Largest mammals face extinction

New paper warns of imminent extinction crisis for largest wild animal species

Katie Hill - Editor-in-Chief, My Green Pod

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Published: 7 August 2016

This Article was Written by: Katie Hill - My Green Pod

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A team of conservation biologists is calling for a worldwide strategy to prevent the unthinkable: the extinction of the world’s largest mammal species.

‘The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide for people.’

DR WILLIAM RIPPLE
Professor of ecology at Oregon State University and study’s lead author

Sliding into oblivion

In a public declaration published in the journal BioScience, a group of more than 40 conservation scientists and other experts has called for a coordinated global plan to prevent the world’s ‘megafauna’ from sliding into oblivion.

Among the threats cited by the group as drivers of this mass extinction are illegal hunting, deforestation and habitat loss, the expansion of agriculture and livestock into wildlife areas and the growth of human populations.

‘Perhaps the biggest threat for many species is direct hunting driven by a demand for meat, pets, and body parts for traditional medicines and ornaments. Only a massive commitment from the international community will stop this rampant destruction of so many animal populations.’

DR ELIZABETH BENNETT
WCS’s Vice President of Species Conservation and study co-author

Threatened species

Dr William Ripple worked with other authors on the study to examine population trends of many species, including many of the most well-known, charismatic species – such as elephants, rhinos, gorillas and big cats – that are now threatened with extinction.

Approximately 59% of the world’s biggest mammalian carnivore species — including the tiger — and 60% of the largest herbivores are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as threatened with extinction.

All of these large species play critical roles in their ecosystems. Species at risk include elephants, which provide a suite of vital ecosystem services as ecological engineers, dispersing seeds and nutrients across vast areas.

‘With simultaneous loss of wildlife habitat and expansion of human populations and agriculture, negative interactions between people and wildlife are bound to rise. For wide-ranging megafauna like elephants and tigers, we need landscape-scale conservation strategies, taking into account the increasing interface between wildlife and people.’

Dr Varun R. Goswami
WCS India scientist and study co-author

Threat of obscurity

Some megafauna face the threat of obscurity. The loss of elephants worldwide to poachers in pursuit of ivory is well-known and the focus of extensive efforts to shut down this trade.

But the study authors point out that many species are at risk from many similar threats but are so poorly known that effective conservation efforts to save them are difficult.

‘The loss of elephants in the forests of Central Africa is increasingly damaging the function of the region’s most important ecosystems. We’re only beginning to understand how vital these keystone species are to the health of rainforests and other species that inhabit them.’

DR FIONA MAISELS
WCS Conservation Scientist and study co-author

The paper includes a 13-part declaration that highlights the need to acknowledge the threatened status of many large mammals and the vital ecological roles they play.

The declaration also cites the importance of integrating the efforts of scientists and funding agencies in developing countries where many species occur; the need for a new global framework to conserve megafauna and the moral obligation of saving the world’s biggest mammal species.

Click here to read the full study, ‘Saving the World’s Terrestrial Megafauna’, in BioScience.

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