Humans are on track to eating into extinction hundreds of terrestrial mammal species in the world, according to a new study published in the journal Royal Society Open Science. The study, which is the first global assessment of the effects of illegal hunting on land mammals, highlights “not only the importance of mammals for ecosystem functioning, but for ecosystem services to humans,” the researchers said.
After analyzing data collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the authors of the study concluded that 301 species — including 126 primates, 65 ungulates such as deer and wild pigs, and 27 bats — are primarily at risk from bushmeat hunting. This number represents nearly 26 percent of all mammals for which data exist to determine whether they are endangered.
“Our analysis is conservative. These 301 species are the worst cases of declining mammal populations for which hunting and trapping are clearly identified as a major threat. If data for a species were missing or inconclusive, we didn’t include it,” lead author William Ripple, a professor of ecology at Oregon State University, said in a statement. “Many of these animals are at the brink of extinction. The illegal smuggling in wildlife and wildlife products is run by dangerous international networks and ranks among trafficking in arms, human beings and drugs in terms of profits.”
The scale of bushmeat trade, which originates in countries with poorer populations, is staggering. The researchers estimated that every year 89,000 metric tons of meat with a market value of about $200 million was being harvested annually in the Brazilian Amazon.
While overhunting of small mammals, such as bats, can lead to the loss of many species vital for dispersal of seeds and pollination of flowers, the loss of larger species could lead to irreversible ecological changes, as this group of mammals is disproportionately threatened by overhunting.
“There are a plenty of bad things affecting wildlife around the world and habitat loss and degradation are clearly at the forefront, but among the other things is the seemingly colossal impact of bushmeat hunting,” co-author David Macdonald from the University of Oxford told the Guardian. “You might rejoice at having some habitat remaining, say a pristine forest, but if is hunted out to become an empty larder, it is a pyrrhic victory.”