By Amanda C. Lee
1. Dodo Bird (1681)
Probably the most well known of the extinct animals, the dodo bird fell victim to the growing human race. Previously found in Mauritius, the dodo species was wiped out in a mere few decades within its discovery. Hunted by both invasive species and humans, the dodo bird stood little chance. Like most species without a native predator, the dodo was fearless around humans. Paired with their inability to fly, the dodo became easy game for sailors.
While their meat was described as “tough”, this did not deter hunters from capturing the easy prey. Their eggs were also preyed upon by the dogs, pigs, and rats brought by the explorers. The combination of humans and invasive species which hunted the dodo birds drove them straight out of existence. Since then, the dodo has been referred to as an icon of extinction, and will remain one for years to come.
2. Great Auk (1844)
You may recognize this flightless bird by its tuxedo like appearance; however, this bird is no penguin. The great auk is widely regarded as a devastating symbol of the damage the human race has caused.
Sadly, although the great auks were torpedoes underwater, they were clumsy and slow on land. In other words, the great auks were easy game. Great auks became widely sought after for their fat, oil, feathers, eggs and their meat, and their numbers quickly fell. Famous explorer Jacques Cartier wrote in his journal, “in less than halfe an houre we filled two boats full of [the birds], as if they had been stones”. Even though a petition was granted, preventing the harvesting of great auks for their feathers and eggs, this only increased their value. Collectors would pay up to $16 (almost a year’s wage for a professional worker at the time) for a single great auk.
It wasn’t long before the last pair of great auks were found on the shore of Eldey Island by a group of fishermen. After catching and strangling the adult birds, one of the men accidentally stepped on an egg which the female had been incubating. That was the last known great auk on Earth; they have been extinct ever since.
3. Quagga (1883)
You may recognize half of this animal as the common zebra, and you’d be right! Half of the quagga is striped like a zebra, while its back half is plain brown fur. This species was located in South Africa, but was heavily hunted by Dutch settlers. After realizing that the quaggas were stealing food from their domesticated animals, the settlers decided that the best solution was to kill off the competition. Their skin and meat were also sought after by both the early settlers and the later Afrikaners, making hunting them even more valuable.
The quagga’s striped coat also made it hard to distinguish between them and other striped horses at the time. This lead to lots of confusion around which species was which. There were only a few quaggas left on Earth, but nobody noticed. Last minute attempts to revive the species fell short, and it was only when the last quagga died in captivity that we realized there were no more in the wild. Their extinction was a devastating surprise.
4. Passenger Pigeon (1914)
Previously located in North America to the east of the rockies, the passenger pigeon made up an estimated ¼ of the entire American bird population. Unfortunately, with the European settlers, came the destruction of food sources, and market hunting. The pigeons flew in flocks of over a million, making it easy for hunters to shoot into them. Although they flew at almost 100km/h, they were no match for the hunters’ guns. Soon, the bird became a staple of the American diet, and demand shot up. Hunters would collect thousands of pigeons at a time, with no consequences. Additionally, the pigeons’ biology worked against them. They lay less eggs than other birds, making it difficult to make up for the mass deaths caused by overhunting.
Eventually, flocks of millions turned into flocks of hundreds, and then almost as swift as they could fly, they were gone. Martha, the last known passenger pigeon to fly, died alone in a zoo in 1914, and is now stuffed for display in Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History.
5. Bramble Cay melomys (2016)
This little Australian rodent, found on a tiny island in the eastern Torres Strait, is recognized as the first mammalian species to be wiped out due to human-induced climate change. The Bramble Cay Melomys fed off of plants that grew in their habitats, and served no harm to any. Its habitat was located at most, 3m above sea level, which ultimately led to their demise. As I’m sure you know, with climate change comes a rise in sea levels. Between 2004-2014, a 97% decline in vegetation was observed. The species, who relied on this vegetation for food and shelter, suffered the consequences.
This extinction serves as a morbid reminder of what climate change can do if we allow its severity to increase as rapidly as it has been doing for the past few decades. Sadly, Australian researchers had planned to capture a few of these rodents to breed and prevent their extinction. When they arrived at the island for their rescue mission, they were devastated to find not one rodent left.
This list only shows a miniscule percentage of the number of species we have driven to extinction. It saddens me to think that these species could have thrived if we had only held back on hunting, or taken better care of the environment. As explained by J. M. Diamond in his paper, The Present, Past, and Future of Human-Caused Extinction, preventing future extinctions relies on us. Until the three mechanics of overhunting, introducing invasive species, and habitat destruction are taken under control, the future won’t be as bright as hoped. Until then, all we can do is raise awareness and restrict ourselves.