One in five vertebrates face extinction

The bad news: One in five vertebrates could go extinct within our lifetime, and the number may rise even higher than that.

The good news: It would be a lot worse if it weren’t for conservation efforts.

That’s the verdict of a global study of 25,000 threatened vertebrate species presented to the 10th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, in Nagoya, Japan. It found mammals, amphibians, and birds are especially hard hit, with fifty species a day sliding closer to extinction. The main culprits are logging, agriculture, hunting, and alien species.

Yet conservation efforts are saving some animals. The white rhino, like the ones pictured above, was almost extinct a hundred years ago but is now the most common rhino in Africa and its status has been upped to Near Threatened, meaning that while it still needs to be watched, it’s not in any immediate danger. Here’s where ecotourism comes in handy. For example, Niger is hoping to cash in on safari tours by helping a unique subspecies of giraffe, bringing the population from fifty to two hundred in just a decade. Countries where the white rhinos roam are also pushing ecotourism and safaris.

Another success story is the giant marine reserve created in the South Pacific a few years back. This 73,800 square-mile reserve is one of the world’s largest and was created by Kiribati, one of the world’s smallest countries. If tiny island nations and poverty-ridden countries can help out their animals, one has to wonder why any species in the First World are threatened at all. Major food sources like tuna face extinction and even mythical beasts like the Loch Ness Monster may be extinct. When even our legends are dying out, you know we’re in trouble.

[Photo courtesy Joachim Huber]

Learn a new language, and the Silbo Gomero

I recently had the opportunity of meeting the co-founder of a new language-learning website called “Busuu”. Busuu is a language on the verge of extinction; apparently today it’s spoken by only 8 people in Cameroon. Other than that cool snippet of information, I didn’t pay much attention to the website until I got an email saying that it will teach you how to do the whistle “Gomero”, i.e. the Silbo Gomero.

The Silbo Gomero is a whistle that is (was?) used to communicate in Gomero, in the Canary Islands. People who know this language can communicate full sentences through this whistle, and since it can be heard up to a distance of 8 kilometers, it used to be an extremely useful way of communicating across the deep alleys and mountains of the island.(Voice can only travel 200 meters). It used to be a recognised language, but now since there are few people who can whistle this way and it’s not an easy whistle to learn, this “language” faces the threat of extinction.

Busuu aims to help preserve such languages that are under threat of disappearing, and their proactiveness towards trying to help users understand and learn this whistle is commendable. The fact that you are far from learning the whistle after looking at their material is a different point, but if they are planning to expand on such efforts, this is a great start. Here you can check out a great video they did that explores the hows and whats of this Silbo Gomero.

This whole learning the Silbo Gomero tactic could well be a publicity stunt for Busuu, but worth it if it drives traffic to this new and cool language-exchange/learning-community. The website is easy to navigate and presents a community-driven language learning system. Become a member and you can add study modules and attempt to familiarize yourself with a new language, with the option of being helped by native speakers of the language you want to learn. It all works on a system of mutual help, so it’s pretty cool to see it function well. Right now they offer opportunities to study English, French, Spanish, and German. Although you may not learn the language in any concrete or complete way, it’s a good place to start and to meet some multi-lingual people.

Australians worst at preserving wildlife

These statistics are pretty surprising, especially if you consider how much Australians love their animals.

Of all the mammal species that have become extinct in the past 200 years, nearly half are Australian, reports The New Zealand Herald. Since the British arrived, 27 mammals (about 10 percent of the total) have disappeared. Australians apparently have have the worst record on the planet for conserving their wildlife.

There seem to be several different reasons for this: land clearing, with the resulting habitat destruction, and a change in fire regimes – from the patchy, selective burnings carried out by Aborigines to today’s devastating bushfires. By far the worst harm has been done by the introduction of exotic predators, especially feral cats and foxes. Their impact has been compounded by the culling of dingoes, which otherwise keeps the cat and fox population down. Dingoes, however, have been virtually eliminated in sheep-raising areas.

Species already lost include: the lesser bilby, a delicate marsupial that burrowed in desert sand dunes and the pig-footed bandicoot, which looked like a miniature horse.

Five endangered places you should see now, before they’re gone

If you knew a place was going to disappear soon, even if it wasn’t one of your top must-see destinations, would you visit it just in case you regretted never seeing it later on? Our brand-new sister blog, the Green Daily, recently published this post on vacation destinations that are on the brink of being extinct. A word to the wise: see them now or you might never get a chance. Here’s what made the list:

  1. Traditional China: Sadly, many Chinese landmarks and artifacts have fallen victim to the Yangtze River Valley damming project, which has flooded many traditional places along the historic body of water. And more of China is disappearing each day, particularly in the Yunnan province.
  2. The San Rafael Glacier, Chile: Glaciers are one tragic victim of this thing we call global warming, and they’re literally turning to water before our eyes. See this one before it disappears.
  3. Quirky Caribbean: When you go to the Caribbean these days, chances are you’ll see very little of the actual culture of this amazing destination — but you’ll see a lot of your all-inclusive resort! Travel outside the box and experience the culture in all it’s glory. Sure, the booze doesn’t flow like water in the real Caribbean, but you’ll have a much more rewarding experience. And you’ll be helping preserve this vibrant, dynamic culture.
  4. Red Sand Dunes, Namibia: Tourism and recreation are quickly eroding this naturally beautiful spot. For a one-of-a-kind experience, see these dunes before they’re gone for good.
  5. Village Culture in Romania: Romania’s mountain villages for up in the alps are a place where tourists can be transported back in time — people even still use carts and horses for transportation! But joining the European Union is sure to have a deep impact on these quaint communities.

Indigenous Languages are Dying in Australia

Globalization is an interesting phenomenon — on one hand, it makes the world accessible to everyone. On the other? Entire cultures being wiped out by Coca-cola, McDonald’s, Hollywood and everything else from the western world. That’s what’s happening in Australia, for instance. The Languages of the aborigines are vanishing like wildfire, giving way to ‘G’Day Mate’ and other cliche Aussie sayings.

Here’s an alarming statistic: Of the 6992 distinct languages worldwide, one is vanishing every two weeks. And they’re not just dying in Australia — South and North America are seeing their aboriginal languages dying quickly as well, and many are on the verge of distinction as only a handful of people in the world speak them. English is taking over as the universal language and while that’s not a bad thing for those of us who speak it, it’s sad to see age-old native tongues become lost forever.