Large Herbivores Face Extinction: Threatened Wildlife May Result to an ‘empty landscape’

Scientists say that numerous populations of wildlife such as rhinoceroses, zebras, camels, elephants and tapirs are facing extinction in grasslands, savannahs, deserts, and forests.

William Ripple, a renowned professor in the College of Forestry at the Oregon State University leads an international team of wildlife ecologists that conducts an inclusive study of information pertaining to the world’s largest herbivores (more than 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, on average), including outcomes of the declining population, main threats, and their endangerment status.

The team published their first observation on Friday in an open-access journal of Science Magazine called Science Advances.

For the study, the authors focused on 74 large herbivores – animals that rely on plant life for survival. The authors then concluded “without radical intervention, large herbivores (and many smaller ones) will continue to disappear from numerous regions with enormous ecological, social, and economic costs.”

The study was conducted when Ripple initiated a worldwide analysis on the large- carnivore decline, which goes together with the death of their herbivore prey.

“I expected that habitat change would be the main factor causing the endangerment of large herbivores,” Ripple said. “But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”

BioScience, a journal published in 1992, became a reference for the scientists on the study of the decline of wildlife in tropical forests.

Kent H. Redford, the author and post-doctoral researcher at the University of Florida, first used the term “empty forest”. While increasing number of trees and other flora may exist, he stated that the loss of forest wildlife can cause a long-standing danger to those environments.

Ripple and his associates went a step further on their study.

“Our analysis shows that it goes well beyond forest landscapes,” he said, “to savannahs and grasslands and deserts. So we coin a new term, the empty landscape.”

Land-dwelling herbivores comprise about 4,000 known types and they exist in numerous environments except Antarctica.

Developing countries such as Southeast Asia, India, and Africa, comprise the highest number of endangered large herbivores. Europe (the European bison) comprises of only one large herbivore while there are none in North America, in which the authors stated that it has “already lost most of its large mammals” through primitive hunting and environmental changes.

Herbivore hunting transpires for two main reasons: meat ingestion and global trading of animal parts. The authors wrote that approximately 1 billion people survive on wild meat.

Ripple stated, “The market for medicinal uses can be very strong for some body parts, such as rhino horn.”

He added,”Horn sells for more by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine.”

In 2011, the existence of Africa’s western black rhinoceros was completely wiped out from the face of the earth.

Taal Levi, co-author and assistant professor in Oregon State’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife stated that the reason for the decrease of some large herbivores is that they “are difficult to remedy in a world with increasing human populations and consumption.”

“But it’s inconceivable that we allow demand for horns and tusks to drive the extirpation of large herbivores from otherwise suitable habitat,” Levi said. “We need to intensify the reduction of demand for such items.”

The authors wrote that the death of large herbivores indicate that other parts of wild bionetworks will weaken.

The probable outcomes include: insufficiency of food for giant carnivores such as lions and tigers; reduced seed distribution for plants; more common and strong wildfires; sluggish circulation of nutrients from plant life to the soil; environmental changes for smaller wildlife, including birds and amphibians.

“We hope this report increases appreciation for the importance of large herbivores in these ecosystems,” said Ripple. “And we hope that policymakers take action to conserve these species.”

In order to understand the outcomes of large herbivore decline, the authors encourages people to do a synchronized research endeavor on endangered species especially in developing countries. Additionally, local people must also engage in solving the problem on the falling off of large herbivores. . “It is essential that local people be involved in and benefit from the management of protected areas,” they write. “Local community participation in the management of protected areas is highly correlated with protected area policy compliance.”









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