April 10, 2021

Human appetite threatens the remaining megafauna | Science

Human appetite threatens the remaining megafauna | Science

For the Chinese emperors of the Song dynasty (960-1279 of this era) the shark fin soup was already a deli. In the quality of a dish influenced the difficulty of getting their ingredients and capture a dangerous shark must be an offering to the emperor. In addition, it was believed in a species of transmutation, by which the strength and fierceness of the animal passed to the one that ate its meat. Such atavisms turned this dish into a symbol of status. Until recently, in China, every wedding, business dinner or official banquet worthy should include shark fin soup. And that these appendages hardly have flavor and the main dressing of the broth is chicken.

About thirty species of sharks, sawfishes, hammerheads and other cartilaginous fishes are threatened with extinction due to the desire of many Chinese to look good with their guests. According to a recent study on threats to megafauna, they are one of the most harassed large vertebrate groups, but they are not the only ones. There are some 200 species of large animals that are losing population and 150 of them in danger of extinction due to various human appetites.

"Our study shows that, in addition to loss or degradation of habitat, direct hunting by humans is the greatest threat to the world's largest animals," says the ecology professor at Oregon State University (USA). main author of the study, William Ripple. "There are many causes why humans are killing megafauna." Sometimes it is for subsistence, sometimes for commercial interests, sometimes it is for medicinal purposes or simple hobby, sometimes death is intentional and sometimes unintentional, due to capture accidental, "he adds.

98% of threatened species are affected by hunting and fishing

The research, published in Conservation Letters, cataloged as mammals and fish more than 100 kilograms (Kg) and amphibians, reptiles and birds that exceeded 40 kg. They found a total of 292 species with sufficient data on their conservation status and their main threats. Their results show that 70% of megafauna species are losing population and 59% are threatened with extinction, with some critically endangered. Two data confirm that humans are fattened with the largest animals: among species of all sizes, half lose population and only one fifth are threatened.

Of the ten threats, in addition to the loss of habitat, researchers analyzed the impact of invasive species, pollution, deforestation, agricultural progress, climate change … Although many species suffer impacts from several fronts, hunting It is present in 98% of the threatened. Hunting also includes fishing.

"The consumption is very serious, it includes an enormous illegal subsistence and commercial traffic for the legal and illegal markets," says researcher Gerardo Ceballos, of the Institute of Ecology of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and co-author of the study. "It is part of what we have called the 'annihilation of nature.' Most of this consumption is due to two factors: the misery in which there is a large number of people on the planet and the greed of the mafias, mainly Asian (Chinese) who dominate the black market ".

Exemplary of Chinese giant salamander in London zoo. If their capture is not stopped, experts believe that only breeding outside their original environment will ensure the survival of the species.
Exemplary of Chinese giant salamander in London zoo. If their capture is not stopped, experts believe that only breeding outside their original environment will ensure the survival of the species. ZSL

There are species hunted for their meat, their skin, their feathers and even their eggs, such as the Somali ostrich, placed in extreme danger by subsistence hunting. In others, his sentence is in his ornaments and comes from afar, as happens with elephants and rhinos. But it is the food, generally of supposedly exquisite dishes, that is killing many of the few large animals that remain. Among those delicacies is the flesh of the giant salamander china, the only amphibian on the list, the only amphibian left.

"The situation of the populations of the giant Chinese salamander is absolutely critical," says the researcher at the Institute of Zoology of the Zoological Society of London, Samuel Turvey. Author of several books on extinctions caused by humans, Turvey participated between 2013 and 2016 in an extensive campaign to know the state of this amphibian. They conducted field studies in 97 counties in China and interviewed some 3,000 locals "and we did not find any giant salamander in the wild," says the British zoologist, who has not been involved in the study of megafauna. The only ones they saw were specimens escaped from farms where they are raised as cattle.

Although this animal has been in critical danger of extinction for some time according to the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the Chinese authorities have not yet banned their capture (outside of protected areas) and their consumption. Perhaps the case of sharks can serve as a guide: with them the pressure on the offer seems not to work, but the actions to reduce their demand.

In most countries, also in China, the fishing of some species is prohibited, but not the fishing of others and the fins of sharks must be very similar. A Recent research from the University of Hong Kong, the main port and market for these appendages, showed that at least one third of the fins belonged to species that appear as threatened in the Red List.

Shark fin soup was a must for weddings, business dinners and official banquets until recently

"The data point to global shark catches exceeding one million tons per year, more than double the level of six decades ago, and overfishing today threatens almost 60% of shark species, the largest proportion among all vertebrates. ", said in a note the biologist of the university of the former British colony, Yvonne Sadovy. "The exclusivity of a natural product combined with its reduced availability in freedom increases its price and makes it an attractive product for business networks, including the extensive illegal traffic, which has proved very difficult to control by the authorities," he added. .

However, according to official statistics, the consumption of shark fins in China has dropped by 80% in recent years. As it collects a report from the environmentalist and activist WildAid, the importation of these appendices has decreased by a similar percentage. In a context in which both Europe and the United States pursue this trade, pressure from conservation organizations led the Chinese government to remove shark soup from its official banquet. The campaigns against this dish of organizations like WildAid took off with the Olympic Games of Peking of 2008. Today the main hotel chains have removed it from their menus and it begins to be frowned upon to celebrate the wedding with this broth.

The key, therefore, could be to fight the demand with the weapon of eduction. This is explained by WildAid CEO Peter Knights: "Our campaigns, supported by government media and led by icons such as Yao Ming [exjugador de la NBA] and other Chinese celebrities have changed public attitudes towards shark fins. When people have known about the decline of shark populations and their impact on the health of marine ecosystems and have discovered the cruelty in how to capture them, soup is more shame than prestige. "


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