Experts from The University of Nottingham Malaysia Campus (UNMC) have joined international conservation biologists in calling for a worldwide strategy to prevent what they say is the unthinkable — the extinction of the world’s largest mammal species.
In a public declaration — ‘Saving the World’s Terrestrial Megafauna’ — published in the journal BioScience, a group of more than 40 conservation scientists are calling for a coordinated global plan to prevent the world’s “megafauna” from sliding into oblivion.
Among the 40 conservation scientists and experts is Dr Ahimsa Campos-Arceiz, Principal Investigator of MEME, the Management and Ecology of Malaysian Elephants, based in UNMC’s School of Environmental Science. Dr Campos-Arceiz is one of the few co-authors based in Southeast Asia. He said: “Until a few thousand years ago, large animals like elephants were abundant and extremely influential in the ecological dynamics of most terrestrial ecosystems. Modern humans wiped them out in large parts of Eurasia, the Americas and Australia, but many survived in Africa and tropical Asia. Sadly, we are now completing the job. This paper is a declaration by a group of leading conservation scientists to bring attention to this situation and make clear that business as usual will lead to the extinction of much of the world’s terrestrial megafauna in relatively short time.”
Approximately 59 per cent of the world's biggest mammalian carnivore species — including the tiger — and 60 per cent of the largest herbivores are now listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species as threatened with extinction.
Among the threats cited by the group as drivers of this mass extinction are illegal hunting, deforestation and habitat loss, the expansion of agriculture and livestock into wildlife areas, and the growth of human populations.
Dr William Ripple, professor of ecology at Oregon State University and lead author of the study, 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 for people.”
All of these large species play critical roles in their ecosystems. Species at risk include elephants, that provide a suite of vital ecosystem services as ecological engineers, modifying the vegetation structure and dispersing seeds and nutrients across vast areas.
Large animal populations in Southeast Asia are ‘dire’
Megafauna is rapidly declining globally. The group says the loss of our large animals is a deeply unappreciated part of the global environmental change caused by humans. The situation of megafauna is particularly dire in Southeast Asia where there is a high diversity of large animals.
Populations of tigers and other large cats, elephants, two species of rhino, tapirs and several species of wild cattle native to Southeast Asia are declining and some are just a step away from extinction.
The declaration also cites the importance of integrating the efforts of scientists and funding agencies in developing countries where many species occur; the need for a new global framework to conserve megafauna; and the moral obligation of saving the world’s biggest mammal species.
Dr Campos-Arciez, said: “In the past few decades we have lost animals like the Kouprey, a large wild cattle from Indochina; the populations of Sumatran and Javan rhinoceros are so small now that they are unlikely to survive beyond the 21st century; and the populations of other large animals, including the charismatic Asian elephants and tigers, are rapidly declining and might collapse soon.”
The full contents of the paper have been translated to the Malay (Bahasa Malaysia) and Thai languages, to increase awareness about the critical situation of megafauna in the region.
Studying Malaysia’s megafauna
UNMC is involved in the study and conservation of large animals in Southeast Asia, especially through MEME, a project run in collaboration between the University and the Department of Wildlife in Peninsular Malaysia.
MEME was set up five years ago to study the elephant behavior and ecology, as well as human-elephant interactions in the tropical rainforests of Malaysia. The team is also building capacity by training a cohort of local conservation scientists who will bring an evidence-based approach to the conservation of elephants and other wildlife in the region.
Dr Campos-Arciez, said: “We are studying how elephants cope with the rapid transformation of their landscapes. For example, by studying the range of decline in Malaysia in the past few decades and how the construction of roads affects their movements. We also study their importance for ecosystems. For example, elephants play a very important role in Malaysian forest regeneration by dispersing the seeds of many tree species with very large fruits and seeds, such as wild mangos and durians.”
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Notes to editors: The University of Nottingham has 43,000 students and is ‘the nearest Britain has to a truly global university, with a “distinct” approach to internationalisation, which rests on those full-scale campuses in China and Malaysia, as well as a large presence in its home city.’ (Times Good University Guide 2016). It is also one of the most popular universities in the UK among graduate employers and was named University of the Year for Graduate Employment in the 2017 The Times and The Sunday Times Good University Guide. It is ranked in the world’s top 75 by the QS World University Rankings 2015/16, and 8th in the UK for research power according to the Research Excellence Framework 2014. It has been voted the world’s greenest campus for four years running, according to Greenmetrics Ranking of World Universities.
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