Some of the largest wild animals in the world experience a decline in population. Herbivores such as elephants, rhinos, zebras, tapirs and camels are at risk of extinction. According to a research 60% of the population of these giant herbivores, meaning 74 species, is disappearing very fast. Scientists say that this may lead to empty landscapes. In addition a previous study conducted on large carnivores showed similar results.
The study, published in Science Advances, was led by an international team of wildlife ecologists. The lead author of the study, Professor William Ripple of the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, together with his colleagues analyzed the data of 74 of the species of herbivores which weight more than 220 pounds (100 kg). The scientists investigated their endangerment status, the most important threats and what would be the impact of the population decline on the ecosystem.
According to Professor William Ripple this is the first study in which all these species were analyzed as a whole. He remarked:
“The process of declining animals is causing an empty landscape in the forest, savannah, grasslands and desert.”
The research concludes that not only large herbivores, but also smaller ones will continue to disappear in many areas unless radical interventions are made. Otherwise the ecological, economic and social costs will be enormous. Moreover since herbivores are main predators’ prey, this means that big cats are also in danger.
According to professor Ripple the two main causes which cause herbivore decline are the habitat change and hunting. Since 1980 the competition from livestock production has tripled all over the world. This has limited the herbivores’ access to land, water and forage and it has also increased the risk of disease transmission.
Professor David Macdonald of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and one of the research team members said that besides the problems of hunting and habitat loss which big cats or wolves are faced with, their study shows that the lack of food will also be a problem in the future. He added that there is no point in having a habitat if no food left to eat can be found in it.
The researchers who took part in the study hope that their findings will increase the awareness regarding how important large herbivores are in various ecosystems. They also hope that this will urge policymakers take measures in conserving these species.
Image Source: The Perfect World Foundation