Three-Quarters Of Endangered Species Are Threatened Through Overexploitation By Humans

Chinese water dragons being traded at a rural market. Signature Message/Shutterstock

There are an estimated 8,688 animal species whose existence hang in the balance. But while much of the recent debate on conservation has become focused on climate change, a new study suggests that the old threats of “guns, nets, and bulldozers” remain the main danger.

“Addressing these old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis,” said lead author Sean Maxwell of the University of Queensland in a statement to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). “This must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda.”

The study, recently published in Nature, is in preparation for the IUCN's World Conservation Congress next month in Hawaii. Their research broke down the huge amounts of data on 82,845 species across the globe which found 8,688 were listed as threatened or near-threatened. They then broke this down further and analyzed what exactly was threatening them. It's worth noting that more than one factor can simultaneously be at play.

Out of these species, 6,241 (72 percent) are being threatened through human overexploitation. This includes species which are being put under pressure due to the forces of commerce, recreation, poaching, and hunting – particularly when these processes work at faster rates than the animals can naturally replenish. The Sumatran rhinoceros, the western gorilla, and the hugely-traded Chinese pangolin are the best-known victims.

Of these species, 5,407, were threatened by intensified agriculture. This includes Africa's cheetah, Asia's hairy-nosed otter, South America's huemul deer, the Fresno kangaroo rat, and the African wild dog. Although this category has some overlap with the “overexploitation” criteria, it denotes the disturbance of habitat caused by land modification for food or fuel plant production.

Among the other major threats were urban development, pollution, disease, and invasive species.

A portion of 1,688 species, around 19 percent, were being pressured by climate change, making it the 7th worse threat among the 11 studied. This ranged from droughts, extreme temperatures, and adverse weather.

The study concluded: “Conservationists, weary of tackling herculean, long-standing problems, could be forgiven for being drawn to newer ones. Nonetheless, we appeal to all concerned with the sustainability of life on Earth to take stock of the current balance of threats — and refocus their efforts on the enemies of old.”

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