Menu

Urgent Global Action Needed to Stop Extinction of Earth’s Last Megafauna

A swift and global conservation response is needed to prevent the world’s gorillas, lions, tigers, rhinos, and other iconic terrestrial megafauna from being lost forever, more than three dozen influential international scientists declared today in the journal BioScience.

7-1.coverTheir analysis, Saving the World’s Terrestrial Megafauna, covers the precipitous loss of large animal populations around the globe, from the poorly known, such as the scimitar-horned oryx, to more familiar species including tigers, lions, gorillas and rhinoceroses, Panthera, one of the conservation institutions associated with the research, said in a news statement.

The report was written by 43 wildlife experts from six continents. The authors and their institutions are listed below; at least 16 of them are scientists who have received research grants from the National Geographic Society at some point in their careers.

Click the image to see the maps full-size, or view them at the bottom of the page. Courtesy of BioScience.
Click image to see maps full-size, or view them in larger format  at the bottom of this page. Courtesy of BioScience.

Megafauna are defined as terrestrial large carnivores (more than 15 kilograms/33 pounds) and large herbivores (more than 100 kilograms/220 pounds).

Threatened is defined as species on the IUCN Red List in these three categories:

  – Vulnerable (facing a high risk of extinction in the wild),

  – Endangered (very high risk of extinction), or

  – Critically Endangered (extremely high risk of extinction).

The three maps alongside may be enlarged by clicking on them. They were published with the BioScience report to show where in the world megafauna species are concentrated, where they are in decline, and where they are officially Threatened.

“The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide to people,” said William Ripple, lead author and distinguished professor of ecology in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. “It’s time to really think about conserving them because declines in their numbers and habitats are happening quickly.”

Business as Usual = Massive Species Extinction

The report includes a 13-point declaration calling for acknowledgement that a “business as usual” mentality will result in massive species extinction; while a global commitment to conservation with support for developing nations is a moral obligation.

Declaration to Save the World’s Terrestrial Megafauna

We conservation scientists

  1. Acknowledge that most of the terrestrial megafauna species are threatened with extinction and have declining populations. Some megafauna species that are not globally threatened nonetheless face local extinctions or have Critically Endangered subspecies.
  2. Appreciate that “business as usual” will result in the loss of many of the Earth’s most iconic species.
  3. Understand that megafauna have ecological roles that directly and indirectly affect ecosystem processes and other species through- out the food web; failure to reverse megafaunal declines will disrupt species interactions, with negative consequences for ecosystem function; biological diversity; and the ecological, economic, and social services that these species provide.
  4. Realize that megafauna are epitomized as a symbol of the wilderness, exemplifying the public’s engagement in nature, and that this is a driving force behind efforts to maintain the ecosystem services they can provide.
  5. Recognize the importance of integrating and better aligning human development and biodiversity conservation needs through the engagement and support of local communities in developing countries.
  6. Propose that funding agencies and scientists increase conservation research efforts in developing countries, where most threatened megafauna occur. Specifically, there is a need to increase the amount of research directed at finding solutions for the conservation of megafauna, especially for lesser-known species.
  7. Request the help of individuals, governments, corporations, and nongovernmental organizations to stop practices that are harmful to these species and to actively engage in helping to reverse declines in megafauna.
  8. Strive for increased awareness among the global public of the current megafauna crisis using traditional media as well as social media and other networking approaches.
  9. Seek a new and comprehensive global commitment and framework for conserving megafauna. The international community should take necessary action to prevent mass extinction of the world’s megafauna and other species.
  10. Urge the development of new funding mechanisms to transfer the current benefits accrued through the existence values of mega- fauna into tangible payments to support research, conservation actions, and local people who bear the cost of living with wildlife in the places where highly valued megafauna must be preserved.
  11. Advocate for interdisciplinary scientific interchange between nations to improve the social and ecological understanding of the drivers of the decline of megafauna and to increase the capacity for megafauna science and conservation.
  12. Recommend the reintroduction and rehabilitation, following accepted IUCN guidelines, of degraded megafauna populations whenever possible, the ecological and economic importance of which is evidenced by a growing number of success stories, from Yellowstone’s wolves (Canis lupus) and the Père David’s deer (Elaphurus davidianus) in China to the various megafauna species of Gorongosa National Park in Mozambique.
  13. Affirm an abiding moral obligation to protect the Earth’s megafauna.

 

Interpretation and Reaction

“The rapid loss of biodiversity and megafauna in particular is an issue that is right up there with, and perhaps even more pressing than, climate change” — Panthera Scientist Peter Lindsey

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world's largest terrestrial mammal, is listed by IUCN as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun
The African elephant (Loxodonta africana), the world’s largest terrestrial mammal, is listed by IUCN as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun

“To underline how serious this is, the rapid loss of biodiversity and megafauna in particular is an issue that is right up there with, and perhaps even more pressing than, climate change,” said senior co-author and Panthera Lion Program Policy Initiative Coordinator Peter Lindsey.

“Human communities stand to lose key elements of their natural heritage if these large wildlife species are allowed to go extinct,” Lindsey continued. “The disappearance of such species could also significantly undermine the future potential for communities to benefit from eco-tourism operations. Urgent measures are needed to address poaching, and to allow for the co-existence of people and wildlife if megafauna is to persist in the long term.”

“Perhaps the biggest threat for many species is direct hunting driven by a demand for meat, pets, and body parts for traditional medicines and ornaments” — WCS Vice President of Species Conservation Elizabeth Bennett,

Africa's lion population is inferred to have undergone a reduction of approximately 43 percent over the past 21 years (approximately three Lion generations, 1993-2014), according to IUCN. This big cat is listed by IUCN as Vulnerable. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun
Africa’s lion population is inferred to have undergone a reduction of approximately 43 percent over the past 21 years (approximately three lion generations, 1993-2014), according to IUCN. This big cat species (Panthera leo) is listed by IUCN as Vulnerable, facing a high risk of extinction in the wild. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun

“Perhaps the biggest threat for many species is direct hunting driven by a demand for meat, pets, and body parts for traditional medicines and ornaments,” said Elizabeth Bennett, Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Vice President of Species Conservation, and also a co-author on the study. “Only a massive commitment from the international community will stop this rampant destruction of so many animal populations.” 

Approximately 59 percent of the world’s biggest mammalian carnivore species—including the tiger— and 60 percent of the largest herbivores are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as threatened with extinction, WCS said in its statement about the report.

“All of these large species play critical roles in their ecosystems. Species at risk include elephants, that provide a suite of vital ecosystem services as ecological engineers, dispersing seeds and nutrients across vast areas,” WCS said.

“The loss of elephants in the forests of Central Africa is increasingly damaging the function of the region’s most important ecosystems” — WCS Conservation Scientist Fiona Maisels

The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened due to the continued and increased poaching threat and increasing illegal demand for horn. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis ) is Critically Endangered; its numbers are 90 percent lower than three generations ago. Photograph of white rhino by David Maxwell Braun.
The white rhinoceros (Ceratotherium simum) is listed by IUCN as Near Threatened (close to qualifying for a Threatened category in the near future) due to the continued and increased poaching threat and increasing illegal demand for horn. The black rhinoceros (Diceros bicornis ) is Critically Endangered; its numbers are 90 percent lower than three generations ago. Photograph of white rhino by David Maxwell Braun.

“The loss of elephants in the forests of Central Africa is increasingly damaging the function of the region’s most important ecosystems,” said WCS Conservation Scientist Fiona Maisels, another of the study’s co-authors. “We’re only beginning to understand how vital these keystone species are to the health of rainforests and other species that inhabit them.” 

Human–wildlife conflict is a serious concurrent threat for many species. “With simultaneous loss of wildlife habitat and expansion of human populations and agriculture, negative interactions between people and wildlife are bound to rise,” said WCS India Scientist Varun R. Goswami, also a co-author on the study. “For wide-ranging megafauna like elephants and tigers, we need landscape-scale conservation strategies, taking into account the increasing interface between wildlife and people.”

The Threat of Obscurity 

Some megafauna face the threat of obscurity, WCS said. “The loss of elephants worldwide to poachers in pursuit of ivory is well-known and is the focus of extensive efforts to shut down this trade, but the study authors point out that many species are at risk from many similar threats but are so poorly known that effective conservation efforts to save them are difficult.”

Action Needed on Two Fronts

The scientists call for action on two fronts, Panthera said in its statement: conservation interventions expanded to scales that address animals’ extensive habitat needs, and policy shifts and increased financial commitment to alter the ways in which people interact with wildlife.

“Among the most serious threats to endangered animals are the expansion of livestock and agricultural developments, illegal hunting, deforestation and human population growth. Large wildlife species are extremely vulnerable to these threats because of their need for extensive spaces to live and low population densities, particularly for carnivores.”

“The protection of these big cats – the great white sharks of our terrestrial Earth – and other large mammals is paramount to the health and survival of thousands of animals and their ecosystems” — Panthera President Luke Hunter

The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is listed by IUCN as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. They are surrounded by some of the highest human densities in Africa. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun
The mountain gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei) is listed by IUCN as Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. They are surrounded by some of the highest human densities in Africa. Photograph by David Maxwell Braun

Panthera President and Chief Conservation Officer and co-author Luke Hunter, said: “Among the world’s largest animals, apex predators like the tiger, lion and leopard are increasingly under assault. The protection of these big cats – the great white sharks of our terrestrial Earth – and other large mammals is paramount to the health and survival of thousands of animals and their ecosystems.

“Today, 59 percent of the world’s largest carnivores and 60 percent of the world’s largest herbivores are categorized as threatened with extinction on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List. This situation is particularly dire in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, home to the greatest diversity of remaining large mammals.

“Yet the resources for effective implementation of conservation strategies are seldom available in regions with the greatest needs. The onus is on developed countries, which have long ago lost most of their large animals, to support conservation initiatives where the world’s most celebrated wildlife still remain.”

Additional Resources

Saving the World’s Terrestrial Megafauna

Download the report (PDF)

Graphic courtesy of BioScience
Graphic courtesy of BioScience

Authors: William J. Ripple of Oregon State University; Guillaume Chapron of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences; José Vicente López-Bao of Oviedo University; Sarah M. Durant of the Zoological Society of London and the Wildlife Conservation Society; David W. Macdonald of the University of Oxford; Peter A. Lindsey of Panthera and the University of Pretoria; Elizabeth L. Bennett of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Robert L Beschta of Oregon State University; Jeremy T. Bruskotter of Ohio State University; Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz of the University of Nottingham; Richard T. Corlett of the Chinese Academy of Sciences; Chris T. Darimont of the University of Victoria; Amy J. Dickman of the University of Oxford; Rodolfo Dirzo of Stanford University; Holly T. Dublin of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the IUCN Species Survival Commission; James A Estes of the University of California; Kristoffer T. Everatt of the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; Mauro Galetti of the Universidade Estadual Paulista; Varun R. Goswami of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Matt W. Hayward of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; Simon Hedges of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Michael Hoffman of the IUCN Species Survival Commission; Luke T.B. Hunter of Panthera; Graham I.H. Kerley of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University; Mike Letnic of University of New South Wales; Taal Levi of Oregon State University; Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society and Stirling University; John C. Morrison of the World Wildlife Fund; Michael Paul Nelson of Oregon State University; Thomas M. Newsome of Oregon State University; Luke Painter of Oregon State University; Robert M. Pringle of Princeton University; Christopher J. Sandom of University of Sussex; John Terborgh of Duke University; Adrian Treves of University of Wisconsin-Madison; Blaire Van Valkenburgh of University of California; John A. Vucetich of Michigan Technological University; Aaron J. Wirsing of University of Washington; Arian D. Wallach of University of Technology-Sydney; Christopher Wolf of Oregon State University; Rosie Woodroffe of the Zoological Society of London; Hillary Young of the University of California; and Li Zhang of Beijing Normal University.

National Geographic Voices report compiled from materials provided by Panthera, Wildlife Conservation Society, IUCN Red List, and BioScience.

12418031_10153900711084116_8462971761216697621_nDavid Braun is director of outreach with the digital and social media team illuminating the National Geographic Society’s explorer, science, and education programs.

He edits National Geographic Voices, hosting a global discussion on issues resonating with the Society’s mission and major initiatives. Contributors include grantees and Society partners, as well as universities, foundations, interest groups, and individuals dedicated to a sustainable world. More than 50,000 readers have participated in 10,000 conversations.

Braun also directs the Society side of the Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship

Follow David on Facebook  Twitter  LinkedIn

Comments

  1. Ronna
    Colorado
    August 2, 5:23 pm

    This is an amazing effort. I thank all the conservation scientists who worked together to create this. After I read the declaration, I only wished there was a place I could sign it myself.

    Are there plans to put this somewhere online where other people can sign it? It would be great to have a platform that could publish efforts that align with the Declaration, inform and involve the public and help build funding.

    Are their ideas on moving forward so this doesn’t disappear behind the world’s ‘business as usual’?

  2. Valerio Donfrancesco
    Italy
    August 1, 8:11 am

    I completely agree with the points made by the authors, and I support their view. Further, I would add to the moral obligation of protecting these species the moral obligation of educating the public about the true nature of these animals. I take here the wolf as an example, too often labelled with convenient, deceitful names and myths that are often a primary cause of conflict.

  3. Valerio Donfrancesco
    Italy
    August 1, 8:10 am

    I completely agree with the points made by the authors, and I support their view. Further, I would add to the moral obligation of protecting these species the moral obligation of educating the public about the true nature of these animals. I take here the wolf as an example, too often labelled with convenient, deceitful names and myths that are often a primary cause of conflict.