We’re Eating the Largest Animals off the Face of the Earth

We already know some of the earth’s largest animals are facing a range of threats from climate change and pollution to habitat loss, but according to a new study our demand for their meat is now one of the biggest threats to their survival.

For the study, which was just published in the journal Conservation Letters, an international team of researchers looked at 292 species who are considered megafauna using weight as a threshold. For mammals, ray-finned fish and cartilaginous fish it was 220 pounds, and for amphibians, birds and reptiles it was 88 pounds.

They then used the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species to assess the extinction risk these species are facing, and the findings aren’t good. According to their work, at least 70 percent of these species are declining, while 59 percent are now facing extinction, while the biggest threat to many of them is human consumption.

Some of them are among the world’s most iconic and beloved species, like elephants, rhinos and sea turtles, while others may not be getting the attention they deserve, like the Chinese giant salamander, whale sharks, dugongs and the Somali ostrich.

“The most common threat was harvesting, which is another word for killing them directly through fishing, hunting or trapping,” the study’s co-author, William Ripple, distinguished professor of ecology at Oregon State University’s College of Forestry, told Popular Science. “Direct harvest for human consumption of meat or body parts is the biggest danger to nearly all of the large species.”

Our growing ability to hunt large animals at a distance has played a major role in the loss of large species, who are being killed both legally and illegally has increased the death toll, but many species are also suffering as a result of being killed unintentionally in snares and traps on land, or by gillnets, trawls and longlines in the ocean.

Not only is their disappearance inherently disheartening, it’s going to have an impact that will cascade through the ecosystems they help keep healthy. The study’s authors hope to see global action to protect megafauna by reducing the demand for meat and parts of large species, limiting trade and protecting critical habitat, in addition to creating and promoting educational campaigns about the importance of these imperiled species.

They point to the success of the International Whaling Commission, which adopted a moratorium on commercial whaling that nearly all countries still abide by today, as an example of how international cooperation can help species survive and recover.

“Preserving the remaining megafauna is going to be difficult and complicated,” said Ripple. “There will be economic arguments against it, as well as cultural and social obstacles. But if we don’t consider, critique and adjust our behaviors, our heightened abilities as hunters may lead us to consume much of the last of the Earth’s megafauna.”

Photo credit: Getty Images

58 comments

Joanna P
Joanna P1 days ago

1950 - humans 3 billion
2019 - humans 7.7 billion.
What do we expect?

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 days ago

Bill Arthur: "submit to humans being omnivores". That comment epitomizes the depth of stupidity and arrogance of the human mutated sorry excuse for an ape. THE HUMAN CANCER IS A COMPLETE LIABILITY TO EARTH AND HAS NO IMPORTANCE AND NO ROLE IN ANY ECOSYSTEM OR PLANETARY BIOSPHERE. The majority of disgusting humanity does not contribute, does not share, just pillages and destroys, and is a liability to life. You are not some kind of special "omnivore" just because some part of your human monkey brain allows you do your simple maths and play with destructive toys, you have no right to indulge in criminal selfishness and greed and the mass murder and destruction of life which is ingrained in the genes of the human abomination on Earth. Maybe 50 million years from now, after humans are gone and the plates have moved over the unnatural structures, chemicals and plastic toxics that the humans have dirtied up the Earth with, Earth will return to a semblance of the thriving ecosystem it once was. The sooner humans go extinct the better, since the few who care about the Earth will never overwhelm the hordes of human pests who destroy.

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Mark Donner
Mark Donner4 days ago

I'm hoping for a virus that would sterilize most of the human race. This planet is unique in hundreds of square miles of light years of hard vacuum and radiation and Earth's varied life has been created over billions of years. Destroying it is a crime beyond any crime that can be committed.

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Marguerite White

I think what Freya H said could be a reality but hopefully not,its okay ditching cars and using public transport which we have done and also we are vegetarian /vegan and try as much as possible to be green and use cruelty free brands of household and toiletries etc,but we have a disabled daughter getting on for 39 and its so awkward as we live in England to travel sometimes with a wheelchair in rush hour for trains and on buses if there are pushchairs at certain times,it is alright but awkward as I am getting on for 65 now,I recently got problem with my hip and leg and its quite painful so I cannot walk far,I will be getting an xray next week,but thats the problem if you have difficulty walking or wheelchair bound without a car.ditching cars is not an option but agree there is to many on the road,but some need them.Protect wild animals better and have stricter sentences for poachers and trophy hunters etc.Otherwise we will lose everything and future generations will only see in books or internet what use to roam the earth,so sad.

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Freya H
Freya H5 days ago

We humans had better shape up, or Nature will ship us out. If She decides to get rid of us, we won't stand a chance. Either we clean up as much of our mess as is feasible, stop breeding like rabbits, go vegan (or at least vegetarian), drive less and use bikes and public transit and Shank's Mare more; or we will sign our own collective death warrant. Our grandchildren will hate us for destroying the environment and driving so many species to extinction. Think your descendants will be grateful when they have to live underground and subsist on algae?

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Sue H
Sue H6 days ago

Grim and heartbreaking. :(

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Muriel S
Muriel Servaege6 days ago

Thank you for posting. I was born in the 1950s and I now think I've been lucky to know such a golden age!

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Marija M
Marija M6 days ago

Anne Moran, I am afraid you are right...

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Danuta W
Danuta W6 days ago

thank you for posting

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danii p
danii p6 days ago

Thank you for sharing!

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