By Maddie Stone
It’s happening across the world, from grasslands to savannas to forest to deserts. Earth’s wild ecosystems are emptying out and falling silent.
Large herbivores—rhinos, zebras, camels, elephants, tapirs, hippos—are some of our planet’s most iconic creatures. They’re also among the fastest disappearing animals on Earth, according to a report published Friday in Science Advances. The disappearance of large herbivores threatens to unravel the very fabric of the landscapes they trod, raising the specter of a future where Earth’s forests are vacant and the only sound to be heard on the African savannah is the howl of wind through abandoned fields.
Surprise: It’s our fault. Specifically, the decline of large herbivores is due to a combination of excessive hunting and destruction of habitat.
In the new study, wildlife biologist William Ripple and colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of data on 74 of the world’s largest herbivore species—those weighing over 100 kilograms, or 220 pounds, on average—looking at endangerment status, key threats, and the ecological consequences of severe population decline. The study’s conclusion? Large herbivores worldwide are facing steep population declines and range contractions, such that roughly 60% are now threatened with extinction.
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