The rise of humanity has coincided with the decline of many other species—so many, in fact, that some experts think we might be in the middle of a sixth major extinction. The number of species that we know have gone extinct are likely dwarfed by the many that we don’t know about, of course, and the loss seems to be showing no signs of slowing: One recent report from the World Wildlife Fund estimates that the overall number of vertebrate wildlife has declined by more than half since the 1970s (although some scientists are skeptical of the report’s methods).
“If half the animals died in London zoo next week it would be front page news,” Ken Norris, director of science for the Zoological Society of London (which collaborated with the WWF on the new analysis)
told the Guardian. “But that is happening in the great outdoors. This damage is not inevitable but a consequence of the way we choose to live.”
Here’s a look at a few of the species that we believe (to the best of our scientific ability) have gone extinct in the last half century:
2006: Baiji, also known as Yangtze river dolphins, are declared extinct. These Chinese dolphins were faced with a host of threats, including overfishing, habitat destruction (through dams, pollution and more), and shipping traffic—both from the boats themselves, and from the sonar used to navigate the rivers. (Image Credit: Institute of Hydrobiology, Chinese Academy of Sciences)
1981: The last known Mariana mallard dies. These ducks lived on the Mariana islands in the Pacific Ocean, the site of many pitched battles in World War II. Wetland destruction and hunting eliminated these birds. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC)
1986: Atitlan grebes, named for the lake in southern Guatemala where they lived, declared extinct. Several factors contributed to their demise. The introduction of voracious non-native bass fish to its habitat (part of an effort by the Guatemalan government to drive tourism to Lake Atitlan) led to a sharp reduction in food for the grebes. Then a 1976 volcanic eruption fractured the bed of Lake Atitlan, partially draining the water and wrecking the grebes’ habitat. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/David G. Allen)
2004: The last known Po’o-uli, also known as a black-faced honeycreeper, dies in captivity. Predation, habitat loss, disease, and the scarcity of the snails this Hawaiian bird fed upon are thought to have done the species in. (Image Credit: Paul E. Baker/USFWS)
2010: The last Javan rhino in Vietnam, a middle-aged female, is shot and killed by a poacher. Rhino horns and other parts are in demand for use in traditional medicine, despite their utter lack of medicinal ingredients (horns are made of the same stuff as hair and fingernails).
1989: The last golden toad was spotted in the cloud forests of Costa Rica. No confirmed sightings have occurred since. Habitat loss and a ravaging fungus are blamed for the loss of this species. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/USFWS)
1987: The last dusky seaside sparrow dies at a nature reserve in the Walt Disney World resort. These Florida bird began to decline when their nesting grounds were flooded, as part of a larger attempt to reduce the number of mosquitoes around Kennedy Space Center. Other construction projects, pollution, and pesticides kept pushing the birds further towards the brink. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/USFWS)
1976: The last time Javan tigers were seen in Indonesia. Hunting and loss of forest habitat drove the tigers to extinction. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/F.W. Bond)
1960s: South America’s Candango mouse was last seen in Brazil. The true cause of extinction isn’t well-known, but suburban sprawl is thought to be a factor. (Image Credit: João Moojen)
1981: The gastric brooding frog (named for its habit of swallowing its own eggs, so that they hatch in the mother’s stomach) is seen for the last time in Australia. Fungal infection has been fingered as a primary suspect in the frogs’ demise. Scientists are attempting to resurrect the species with cloning technology. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/Mike Tyler)
1981: The Tecopa pupfish is declared extinct by the U.S. government—the first such species to suffer that fate under the Endangered Species Act. The fish lived in hot water springs of Southern California’s Death Valley; when the springs were altered by a construction project, the fish couldn’t adapt to the swifter current and their numbers crashed. (Image Credit: Wikipedia CC/Phil Pister)
Formosan clouded leopards confirmed extinct by scientists. This subspecies, native to Taiwan, was wiped out by habitat loss and poachers seeking the animals’ fine pelts. (Image Credit: Taiwan Ministry of Foreign Affairs)