Illegal wildlife trade, as encapsulated in elephant ivory trade for ornaments or even Rhino horns for Chinese traditional medicine, has been rightly blamed for playing a part in driving some mammals to extinction.
In fact, to protect wildlife, back in September, environmental organizations and nations reached an agreement to scrap domestic ivory trade in their respective countries so as to dissuade illegal wildlife trade.
It was a movement to protect African elephants and other wildlife nearing extinction. A new study has, however, shown that the biggest threat to these mammals is, actually, hunger rather that illegal wildlife trade.
The study was carried out by William Ripple of Oregon State University and colleagues in the UK, Australia, Sweden, Brazil, and South Africa and was just published in Royal Society Open Science.
To reach their results, the researchers collected and synthesized what are often patchy datasets on the health of mammal species around the world. They found that of the 1169 mammal species that are threatened with extinction, 301 are threatened primarily by human hunting. This hunting is mostly intended to provide meat for eating, although some of the mammals are hunted for more than one reason.
The 301 mammals that the researchers identified to be on the brink of extinction due to human hunting for meat included 126 species of primates, 65 species of ungulates (deer, antelope, and the like), 27 species of bats, 26 species of marsupials, 21 species of rodents, and 21 carnivores (tiger, cheetah, and the like).
All the species mentioned above live in poor countries and in these countries there are shortages of protein that push people into hunting them. Unfortunately, this hunting for meat is not harmless. Most of the mammals in question perform crucial ecological functions, like dispersing seeds, consuming overgrown vegetation, maintaining soils, and hunting other species to keep ecosystems in balance.
Even more terrifying is the risk of the people catching diseases from consuming these mammals. Most past pandemics like AIDS and black death were zoonotic diseases (diseases that jump from animals to humans) and scientists have said that it is likely that the next one will come the same way.
There is also the fact that due to the effects of climate change, which will hit the world’s poorest the most, people are eating away food security in the future, by killing these mammals.
Estimates of the amount of wild meat consumed each year saw 89,000 metric tons of wild meat harvested in the Brazilian Amazon and more than a million metric tons harvested in Africa. Simply put, over tens of millions of people depend on wild mammals for food.
William Ripple and his colleagues suggest a number of solutions to avoid these negatives which include;
- Creating larger areas of protected land for wild animals
- Providing legal rights to hunt sustainably
- Finding alternative sources of food
- Championing better education and adequate access to family planning
The researchers also believe that a lot of harm is still done by illegal trade and as such suggest that countries around the world need to work together to better police and end the illegal wildlife trade.