Humans and the Extinction of Megafauna


Humans have been killing animals for thousands of years. The Earth was once home to many different species of large animals, but unfortunately, most of them did not last. This is especially true for the late Pleistocene period. During this time humans hunted most of the big animals that roamed the planet into extinction. The animals that were most affected are the mammoths, mastodons, as well as the hornless rhinos. Additionally, yesterday’s versions of sloths, armadillos, and wombats, which were the size of cars, were also affected.

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Most people think that we have changed as a species now, but that is nowhere near to being true. People still consume animals and push them ever closer to extinction.

Some of the species that are currently in danger are the ones that many people love – like lions, tigers, and even bears. People have already caused the extinction of several rhino species, but African elephants, giraffes, sea turtles, and ostriches are also in danger. The whale shark is even coming close to the list of endangered species as people use their shark fin to make shark fin soup.

And, while it is true that our planet becomes impoverished when species, especially large ones, die off, the loss is not only emotional in nature, but there are also environmental effects that need to be taken into account.

A team of scientists helmed by William Ripple, a professor of ecology at the Oregon State University College of Forestry, decided to create a list of animals considered megafauna based on their size. This means that the animals on the list are large when compared to other members of the same class. The list contained data on more than 300 species from across the world. The list included various species like mammals, ray-finned and cartilaginous fish, and various other animals that weighed more than 220 pounds. It also included amphibians, birds, and reptiles that are heavier than 88 pounds. Out of all the species in the list, almost 170 are edging closer to extinction.

The most significant cause of this is harvesting, otherwise known as killing through fishing, hunting, and trapping. This means that the animals are directly harvested for human consumption, whether this is for food or the animal’s body parts.

This research only adds to the already great body of work about the ways humans are ruining the planet and the environment. And they are achieving this through climate change, deforestation, and the advancement of agriculture. Also, this is all further proof of how the need for eating meat has a significant impact on our planet.

The study focused on large animals due to the fact they are faced with much more risk than smaller species. Their massive size means that they reproduce at a slower rate. The smaller the animal, the more rapid the reproduction rate is. Large animals also need large habitats to feel safe and secure enough to breed.

In the past 500 years, as gun technology advanced and made it easier for humans to kill animals, almost two percent of megafauna have gone extinct. And, in just the last 250 years, nine species considered to be megafauna went extinct or missing from the wild.

At this moment the most endangered species is the Chinese large salamander, and it seems its extinction is inevitable. Considered a culinary delicacy in Asia, the species has been all but exterminated.

Saving the remaining megafauna is going to be extremely difficult, but a concerted global effort might be enough to preserve at least some of the beautiful animals roaming the wilds. More people just need to become aware and involved in the entire process.

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