A study published last summer stated that the number of species on our planet is disappearing at such a fast rate that we might be entering another mass extinction. Entire species are disappearing at such a fast rate that the scientists compared it to what happened to the dinosaurs. Seeing it written down in these words shocked me because it sounds so gloomy and hopeless! And it got me thinking: is it worth doing something at this point or is our planet too far gone? Am I really helping to reduce my impact on habitat loss by recycling? Or are we cutting down forests at such a fast rate that it isn’t worth it anymore, and I might as well start throwing my papers and plastics in the trash? Since I refuse to accept the fact that we are doomed, I try to look for stories or articles of when it was possible to make a difference for animals and the environment, and maybe draw inspiration from a positive story than be terrified by a negative story of doom. One such amazing story is that of the peregrine falcon.
Peregrine falcons, in my opinion, are the most amazing birds on the entire planet! Not only because they are pretty badass birds, but but because they show that it is possible to bring animals back from the brink of extinction. The name “falcon” comes from the latin word for traveller, which is a really suiting name for a bird that has one of the longest migrations of any bird in North America. They are the fastest animal on the planet, reaching speeds of up to 300 km/h while they are in a stoop, or diving after their prey. They are able to kill other birds mid-flight by diving down at them, and have been known to take down birds that are larger than they are. While they seem like ferocious predators, they do mate for life, and return to the same nesting site year after year where male and female peregrines raise their chicks together.
In the 1950’s the use of dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) began in order to control agricultural pests that destroyed crops, and to keep down mosquito populations to prevent the spread of mosquito-borne illnesses. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until much later on that people realized the effects this chemical was having on many ecological systems. The peregrine falcon was affected through bioaccumulation. Being top predators, peregrines consumed smaller birds that fed on insects contaminated by DDT. This chemical accumulated in the bodies of peregrine falcons, effecting the way they deposit calcium into the shell of their eggs. The result was that peregrines laid eggs with very soft shells that would break under the weight of the nesting bird trying to incubate them. By 1970, the population of peregrine falcons in the United States had decreased by 88%, and they were listed as endangered. In certain areas, such as Ontario for example, they were regionally extirpated, so there were no more nesting peregrines left at all.
A few years later, DDT was banned first in the US and later in Canada. This meant that a large number of conservation organizations were able to get together and start multiple captive breeding and reintroduction programs of peregrine falcons all over North America. Since 1974, over 6,000 peregrine falcons were reintroduced into the wild by these organizations. The programs were so successful, that by 1999 the peregrine falcon was no longer classified as an endangered species! In Ontario, where they were previously extirpated, the peregrine population is doing so well that captive breeding programs are no longer needed to keep up a stable population!
That article that talked about another mass extinction, concluded that it is still possible to reduce our impacts on the environment, and it is possible to slow down the rate at which animals are disappearing. If we do a better job at protecting animals and their natural habitats, and reduce our contributions to climate change, we could help reduce the pressure on animal populations all over the world, making it possible to slow down the rate of this mass extinction. So recycle, ride your bike, and buy local, because small actions can add up to big results.
Getting peregrine falcon populations to be stable again took a lot of effort and work from scientists, governmental agencies, and conservation groups. There was a time when I am sure it seemed hopeless to bring these wonderful animals back from the brink of extinction. As it turns out, it was possible to make a huge difference for these animals! So even though we see a lot of negative messaging about the fate of animals all over the world, there IS hope, and it IS possible to make a difference!
Written by Julia Molnar