For the first time in 75 years, an entire genus of mammal may go extinct. Unregulated hunting, destruction of habitat, and drought linked to climate change have all been responsible for the waning population of the hirola, a species of large African antelopes known for their goggle-eye markings and lyre-shaped ringed horns. And if the hirola goes — there are fewer than 400 left at present — it will be the last species of an entire genus, called Beatragus.
The iO9 science blog gives a point of reference to put the loss of an entire genus in perspective: “If the genus Canis were to go extinct, it would mean the disappearance of the planet's dogs, wolves, coyotes, jackals, and numerous other species.”
But National Geographic says there is some hope. A new conservation effort by Somali herders, the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy, is seeking to build a new predator-free sanctuary for the species. Since hirolas don’t harm livestock, the locals are supporting the effort. The herders will monitor for poaching and restrict livestock from grazing inside the sanctuary.
But the herders have a lot of work ahead. Past attempts to breed hirolas in captivity have failed. Relocation of hirolas have been controversial among locals, and frustrated by the mobility of the species. Hirolas aren’t just threatened by predators, but also human settlements, and cattle and sheep who compete with the antelope for water. And the hirola is now considered “critically endangered” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, declining in number by as much as 90 percent since 1980.
The hirola, of course, is just one of many species at peril of becoming extinct. A Nature magazine study estimates the world is losing species at a rate 100 times greater than the world has seen in thousands of years.