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Rare woodpecker extinction raises concern for future of other endangered animals

Published: Sep. 30, 2021 at 7:08 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 30, 2021 at 11:10 PM CDT
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JONESBORO, Ark. (KAIT) - After decades of searching for a glimpse of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker, the U.S. government has officially declared the species extinct.

Thousands of people flocked to the Delta in 2005 when sightings of the bird were reported.

Those sightings were never confirmed, meaning the last official sighting was in 1944 in Louisiana.

The Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is just one of 23 species recently declared extinct by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Dr. Tom Risch, Vice Provost for Research and Technology Transfer at A-State, said this is the largest number of species put on the extinction list at one time.

“It highlights the current extinction rates that we’re undergoing globally,” said Risch. “Which are a thousand times higher than pre-human kind. So there’s concerns about extinction rates in general.”

Risch said the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker has a strong following with Ornithologists and bird-watchers, and people will continue to look for it.

Many people confuse the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker with the more common Pileated Woodpecker.

“It’s a very large, very big, noisy, obvious woodpecker that is really fun to watch and is fairly common around here,” said Risch.

Risch said the Pileated Woodpecker has less white on the body and doesn’t have the distinct ivory bill that gives the Ivory-Billed its name.

Risch said the loss of these species not only impacts the ecosystems they live in, but it takes away from the conversation about the habitats they once called home.

Ivory-Billed Woodpeckers lived in Cypress swamps in the southeast, a habitat that has been largely destroyed by humans.

“They’ve gone extinct because we’ve lost that habitat,” said Risch. “As long as the species was listed we had a way to talk about the bird and its habitat and the vanishing habitats in the southeast. In a way that’s a shame that they’ve declared them extinct because those conversations will fade away.”

Risch said if people can take away anything from the loss of these animals, it’s the importance of preserving habitats and protecting species that are considered endangered.

“It basically takes all of us to avoid extinction,” said Risch. “Extinction is forever, and being proactive to avoid extinction is a big endeavor.”

An example Risch gives is A-State’s mascot, the American Red Wolf.

“That species was once found throughout the southeast, from Texas through to Florida and even into southern New York,” said Risch. “It was taken out of the wild. Then, it was reintroduced into the wild in North Carolina, and that takes a lot of effort.”

Reintroducing a species into the wild takes buy-in from the community and landowners, state and federal agencies, and researchers.

Red Wolves are the most critically endangered wolf in the world, with only 18 living in the wild and about 260 in the world.

“Here’s another example of a southeastern species, iconic like the woodpecker, that’s going to take a lot of effort to save from extinction,” said Risch.

Risch said while the loss of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker is sad, there is hope that it could help keep the focus on the endangered species.

“By working together we can preserve our species,” said Risch. “It’s a societal effort, so people have to understand how important it is.”

To find a full list of endangered animals, visit the U.S. Fish and Wildlife website here.

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