Not only are we wiping out some of the world’s newest species – like the Tapanuli orangutan, discovered in 2017 and already facing extinction thanks to human industry – but we’re killing off some of the oldest as well. Chinese giant salamanders, the “living fossils” whose ancestors roamed the Earth alongside stegosaurus and diplodocus, are now on the brink of extinction – and, despite surviving for more than 250 million years, so are many of the world’s most unique sharks and rays.
Giraffes were declared critically endangered for the first time in 2018, and almost all lemurs are doomed. Insects are particularly in danger. We’ve lost 97 percent of western monarch butterflies in the US, and South American creepy-crawlies are declining rapidly as well.
“Insects power the world in a real way — they make the world work," said McKeon. "We're dropping those numbers radically… That should scare people.”
But there is cause for hope. In amongst all the doom and gloom, 2018 also saw mountain gorillas saved from their critically endangered status and wild black rhinos returned to Chad for the first time in 50 years. The adorable San Quintin kangaroo rat was found to be alive and well after three decades of assumed extinction, and the rare Lake Pátzcuaro salamander was saved from extinction thanks to an order of Mexican nuns.
Most promisingly of all, there’s even hope for the two lonely northern white rhinos. No, we’re not talking about a rhinoceros-based immaculate conception here – but research this year found that northern and southern white rhinos are more closely related than previously thought, making hybrids born via IVF a real possibility.
“When it comes to … endangered species, we don’t have the luxury of trial and error,” Thomas Hildebrandt, the scientist behind the groundbreaking conservation technique, warned at the time.
“Losing species means losing the books of evolution before we have the chance to read them.”