by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate
Born Free USA’s Canadian Representative
The welcome arrival of Volume 7 of the Handbook of Mammals of the World last week, hot off the press, reinforced my view that most animal protectionists and conservationists share a bias in favor of the “charismatic megafauna,” like pandas, whales, apes, and elephants, which precludes knowledge of both just how incredibly diverse the animal kingdom is and how many species are at risk due to the accelerated rates of endangerment and extinction we now see.
The book covers just nine families of rodents. Volume 6 covered the rest, plus the lagomorphs (rabbits, hares, pikas).
Of the 14 species of birch mice, one is endangered, one vulnerable; of 35 species of jerboa, one is vulnerable; of the five species of tree mouse, one is vulnerable; of 28 species of muroid mole-rat, two are endangered, one vulnerable; of the 68 species of Nesomyids, including pouched rats, climbing mice, and fat mice, one species is critically endangered, seven endangered, and one vulnerable; of the 765 species of Cricetid rodents, including hamsters, voles, lemmings, and new world rats and mice, 20 species are critically endangered, 32 species endangered, 40 species vulnerable, and 15 extinct since 1600; of the 816 species of Murid rodents, including “true” mice, rats, gerbils—all of them native entirely to the eastern hemisphere—15 species are critically endangered, 52 species endangered, 60 species vulnerable, and 14 species extinct since 1600. All of this is determined by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Many species have various subspecies, or relatively discreet geographic variations—in one case 50!—among which there may also be vulnerable, endangered, critically endangered, and extinct forms. And, there are dozens of species that are currently listed as “data deficient” or “not assessed,” that may be vulnerable to extinction, or may be endangered, but we just don’t know enough about them to say.
Other species, like the house mouse, are hugely adaptable and incredibly abundant over vast regions, both as a native and as an introduced exotic species. Many, justifiably or not, are thought of as verminous, even dangerous. The largest—the muskrat—is prolific, widespread, and killed in huge numbers for its fur with no threat to the survival of the species.
The odd endangered species, like the salt-marsh harvest mouse of California, have their champions, but, even so, obtaining protection for an endangered mouse or rat is often, at best, difficult.
Most of us just don’t know that there are such creatures as the Armenian birch mouse, giant root rat, sandy blind mole-rat, or Moroccan gerbil.
Many of these species are known by a single specimen, or very few; we know only that they exist. More species doubtlessly remain to be discovered, and the whole issue of their conservation is clouded by changing views as to their classification and their names.
But, like the iconic whooping crane, cheetah, or Javen rhinoceros, they’re out there and deserving of our concern.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild,