Humans may be among ‘walking dead’ species

Not long left: Some of nature’s most impressive beasts are among those facing imminent wipeout.

Scientists in the US and Mexico say mankind is now responsible for the sixth mass extinction event in Earth’s history. If we all die, will those who come next miss us?

According to a new study conducted by scientists at universities in the US and Mexico, the recent “biological annihilation” of wildlife is evidence that we are living through the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event, of which the critically endangered South China tiger is at risk of becoming just one more victim.

The study found that billions of animal populations have been lost and a more detailed analysis of 177 land mammal species found that almost half have seen a 80% decrease in population numbers since 1900.

Scientists claims that problems largely caused by our species — climate change, deforestation and pollution — are the key causes of the phenomenon. And humans may be among the first to disappear if these processes are allowed to continue.

The most recent and famous of the previous five mass extinctions was the Cretaceous-Tertiary event which killed the dinosaurs 65 million years ago and is believed to have been caused by a huge asteroid landing in the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico.

Mankind unmourned?

Some doubt whether the world would miss the human race. Over 99% of species who have ever lived on Earth are now extinct, and one day we will join them. We will be quickly forgotten or, perhaps more deservingly, be remembered as a destructive and selfish force undeserving of our place on this beautiful planet. Those who follow us will be glad to be rid of us.

Others say that, in millions of years of evolution, there is nothing more extraordinary than our species. With our abilities in communication, technology and travel, to name but a few, we have deservedly become the dominant force on the planet. Our absence would deprive the world of its greatest pioneers. And no other species cares as much about the fate of others as we do.

You Decide

  1. Would the world miss the human race?

Activities

  1. Create an advert asking for help in saving an endangered animal. Explain how and why it should be saved. Use the WWF’s list in the expert links to help you choose one.

Some People Say...

“We became the Earth’s infection a long and uncertain time ago.”

James Lovelock, environmentalist

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
We know that a mass extinction event would be very difficult for mankind to survive because we rely on the food chain. Even seemingly insignificant changes could have a big impact.
What do we not know?
Whether we really are experiencing the Earth’s sixth mass extinction event. And if we are, if there is any way to stop it.

Word Watch

According to a new study
Although there is widespread agreement that mankind is causing extinctions around the world, there is not a scientific consensus that we are definitely living through a “mass extinction” period.
Critically endangered
The World Wildlife Fund has given 19 animals this status, which is their most severe. The South China tiger has not been seen in the wild in more than 25 years.
Previous five mass extinctions
The most extreme of these was the Permian mass extinction, when 96% of all species died out.

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