Threat of extinction for megafauna
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.”