We are living in an era of unprecedented loss in biodiversity. The most optimistic projections forecast the loss of several thousand species over the next few decades; less sanguine conservationists fear that almost a million species may vanish before the end of the present century. The earth has suffered mass extinctions before, but the present episode is qualitatively different for two reasons: first, it is extremely rapid; second, it is caused by one mammalian species, a large, primate of African origin. Ironically this creature has named itself Homo sapiens, the Wise or Knowing Man.

The human activities that threaten wildlife and ecosystems worldwide include deforestation, pollution, over-exploitation of native species, introduction of non-native species, acceleration of climatic changes, and spread of infectious diseases. The essential problem is that more and more people are using more and more resources, leaving less and less for other animal species.

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