Elephants might be extinct in Africa in 25 years; gorillas could be extinct in Central Africa in less than a decade. The Western black rhino is already extinct. Three northern white rhinos are left. In total, of the world’s largest animals—from pandas to yaks—around six out of 10 are threatened.
A new paper from 43 wildlife scientists argues that the world needs immediate, large-scale action to have a chance of saving many iconic species, and others that are little-known.
“We wrote this paper as a call to the world’s citizens,” says William Ripple, lead author and professor of ecology at Oregon State University, who also published papers in 2014 and 2015 tallying the number of large animals at risk of disappearing.
“Our objective was two-fold: one to educate people as to the severe threats and status of these largest animals, and then also hope that some action could be taken.”
Large mammals are at greater risk than smaller animals for several reasons. Most reproduce more slowly; they also need more land to survive than smaller animals, so as agriculture and development spreads, their habitat is first to disappear. They’re also more likely to be killed by humans–either for meat or products like ivory, or because they’re seen as a threat.
This last fact means that the rate of extinction could be slowed, at least temporarily, if people made the choice. “A lot of these animals are dying off just because we’re killing them directly,” says Ripple.
The researchers believe that it’s still possible to save most large mammals, but it will take massive, coordinated effort, and that has to start with people making it clear to their governments that they want change. The paper was translated into Spanish, Chinese, French, Malay, Portuguese, and Thai, to help spread the message around the world.
“Humans have achieved major feats when past crises have presented themselves,” says Ripple. “If it was a major global priority, and there was political will, we could definitely save these animals.”