The hunting of mammals is threatening animal populations and posing a major threat to food security, according to new research from the universities of Stirling and Oregon State.
An international research team analysed data on 1,169 of the world’s land-living animals threatened primarily by hunting, collected by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
Experts found the ongoing decline of more than 300 species will affect millions of people in Asia, Africa and South America who rely on wild meat as part of their diet.
The animals at risk include large mammals such as the grey ox, Bactrian camels, bearded and warty pigs, and small animals like the golden-capped fruit bat and black-bearded flying fox.
Javan and black rhinoceroses, tapirs, deer, tree kangaroos, armadillos, pangolins, rodents and large carnivores, all of which are hunted or trapped for meat, medicine, body parts, trophies or live pets, are similarly threatened.
Research published in the Royal Society Open Science journal found forests, grasslands and deserts in the developing world are now lacking many species of wild animals and becoming empty landscapes.
Dr Katharine Abernethy, Reader in Biological and Environmental Science and leader of the African Forest Ecology group at the University of Stirling, said: “More needs to be done to effectively address the threat of overhunting especially in the Tropics. Millions of wild animals are harvested every year and this is highly unsustainable, putting both wildlife species and traditional livelihoods at risk.”
Overhunting of mammals is concentrated in countries with poorer populations where hundreds of species of wildlife are sold annually in meat markets and as delicacies in urban restaurants.
Dr Abernethy continued: “Bold moves like increasing poaching penalties, promoting sustainable food alternatives, particularly in urban areas and educating richer consumers, who do not need the meat for food security, on the threat to mammals that are hunted will go some way to alleviating the problem.”
Scientists found hunting endangers more primate species than any other group. 126 species including the lowland gorilla, chimpanzee, bonobo and many species of lemurs and monkeys are affected.
Large carnivores and herbivores comprise a small percentage of all mammals listed but tended to be impacted more severely by overhunting. The loss of these large mammals could cause long-lasting ecological changes, including overpopulation of prey, higher disease risks and the loss of benefits for humans.
To curb the overhunting crisis, researchers suggest more logistical and financial support is needed from richer developed countries and conclude that only big changes and political will can diminish the possibility of humans consuming many of the world’s wild mammals to the point of extinction.