Threat of ex­tinc­tion for megafauna

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - NEWS - SHEREE BEGA

THE eu­lo­gies have al­ready been writ­ten for Africa’s western black rhino and the Viet­namese sub­species of the Ja­van rhino.

And, if noth­ing changes, sci­en­tists warn they will soon be writ­ing obit­u­ar­ies for species and sub­species of megafauna as they van­ish from the planet.

“Epi­taphs will be needed for the kouprey, last seen in 1988, and the north­ern white rhino, which now num­bers three in­di­vid­u­als,” say 43 of the world’s wildlife ex­perts in a new re­port, Sav­ing the World’s Ter­res­trial Megafauna.

Megafauna are de­fined as large ter­res­trial car­ni­vores weigh­ing more than 15kg and large her­bi­vores of more than 100kg.

“The Su­ma­tran rhino is al­ready ex­tinct in the wild in Malaysia and very close to ex­tinc­tion in In­done­sia… The Ja­van rhino is down to a sin­gle pop­u­la­tion of about 58 in a sin­gle re­serve. The crit­i­cally en­dan­gered Bac­trian camel and African wild ass are not far be­hind.”

Even in pro­tected ar­eas, megafauna are “in­creas­ingly un­der as­sault”, the sci­en­tists said.

“For ex­am­ple, in West and Cen­tral Africa, sev­eral large car­ni­vores (in­clud­ing lions, African wild dogs and cheetahs) have ex­pe­ri­enced re­cent se­vere range con­trac­tions and have de­clined markedly in many pro­tected ar­eas.”

Their re­port de­clares the world’s largest wildlife species face an ex­tinc­tion cri­sis and they call for a swift, global con­ser­va­tion re­sponse to pre­vent th­ese an­i­mals from be­ing lost for­ever. The re­search de­tails the sheer loss of large mam­mal pop­u­la­tions around the globe, from the poorly stud­ied such as the scim­i­tar-horned oryx to species such as tigers, lions, go­ril­las and rhi­nos.

“Large-bod­ied mam­mals are typ­i­cally at a higher risk of ex­tinc­tion than smaller ones. Most mam­malian megafauna face dra­matic range con­trac­tions and pop­u­la­tion de­clines. In fact, 59 per­cent of the world’s largest car­ni­vores and 60 per­cent of the world’s largest her­bi­vores are clas­si­fied as threat­ened with ex­tinc­tion. This is par­tic­u­larly dire in sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa and South­east Asia.

“Megafauna are killed for meat and body parts for tra­di­tional medicine and or­na­ments or be­cause of ac­tual or per­ceived threats to hu­mans, their crops, or live­stock… Strik­ing in­stances in­clude the slaugh­ter of thou­sands of ele­phants for their ivory, rhi­nos for their horns and body parts,” ac­cord­ing to the re­port.

“We could lose th­ese an­i­mals just as sci­ence is dis­cov­er­ing how im­por­tant they are to ecosys­tems and to the ser­vices they pro­vide to peo­ple,” said Wil­liam Rip­ple, lead au­thor and dis­tin­guished pro­fes­sor of ecol­ogy at Ore­gon State Univer­sity. “It’s time to re­ally think about con­serv­ing them be­cause de­clines in their num­bers and habi­tats are hap­pen­ing quickly.”

sheree.bega@inl.co.za

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