Many of the world’s largest herbivores, especially in Africa and Asia, are in danger of becoming extinct due to hunting by humans and habitat change, according to a new report by an international team of scientists.
The report, which was published recently in the open-access online journal Science Advances, studied 74 species of elephants, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, gorillas and other animals the size of reindeers and larger. 60 per cent of the species in the study are now considered to be threatened.
One of the main factors behind the disturbing trend is poaching. According to the study’s lead author William Ripple of Oregon State University, rhinoceros horn is more valuable by weight than gold, diamonds or cocaine, fetching up to USD 60,000 per pound. From 2007 to 2013 the number of rhinoceroses poached skyrocketed from 13 per year to 1,004 per year. More than 100,000 elephants — one-fifth of the world’s wild savannah elephant population — were poached between 2010 and 2012.
“If this were to keep up, there would be very few or no savannah elephants in 10 years, and no African rhinos in 20 years,” says co-author Blaire Van Valkenburgh from UCLA. Organised crime in the ivory and rhino horn markets has reversed decades of conservation efforts, she adds.
Today’s two largest threats to the species analysed in the study are hunting by humans and habitat change. Other factors include growing human populations and increased competition with livestock, the latter of which is particular threat in developing nations where livestock production tripled between 1980 and 2002.
The study’s authors propose creating financial incentives for people who live near the animals’ habitats to protect the animals, so it becomes more lucrative to safeguard the animals than to poach them. They also emphasise the need for social marketing and environmental education as tools to drive down demand for animals products as food and consumer goods.