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What on earth are we doing?

African Elephants
African Elephants
Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images

The mass extinction of animals is not a very glamorous subject. Many people would rather read about Kim Kardashian’s app making millions of dollars than read a sad story about how many of the world’s diverse animal species are on the brink of being wiped out. The drive to cull, poach, and hunt doesn’t show any sign of slowing down, either, leaving some wondering if there will be long-term consequences to what we are doing to the environment.

The answer is a resounding yes, and the eradication of species has long-term consequences from the collapse of interlinked ecosystems. Anyone that doesn’t believe that there are interlinked ecosystems should watch George Monbiot's How Wolves Change Rivers.

Many of today’s individuals are savvy when it comes to pollution and being kind to Mother Earth. Unfortunately, with recent events in the news focused on capturing and killing the “big one” and culling as a way to control populations of animals, some may be questioning the efforts that are being made to preserve wildlife, and their habitat.

Record-Breaking Alabama Gator
A record-breaking alligator catch garnered a family in southern Alabama one of these prehistoric giants that weighed in at 450 kilograms and 4.6 meters. While some may think the waters are safer for this small Alabama town, others are questioning this act and other recent stories and their impact on the animal population into the future.

In addition to gators, elephants, whales and sharks, tigers are another beautiful species that may be nearing their end. Because of loopholes, rules and regulations, poachers and hunters are taking advantage of the tiger trade by killing off this brilliant creature. The World’s Wildlife Foundation has recently reported that approximately 3,000 wild tigers are left to roam the earth. Their numbers are a dramatic decrease from over a century ago when close to 100,000 large cats had access to the Asian Forests.

Extinction as a Way of Life
The ivory trade is another reason the animal population is in decline. When more than one elephant is dead and found lacking a face, it’s highly likely that poachers have been involved in their killing. Ivory is used to make souvenirs, trinkets and other valuable gifts. However, it’s the primary reason the elephant population is in decline. Over the course of the past three years, it’s been recorded that close to 100,000 elephants have lost their lives for the cause of ivory. If this number continues to stay the same or increase, elephants will become extinct in a matter of decades. The higher the prices that ivory continues to rise, you’ll find more and more elephants being slaughtered daily.

The hardest hitting areas seem to be the forests of Central Africa. What’s even more heartbreaking is that the poachers are failing to care about the intelligence of the species. In addition to mourning their dead, elephants are the biggest land animal on earth and have the ability to recognize themselves in the mirror. In order to strengthen their numbers, the demand for ivory should be weakened.

Why does this matter? African elephants maintain suitable habitats for other species just by their presence. By them just living and maintaining a presence in central African forests, their grazing helps up to 30 percent of tree species with germination and dispersal. Much like the wolves that change rivers, they also have a huge and positive environmental impact on many parts of the ecosystem, including fresh water rivers and lakes and forest cover.

Humane Alternatives to Culling
Iconic species of animals are also culled such as great white sharks and elephants as a way to sustain and manage large populations of animals. Deer, like the elephants, are beneficial to ecosystems and distribute key nutrients when they graze for food, but populations heavy with deer are often culled because they put woodlands and crops at risk. It can also damage herds when food is scarce or disease runs rampant.

There are other more viable solutions such as contraception or vaccinations. One method that is currently being used in Ithaca, N.Y. is known as “trap, neuter, and return” (TNR). A birth control vaccine is also being tried on female deer in Hastings-on-the-Hudson, N.Y. There is also a study being conducted on 1,500 white-tailed deer that were captured, marked, and counted on Cumberland Island. The Georgia study concluded that the sterilization of does reduces the size of the herd even at low rates of annual sterilization.

Slowly controlling the deer population is a humane option and a better one than the rapid drop in their population that culling involves. According to Jodi Minion, Wildlife Issues Manager for PETA, hunting is cruel and unnecessary. When deer are suddenly killed off at rapid rates, there is a sudden spike in the food supply that prompts the survivors to breed and multiply at an accelerated rate—female deer start giving birth to twins and triplets. As deer population explodes, their rates of starvation increase again as the population struggles to maintain a natural balance.

The Cruel Catch of the Day
Instead of swimming the ocean’s open waters in search of plankton and krill, a whale shark was killed and transported to a Chinese market after getting caught in a fisherman’s net. With over 16 feet in length and weighing in at approximately 16 tons, it was the largest living fish across the globe. The fisherman claimed that the whale shark got caught in his net while it was looking for fish. Since whale sharks are filter feeders and don’t eat fish, the rest of the world isn’t buying it. His true motives were revealed when he got around the laws that protect whale sharks in China and came up with a greedy scheme to sell the creature for about 10,000 yuan – disgusting.

Animal organizations are diligent in their methods of protecting animals and their habitat. The decision to kill an animal by poaching or culling should never be taken lightly. Unfortunately, with the population increasing daily, it’s often the animals that suffer at the hands of a human.

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