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Big animals declining rapidly: Experts

New York, Aug 6 – The world’s largest mammals are declining rapidly and preventing their extinction will require bold political action and financial commitments from nations worldwide, experts have warned.

In an article in the journal BioScience, 43 wildlife experts wrote that without immediate changes, many of the Earth’s most iconic species such as gorillas, rhinoceroses, elephants, lions, tigers, wolves, bears and other large mammals will be lost.

The loss of these magnificent animals would be a tremendous tragedy, said one of the co-authors Blaire Van Valkenburgh, Professor at University of California, Los Angeles in the US.

They are all that is left of a once much more diverse megafauna that populated the planet only 12,000 years ago. And more importantly, we have only just begun to understand the important roles they play in maintaining healthy ecosystems, she noted.

Among the most serious threats to endangered animals are illegal hunting, deforestation, habitat loss, expansion of livestock and agriculture into wildlife areas, and human population growth, the experts said.

The paper reported that 59 per cent of the largest carnivores and 60 per cent of the largest herbivores have been classified as threatened with extinction, and that the situation is especially severe in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, where the greatest diversity of extant megafauna live.

The animals’ declines are occurring rapidly, the paper’s lead author William Ripple, Professor at Oregon State University, said.

The more I look at the trends facing the world’s largest terrestrial mammals, the more concerned I am we could lose these animals just as science is discovering how important they are to ecosystems and to the services they provide to people, he said.

If measures are taken now, it may still be possible to rescue these animals from extinction, the paper said.