Hu­mans eat­ing wild mam­mals into ex­tinc­tion

Kuwait Times - - HEALTH & SCIENCE -

Some 300 wild mam­mal species in Asia, Africa and Latin Amer­ica are be­ing driven to ex­tinc­tion by hu­man­ity’s vo­ra­cious ap­petite for bush­meat, ac­cord­ing to a world-first as­sess­ment re­leased yes­ter­day.

The species at risk range from rats to rhi­noc­eros, and in­clude docile, ant-eat­ing pan­golins as well as flesh-rip­ping big cats.

The find­ings, pub­lished in the jour­nal Royal So­ci­ety Open Sci­ence, are ev­i­dence of a “global cri­sis” for warm-blooded land an­i­mals, 15 top con­ser­va­tion sci­en­tists con­cluded. “Ter­res­trial mam­mals are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a mas­sive col­lapse in their pop­u­la­tion sizes and ge­o­graph­i­cal ranges around the world,” the study warned.

This de­cline, it said, was part of a larger trend known as a “mass ex­tinc­tion event,” only the sixth time in half a bil­lion years that Earth’s species are dy­ing out at more than 1,000 times the usual rate.

Be­sides eat­ing them, hu­mans are rob­bing mam­mals of their nat­u­ral habi­tats through agri­cul­ture and ur­ban­iza­tion, and dec­i­mat­ing them through pol­lu­tion, dis­ease and cli­mate change. Ac­cord­ing to the Union for the Con­ser­va­tion of Na­ture’s (IUCN) Red List of en­dan­gered species, a quar­ter of 4,556 land mam­mals as­sessed are on the road to an­ni­hi­la­tion.

For 301 of these threat­ened species, “hunt­ing by hu­mans”-mainly for food, but also as pur­ported health and viril­ity boost­ers, and tro­phies such as horns or pelts-is the main threat, ac­cord­ing to the com­pre­hen­sive re­view of sci­en­tific lit­er­a­ture.

The like­li­hood of ex­tinc­tion, the team found, de­pends on body size: the big­ger the an­i­mals, the greater the dan­ger.

More than 100 pri­mates, in­clud­ing go­ril­las and snub-nosed mon­keys, and dozens of hooved an­i­mals from oxen to an­te­lope, are at dire risk from hunt­ing. “These species will con­tinue to de­cline un­less there is ma­jor global ac­tion to save them,” Bill Rip­ple, a pro­fes­sor at Ore­gon State University and lead author of the study, told AFP.

Cas­cad­ing ef­fects

All 301 species iden­ti­fied are found ex­clu­sively in de­vel­op­ing coun­tries, with the high­est con­cen­tra­tion in south­east Asia (113), fol­lowed by Africa (91), the rest of Asia (61) and Latin Amer­ica (38). The coun­tries with the most na­tive species un­der siege from hunt­ing were Mada­gas­car (46), In­done­sia (37), the Philip­pines (14) and Brazil (10).

The scale of the prob­lem is daunt­ing: some 89,000 tonnes of wild meat-with a mar­ket value of about $200 mil­lion (180 mil­lion eu­ros) — is butchered ev­ery year from the Brazil­ian Ama­zon alone, the study found.

On cur­rent trends, the prospects for these and other mam­mals is not bright, the au­thors said. “Forty of these species were al­ready classed as crit­i­cally en­dan­gered by 1996, in­di­cat­ing that there has been lit­tle or no con­ser­va­tion progress in re­vers­ing their fate,” they note.

This, de­spite dozens of ma­jor con­ser­va­tion con­fer­ences and sum­mits, and the ex­pan­sion of pro­tected ar­eas. The im­pact of ex­tinc­tion may be felt well be­yond the loss of in­di­vid­ual species, the sci­en­tists cau­tioned. “Through cas­cad­ing ef­fects, the loss of these mam­mals is al­ter­ing the struc­ture and func­tion of the en­vi­ron­ments in which they oc­cur,” the study notes.

The re­sult could be a loss of food se­cu­rity for hu­mans. The re­search echoed a re­cent study which showed that more than two-thirds of 9,000 threat­ened species in­clud­ing plants, birds and in­sects-faced over-ex­ploita­tion from com­merce, recre­ation or sub­sis­tence.

Rip­ple and col­leagues call for in­creased le­gal pro­tec­tion of threat­ened mam­mals, bet­ter ed­u­ca­tion and fam­ily plan­ning, and the pro­vi­sion of al­ter­na­tive foods to lo­cal pop­u­la­tions. Giv­ing lo­cal com­mu­ni­ties stronger land rights-so that they have a more di­rect in­ter­est in con­ser­va­tion-is also key, they said.—AFP

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