Can They Be Saved From Extinction?
IN 2002, the United Nations announced the goal that by the end of the decade, the rate at which species are becoming extinct and ecosystems are being damaged would be reduced. In conjunction with that goal, 2010 would be the International Year of Biodiversity.
Sadly, when that year arrived, the goal was nowhere near to being reached. “As a direct result of human activity,” reported the BBC, “species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.” The New Zealand Herald was even more specific, stating: “One in five plants, one in five mammals, one in seven birds and one in three amphibians are now globally threatened with extinction.” An aspect of the problem becomes evident when we examine what happened over the centuries in New Zealand.
Biodiversity in New Zealand
Before New Zealand was inhabited by humans, its ecosystem flourished. Early settlers, however, introduced species that had a devastating effect on native wildlife. For example, the Maori brought dogs across the Pacific and perhaps the kiore (or Polynesian rat), which was used as food.
Then, in the 17th and 18th centuries, the Europeans arrived, and they brought with them ship rats, mice, and cats—the latter of which quickly became feral. The Europeans also released goats, pigs, and deer to provide food. During the 19th century, they imported the brush-tailed possum and the rabbit—for meat and fur—with no thought of how these creatures would affect the trees, birds, and vegetation.
By the 1860’s, the rabbit population was getting out of control, so the stoat was brought in. However, the stoats preferred to feast on the much slower and more vulnerable native birds. As a result, the rabbit population continued to flourish.
Today, as a result of the cumulative effects of mammal pests, New Zealand’s Department of Conservation reports that currently 9 out of 10 brown kiwi chicks born in the wild will die before they are a year old. Already many species have been completely lost: birds, more than 40; frogs, 3; bats, 1; and lizards, at least 3—as well as numerous insect species. More than half the 5,819 native plants and animals of New Zealand are classified as at risk, making the country’s wildlife among the most threatened on the planet.
Government agencies are now keenly vigilant to prevent harmful plant and animal species from entering New Zealand. Additionally, the Department of Conservation has completed scores of pest-eradication schemes, especially on islands, and it has also created wildlife sanctuaries.
One of the restored islands is Tiritiri Matangi, off the coast of Auckland’s Whangaparaoa Peninsula. Cleared of rats in 1993 and replanted with some 280,000 native trees, the area is now a controlled open sanctuary where visitors can listen to and see native bird species that have been reintroduced, including the rare saddleback, takahe, kokako, rifleman, and stitchbird. Thriving in a predator-free environment, these beautiful creatures often allow visitors to enjoy a close-up view.
In 2003, sub-Antarctic Campbell Island was declared rat free after a two-year program of eradication. Since then, native flora are recovering and seabirds are returning. Even the Campbell Island teal—a rare species of duck—has been reintroduced.
More recently, a major restoration project has commenced on the islands of Rangitoto and Motutapu as well as in Auckland’s Hauraki Gulf. The aim of this project is to protect the world’s largest Pohutukawa forest and to support reintroduced native wildlife. After several pests—including rabbits, stoats, hedgehogs, feral cats, Norway rats, ship rats, and mice—were eradicated, red-crowned parakeets and bellbirds were discovered on the islands, ending a century-long absence!
These examples show what can be done to restore threatened species and address the shortsighted environmental mistakes of the past. Lovers of the natural world everywhere can especially look forward to the Bible’s promise that Jehovah God, “the Maker of heaven and earth,” will put an end to the harmful practices that threaten the natural world, including its wildlife.—Psalm 115:15; Revelation 21:5.
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Currently, 9 out of 10 kiwi chicks do not survive one year
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MAKING WISE USE OF RESOURCES
A challenge faced by conservationists globally is the growing list of species facing extinction versus the limited resources available to tackle the problem. One approach has been dubbed conservation triage, which draws on the established principle of prioritization practiced in hospital emergency wards the world over. Also called ecological triage, this approach attempts to direct resources toward the best outcomes, considering such factors as (1) the perceived value of a species or habitat, (2) the chances of success of the action proposed, and (3) the costs involved. While not everyone agrees with this approach, proponents say it helps make the best use of limited resources, putting the attention where the best results will be achieved.
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Tiritiri Matangi Island
Rangitoto and Motutapu
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© S Sailer/A Sailer/age fotostock
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An adult takahe on Tiritiri Matangi Island
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Takahe: © FLPA/Terry Whittaker/age fotostock; Campbell Island: © Frans Lanting/CORBIS