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Oregon State scientists join international call to save animals from extinction

Dozens of conservation scientists, including several from Oregon State University, issued a call to halt a crisis among the world's large animals that could lead to their imminent extinction.

In a paper published in the journal BioScience, 43 wildlife wildlife experts from six continents issued a declaration calling on the world's leaders, regulatory agencies and governments of developed nations to recognize the peril facing the planet's large animals, also known as megafauna, and to act before it's too late.

"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 to people," William Ripple, professor of ecology in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University, said in a statement. "It's time to really think about conserving them because declines in their numbers and habitats are happening quickly."

The causes for the decline are numerous — expansion of grazing areas for livestock, illegal hunting, deforestation and human population growth among them — as is the list of affected species, ranging from well-known animals like gorillas and elephants to more obscure examples like the scimitar-horned oryx.

"Most mammalian megafauna face dramatic range contractions and population declines," the authors wrote. "In fact, 59 percent of the world's largest carnivores and 60 percent of the world's largest herbivores are classified as threatened with extinction on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature Red List. This situation is particularly dire in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, home to the greatest diversity of extant megafauna."

The measures necessary to mitigate the extinction of some of the world's megafauna must be twofold, the authors wrote. First, governments and people need to intervene on a smaller scale specific to the needs of individual species. Secondly, large-scale policy shifts must be enacted to change the way people and animals interact.

And there's a model for these types of changes, the authors noted.

"The Range Wide Conservation Program for Cheetah and African Wild Dog provides a good model on how to enact conservation action across the massive scales required," said Sarah Durant, co-author and a wildlife biologist with the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Zoological Society of London.

"This program has established a consensus across key stakeholders in multiple countries on a common conservation goal and plan of action to reverse declines in these species. Frameworks like these help everyone to work together most effectively towards a common goal of conservation," she added.

The responsibility does not fall equally across the globe, the authors wrote, as often the countries in most dire need of reforms are the most ill-equipped to implement them.

"Therefore," they wrote, "the onus is on developed countries, which have long ago lost most of their megafauna," to conserve their native species and support initiatives in other regions.

"We must not go quietly into this impoverished future," the authors wrote. "Rather, we believe it is our collective responsibility, as scientists who study megafauna, to act to prevent their decline. We therefore present a call to the broader international community to join together in conserving the remaining terrestrial megafauna."

—   Kale Williams

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