For the first time in 75 years, an entire genus of mammal is on the brink of extinction

You're looking at three of the last known hirola on Earth. Since the 1970s, unregulated hunting, habitat destruction and drought linked to climate change have driven the number of these large African antelopes living in Kenya and Somalia from over 14,000 to fewer than 400.

Of course, countless species go extinct every day — even the most conservative estimates show that the world is losing species at a rate 100 times greater than the world has seen in thousands of years.

But these hirola are not only among the last of their species, they're among the last of an entire genus — the taxonomic rank above species and below family. (As a point of reference, 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.)

If the critically endangered hirola cannot be saved, it will be the first time the Earth has lost an entire genus of mammal in three-quarters of a century. (The death of the last known Tasmanian tiger in 1936 spelled not only the end of the genus Thylacinus, but the family Thylacinidae, as well.)

According to National Geographic, conservation efforts to save the hirola are already well under way; the Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy is in the process of erecting what it claims will be a predator-free sanctuary for the species.

Whether or not hirola should be considered any more important, from a conservation standpoint, than any other animal facing the threat of extinction is obviously a subject for debate. But the more important question raised by the plight of the hirola is whether it heralds the coming of an age where the term "endangered genus" (or even "endangered family") will become as commonplace as "endangered species" is today. With levels of global biodiversity declining as rapidly as they are, such a future is frighteningly easy to envision.

[Via National Geographic]
Top image by Kenneth K. Coe via The Ishaqbini Hirola Community Conservancy