Humans hunt elephants and rhinos for meat and animal parts and sell them all over the world, so they face a great threat. But a new study published recently in the online journal Advances in Science finds that large herbivores, including zebras and gorillas, face the same threat.
In addition to illegal hunting, human hunting for meat is another major threat to the world’s largest herbivores, according to the study authors.
In addition to the above two threats, and the loss of habitat due to human activities such as agriculture and construction, competition from livestock raised by humans is the four major threats facing these herbivores.
According to the study, herbivores also play an important role in the natural environment in addition to attracting hunting tourists and hunters.
Herbivores can reduce the number of green plants, thereby reducing the risk of wildfires in grasslands. They can also carry large plant seeds far away through dung, helping to enhance the diversity of grassland plants. In addition, they can provide food for predators such as lions.
William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University and the lead author of the study, was interviewed by National Geographic to explore how human preferences for the meat of these large herbivores pose a threat to them.
To be exact, the threat to large herbivores is not news. What new knowledge can this study tell us?
This study is the first to analyze all 74 species of herbivores over 100 kg. Last year, we published an analysis of all carnivores. This study is a follow-up study.
It was found that the degree of endangerment of large herbivores was no less than that of large carnivores, and about 60% of large herbivores were on the verge of extinction.
What were the unexpected findings of the study?
We usually think that large carnivores are more persecuted and therefore more endangered than large herbivores, but this is not the case.
People may also feel that habitat loss is a major threat to them, but eventually we find that human hunting for food poses a more serious threat.
Do humans hunt these animals for their own food?
There are two main reasons for hunting for meat: one is to survive, the other is to sell to urban residents. For urban residents with higher incomes, jungle meat is becoming a popular food choice.
The number of people living on jungle meat is increasing, while the number of wildlife is declining, resulting in an irreconcilable contradiction.
Is jungle meat more popular at home or abroad?
Jungle meat is popular all over the world. You will find that many countries are selling jungle meat from developing countries, some to Southeast Asia, some even to the United Kingdom and other developed countries.
Everyone knows that elephants and rhinos are illegally hunted for their ivory and horns. Can you tell us why some other less well-known animals were killed?
Chimpanzees are hunted for their heads, hands and feet. Giraffe is killed for its meat and hide. Although it is not at risk of extinction, it is becoming an endangered animal.
Deer is usually coveted for their antlers, humans hunt for feet and skins, and horses are usually killed for hoofs and skins.
The purpose of hunting hippos is to get tusks. At present, there is a strong demand for hippos’teeth.
Why do you think there is hope for the future of these animals?
Through research, I am cautiously optimistic about the future of these animals. Generally speaking, people like these large herbivores very much, and they don’t want to see them extinct. So I feel that after publishing this study, through media reports, more people will know that they are facing extinction and then take action.
In addition, I think it is important to educate the public and policy makers. For example, I live in Oregon, and a member of our House of Representatives has just introduced a bill to the United States House of Representatives that calls for sanctions against countries that import ivory and rhino horns. Therefore, if people’s awareness of animal protection continues to increase, things will move in a favorable direction.