One of the heartbreaking moments in BBC’s ‘Planet Earth’ series showcases a starving & exhausted elephant families traveling through barren landscape to search for water. A baby elephant gets separated from the group and follows its mother’s trail, but in the opposite direction. The camera zooms out to depict the vastness of the empty landscape, in which the baby elephant is going to meet its inevitable death. This particular episode provides just a glimpse of what’s happening to the herbivores on our planet, whose habitats & livelihood are being lost to mankind’s avaricious flourish.
Planet Earth continues to suffer as scientists & governments are fighting over the topic of ‘climate change’. While people are busy pointing fingers at each other, the gentle giants of our planet, known as ‘herbivores’, are walking toward its doom. A new research study recently published in the journal ‘Science Advances’ suggests that Earth’s richest ecosystems like African Savannah’s are experiencing rapid deforestation, which in turn might lead to wildlife’s habitat destruction. Lead scientist William Ripple from Oregon University, who conducted this study, has coined the term ‘empty landscape’ to indicate how the dense forests might be in the near future.
As per the study, 60 percent of world’s largest herbivores are facing the extinction. The twin threats that might lead to such extinction are habitat loss and hunting. Big fauna animals like rhinoceros, zebras, elephants, gorillas, antelopes, hippos, giraffe, and camels are diminishing at a faster rate, which is already having a huge knock-on effect on the predators. The study focused on 74 large herbivore species states that many of the endangered mega herbivores are from Asia and Africa. Out of the five mega-herbivore species in South America, four are threatened with extinction.
Wild pigs, elephants, rhinos, antelopes, gorillas are the foremost herbivores to suffer from poaching crisis. Slow reproduction makes the large herbivore species very vulnerable. If these slowest-to-reproduce species vanish first due to over-hunting (for meat), the hunters may later turn to more small, fecund species, which will indirectly lead to what scientists are calling as ‘empty forest syndrome’. Habitat loss of these mega-herbivores seems to have a direct connection with our burgeoning livestock production, which has more than tripled from 1980’s.
Mankind’s favorite herbivores like sheep, cows, and goats are giving stiff competition to other untameable herbivores as the access to land, forage and water is plundered by meat industries. At least 25 million livestock are added to the planet every year for mankind’s luxurious lifestyle and this largely results to biodiversity loss. From birth to death, Earth’s largest herbivores play a vital role in their respective ecosystems. They maintain grasslands, decrease the intensity of forest fires through heavy browsing, disperse seeds far-and-wide, and eventually provide food for the ecosystem’s top predators. And even their carcasses provide variety of nutrients to soil.
The astounding link herbivores render between predators and scavengers is the vital ingredient for each continent’s ecosystem (except Antarctica). These species are highly important elements of the food web that couldn’t be replaced by smaller species. The developed countries in North America & Europe have already wiped out their share of large herbivores, under the name of development & growth.