Scientists are calling it The Sixth Mass Extinction; species are dying off faster than at any time since the dinosaurs disappeared 65 million years ago. It is estimated that around 30,000 species become extinct each year.
In January, 100 EU researchers and policy experts met at Copenhagen University to discuss this biodiversity crisis. It is thought that previous mass extinctions were due to natural causes: asteroids, volcanic erruptions and climate evolution. The current mass extinction is primarily caused by humans.
In Australia, Tasmanian Devils are the largest of the carniverous native marsupials. But the wild population has been devastated by infectious cancer. The entire wild population could be dead within 30 years.
At the Healesville Sanctuary they hope to isolate their healthy animals to stop the spread of the disease. Researchers are also trying to cull diseased wild animals.
The endangered devils, which died out in the Australian mainland about 3,000 years ago, are also threatened by traffic. As carrion eaters, they are sometimes hit while feeding on roadkill.
Meanwhile in Nicaragua, vets are nursing two puma cubs back to health. The puma’s natural habitat is shrinking due to urban development, leaving them with insufficient hunting grounds. Forced to move towards towns and farms in search of food, pumas are at risk of extinction in Central America.
The cubs were rescued from traps set by farmers. They will be fed and wormed and then released on a nature reserve. It is illegal to hunt pumas but there still exist lucrative black markets supplying private zoos and the fur trade.
In another part of the world, on the border between Israel and Jordan, some species of bats were also facing extinction, again due to habitat loss. But their story has a different ending.
The Israeli army bunkers along the frontier were abandoned after the 1994 peace treaty. With much of the former frontline off-limits to civilians, bats were free to take over the empty bunkers.
While the bats enjoyed the quiet and the dark, the smooth walls made it hard for them to find hanging perches. So cables, wooden palates and foam insulation were added. Twelve indigenous species now live in the bunkers, including two on the critical list. And local farmers are happy. Bats reduce crop damage because they feed on nocturnal insects.
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