Hands up everyone who knows what a Thylacine is? Those who said a Tasmanian Wolf or Tasmanian Tiger are right, although it is neither a wolf nor a tiger. This dog-headed, pouched marsupial could have been invented by Dr Doolittle. And unfortunately it is nearly as ficticious, as it has been officially extinct since 1939 when 'Ben', the last known living Thylacine, died in Hobart Zoo. From time to time Tasmanian residents (as well as on mainland Australia) claim to have seen a 'tiger' but none of these sightings have been confirmed.
Over the past 200 years about 17 Australian mammals have become extinct and many others are threatened with extinction. In a bid to address this ten years ago National Threatened Species Day was conceived in Australia and has been held on 7 September each year since then. The idea has spread and although not widely publicised in Europe the World Land Trust (WLT) regularly receives donations from schools and individuals who want to help prevent further extinctions by saving habitats for threatened wildlife.
Creating safe havens for threatened species in Ecuador...
For the World Land Trust every day is Threatened Species Day ~ saving habitats and their wildlife is simply a way of life. WLT's track record is impressive, having saved over 300,000 acres (500 square miles) of tropical forests and other critically threatened habitats since it was established in 1989. We know the land has been saved, we know it is being protected and we know that wildlife have safe havens in which to live and breed safely. What we don't really know is how many species we are saving from extinction. Experts tell us that we are losing 137 plant, animal and insect species every single day due to rainforest deforestation (that equates to 50,000 species a year). Well at least on WLT's reserves this is not the case.
In November 1997 the ornithologist Robert Ridgely, author of The Birds of Ecuador, was with four friends on a mule trail on the eastern slope of the Andes in the south of the country. They were recording bird song when Ridgely heard a sound that was completely unknown to him. It was the call of a remarkable bird, a large antpitta ~ a species new to science and named the Jocotoco Antpitta. It was immediately put on the critically endangered list. Six weeks later Robert Ridgely and Nigel Simpson (now a Trustee of the WLT) set out to try and buy the land as a nature reserve. With Ecuadorian colleagues with whom the Trust now works, Fundación Jocotoco (FJ) was established to conserve the habitat of this and other threatened species of the rapidly disappearing forests in Ecuador. By September 1998 the Fundación had purchased the mountainside at Cerro Tapichalaca to create a reserve for the Jocotoco antpitta and, although confined to a small area, this is certainly a bird species dragged from the jaws of extinction just in time. Sharing the Tapichalaca reserve are other threatened species including Spectacled Bears, Mountain Tapir and puma, as well as nine globally threatened frogs and over 30 species of orchid only found in this reserve. Over the past five years the World Land Trust has raised funds to help FJ purchase and protect other important tracts of land in Ecuador and so far eight reserves have been created. The ultimate aim is to create a series of at least ten privately managed habitat reserves protecting 70,000 acres (30,000 ha) in Ecuador. The locations are primarily chosen to protect threatened bird species not found inside the network of national parks, along with all the other fauna and flora which depend on this habitat.
Patagonia, Brazil and Paraguay...
In other parts of South America the WLT is challenging extinctions in a range of different habitats. The Ranch of Hopes Wildlife Refuge in Patagonia protects guanaco (wild relatives of the llama), Patagonian Hare (mara), Burrowing owls and elephant seals to name but a few, in Paraguay the unique Chaco/Pantanal habitats are being saved to protect Giant Otter, Giant Armadillo and Giant Anteater as well as jaguars and a wealth of wonderful birds and in the Atlantic Rainforests of Brazil donations are saving sloths, tamarins, woolly spider monkeys and over 1,000 bird species (200 of which are found nowhere else on earth).
In India the Trust is working with the Wildlife Trust of India to protect corridors of land between protected forests for elephants to move safely and avoid conflict with humans. Despite the best efforts of many international organisations Indian elephants are threatened by forest fragmentation causing populations to become isolated. (Population isolation is known to be one of the major factors causing extinction for most wildlife.) The Wildlife Trust of India have identified 88 corridors vital to the survival of herds of elephants and so far WLT has been instrumental in saving two of them - one in the Garo Hills in the NE and the other in the Brahmagiri Hills in Kerala, in the south.
Extinction is forever - help us save threatened species
While extinctions do occur naturally, there is no question that the accelerating decline of wild animals and plants is less to do with natural events and more to do with human activities. The main threats to wildlife come from habitat loss, closely followed by pollution, overexploitation and the introduction of exotic (non-native) species. There are very many sensible reasons for saving threatened species. Plants and animals hold medicinal, agricultural, ecological, commercial and aesthetic value and our brain tells us that it makes sense to save them. But the will to save threatened wildlife comes from the heart.
Make a pledge with your heart and save an endangered animal this Threatened Species Day. If you're lucky you could save far more.
By buying One Acre of threatened forest through the World Land Trust you will be saving and protecting up to 1,500 big trees in Brazil together with all their threatened species.
Endangered means there's still time, but extinction is forever.
World Land Trust is a registered charity 1001291
Patrons: Sir David Attenborough CH FRS and David Gower OBE
tel: + 44 (0) 1986 874 422