The population of large herbivores is declining at a startling rate. According to a new study published in the journal Science Advances, more than 60% of the world’s giant herbivores face the threat of extinction. It raises the threat of an “empty landscape across much of the planet Earth,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University and lead author of the study.
Rhinos and others could vanish within 20 years
Researchers analyzed 74 herbivore species weighing more than 220 pounds, including rhinos, elephants, and gorillas. Professor Ripple said it was the first time someone had analyzed all these herbivores as a whole. The declining number of animals is causing an empty landscape in the grasslands, desert, forest and Savannah. A previous study has shown similar declines in large carnivores.
Ripple said there were a number of factors affecting the population of these slow-breeding herbivore species. Poaching, habitat loss, rising human population, high densities of livestock have devastating consequences for large herbivores. David Macdonald of Oxford University said that there was no use having habitat “if there is nothing to eat in it.”
Rhinoceros horns are worth more than diamond or cocaine on illegal markets. Researchers fear that rhinos could disappear from the planet within 20 years. Between 2002 and 2011, the number of African elephants declined by more than 60%. More than 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012 alone. Their extinction will have enormous social, ecological and economic costs.
Developed countries have already lost their large herbivores
Scientists said that developed regions like Europe and the United States have already lost their giant herbivores. The biggest losses will now come from developing countries such as Latin America, Africa, Southeast Asia, India and China. It will have a significant impact on the food chain because large predators depend on large herbivores for food. Herbivores also help in seed dispersal. Elephants maintain forest clearings by trampling vegetation.
Their extinction will also affect humans. Over a billion people rely on wild meat as an important source of their nutrients.