All the Earthly species and their habitats are the web of life. The web of life is not a separate place that species are in. It is the species themselves that create the web. Humanity is one of these species, nothing more, nothing less. We are fully immersed and inextricably intertwined in this web that is the planetary ecosystems, collectively known as the biosphere.
Each land and marine species is made up of individuals and any species is only as resilient and healthy as the habitat it thrives in. What is true for animals is also true for plants. The habitat must provide nourishment, shelter and a climate that allows the species to survive and reproduce. Different populations of the same species may exist in different parts of the world as long as the right habitat is present. Viable wildlife population sizes may be measured in hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands depending on the species. Once a species goes below its viable population size it is more than likely functionally extinct and its years are numbered.
Scientists across the world agree that we are now in the midst of the sixth mass extinction of life on Earth. The previous mass extinction event was sixty six million years ago during which 76% of life on Earth died. Unlike the previous five mass extinctions that were caused by geological upheavals, the current mass extinction is caused entirely by humans.
A species becomes extinct when all the individuals in every existing population on Earth die. When this happens that species is gone forever.
We have already exterminated or severely degraded substantially more than half of the populations of all species and their wild habitats. I have researched a number of extinction processes that took place between 1280 and 2018, such as the extinction of the Great Auk, the Moa, the Northern White Rhino, the Caribbean Monk Seal and the Pyrenean Ibex, amongst others.
It starts with the arrival of people on the scene. The animals are hunted as food or fuel, for their hide, for their body parts or just for sport. In some cases humans are after the same prey as the animal and therefore it is a matter of eliminating the competition. In such a situation the animals also lose their food source apart from being the subject of human predation. People also introduce domestic livestock, crops or alien species that oust the wildlife from their historic homeland.
We take over their habitat, gradually degrading it until it no longer sustains the animals. What remains of the habitat is fragmented and the animals cannot escape by crossing from one habitat fragment to another because of human infrastructure.
The life giving ecosystems that existed before the arrival of humans collapse as the fragments of habitat are too small, too polluted and bereft of biodiversity. As the habitat fragments on land and at sea are now accessible to more and more humans, the poachers, the hunters, the fishing fleets, the livestock breeders and farmers move in and finish off what was is left, in all cases killing every last individual of the species.
The individuals of every species are killed at every stage in their life cycle and at speeds that do not allow them sufficient time to reproduce or raise their young. Species are targeted at their nesting sites and during breeding periods, where and when they are at their most vulnerable. Most species predate humans and have therefore not evolved to fear people or with defensive strategies or biological weapons for use against the human predator.
Three factors come to light when researching extinctions. The first is the tenacity and savagery with which these animals are persecuted to extinction. The second is the human propensity to overkill. Finally, more recently, whenever there are conservation efforts to save a species from extinction, this is always too little, too late.
We need to radically rethink what it means to be human on this Earth. Are we going to build on the last sixty six million years of rich evolutionary biodiversity or are we going to force Nature to start over. Be part of the paradigm shift – the time is now.
Published in the Senior Times of the Times of Malta on the 20th March 2020