From the beautiful resplendent quetzal, desired for its stunning feathers, to the golden poison frogs that find their way into pet markets, and the pangolins hunted for both their meat and medicinal scales, many wild species are being exploited by humans.
Broad Reach of Human Impact
In a comprehensive analysis, researchers disclosed that out of an estimated 47,000 vertebrate species globally, approximately 14,600 face some form of human exploitation. This research, recently published in Communications Biology, paints a concerning picture of the sheer extent of human influence on the animal kingdom. Marine ecologist Boris Worm and his colleagues note that while certain species, such as many fish, are found in vast numbers, a multitude of others are endangered due to human activities.
Diverse Forms of Exploitation
The team’s findings suggest that over half of the exploited vertebrate species, primarily fish and mammals, are hunted for consumption. In contrast, birds, reptiles, and amphibians often find themselves targeted for the pet trade. An alarming 8% are hunted for sport or as trophies. Additionally, many species serve multiple human needs, from medicinal purposes to clothing.
Drawing on data from the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the team examined vertebrate species that fall within six categories, each containing more than 100 species. The categories encompassed mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, ray-finned fishes, and cartilaginous fishes.
The concerning revelation was that roughly 13% of all vertebrate species at risk of extinction, labeled by IUCN as vulnerable, endangered, or critically endangered, face these threats largely due to human exploitation. This encompasses 39% of the species that the study identified as exploited by humans.
Advanced technological tools for hunting and fishing, the proliferation of global trade, and a growing human population are upsetting the balance of various ecosystems. Though researchers like Worm regard humans as predators, this might be a misnomer, argues Daniel Pauly, a fisheries biologist not involved in the study. According to him, while natural processes regulate predators, the same doesn’t hold for humans. He interprets the research results as a testimony to the “devastating impact of our rampant consumption on the world.”