When Netflix’s Tiger King first arrived on Netflix, many people considered it little more than a quirky documentary about corruption, murder, and somehow or other, polygamist cults. What they failed to notice was the overarching theme woven throughout this seemingly innocuous docuseries. Tigers and most of their big cat relatives are critically endangered, and the only way to save them is for people to step up and do something about it; preferably better people than those introduced in the series.
It’s hard to see it now, with so much else going on in the world, but the plight of these and many other amazing species is much the same as it was half-a century ago. Today, it is estimated that more than 50 percent of the world's species are estimated to be at risk of extinction. Even without a concrete number that’s an astonishing statistic. More importantly, why do these projections feel like they’re going up?
What causes a species to become endangered?
There are many factors that can bring a species to the brink of extinction. Most of the species on the list are there because of human beings. Overhunting, habitat destruction, poaching, pollution, even globalization, have all affected countless plants and animals. A somewhat lesser-known cause is also the introduction of non-indigenous species to an area.
These alien species can disrupt the ecosystem to such an extent that many native species wind up endangered or extinct as a result. This has happened in Australia, on the Galapagos Islands, and is even happening currently in the Florida Everglades.
What is the red list?
The International Union for Conservation and Nature (IUCN) has created a list of species ranging from data deficient to critically endangered. In 2012, the IUCN red list had listed 3,079 animal species as endangered worldwide. Since then, that number has changed only slightly. Many of the species that appeared on that list have found themselves even more threatened since then, while others slip to and fro through the categories; but none of them are truly safe.
How many species are considered critically endangered?
Critically endangered species are those species whose numbers are so low, that they are dependent on human conservation efforts in order to protect them. According to some statistics, over 7,079 animal species are classified as critically endangered.
Animals included in this category are the Sumatran Orangutan, Malaysian Tiger, and Eastern Lowland Gorilla.
What is being done to protect these animals?
Say what you will about Theodore Roosevelt, up until that point, not a single American president had taken any sort of interest in the environment or the amazing creatures that still roamed the untamed corners of the world. Teddy started a trend of conservation that grew in dribs and drabs over the next century and into the 21st. Today, there are many organizations that work towards helping protect, breed, and re-introduce these animals back into their natural habitats; those that still have habitats anyway.
Some of the more extreme conservationists have even taken up arms against poachers and plunderers, using violence in order to protect the animals in their care. Unfortunately, Jane Goodall’s sacrifice did not save her gorillas and even armed men with guns could not protect the last Western Black Rhinoceros from going extinct. The world is still too concerned with greed and wealth to concern itself with a few rarely seen snow leopards. Nevertheless, a chosen few will continue to keep fighting; and there are ways that you can help too.
How can I help endangered species?
It’s difficult to get people motivated about environmentalism. That much has always been true, and talking about recycling or creating a compost pile in their backyard is not a fun topic to broach for most. That said, one of the things that have always motivated even the weak-hearted of conservationists is the idea that one day, there might not be any pandas left. Nor will there be elephants, polar bears, or sea turtles. People may not be scared about smog blotting out the sun, but they seem concerned as hell about baby tigers.
Perhaps that is why people like Carole Baskin do what they do. The trick is motivation and in the case of organizations like the World Wildlife Fund, the best way to help is to donate. Attending zoos is a small way to give back to these remarkable animals that have provided so much to our collective cultural heritage.
They exist in our folktales, our kids' toys, our t-shirts, books, and bedsheets, but if we don’t do something to help them; those will be the only places they exist.