There are over 1,700 Australian species and ecological communities that are known to be threatened and at risk of extinction. World-wide, over 41,000 species are threatened with extinction.
Let me say that again. Over 41,000 species world-wide are threatened with extinction.
Well over a quarter of those threatened species belong to the Mammalia family (mammals).
That is the group (Mammalia) that includes us – Homo sapiens.
We can be more precise. Homo sapiens belong to the family Hominidae (Great apes) which includes chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutan, and bonobo. Amongst this family, our closest cousins – chimpanzees and bonobos – are listed as Endangered and “at very high risk of extinction in the wild.”
What about us? Are we threatened or in danger of extinction?
The IUCN says “no.” On the Red List Homo sapiens is classified as LC – Least Concern. Amongst the family Hominidae we are the only species with this classification. All others are classified as Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), or Critically Endangered (CR). We are also the only ones in this family where the population is increasing. All others are decreasing (although gibbons are stable.)
Why are we not listed as threatened? The IUCN justifies our classification as of Least Concern because “…the species is widely distributed, adaptable, currently increasing, and there are no major threats resulting in an overall population decline.”
Really? At least three observations come out of this.
First, there is a strong causative link between the increase in our population size and the decrease in the populations of all other Great apes, not to mention the decrease in populations of numerous other species.
The extinction rate of all animals has increased significantly over the past quarter of a century, and especially since the Industrial Revolution. That is our doing.
The second observation is that our increasing population, and the consumptive practices of a large proportion of our population, should be an ecological warning bell. We have been overshooting our carrying capacity globally since the early 1970s, with the rich, westernised nations, overshooting long before that. Any ecologist will tell you that when a species overshoots its carrying capacity it is only a matter of time before there is decline.
Furthermore, the greater we exceed our carrying capacity then the greater is likely to be the decline. This would suggest that we are threatened.
Thirdly, the IUCN states that as far as we are concerned “…there are no major threats resulting in an overall population decline.” It is perhaps difficult to recognise a threat to ourselves when the threat is principally ourselves. Homo sapiens is the threat to Homo sapiens.
Ironically, we have appropriated for ourselves the species name Homo sapiens (Wise human), yet we are showing little collective sign of the wisdom such a designation suggests.
What would it take for the sapient part of our species categorisation to be made manifest?
Amongst the range of possibilities would have to be an acknowledgement that we are a threatened species, and that we conspired to place numerous other species on the threatened list. Having done that, we would be wise to confess our hubris in claiming our heights of evolution.
The Earth does not belong to us. We belong to the Earth. This would be a wise mantra for us to adopt.