The Australian government has formally recognized the loss of 13 endemic species, including 12 mammals and the first reptile to be lost since European colonization.
The dozen mammal species’ addition solidifies Australia’s unenviable status as the world’s mammal extinction capital, bringing the cumulative number of mammals believed to have died out to 34.
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None of the 13 was unexpected. Except for one, all of the mammal extinctions are recent, with the majority occurring between the 1850s and 1950s.
However, the record contains two animals that have been extinct in the last decade, both from the Indian Ocean’s Christmas Island.
According to The Guardian Australia, the last Christmas Island pipistrelle, a bat genus, died in 2009. In 2014, the last living Christmas Island forest skink – the first Australian reptile to go extinct – was discovered. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has historically recorded all extinctions (IUCN).
(Photo : Director of National Parks)
Gump the Skink
(Photo : lum-box on PIxabay)
According to the revised list, more than 10% of the 320 ground mammals believed to have existed in Australia in 1788 are now extinct.
Suzanne Milthorpe of the Wilderness Society said that “no other world, rich or poor, has something like this record” in terms of mammal extinction. With a record of nine mammal extinctions, she said Haiti was next on the IUCN list.
Prof. John Woinarski, a conservation biologist at Charles Darwin University who contributed to two books documenting the fate of many of the recently listed extinct animals, called the lists “humbling and sobering.”
He said it was a reminder that extinction was a “likely occurrence” if not anything was done to preserve it after a species was identified as endangered. “It’s necessary to consider the casualties, as it serves as a warning that extinction is the end product if we don’t control our endangered species,” he said.
Mammal Extinction Capital
The desert bettong, Nullarbor dwarf bettong, Capricorn rabbit-rat, broad-cheeked jumping rodent, Liverpool Plains striped bandicoot, marl, south-eastern striped bandicoot, Nullarbor barred bandicoot, long-eared mouse, blue-grey mouse, and Percy Island flying fox are the recorded historic mammal extinctions.
Woinarski stated that feral cat predation was the most likely cause of their extinction in almost all situations. However, the introduction of foxes, habitat loss, and fire may also have played a part. “Over the last 200 years, no other nation has had anywhere near as many animal species extinctions,” he added.
He explained that since museums had little or no records of the animals, researchers had to rely on information shared by Indigenous elders living in rural areas of the world who had seen the extinctions firsthand.
According to Milthorpe, the Wilderness Society’s national environment laws campaign manager, the revised list is a “devastating fact check on Australia’s environmental success.” She said, “It cements our status as the global leader in mammal extinctions.”
The government and the IUCN have declared about 100 endangered Australian species extinct, but Woinarski believes the true figure would be more than ten times higher until extinct invertebrates are counted. He estimated that at least 50 invertebrate species on Christmas Island have not been seen in over a century and were likely to be extinct.
He called the first modern-day disappearance of an Australian reptile “obviously a truly tragic milestone.” In the 1970s, the unintended arrival of a predator from Asia, the wolf snake, almost destroyed the Christmas Island Skink.
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