives and livelihood of these people.
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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Grasslands Lost to Agriculture

In the last 150 years, agriculture has damaged more than half of the world's topsoil, replacing 16% of the world's tropical grasslands, and 50% of its temperature grasslands with farmlands. This has caused issues like erosion, desertification, climate change, endangered species, pollution, water loss, etc. Currently, only ten percent of the world's grassland is intact, only five percent of its natural meadows are being preserved, and just 1% of the original tallgrass remains in the world.

Global Statistics


  • Grasslands cover around 70% of agricultural land and over 25% of the world's land.
  • 16% of the world's tropical grasslands and almost 50% of temperature grasslands are now agricultural fields, leaving just 1% of the original tallgrass in the world.
  • The main threats increasing grassland loss include unsustainable agricultural practices, monocropping, toxic pesticides, grazing livestock, global warming, urbanization, and invasive species.
  • The solutions proposed to reduce this loss include education, protection, and restoration of wetlands, agricultural crop rotation, planting trees, and dry season control.
  • According to the report by Popular Science, only ten percent of the world's grassland is still intact, and only five percent of its natural meadows are being preserved.
  • In 1983, grassland occupied 40% of the world's land, except for Antarctica and Greenland; however, in the past years, this percentage has been reducing exponentially.

    World Wildlife Organization

  • According to the reports by the World Wildlife Organization, in the past 150 years, more than half of the Earth's topsoil has been damaged by agriculture, affecting the structure of the soil, its salinity, creating erosion, and nutrient degradation.
  • As the superficial skin of the earth, the lost and impact in the soil structure has affected the entire ecosystem, mainly caused by the increasing demand for agriculture, which has caused the loss of grassland and forests and replaced them with pastures and farm fields.
  • To build adequate agriculture fields, the natural vegetation and soil are destroyed to give space for coffee, soybean, cotton, wheat, and palm oil to grow, which later leads to erosion, sedimentation in rivers, and pollution that affects other species.

    Global Land Outlook by the United Nations

  • Based on a study conducted by the United Nations in 2017, agriculture has severely damaged the third part of the world's grassland and fertile soil, and it continues to disappear at a rate of 24 billion tonnes annually.
  • The United Nations launched the Global Land Outlook report at the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the most detailed study about the impact of agriculture and industrial farming in forest loss, erosion, and climate change.

    European Commission's Joint Research Centre Report

  • A study conducted by the European Commission, through the Joint Research Centre, indicated that in the last 20 years, irrigated land has doubled, and agriculture has tripled, damaging 19% of grassland, 27% of rangeland, 16% of forest land, 20% of the world’s cropland, affecting the earth's sustainability, fertility, and increasing desertification.
  • Africa's sub-Sahara is the most affected region, and Europe follows with a soil loss of 970m tonnes per year, caused by the high food consumption of the wealthiest countries.
  • By 2050 it is expected that unless the wealthiest countries regulate their food consumption, North Africa, the Middle East, sub-Saharan Africa, and South Asia will face great challenges caused by desertification.
  • Royal Society Grassland History Report

  • In the last 100 years, Japan has lost 90% of its grasslands to agriculture, and the rest of the world has turned more than 50% of them to farmland.
  • Japan is taking measures to protect grasslands, making it a highly protected biome, and reforesting 67% of its land.

United States Statistics

  • The remaining grasslands of the US are concentrated in the Great Plains; however, only in 2017, 1.7 million acres were lost for crop production.
  • A study conducted by the scientists at the University of Wisconsin, based on the data presented by the US Department of Agriculture, determined that between 2008 and 2012, farmers started using grasslands more, producing 77% of the crops in grassland instead of shrubland, forests, or wetlands, compared to the agriculture practices the country maintained since the 1970s.
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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Free Flowing Rivers Lost to Dams

After an extensive search of academic research, books, and research commissioned by not-for-profit organizations, comparative data that would allow the research team build a timeline on the effects the damming of free-flowing rivers have on the planet; the research team was, however, able to find statistics on the number of rivers that remain free-flowing, as well as other pertinent findings. Overall, damming has decimated the world's free-flowing rivers; currently, only 37% of the world's "very long" rivers remain free-flowing and only 23% of the same are still connected to the sea. The impact of this phenomenon manifest in different ways, including food crisis, "species loss at unprecedentedly high levels," cultural and spiritual disruptions, loss of water quality, lower agricultural yields in agricultural areas dependent on nutrients that free-flowing rivers bring, and a host of other effects — both direct and indirect.

Current Free-Flowing Rivers Statistics

  • According to research by the World Wide Fund (WWF) For Nature, only 90 out of 246 of the "very long" (greater than 1000 kilometers) rivers remain free-flowing today. This translates to only 37%.
  • Australia (60%), Africa(47%), and South America (51%) account for the largest share of free-flowing "very long" rivers in the world.
  • Conversely, Europe (12%), Asia (33%), and North America (25%) account for the least share of free-flowing "very long" rivers in the world.
  • Per the same report cited above, 56% of rivers described as "long" (500‒1,000 kilometers) remain free-flowing, while 80% of the rivers described as "medium" (100-500 kilometers) remain free-flowing.
  • The majority of short rivers (97%) remain free-flowing till today as they are not susceptible to water extraction, sediment trapping, and blockage from dams that are mostly responsible for the reduced free-flow of longer rivers.
  • Also, only 23% of "very long" rivers are still connected to the sea; for "long" rivers, the figure stands at 46%.

Effects of Losing Free-Flowing Rivers

  • The "natural flow regime of a river is the ‘master variable’ driving the diversity and vitality of river and floodplain ecosystems." The impact of diminishing free-flowing rivers manifests in different ways, the major ones include:

Food Security and Plummeting Fish Stocks

  • According to the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA), "freshwater ecosystems are the backbone of global food production based on artisanal and commercial fisheries, aquaculture, floodplain recession agriculture, and animal husbandry."
  • For example, over 85% of the 60 million population in the Lower Mekong Basin who depend on the Mekong river system for their livelihood have been impacted since the Mekong dams have been put in place creating a "food security crisis."
  • When dams are situated in free-flowing rivers, they turn them into "stagnant reservoirs", effectively changing the natural thriving habitat that allowed different species of fish and plants into one that kills them off. The warmer temperature of stagnant water further exacerbates the issue.
  • Dams also provide an encumbrance to migrating fish. For example, River Columbia, "once home to the largest salmon runs in the world," in the United States saw the stock of salmon fish totally crash after dams were installed.
  • The installation of dams and hydro-electric plants on the Yangtze River is cited as the likely reason for the "extinction of the Chinese paddlefish, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species."


  • A healthy and free-flowing river that is connected to its floodplains carries what is known as silt, as well as other nutrients.
  • However, dams severely alter the transport of sediments; "approximately 25–30% of pre-disturbance sediment flux is sequestered by modern impoundments," a figure that is expected to double if all proposed dams are built by 2030.
  • These nutrients aid in the production of higher agricultural yields even when fertilizer input is low.
  • For example, the free-flowing Okavango River Delta in Botswana facilitates a greater yield of maize because of the silts deposited; as a matter of fact, 25% of all agriculture in this region is dependent on the " riverine flood pulses and exposed floodplains."

Biodiversity and Human Health

  • Over "10,000 fish species live in freshwater, making up approximately 40 percent of global fish diversity and one-quarter of global vertebrate diversity."
  • Dams destroy the unique ecosystem of a free-flowing river and can lead to the extinction of species, as already outlined above.
  • Free-flowing rivers offer protection to the different plants and species of fish that are present in them.
  • "Flow alterations have resulted in a pandemic breakdown of ecosystem integrity, thereby affecting the risk of acquiring infectious diseases, through their impact on the biodiversity of infectious agents, reservoirs, and vectors. The net result is that human well-being — whether from disease or a state of health — is increasingly compromised."

Cultural, spiritual and religious contribution

  • In some climes, flowing rivers have spiritual, cultural, and spiritual connotations with shrines and other religious buildings dotting the course of rivers in such players where they are revered.
  • One such area, the Nyamjang Chhu, which also houses the Black-necked Crane (a threatened migrating species) is threatened by a 780 MW Nyamjang Chhu Hydropower project.
  • In another area, Dzongu, the youths protested the announcement of a hydropower dam project by going on a hunger strike for over two years due to the cultural and spiritual relevance of the river to the people.


  • While data to compare the effect of free-flowing rivers lost to dams from different era does not exist, the data, insights, and information presented above show that damming impact areas such as "food security, water quality, flood regulation, climate regulation, biodiversity protection, human health, recreational and educational possibilities, as well as intangible but important cultural and spiritual values."
  • By inference, we can conclude that over the last 100 to 200 years, there have been food crisis, "species loss at unprecedentedly high levels," cultural and spiritual disruptions, loss of water quality, lower agricultural yields in agricultural areas dependent on nutrients that free-flowing rivers bring, and a host of other effects — both direct and indirect.

Research Strategy

Due to the nature of this request, it was evident that the potential sources for information, data, and statistics on the impact damming of free-flowing rivers have had on the planet would be academic research papers, books, and large research commissioned by not-for-profit organizations. This understanding informed our research strategies; we, therefore, commenced our research by searching for academic research into the subject matter. While a lot of research focuses on the impact of damming on free-flowing rivers, they were not comparative, that is, they did not compare the changes over time. Some research also focused on the actions taken concerning specific free-flowing rivers.

The research team then switch our attention to the search for books that could provide insights on the state of free-flowing rivers in the past so that we could at the very least build a timeline of events. While it is highly likely that the books we found may have some historical data, the snippets provided by Google from books such as 'The World's Water 1998-1999: The Biennial Report On Freshwater Resources,' 'Selected Water Resources Abstract,' and 'Rivers Under Siege: The Troubled Saga of West Tennessee's Wetlands' only briefly talked about the effects of damming free-flowing rivers.

Next, we switched our attention to reports commissioned by organizations such as International Rivers and the WWF Global Freshwater Programme. We found a report by International Rivers that delved deeply into the impact free-flowing rifer damming has on the environment. The research team also found another report by the WWF that mapped out the world's remaining free-flowing rivers. While these reports did not provide comparative data over the requested timeline, they provided reasons why comparative data on the impact of damming free-flowing rivers is not available in the public domain.

First and foremost, before the research commissioned by the WWF was available, there was no specific definition of a free-flowing river. As such, there was never a "global inventory of free-flowing rivers." Additionally, the scientific world is yet to fully conceptualize the impact and the full effects that free-flowing rivers have on the environment according to the report by International Rivers. These details point to the fact that until recently, data and insights on free-flowing rivers have been largely unavailable and perhaps fragmented.

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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Pollinator Loss

The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES) pollinator assessment clearly indicates that, while the majority of the global pollinator population is under threat of possible extinction, no research currently indicates significant pollinator extinction on any continent. However, local research indicates that at least 23 species of pollinating wasps and bees have gone extinct in Britain since 1850.

Scientific Observation of Pollinator Decline

  • In the late 19th century, entomologist Charles Robertson compiled a database of 1,429 pollinators. This database is considered one of the oldest database of its kind, which indicates that the scientific study specific to pollinators was not widespread in the earlier part of the century. However, a contemporary meta-study of British bees and wasps found that pollinator decline and extinction in that country dates to at least 1850.
  • While there are a few outlier studies on pollinator decline from the 1970s and 1980s, most direct studies on pollinator decline date from the 1990s onward.
  • Global assessment of pollinator populations and decline was only recently conducted, in 2016. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES) pollinator assessment indicates that 56% of pollinator species are currently facing extinction.

Extinct Populations

  • A 2014 meta-study found that 23 species of "bees and flower-visiting wasps" have gone extinct in Britain since 1850. Although the rate of extinction accelerated with agricultural reforms following the second World War, the start of this extinction predates those reforms. The study did not determine the date of extinction for any particular species.
  • In the state of Illinois in the USA, four species of bees were found to have gone completely extinct between 1940-1960: "Bombus borealis, Bombus ternarius, Bombus terricola and Bombus variabilis"

Severely Affected Pollinators

  • Melipona beecheii, a stingless bee native to North America, has been in steep decline since at least 1980. By 2005, a 25-year study indicated that the population was 93% decimated; this research is still cited as current, and there are no indications that the population has recovered.
  • Other bees which have experienced severe population decline include Bombus franklin in the western US and Bombu distinguendus in Europe.
  • By 2005, half the pollinating bee species in Illinois were found to either be extinct or in decline, which aligns with broader reports of population decline across the entire continent of North America.
  • A study of four bumble bee species in North America found that their abundance has "declined by up to 96% and that their geographic ranges have contracted by 23–87%."
  • Recent research indicates that the global butterfly population has declined by 35% in the past 40 years.
  • In western Canada, Bombus occidentalis experienced steep decline in abundance between 1981 (27%) and 2004 (1%).

Threat of Extinction in the Pollinator Population

  • Vertebrate (i.e., non-insect) pollinators pollinate up to 90% of the human food supply. 16.5% of this population globally faces the threat of extinction, although that percentage jumps to 30% for species which inhabit islands.
  • Some percentage of the pollinator population is endangered on every inhabited continent in the world. Only Oceania currently has no pollinator species which are considered 'critically endangered.'
  • A quarter of all bumble bee species in Europe are threatened with extinction.
  • 17% of butterflies in the US are at risk of extinction. In Canada, approximately a third of the country's butterfly species face extinction.
  • Botanical habitat loss studies indicate that the Mexican population of hummingbirds may have declined as much as 49% in the past decade.

Research Strategy

Our research found a marked paucity of statistical information about true extinction in pollinator populations, which is due to several contributing factors, including a scarcity of direct study on pollinator population decline. Where specific species extinctions have been noted (often in island ecosystems), it is often as a correlating factor in the botanical study of the inter-related plants, and no further study is made by the study authors, relative to the pollinator's decline or date of extinction.

We first researched for existing lists of extinct pollinator species. While this strategy did generate a single example of a severely declining species (Melipona beecheii), it did not generate any additional examples or a list of extinct species, although we did also find a paywalled resource that chronicles the decline of pollinator species over the past 120 years. We then researched for scientific assessments of pollinator species, which generated the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Biodiversity Ecosystem Services (IPBES) pollinator assessment. This comprehensive assessment indicates that no continent reports extinct pollinator species, either completely extinct or extinct in the wild across the continent; however, one of the appendices mentions several studies which have documented local pollinator extinctions in island ecosystems (pages 155 and 160). Based on this information, we then attempted to find the mentioned studies. Some we were able to locate and were useful, such as the Ollerton study. Others, like the Fleischer study, are botanical studies that only mentions population extinction in passing. Still others we were unable to find at all. Due to this paucity of information specific to extinction, we have presented the extinction data available and have supplemented our findings with information on threatened and declining pollinator populations globally.

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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Ocean Marine Life Loss

The Sea Mink, the New Zealand Grayling, the Labrador Duck, Caribbean Monk Seal, the Spectacled Cormorant, the Christmas Sandpiper, the Japanese Sea Lion, and the Canary Islands Oystercatcher are the marine species believed to have gone extinct in the last 200 years. Kindly refer to the Google Doc for more information.
  • According to the IUCN, there have been only 15 verified "global extinctions of marine animal species in the past 514 years (i.e., limit of IUCN temporal coverage) and none in the past five decades."
  • Marine animals have experienced much fewer extinctions than land-based species, although about 72 marine species are on the verge of extinction.
  • The estimated extinction date of the Sea Mink (Neovison macrodon) was 1860. It lived along North America's Atlantic coastline and is believed to have been hunted to extinction because of its fur.
  • The New Zealand Grayling (Prototroctes oxyrhynchus) endemic to oceans off New Zealand, especially along the South and North islands. It was hunted to extinction by the 1930s.
  • The Labrador Duck (Camptorhynchus labradorius) was distributed along North America's Northeastern coast. The species went into extinction in about 1875.
  • The Caribbean Monk Seal (Monachus tropicalis) became extinct in 1952. It was hunted to extinction, though it is also possible that overfishing might have also depleted its sources of food.
  • The Spectacled Cormorant (Urile perspicillatus) is a marine bird believed to have been hunted to extinction. It was last seen in 1850 at Russia's Komandorski Islands.
  • The Christmas Sandpiper (Prosobonia cancellata) went extinct around 1850. It is believed that the species was killed off by invasive animals.
  • The Japanese Sea Lion (Zalophus japonicus) is considered extinct because there is no credible documentation of its sightings since the 1950s.
  • The Canary Islands Oystercatcher (Haematopus meadewaldoi) died off around 1950 due to the over harvesting of its prey.


Our research for the information on the loss to the planet Earth for ocean marine life entailed searching through authoritative research resources, credible media resources, and scientific resources. The research team found several reports on the subject by resources such as the Guardian, Mongabay, and the Business Insider, but it was evident that they were all relying on The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) for their data. According to The Guardian, "the 'red list,' produced by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), is the most authoritative assessment of the status of species." However, we could not find a comprehensive report by IUCN on extinct marine life. To prove credibility, we cross-checked the information found in our initial research with the data availed in the IUCN website. Some assessments by the IUCN were concluded over 24 months ago. In such cases, we conducted targeted searches to establish if any sightings had been made after that. It was not possible to link the IUCN's web pages in the Wonder platform; therefore, we pasted them a Google Doc and provided the web addresses below each corresponding image. We have only provided the species that lived within or off the ocean and are believed to have gone extinct over the last 100 to 200 years.
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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Salmon Runs Loss

Less than 5% of the overall population of wild salmon return to rivers and streams to spawn after salmon runs, a massive loss over the past 100 plus years.

Salmon runs loss Statistics

  • Worldwide Aquaculture reports, "For the last few decades, the number of salmon making it back to their fresh water mating grounds has been declining. The population of salmon species in the Northwest, from Alaska to Washington State, in the waters of the Pacific and in the North Atlantic Oceans is constantly declining."
  • The Northwest Power and Conservation council states, "Rivers and streams of the Pacific Northwest used to be full of salmon, only a decade ago. Today in the states of California, Washington, Oregon and Idaho, salmon are extinct in nearly 40 percent of the rivers they were known to inhabit — at least 106 major stocks gone forever."
  • Around the globe, the quantity of salmon in all oceans is declining. "Global Atlantic salmon catches fell 80% from 1970 to 2000."
  • It was reported that in 1805, Native Americans caught massive quantities of salmon. Between 10 an 16 million salmon were caught.
  • By the early 1900s, it was estimated that 30 million wild salmon were returning after their salmon runs to the Northwest America and Canada.
  • Historically, adult salmon returns were at least 10 to 16 million fish annually, reaching up to 30 million back in the 1900s.
  • Today that number is estimated to be less than 5% of historic populations of wild salmon returning to their rivers and streams. Different sources provide different estimates, with the World Wildlife Fund estimating that "less than 1% of salmon return to the river to spawn."
  • In 2010, Canada’s Department of Fisheries and Oceans predicted that 10.5 million wild salmon fish would return to spawn in the Fraser river. However, only 1.37 million made it back after their run.
  • According to the WWF, there has been a 50% worldwide decline in Atlantic salmon over the last 20 years.
  • Historically, spring-run Chinook salmon saw runs of over half a million fish. According to 1994 research, between the years 1969 and 1994, an annual count of 3,000-25,000 salmon ready to spawn (occurring after a run) in the Sacramento River basin was reported.
  • In Norway, Europe's wild salmon mecca, the wild salmon population has declined to 478,000 in 2017, from over a million in the 1980s.

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Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Extinctions of Animals

The animal species included in this report have been declared either fully extinct, or extinct in the wild, by credible and reliable sources which include the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and/or by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS). All listed species have become extinct over the last 100-200 years.

Carolina Parakeet

  • According to the IUCN's Red List, the Carolina Parakeet is extinct. The Red List was founded in 1964, and is a highly regarded information source on the global conservation status of animal, fungus and plant species.
  • This was a bird of brilliant green, yellow, and orange coloration. The Seminoles knew the species as "puzzi la nee" (literally "head of yellow") or "pot pot chee," while the Chickasaws called it "kelinky." European settlers christened it with numerous variants of "parrot" and "parakeet," ranging from "paroquet" and "paraqueet," to "parrotkite, parrakeeto, parrowceat" and "parrot queet." Noisy and conspicuous, the species was unlikely to be overlooked in any location where it regularly occurred.
  • The Carolina Parakeet was last seen in 1918.
  • Because of hunting, honeybees, and a poultry disease, these birds are now extinct. The Carolina parakeet was the only parrot species to be native to the Eastern United States.

Heath Hen

Eskimo Curlew

  • The Eskimo Culew, while not officially declared extinct by the IUCN, has not been sighted since 1962. They have listed it as critically endangered and possibly extinct.
  • The Eskimo Curlew bred in the far northern reaches of Alaska east to Nunavut, and wintered on grasslands in Brazil, Argentina, and Uruguay. Spring migration brought this species south through the Gulf of Mexico along the Mississippi River. Habitats included grasslands, tundra, burned prairie, and meadows.
  • Over hunting, the extinction of important prey species, like the Rocky Mountain locust, and habitat loss have been the main reasons for the species decline and have left the species as presumed extinct.

Passenger Pigeon

  • According to the IUCN's Red List, the Passenger Pigeon was declared extinct, and it was last seen in 1914.
  • According to the National Audubon Society, the passenger pigeon was the most abundant bird in North America, and some say the entire world. This bird was simply just another victim of overhunting. Because the species had such huge numbers people, erroneously, that it was invulnerable, but it was eventually hunted to extinction.
  • The final passenger pigeon, a female named Martha, died in captivity in 1914, bringing a sad end to the story of this once-flourishing species of bird.


  • The quagga was a native of South Africa that was hunted into total extinction in the early 1880s. It looked very similar to a zebra, except one half of its body was brown and the other half had stripes. After more than a hundred years of extinction, scientists have used selective breeding to isolate specific genes in zebras that would produce a quagga, meaning this species could somehow find a way back to life.
  • The quaggas were considered to be a pest by colonials because it took valuable grazing lands from their cattle. As the meat was edible, and the hides valuable for the leather industry, it made the quagga commercially viable, and dispensable to the people of that time.
  • The last quagga, a female, died in the Amsterdam zoo on August 12, 1883.

Cape Lion

  • One hundred and fifty years ago is when humans last saw the South African Cape Lion. Just like what the quagga had to endure, the Cape lion was hunted to extinction in the late 1800s. According to this source, the last of its kind was kept as a pet by an explorer named Emil Holub. He called this lion "Prince".
  • A full-grown male Cape Lion weighed about 230 kg and could attain a length of around 7 feet. This made it the second largest and heaviest among the lion subspecies. However, the primary distinguishing characteristics of this large beast "was its dense black mane, a gold fringe bordering the face, and the black-tipped ears."
  • According to this source, the exact year of the extinction of the Cape Lion is unknown. The last Cape lion still alive was probably a male in the Paris Zoo around 1860, as a photograph captured what is likely the only known live photo of the Cape Lion.

Japanese Sea Lion

  • According to the IUCN, the Japanese Sea Lion is extinct, with the last verifiable and reliable sighting in 1951.
  • This species was the victim of massive hunting and the effects of undersea battles during World War II, which explains the date of its demise. The IUCN does not rule out that the population could’ve moved to a different ocean habitat and become blended with other sea lion species, but the Japanese variety, as it was known, is lost.
  • While there are sources that state the last sighting occurred in 1974, this has been deemed not credible by the IUCN.

The Atlas Bear

  • Starting around the 2nd century A.D., this northern African bear was relentlessly hunted and trapped by Roman colonists where they were then set loose in various amphitheaters either to massacre convicted criminals or to be massacred itself by mounted nobles armed with spears.
  • Amazingly, despite this, populations of the Atlas Bear managed to survive into the late 19th century, when it became extinct in the 1870s.

Desert Bandicoot

  • According to the IUCN, the Desert Bandicoot is listed as extinct because the most recent specimen, from Well 33 on the Canning Stock Route, was collected in 1943. Western desert Aboriginal people recalled that it disappeared between 1940 and 1960, with some people reporting that they had eaten it near Lake Mackay as recently as the late 1960s.
  • There was a confirmed sighting in 1943, and an unconfirmed one in the 1960s.
  • Before it became extinct, the desert bandicoot was a common sight in Australia. The desert bandicoot could not withstand invasive species such as foxes and cats, as well as a changing habitat.

Desert Rat Kangaroo

  • The last confirmed sighting of the Desert Rat Kangaroo was in 1935. There have been unconfirmed sightings in South Australia and Queensland between 1957 and 2011.
  • The reasons for the extinction of the Desert Rat-kangaroo are reported as unknown. However, major threats were probably because of their habitat being destroyed by controlled fires, and introduced herbivores such as cattle and rabbits, as well as being hunted by cats and foxes.
  • Colonists in Australia hunted the desert rat-kangaroo mercilessly during the late 1800s, with a reported 3 million of them dying as a result.

Schomburgk’s Deer

  • The last wild Schomburgk’s deer was likely killed in 1932, according to the IUCN. The last one in captivity died in 1938. This deer was very popular game among hunters, and that’s what is believed to have led to its extinction.
  • According to the Journal of the Bombay Natural History Society, there is brand new evidence, "gleaned from antlers obtained in late 1990 or early 1991, shows that it survived for at least an additional half century and might still be around today."

West African Black Rhinoceros

  • West African black rhinos were declared extinct in 2011, with the last one having been sighted in 2006. Their initial population losses were due to habitat loss and big game hunters that killed them for sport.
  • The IUCN Red List changed the Western black rhino's status from critically endangered to extinct in 2011.
  • The 10 last western black rhinos were dispersed across 25,000 square kilometers of northern Cameroon. There have not been any reports of any sightings or signs since 2006.

Baiji White Dolphin

  • Though not officially declared extinct, the baiji white dolphin has not been seen since 2002.
  • Biologists declared the baiji white dolphin "functionally extinct" on December 12, 2006. In turn, the IUCN, while not declaring it extinct yet, does classify them as "critically endangered."
  • According to Barbara Taylor, a marine biologist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Service, "It's a relic species, more than 20 million years old, that persisted through the most amazing kinds of changes in the planet."

Pyrenean Ibex

  • The Pyrenean Ibex is the first ever species to become extinct twice.
  • While the precise reason why the Pyrenean Ibex’s extinction is unknown; scientists and researchers believe the factors could be the usual suspect of poaching, but also the inability to compete with other mammals for food and habitat.
  • The last Pyrenean Ibex was killed by a falling tree in northern Spain in 2000.

Tasmanian Tiger

  • The Tasmanian Tiger could be found in Australia, Tasmania and New Guinea. It was a large carnivorous marsupial, that despite the name, was not related to tigers at all. The animal had the appearance of a medium-to-large-size dog, but dark stripes gave it a tiger-like appearance.
  • With bounties being offered for it, the animal was hunted to extinction. With human encroachment into its habitat, and the introduction of dogs and disease, the Tasmanian Tiger quickly diminished in numbers.
  • The last wild Tasmanian Tiger was likely killed between 1910 and 1920, with the last captive one dying in Hobart Zoo, Tasmania in 1936.

The Bali Tiger

  • The Bali tiger was native to the Indonesian island of Bali, where the last sighting was in 1937.
  • While the Bali tiger coexisted uneasily with the indigenous human settlers of Indonesia, once the first European traders and mercenaries arrived its time was up, as it was hunted mercilessly to extinction, sometimes simply for sport and sometimes to protect their animals and homesteads.
  • The last officially recorded individual was a female shot at Sumbar Kima, in west Bali, on 27th September 1937.

Great Auk

  • The Great Auk was a large flightless bird and could be found in the North Atlantic, and as far south as Northern Spain. It's average height was 75-85 cm and was about 5kg.
  • The last colony of Auks lived on the island of Eldey, and by 1835 they had all been killed.
  • The last Great Auk was killed by three men, who noticing its little wings and the large white spot on its head, caught it on St Kilda, Scotland in 1844. When a large storm surged, they believed that the Auk was a witch and was causing the storm, so they killed it by beating it with a stick until it was dead.

Caspian Tiger

  • The Caspian Tiger migrated from the east of China to the Caspian Sea, more than 10,000 years ago. During the 19th century, the Russian Army was ordered to kill all the tigers as part of an agricultural project.
  • The last Caspian tiger was believed to have been killed in Turkey in 1970.
  • Scientists are now working to bring the Caspian tigers back, using specimens from museums in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Azerbaijan.

Pinta Island Tortoise

  • Charles Darwin's theory of evolution was partly inspired by the Pinta Island tortoise upon his visit to the Galapagos Islands in 1835. Since then, the tortoise population has been wiped out by rats and goats that humans introduced to the islands.
  • In 2015, the last purebred Pinta Island tortoise, known as Lonesome George, died in captivity at the age of 100.
  • Scientists have been working to conserve the remaining tortoise populations and to use George’s genome to find other tortoises with similar genes.

Caribbean Monk Seal

  • The Caribbean Monk Seal had its last confirmed sighting in 1952. Only two of the three species of monk seals that man got to meet still exist: Mediterranean and Hawaiian. The Caribbean disappeared in the middle of the last century. Their habitat stretched from Florida to northern South America, and its first recorded sighting was written by Christopher Columbus on his second voyage in 1494.
  • The monk seal was killed for their fat, skin and for eating. In addition, people wrongfully believed that they were a major threat to fish banks and an informal campaign to decimate the species was organized.
  • The Caribbean monk seal was finally declared extinct in 2008 after years of speculation. The National Marine Fisheries Service launched a formal status review which came to the conclusion that despite some sightings from the late 1950s to the 1970s, those sightings were of hooded seals, feral California sea lions, misidentified manatees, and other species.
  • It is the first seal species to become extinct due to human activity.
of eight

Loss of Biodiversity Over Time - Extinctions of Plants


1. Shinyfruit Popcornflower

  • While colloquially known as "shinyfruit popcornflower", this plant's scientific name is Plagiobothrys lamprocarpus.
  • It is an herb which was discovered in Oregon in 1921 "by Charles Piper, a botanist and longtime worker for the U.S. Department of Agriculture".
  • "Shiny-fruited allocarya is a slender, erect annual with a simple, strigose stem 10-30 cm tall. The leaves are linear, 1-2 cm long, glabrous above and hispid below. Flowers are borne on very short pedicels and arranged in one-sided racemes bracted only towards the base. The fruiting calyx is somewhat thickened at the base, with narrowly lanceolate lobes 0.1-0.2 cm long. The corolla is very small and whitish. Nutlets are shiny, broadly ovate, 0.15 cm long by 0.1 cm broad, the apex incurving, the dorsum with broad keel and ridges, the ventral keel strongly developed, the lower portion in a deep groove, with 1-2 nutlets produced per flower."
  • The plant has not been sighted again since its discovery in 1921, and is officially considered extinct.

2. Mayacamas Popcornflower

3. Lemmon's Jewelflower

  • The scientific name for this flower is Streptanthus lemmonii.
  • Lemmon's jewelflower was an annual herb native to Arizona.
  • It "was an oddly shaped flower in the mustard family (Brassicaceae), distinguished by large, oblong leaves and a number of thin tulip-like buds".
  • The lemmon's jewelflower is believed to have gone exctinct some time around the 1940's, when it was last seen.

4. Merced Monardella

  • The scientific name for the merced monardella was Monardella leucocephala.
  • This plant was a subtropical annual herb found in California, and was a member of the mint family.
  • Though teams have looked for it in 1990 and again in 1997, the merced monardella has not been seen since 1941, when botanists believe that it "was pushed out by agricultural expansion" in California.

5. Pringle Monardella

6. Caddo False Foxglove

  • The caddo false foxglove has the scientific name Agalinis caddoensis.
  • This member of the Scrophulariaceae family was a subtropical annual herb found in Louisiana.
  • It was discovered in 1913 by Francis Pennell, and has not been seen again.
  • Scientists have searched for it over several decades, from the 1970s through the 1990s, but it has not been found. However, as similar plants still thrive in the region, scientists are hopeful that - while it is today considered extinct - it may be found again.

7. Nuttall's False Foxglove

  • The scientific name for nuttall's false foxglove is Agalinis nuttallii.
  • It is an annual herb found in Oklahoma and Arkansas, thriving in temperate climates.
  • More specifically, only one population of the plant was ever found, near the Arkansas River on the border of Arkansas and Oklahoma.
  • The plant was found by Thomas Nuttall in 1819.
  • "Nuttall’s false foxglove was tragically left off of modern plant lists and records, and was overlooked as a potential conservation priority until 1995." Today, it is believed to be extinct.

8. Banded Trinity

  • The scientific name for banded trinity is Thismia americana.
  • This is a herbaceous perennial native to Illinois.
  • "University of Chicago graduate student Norma Pfeiffer discovered the banded Trinity in 1914 while exploring the wetlands around Lake Calumet."
  • Pfeiffer went on to write her doctoral thesis about the plant, learning that it "mostly lived underground, taking nutrients from fungi in the soil, and only popped above ground in the summer to flower and reproduce".
  • The plant was seen again in 1916, "when a barn was built near its habitat", but has not been seen since then. It is believed to be extinct.

9. Shasta River Mariposa Lily

10. Jeff Davis Parish Indian Paintbrush

11. Montezuma County Beardtongue

  • The scientific name for the Montezuma County beardtongue was Penstemon parviflorus.
  • This plant was a herbaceous perennial found in Colorado and New Mexico. It thrived in a subtropical climate.
  • Like several other now-extinct plant species, the Montezuma County beardtongue was found by Francis Pennell, who collected a sample of "it in the Pinyon-juniper woodland in Montezuma County, Colorado, in 1890".
  • While many of its relatives still exist, the Montezuma County beardtongue is believed to be extinct.

12. Palo Alto Thistle

  • The scientific name for the Palo Alto thistle was Cirsium praeteriens.
  • This was a woody perennial found in temperate climates and, more specifically, in California.
  • "In 1897, the Palo Alto thistle was discovered by James Francis Macbride, an American botanist best known for studying the plants of Peru."
  • The plant was last seen in 1901 and is today believed to be extinct.

13. St. Helena Olive

  • The St. Helena Olive was a "small tree with pale pink flowers", and was found on "the small island of Tristan da Cunha, St. Helena, a British territory in the South Atlantic Ocean about 1,200 miles off the coast of Angola".
  • Even at the time they were first found in the 18th or 19th century, the plant was exceedingly rare and hard to find.
  • In the 19th century, "just 12 to 15 trees were known to exist on the ridge's highest point, Diana's Peak — so few, in fact, that people soon just figured it had disappeared completely. But there, on one of the mountain's precipitous cliffs, one hardy survivor was discovered in 1977".
  • However, the tree found in 1977 was the last of this species, and it "wasn't able to overcome the longstanding threat of deforestation, and the fact that they weren't able to self-fertilize".

14. Sartidia Perrieri

15. Chile Sandalwood

16. Toromiro Tree

  • This tree was found on Easter Island, "one of the most remote places on Earth, located about 2,200 miles from South America and 1,300 miles from the Pitcairn Islands".
  • Because of deforestation from local communities, the toromiro tree is one of a number of plants native to that area which have gone extinct.
  • Though it was the island's national tree, the toromiro tree hasn't been seen since 1965 when "the last one was felled inside the Rano Kao volcanic crater".
  • Seeds have been collected; however, no attempts to reintroduce it to Easter Island have been successful, and it is today considered to be extinct.

17. Bulgarian Columbine

18. European Violet-Willow


From Part 07