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This Week’s Creature Feature: Make a New Year’s ­Resolution

Start at home to preserve species from extinction
A humpback whale off the coast of Cape May, NJ.
      It was sobering to read National Geographic’s October issue on animals that have recently gone extinct or will be extinct in the next few years. Large mammals like the northern white rhino, with only two females remaining, are done in by poaching. The smallest dolphin, the vasquita, is dying off as by-catch of gill nets.
      Most of the thousands of animals threatened with that permanent disappearance suffer from habitat loss. They have no place to live. Deforestation, like what is taking place in South America, is an easy-to-see cause of habitat loss. But filling in wetlands, polluting streams and fragmenting animals by largescale farming also create loss.
      North American birds frequently travel long distances to survive harsh winters. A paper published in Science in September describes a 29 percent drop in migrating North American birds since 1970. Habitat loss all along their routes is explained as the cause of decline in migratory birds.
      Other causes of extinction are population stresses, the introduction of competing invasive species and disease.
     In the oceans, warming, lost fishing equipment, overfishing, runoff, pollution, plastics, invasive species — all stress populations. Warm water has caused a sharp decline in the Pacific sardines, which trickles down to sea lion starvation. Sea bird populations are dramatically lower.
       Young children are growing up in a different world. Birds such as whip-poor-will, that used to be common, are rare.
 
Make a New Year’s Resolution
      What can you do to try to reverse the trends of extinction?
      Support groups like The Nature Conservancy that preserve land. Support wetland preservation. Plant native plants and, if you have a large lawn, plant native trees. Leave a part of your land in a wilder state with dense bushes and trees. Use fallen leaves as mulch. Avoid using insecticide, and use compost as fertilizer and mulch. Avoid the use of plastics. Refuse plastic bags, straws and packaging.