BENGALURU: WILDLIFE conservation biologists have called for a global strategy to prevent the unthinkable — the extinction of the world’s largest mammal species like the elephants, gorillas and the big cats.
A group of more than 40 scientists and other experts, who have carried out studies, are calling for a coordinated plan to prevent the world’s ‘megafauna’ from sliding into oblivion. Among the threats cited by the group are illegal hunting, deforestation and habitat loss, expansion of agriculture and livestock into wildlife areas, and the growth of human population.
“The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am about the fact that we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide for people,” said Dr William Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University and lead author of the study.
Ripple worked with other authors on the study to examine population trends of many species, including elephants, rhinos, gorillas and big cats that are now threatened with extinction. Approximately 59 per cent of the world’s biggest mammalian carnivore species, including the tiger, and 60 per cent of the largest herbivores are now listed on the International Union for Conservation’s (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species as threatened with extinction.
Human-wildlife conflict is a serious concurrent threat for many species. “With simultaneous loss of wildlife habitat and expansion of human populations and agriculture, negative interactions between people and wildlife are bound to rise,” said Wildlife Conservation Society India Scientist Dr Varun R Goswami, a co-author on the study. “For wide-ranging megafauna like elephants and tigers, we need landscape-scale conservation strategies, taking into account the increasing interface between wildlife and people.” Some megafauna face the threat of obscurity. The loss of elephants to poachers in pursuit of ivory is the focus of extensive efforts to shut down this trade, but the study’s authors point out that many species are at risk from similar threats but are so poorly known that effective conservation efforts to save them are difficult.
All of these large species play critical roles in their ecosystems. Species at risk include elephants, that provide a suite of vital ecosystem services as ecological engineers, dispersing seeds and nutrients across vast areas. “The loss of elephants in Central Africa is damaging the function of the region’s most important ecosystems,” said WCS Conservation Scientist Dr Fiona Maisels, another co-author of the study.