Tuesday, December 26, 2017

The Animals That Went Extinct in 2017

    It's a tradition here at Living Alongside Wildlife to gather in one place a summary of all the animals that went extinct in the previous year. Click here for the 2016201520142013, and 2012 editions. Let's get into it.

Stichocotyle nephropis, a marine parasite of Scotland last seen in 1986, may be extinct due to overfishing of its fish hosts, writes John Platt over at The Revelator.


Lindy Lumsden/IUCN
The Christmas Island Pipistrelle, an Australian bat last seen in 2009 and known only from, you guessed it, Christmas Island, is now officially considered extinct. Why did this species disappear? It is hard to say for sure but disease and introduced species probably played a role.

That's not the only bad news from Christmas Island, unfortunately. The Lister's Gecko, the Blue-tailed Skink, and the Christmas Island Forest Skink all used to roam the island but now are considered extinct in the wild. It is difficult to pinpoint exactly why they got wiped out, but some point fingers at introduced species, like the Wolf Snake, which eats them.


Parks Australia 
Both Lister's Gecko and the Blue-tailed Skink were abundant in the 1970s but they were last spotted in the wild in 2012 and 2010, respectively. There are thriving captive colonies for each of these two species though, so they are technically hanging on. Perhaps they will someday be reintroduced to their habitats.

Unlike the other two lizard species above, the Christmas Island Forest Skink does not have a captive colony to fall back on; the last known captive individual died a few years ago, so it is probably gone for real.

In 2010 the Center for Biological Diversity sent a petition to the US Fish and Wildlife Service seeking protection for the Beaverpond Marstonia, a snail from Georgia. This year, the US Fish and Wildlife Service responded, and said it is extinct. Agricultural demands on water as well as pollution likely caused the demise of this invertebrate.

The Fishing Cat is in big trouble in Southeast Asia. After extensive camera trap surveys in Java failed to turn any up there is a fear that they have gone extinct in all of Indonesia (they persist in low numbers elsewhere).

There are over 70 other species to keep a close eye on in the coming years, including for example the Jamaica Giant Galliswasp, that are considered at least critically endangered and possibly extinct in the wild. In many cases we simply just do not know enough about these creatures to know whether or not they are still hanging on.

Simply listing the species that went extinct in a given year is surprisingly tricky. Here are my answers to some commonly asked questions.

1. Just because we are always discovering "new" species doesn't mean we are offsetting extinctions somehow. When we discover a new species it is not actually new to Earth, it is just new to us. In other words, a new life form was not just created, we just happened to learn about it. There is a limited pool of species and the total number of species is decreasing. Evolution leads to the creation of new species but not on a time scale that is relevant to this conversation.


2. Human beings are one of the species on Earth. That does not mean that anything and everything we do is natural and therefore okay, even if it means causing species to go extinct. Other species have value and we should act accordingly to keep them around.


3. In my list I include species that went extinct in a globally significant region even if the species might still exist somewhere else. I think these local extinctions (called extirpations) are important. You might decide not to include them in your list of extinctions.


4. I include in my list species that went extinct in the wild, even if some individuals may still exist in captivity. See above.


5. It is often impossible to know when a species went biologically extinct. That is, there is often no way of knowing when the last individual of a given species dies. So, I often include in my list species that were declared extinct, this official designation often occurs many years after the last actual death. Again, you may not include them in your list of extinctions, but I do.


6. It is not unusual to "rediscover" a species that we thought was extinct. That is always great news. But, they are usually still critically endangered and often "really" go extinct afterwards.

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