Plenty of animals have gone extinct in Earth's lifetime. Dinosaurs are one of the many examples of mass extinction by natural causes, but various other species have perhaps had a more depressing reason for their demise. Mankind seems to be awfully good at slashing the populations of species and threatening their ecosystems in the name of food, development, safety or just plain old wanton destruction. So, as a harsh reminder of mankind's ability to wipe animals from the face of the Earth, here is a list of 10 animals that became extinct thanks to mankind.
Dodo by Gillimaufry via Shutterstock
You can't have a list of extinct animals without mentioning the dodo. Living happily in isolation on the Isle of Mauritius, the dodo was an oblivious, flightless bird not well built for defending itself from predators. It also only laid one egg a year. This bird was clearly only suited for a quiet life. When mankind arrived at the island, they brought monkeys, rats and pigs with them, which proved too much for the dodos to handle. They were all killed and/or eaten to extinction by 1681.
2. Great Auk
Great auks by Marzolino via Shutterstock
Nicknamed “the original penguin,” great auks were flightless birds that were about 1 meter (3.3 feet) tall with tiny wings unsuited for taking to the skies. They mostly lived in the North Atlantic oceans and only came on land to breed.
Great auks gained popularity in the 1700s to their detriment. They were killed for their valuable feathers, pelts, meat and oil by hunters and collectors. The killing of the last mating pair happened on July 3, 1844, by Sigurour Isleifsson and two other men who had been hired by a merchant to hunt the birds. The mating pair of auks were strangled by two men while the third man stomped on the last auk egg that the pair were nurturing.
3. Elephant Bird
Elephant bird skeleton via Wikimedia Commons
The elephant bird is strongly suspected to have been hunted to extinction. These enormous, flightless birds found their sanctuary on the isolated island of Madagascar. Without humans or any predators, these birds lived in relative bliss, laying their enormous eggs virtually out in the open.
Sadly, this made them incredibly easy dinner. With such a large bounty of food—from both the bird and their egg—the elephant bird never stood a chance when mankind made their way to Madagascar. Once again, mankind hunted this unusual bird to extinction, sometime within the last 1,000 years.
4. Schomburgk’s Deer
Photo of Cervus schomburgki, Schomburgk's deer, from West Berlin Zoo though Lothar Schlawe (1911) via Wikimedia Commons
This deer used to gambol around Thailand. However, tales of the magic power of its antlers made it a popular victim of the traditional medicine trade. This already smells like trouble for the Schomburgk's deer.
Human settlement and agriculture destroyed most of their livable habitat. If this wasn't isolating enough, during floods, the deer were restricted to the high ground, which made them extremely easy to hunt. The last wild Schomburgk’s deer was killed in 1932, and the last domesticated deer died in 1938.
5. Barbary Lions
Barbary Lions photograph by Erni via Shutterstock
These beautiful lions have a very distinctive face shape; a long, proud snout and a thick mane of hair made it a wild beauty of not just Africa but also Europe. It is not clear when the Barbary lion went extinct, but it is clear why. No prizes for guessing—yes, once again, they were hunted by humans. One story claims that a hunter shot the last wild Barbary lion in 1942, others say as late as 1960.
There are still a handful of Barbary lion descendents alive today, but they are all in captivity. It is questionable whether they will ever flourish again in the wild.
6. Atlas Bear
Illustration comparing the Atlas bear to the Eurasian brown bear by Joseph J. Ortega
The Atlas bear was the only ever species of bear native to Africa. They lived in the northwest region of the continent, around the Atlas Mountains. The bears were hunted and captured in the time of the Roman Empire and entered in the gladiator fighting pits.
Their numbers continued to decrease during the Middle Ages as their forests were destroyed for timber. The last Atlas bear was shot and killed in the mid-1800s.
Falkland wolf (Dusicyon australis) an illustration from Zoology of the Voyage of H.M.S. Beagle
The warrah, or Falkland Islands wolf, was curiously the only land mammal native to the Falkland Islands. These isolated wolves were thought to have been stranded on the island when the Ice Age ended, and an ice bridge between the Falklands and mainland South America melted away. This is a curious situation for a wolf to find itself in. A curiosity that the likes of Darwin had the opportunity to document before they perished.
The Falklands was uninhabited by humans until the 1760s, so the wolves had no knowledge or fear of humans. When settlers arrived, they saw the wolves as a threat to their livestock. Their lack of fear and the exposed habitat made the wolves easy to hunt and kill. The last one was killed in 1876.
8. Thylacine (Tasmanian Tiger)
Two Tasmanian tigers via Wikimedia Commons
This incredibly unique, dog-like marsupial with an elegant face and tiger-like stripes was found in Australia, Papua New Guinea and, of course, Tasmania. Despairingly, they were wiped out in the 20th century.
Their extinction was sped up when a bounty was put on the thylacine’s head: £1 a pop. That may not sound like much, but today that would be roughly £85 ($130). Their beautiful coats were desirable and farmers found them a nuisance to their livestock. The last wild thylacine to be shot in Tasmania was in 1930 by Wilf Batty, a farmer who had seen the tiger around his house for weeks beforehand. The last captive Tasmanian tiger died in 1936.
9. Ground Sloth
Ground sloth by Morphart Creation via Shutterstock
The ground sloth is near the end of the list as a questionable number 9. It is difficult to ascertain whether humans are responsible for the extinction of ground sloths or whether it was the effect of climate change and the subsequent decline of mega flora. For without enormous trees, we cannot have enormous sloths.
Humans may have been responsible for decreasing the numbers of ground sloths since there’s a lot of available meat on a massive mammal. This is frustrating for archeologists as plenty of meat also means that hunters rarely need to touch the sloth’s skeleton with tools, and chips from human tools on archeological bones is a sure way to predict how an animal died. Ground sloth bones are generally unchipped by human tools, so it's uncertain whether mankind is entirely responsible for this one.
10. An animal at risk of being added to this list: The Pangolin
Scaly anteater by David Brossard via Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
The pangolin is a small, scaly anteater found in Africa that looks like a walking pine cone. Unfortunately for the pangolin, all eight species are listed as critically endangered. They are traded on the black market for food and their scales are used in sham medicine in China and Vietnam. In fact, it's the world's most illegally traded mammal, according to The Guardian.
So these animals aren't extinct; why, then, are they on this list? Because the beautiful pangolin may soon have a place here as, once again, humans seem unable to harvest enough willpower to stop killing them.
Coat of pangolin scales offered to George III in 1820 Via Wikimedia Commons
In the 21st century, we have the capability to ensure that animals aren't hunted to extinction. In the case of the pangolin, reducing the demand for its scales is the single most important action that will lead to the prevention of its extinction.