Threatened Species Day

Today, 7 Sept, is National Threatened Species Day. 7 Sept was chosen to commemorate the death of the last Tasmanian Tiger in 1936. I got this at work via email, and thought that it captures the significance of the day really well:

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the death of the last Tasmanian tiger in captivity in Hobart Zoo. It symbolises the irreversible loss of an amazing and beautiful Australian marsupial that led a private and largely silent life among Tasmania’s forests, wetlands and grasslands, emerging only at dusk, dawn and during the night to hunt on the open plains.

So why did the Tasmanian tiger become extinct?

Because sheep were more important.

Introduced to Tasmania in 1824, sheep marked the beginning of the end for the tiger. Bounties were introduced almost immediately, and between 1888 and 1909, the Tasmanian parliament too offered a bounty for each tiger killed. A year after the time the scheme terminated, the species was considered rare; 26 years later, it was gone.

But hindsight is always 20/20: was this extinction predictable at the time? As early as 1863, the famous naturalist John Gould made the following prediction:

"When the comparatively small island of Tasmania becomes more densely populated, and its primitive forests are intersected with roads from the eastern to the western coast, the numbers of this singular animal will speedily diminish, extermination will have its full sway, and it will then, like the wolf in England and Scotland, be recorded as an animal of the past…."

73 years later, he was proven right – the combination of hunting and habitat destruction, compounded by disease, had taken its ultimate toll. Fifty-four other species of wildlife have gone the same way since European settlement.

Fortunately, the sheep are doing well.

So what will we do about the other 1685 species currently threatened with extinction?

Will we rescue or remember them?

There are lots of events happening around Australia today and the rest of this month – some are listed on the WWF-Australia events and volunteer pages.

WWF has also got an e-card that you can send around if that’s your vibe.