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Extinction. It's not something the majority of everyday folk tend to pay a great deal of notice to when they're going about their lives. Maybe it's because our default point of reference is the dinosaurs which, being from 66 million years ago, are pretty easy to forget about. Or could it just be that we're too busy staring at our phones or watching Love Island the whole time?
Whatever the reason, it doesn't change the facts. And the reality is that not only is animal extinction a huge, widespread issue, it's also a growing one.
Here at LAD, conservation is something that's very close to our hearts. That is why we've decided to launch our Extinct campaign, where we'll be raising awareness and sharing inspirational stories from around the world about the progress that's being made to help these endangered animals.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has for years been producing what it refers to as a 'Red List'. It's a document that divides species of plant, mammal, bird, amphibian and marine life into several categories from 'least concern' right the way up to 'vulnerable', 'endangered', 'critically endangered' and 'extinct'. At present, the list considers 5,583 to be critically endangered.
Five thousand, five hundred and eighty-three species. Stop and think about that for a second or two. It's a frightening thought and while the threat of extinction is certainly nothing new, it does seem to be gaining speed since we showed up.
The rapid loss of species we are seeing today is estimated by experts to be between 1,000 and 10,000 times higher than the natural extinction rate. Which suggests that human activity has a major part to play. Overfishing, deforestation, poaching and pollution are just some of the ways our modern lives are impacting the animal kingdom and the repercussions are becoming more and more widespread.
Gorillas, tigers, rhinoceros and bluefin tuna are just a handful of the species at direct risk of extinction due to the actions of humans. But while the news may seem bleak, there are people out there putting themselves on the frontline in the fight to save endangered animals. The battle is also not clearly defined by lines of right or wrong.
Let us introduce you to the tale of 35-year-old Cambodian former-poacher Ven Thong.
Ven Thong, like many others from his community, was fond of animals, but relied on illegal hunting as a source of income to support his family.
"I felt guilty sometimes when I killed wild animals and I realised when they are gone they will be gone forever. But I had no choice," explains Ven Thong.
For him, and so many others, it was a case of do or die. If he didn't hunt, there would be no food or shelter for him and his children, regardless of whether he felt guilty or not. This cycle of hunting and guilt became Ven Thong's life for five long years, until his wish to conserve the local wildlife rather than destroy it became too strong to ignore.
Ven Thong had heard of the Community Anti Poaching Unit (CAPU), a local organisation doing work to protect the region's animals. Rather than remaining a hunter, he decided to approach them about helping the cause.
"I knew about CAPU, so I went to meet with Mr.Cheoung Koun, (CAPU Group Leader) and asked him to join with the team," said Ven Thong. "I really didn't want to work as poacher anymore. I thought this is the good choice for me. I wanted to be a good father, to be a good model for my children. I don't want them to be hunters like me before."
But despite his urge to help, Ven Thong knew that becoming a ranger was no easy task. It's a dangerous job that involves trekking deep into the jungle and facing threats from both poachers and wild animals head on.
"I knew from the news that rangers get killed during their missions in the forest," he said. "Additionally, I was worried about patrol gear and food that were not adequate for our team."
However, the pros of helping a noble cause and righting his wrongs drove Ven Thong to begin working with CAPU where he's now been for a year.
"I'm happy that we got support from the donors such as boots, shirts, backpacks, and food. Those things really help us a lot," said Ven Thong.
"Now, I'm glad that I can work as a protector and really feel different from being a poacher. I can see that during our patrol, traps and snares for wild boars, deer, or sun-bear are reduced almost 90 percent."
It's an incredible tale of role reversal and Ven Thong and CAPU are still hard at work in Cambodia, tackling poaching to make the jungle a safer place for wildlife.
But they're not alone. All over the world there are amazing people and organisations who are making it their mission to reduce the numbers of endangered species and reverse the harm that has been done.
Ven Thong's inspiring story is just one of many that LAD's Extinct campaign will be sharing over the coming weeks and months. So, stay tuned, get sharing and help us to spread the word about one of the most important causes in the modern world.
Extinct: A race against time to save our endangered species. Read more from our campaign here
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