Extinction Looms for an Entire Genus of Mammal

Sadly, news of mammal species going extinct has become all to common in recent years -- and as if that weren't bad enough, conservationists say that soon more than just a species alone could be lost. Hirola, a distinctive-looking African antelope, are fast-declining in their dwindling habitat, teetering on the brink of extinction due to droughts fueled by climate change and a slew of other destructive human activities. But the few remaining hirola aren't only the last of their kind; they're the last of their entire genus as well.

According to a report from National Geographic, for the first time in 75 years, the world is inching towards the extinction of a genus, the taxonomical ranking above species. Hirola are the last surviving members of the genus Beatragus, and there are only thought to be around 400 of them left in fragmented groups in Eastern Africa -- down from a healthy population of around 14,000. In the last three decades alone, hirola numbers have dropped a troubling 90 percent, say conservationists.

The threats faced by hirolas are by and large the same as those which are claiming a record number of species across the globe every year: droughts fueled by climate change, encroachment from expanding settlements in their habitat, and unrestricted hunting. A partnership between local clans to preserve and restore the hirola's stomping grounds have worked to slow their demise, but some experts believe that it may already be too late to reverse the species', and thus the genus' decline.

Not since 1936, with the death of the very last Tasmanian tiger of the genus Thylacinus, has extinction loomed for a higher taxinominal ranking than species -- though given the current rate of extinction, it is likely not the last time.

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