|Sana'a, Yemen's capital. Click for photo credit.|
Yemen is a relatively rural country that has seen very rapid environmental change in the last several years. Yet this is not the first time the region has seen such shifts. My field research on pre-Islamic environmental change in the region years ago showed that the shift from nomadic herding to long-term settlement significantly altered the environment. Water was diverted from streams to reservoirs, prairies disappeared into deserts, and great civilizations rose and fell. Today, it is easy to find archaeological evidence for these changes on the fringes of the Rub al Khali desert where I did my work.
The extinction of the leopard is but one of many signs of widespread accelerating environmental change during our era. Such rapid shifts throughout geologic history often led to widespread biological change across the planet characterized by mass extinctions and rapid evolution of new organisms. How we manage environmental change in the coming decades will impact the evolutionary trajectory of our planet for millennia.