Humans have a long history of wiping out animal populations, and we continue to do so even to this day. According to a new study published in the Royal Society Open Science journal, people around the world are eating hundreds of animal species into extinction. If we don’t make some changes, the authors of the study warn that the food security of hundreds of millions of people could be threatened.
Currently, we are in the middle of mass extinction that rivals the wiping out of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. But this time, it isn’t a giant meteorite doing all the damage — it’s humans.
Over the past century, we have accelerated extinction rates 100 hundred times greater than what would naturally occur without human impact. As we continue to destroy habitats with construction and invade wild areas for hunting, 301 species of land mammals are now critically endangered and have made their way to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List.
The list includes 168 primates, 73 hoofed animals, 27 bats, 26 marsupials, 21 rodent species and 12 carnivores. There are also 1,414 species of fish on the Red List.
“There are 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,” said David MacDonald, professor at the University of Oxford and part of the international research team.
Bushmeat is a traditional food source for rural people in societies across the globe. That is starting to change because of large-scale commercial hunting and road construction in remote areas. MacDonald said that the number of hunters continues to increase, and the roads are being built in the most remote places, so there is no place left for wildlife to go.
Not only does this mass extinction threaten food security, but it also upsets ecosystems.
To reverse this problem, the researchers in this new study have a few ideas. They recommend greater legal protection for the endangered species, empowering local communities to prioritize wildlife conservation, providing alternative foods and family planning to reduce the rate of population growth.
The list of endangered animals is long, but here are a few highlights.
One of the fastest fish on Earth, bluefin tuna can hit speeds around 40 miles per hour when they are hunting, can grow up to 15 feet long and weigh as much as 1500 pounds. However, with the growing demand for sushi, overfishing is becoming a huge problem, and the bluefin tuna numbers are dropping.
Related: Endangered bluefin tuna sold for $3.1 billion to sushi tycoon
The largest fish in the sea, the whale shark has been on the critically endangered list for three years, because the population has dropped more than 50 percent in the last 75 years thanks to both legal and illegal fishing.
According to National Geographic, fishing for whale sharks is extremely lucrative, because they can be “harvested for their meat, fins and other parts used in traditional medicinal products.” Of course, they are also in great demand for shark fin soup.
These nocturnal mammals have keratin scales, emit a harmful chemical like skunks and eat ants and termites. In Africa, they are a major source of food and medicine, but in China and Vietnam, they are a delicacy. This has led to the pangolin becoming the most trafficked animal in the world.
Related: Zimbabwe hopes to bring attention to trafficking endangered species with the Pangolin Project
There is an international trade ban on all pangolin species, but this has only resulted in rising prices as the population declines.
Chinese giant salamander
As the largest amphibian on Earth, the Chinese giant salamander has been around for more than 170 million years, and it can grow to be 6 feet long and weigh over 100 pounds. The species is currently on the critically endangered list, because it is a Chinese delicacy. It is also used in traditional Chinese medicine. In just three generations, the population has plummeted by 80 percent.
With fossil records dating back 200 million years, we know that sturgeon have survived two — maybe three — mass extinctions. This time, the species might not be so lucky. The beluga sturgeon is being overfished, because the eggs are needed for caviar. They take 20 years to reach maturity, but we are killing them to harvest the eggs at massive rates.
You can learn more about the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species on the organization’s website.
Images via Danilo Cedrone / UN Food and Agriculture Organization, Aruro de Frias Marques, A.J.T. Johnsingh / WWF-India, Petr Hamerník, USFWS and National Marine Sanctuary