If 2016 was a rough year for the animal kingdom, 2017 could be worse. Most scientists agree that we are experiencing a sixth mass extinction, but unlike the previous five that extended over hundreds of millions of years and occurred because of cataclysmic natural disasters, humans are responsible for this one. Climate change, agricultural expansion, wildlife crime, pollution, and disease have created a shocking acceleration in the disappearance of species. The World Wildlife Fund recently predicted that more than two-thirds of the vertebrate population--mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, and reptiles--would be lost over the next three years if extinctions continue at the current rate. A 2015 study that appeared in the journal Science Advances suggests that the rate of vertebrate extinction has increased nearly 100 times.
According to the National Academy of Sciences, a sixth mass extinction is underway. Animal species are disappearing at 1,000 to 10,000 times the natural rate. We recently reported on scientists using artificial intelligence to analyze photos to help track at-risk species such as giraffes and whale sharks. Now AI is being used to analyze sound to help protect forest elephants in central Africa. Mainly due to poachers and habitat destruction, the number of forest elephants went from an estimated 100,000 in 2011 to fewer than 40,000 today.
When it comes to alleviating some of the world's most pressing problems, perhaps we should look to the skies. The word "drone" might inspire images of counterterrorism strikes and the future of package delivery. But quadcopters and other autonomous flying vehicles are revolutionizing the ways we tackle the biggest social and environmental issues of our time. While there are definite drawbacks to using drones in this capacity -- problems of privacy, ethics, and cost among them -- the technology, when executed responsibly, helps aid organizations, scientists, and everyday citizens transform the act of doing good. From edible drones delivering lifesaving assistance to rural communities to quadcopters tracking illegal logging in rainforests, here are just a few of the recent ways people have used drones for social good.
Cheetahs, the world's fastest land animals, are racing to the edge of extinction, conservationists say. Only about 7,100 cheetahs remain in the wild, according to a new analysis of the cheetah population. The carnivores have lost about 91 percent of their historic range in Africa and Asia. Researchers said the latest figures show the cheetah may be more imperiled than previously thought. "We've just hit the reset button in our understanding of how close cheetahs are to extinction," Kim Young-Overton, who directs the cheetah program at conservation group Panthera, said in a statement.
Elephants in eastern Africa have learned to travel at night and hide during the day to avoid poachers who are hunting them to extinction, a new study shows. Normally elephants forage for food and migrate in daylight, while resting under cover of darkness. But a sharp increase in illegal hunting driven by the global ivory trade has forced the massive land mammals to upend their usual habits. Elephants in eastern Africa have learned to travel at night and hide during the day to avoid poachers who are hunting them to extinction. Normally elephants forage for food and migrate in daylight, while resting under cover of darkness.