The world’s largest plant-eating animals like elephants and rhinoceroses are facing dramatic population losses due to poaching and resource destruction, with 60% of large herbivores threatened by extinction, according to a new study.
Grass-grazing giants like elephants, hippopotamuses and black rhinoceroses only occupy a tiny fraction of their historical ranges, according to the study in Science Advances, and the loss of herbivores over 100kg (220lb) is likely result in “enormous ecological and social costs.”
The loss of large herbivores has been endemic in Africa for years, but the study sheds new light on the widespread loss of large animals due to over hunting for meat—some one billion people rely on wild meat for subsistence.
Hunting and land-use changes have a devastating effect on those species, with habitat loss due to deforestation and meat hunting having a particularly negative effect. The number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62% between 2002 and 2011, and some 100,000 elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012.
Poaching continues to harm large grazers, particularly rhinos. “This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” the study said.
Slowing deforestation and over-hunting, and halting poaching, will be crucial to ensure the large grazers don’t go extinct. “Solving the current crisis associated with poaching for meat and body parts is an essential step, although one that is extremely challenging,” the authors write.