The state in which the planet finds itself today is one profoundly marked by human greed and ignorance. More and more studies are letting us know that the consequences of our actions are going to catch up with us sooner rather than later and that we face a very grim future if we do not change our ways. One of the most recent studies on the matter is the one conducted by Professor William Ripple of Oregon State University, that announces that large herbivores are facing extinction.
And it is all our fault, as a species, for waging this terrible fate on some of the most gentile species inhabiting the planet. This is the message that Professor Ripple wanted us to hear, in order to assimilate it and see the errors of our ways.
The study was focused on 74 species of herbivores over 100 kg weight, such as elephants, rhinoceroses, zebras, camels, hippos, bison or gorillas. The species included in the study correspond to four orders, namely Primates, Cetartiodactyla, Proboscidea and Perissodactyla, and respectively eleven families, the best known of which are Elephantidae, Equidae, Rhinocerotidae, Bovidae and Camelidae.
Climate change and its atrocious effects that will come to pass in the not so distant future have been the subject of quite a few studies lately, on the eve of the world meeting held at the end of this year in Paris. More than 190 country officials will discuss global warming, in order to find the most effective ways to decrease greenhouse gas discharge worldwide.
But what makes this study different is the gut-wrenching truthfulness with which it lays out the causes and effects of the extinction of these animals. It is easily foreseeable that climate change has a whole lot to do with this matter, being one of the main factors that have lead to dire changes to the habitats of these animals.
What comes as a surprise for some, though, is that human gluttony, in the form of hunting, the need for luxury and an exacerbated consumption of meat, is just as much to blame as climate change is. “But surprisingly, the results show that the two main factors in herbivore declines are hunting by humans and habitat change. They are twin threats.”, says Professor Ripple.
These animals are being hunted all around the world for their ivory and other exotic-animal trophies. And since poaching is illegal, this has created a huge black market for these products, that make their way into the hands of very rich people who deem them an expression of the luxury that they live in.
According to the study, “This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,”. But exactly like blood diamond industry, it brings more wealth to the wealthy and more suffering to the poor, who risk their lives to procure the illegal products, without the ability to escape poverty as a result of it.
The ivory market is a sad story all the way, but the most important thing that the study points out in relation to this subject is that what must be stopped immediately is the continuous demand for this horrible product. By applying severe sanctions to the people who own ivory or similar trophies, there is hope that the market for it will show at least some form of decline.
At this point, it is not only a matter of animal rights any longer, but something that will become exceedingly more visible to the entire human kind. The study warns about the “empty landscape” that will put a grasp on ecosystems all across the planet.
“Currently, 75% of elephant populations are declining and at risk of extirpation, and the range of elephants has drastically declined. More than 100,000 African elephants were poached during the 3-year period from 2010 to 2012. This level of illegal kills represents 20% of the current estimated population size of 500,000 African elephants, and even populations of savanna (or bush) elephants (Loxodonta africana africana) are now declining.”, the study relays.
The second most stringent matter is meat consumption. While elephant or rhino meat is not popular worldwide, people do eat a gargantuan amount of cow, pig and chicken meat every day all around the planet. And this has a massive effect on the well-being of the entire environment.
From the crops necessary to feed this enormous number of animals, to the farming space required to raise them and up to the disposing of the waste that remains after the slaughtering is done, the process is destructive in its entirety.
Without even mentioning the immense suffering of these animals or the effects of mass-produced meat on human health, the meat industry is destroying everything in its way. A higher number of farmed bovines means competition for the wild herbivores, and therefore drives them to hunger. Furthermore, the deforestation required for planting the colossal amounts of crops, such as soy beans, necessary for feeding all of these animals has a devastating effect on the environments of these wild herbivores.
And the damage done does not stop at the point where these animals go extinct. Their disappearance will be very much apparent after they will have been gone. The “ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs.”, says the study.
What many do not seem to realize is that there is more to elephants than their size and the way they drink water. They are true “ecosystem engineers,”, according to Professor Ripple. They have a huge impact on their habitats, by expanding grasslands for various species of plants, by spreading seeds in their manure, and ultimately by constituting the feeding pool of a wide range of carnivorous species, that need them for their own survival.
“The loss of large herbivores suggests that other parts of wild ecosystems will diminish. The likely consequences include(…)more frequent and intense wildfires; slower cycling of nutrients from vegetation to the soil; changes in habitat for smaller animals including fish, birds and amphibians”, predicts the study.
Once the chain of life is affected it is truly challenging to bring it back to a functioning state. But the study clearly states that it is still not too late for humans to take a stand, but Professor Ripple does not seem to have much faith in the speedy recovery that is needed at the moment.
The obvious solutions for the current state of the planet imply taking serious action against climate change, that has countless ramifications on its own, putting an end to poaching and persuading the general public that reducing meat consumption is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity.
All of the three issues unfortunately constitute the biggest challenges of the 21st century and will determine the fate of the human race for the centuries to come. The fact that large herbivores are facing extinction should be an alarm signal for everybody, in order to fully grasp how advanced the damage done to the planet truly is.
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