Big beasts eaten to brink of extinction

Rodiano Bonacci
Febbraio 9, 2019

That's according to a shock new study, which found that at least 150 species of large animals are at risk of extinction.

"In the future, 70 percent will experience further population declines and 60 percent of the species could become extinct or very rare".

Of these species, 200 are in decline, while 150 are at risk of being wiped out.

In the past 250 years, nine large animal species have either gone extinct overall or disappeared from their natural habitats.

"Our results suggest we're in the process of eating megafauna to extinction", said study author and Oregan State University scientist Professor William Ripple.

These include two species of giant tortoise - one of which disappeared in 2012 - and two of deer.

Species at risk include the Chinese giant salamander, which can grow to almost 2m long.

This animal is now under siege by hunting, development and pollution and experts predict it to become extinct in the wild imminently.

"Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be hard and complicated", Professor Ripple said. "There will be economic arguments against it, as well as cultural and social obstacles".

'But if we don't consider, critique and adjust our behaviours, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth's megafauna'.

Researchers studied almost 300 species of "megafauna" that included mammals, fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

Larger animals tend to have longer lifespans, longer gestation periods, and longer before reaching sexual maturity and dependence on previous generations.

Over the past 500 years, 2% of megafauna species had vanished from the Earth as humans refined their ability to kill from a safe distance, said the scientists. That may not sound like a lot, but it's more than double the same figure for smaller vertebrates, which have seen just 0.8 percent of species go extinct.

The main threat to the animals was human demand for their meat or body parts, said the team writing in the journal Conservation Letters.

Lead scientist Professor William Ripple, from Oregon State University in the USA, said: "Direct harvest for human consumption of meat or body parts is the biggest danger to almost all of the large species with threat data available".

"Thus, minimizing the direct killing of these vertebrate animals is an important conservation tactic that might save many of these iconic species as well as all of the contributions they make to their ecosystems", Ripple said in a university news release.

These large species are under greater threat and have a higher percentage of decreasing populations than all other vertebrate species combined, Ripple said.

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