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
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
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
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
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.