Elephants are Basically Dinosaurs: Habitat Loss, Poaching and Global Warming are Killing Our Favorite Animals

Elephants are Basically Dinosaurs: Habitat Loss, Poaching and Global Warming are Killing Our Favorite Animals

Habitat loss, poaching and global warming are spelling doom for creatures all across the globe.

Imagine telling your children tales of great beasts that once roamed the earth. Big, fantastic looking creatures with incredible features beyond belief. No, you wouldn’t necessarily be talking about dinosaurs. You could be describing elephants, rhinos, hippos and gorillas—large herbivores facing extinction.

“The situation is so dire,” reports the Washington Post, that it threatens an “empty landscape” in some ecosystems “across much of the planet Earth.” According to a new report, 60 percent of these massive creatures are facing extinction.

But unlike the dinosaurs (who most scientists believe were wiped out by a massive meteoroid), large herbivores face demise as a result of something much less random: humans.

“Growing human populations, unsustainable hunting, high densities of livestock, and habitat loss have devastating consequences for large, long-lived, slow-breeding, and, therefore, vulnerable herbivore species,” reads “Collapse of the world’s largest herbivores” in Science Advances, a publication of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

We know the culprits, even if we’ve never set foot in Africa, where most of these creatures reside: poaching, habitat loss and environmental degradation. According to the Post, the animals have only about 19 percent of their historical ranges left to roam on, with the elephant, hippopotamus and black rhinoceros “now living on ‘tiny fractions’ of their previous empires.”

“Between 2002 and 2011 alone, the number of forest elephants in central Africa declined by 62 percent. Some 100,000 African elephants were poached between 2010 and 2012. And the western black rhinoceros in Africa was declared extinct in 2011,” reports the Post.

“This slaughter is driven by the high retail price of rhinoceros horn, which exceeds, per unit weight, that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine,” according to the study.

According to the researchers, changes are happening so rapidly that much of the world’s ecological landscape will be virtually unrecognizable in the next several years, “resulting in enormous ecological and social costs.”

And if you think the loss just means a safari visit without elephants or hippos in sight, you’d be wrong. These large herbivores aren’t just wildlife porn, they actually play crucial roles in their ecosystems, according to the Post, “expanding grasslands for plant species, dispersing seeds in manure, and, in the ultimate sacrifice, providing food for predators.”

So, what can you do? The researchers say we’re all tasked with saving these animals, particularly those among us who can afford to allocate funds to the cause: “The world’s wealthier populations will need to provide the resources essential for ensuring the preservation of our global natural heritage of large herbivores. A sense of justice and development is essential to ensure that local populations can benefit fairly from large herbivore protection and thereby have a vested interest in it.”

It’s either that, or we learn to tell our grandchildren the unbelievable tales of gorillas, elephants and other herbivorous creatures that used to call earth home, once upon a time.

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Elephant image via Shutterstock 

Jill Ettinger

Jill Ettinger is a Los Angeles-based journalist and editor focused on the global food system and how it intersects with our cultural traditions, diet preferences, health, and politics. She is the senior editor for sister websites OrganicAuthority.com and EcoSalon.com, and works as a research associate and editor with the Cornucopia Institute, the organic industry watchdog group. Jill has been featured in The Huffington Post, MTV, Reality Sandwich, and Eat Drink Better. www.jillettinger.com.