Guns, tractors threaten wildlife more than climate: study

The main driver of wildlife extinction is not climate change but humanity's rapacious harvesting of species for food and trophies, along with our ever-expanding agricultural footprint, said researchers pleading for a rest of conservation priorities.

In an analysis of nearly 9,000 "threatened" or "near-threatened" species, the scientists found that three-quarters are being over-exploited for commerce, recreation or subsistence.

Demand for meat and body parts, for example, have driven the Western gorilla and Chinese pangolin to near extinction, and pushed the Sumatran rhinoceros -- prized in China for bogus medicines made from its horn -- over the edge.

And more than half of the 8,688 species of animals and plants evaluated are suffering due to the conversion of their natural habitats into industrial farms and plantations, mainly to raise livestock and grow commodity crops for fuel or food.

By comparison, only 19 percent of these species are currently affected by climate change, they reported in a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.

Conservation budgets, the researchers argued, must reflect this reality.

"Addressing the old foes of overharvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the biodiversity extinction crisis," said lead author Sean Maxwell, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia.
These threats, rather than climate change, "must be at the forefront of the conservation agenda," he said in a statement.

The provocative appeal -- which elicited sharp reactions -- comes a month before a crucial meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a policy-oriented umbrella grouping of governments, industry and NGOs that meets every three or four years.

The IUCN also manages the gold-standard Red List of endangered species, tracking and cataloguing the health of Earth's flora and fauna.

Climate change has overshadowed more traditional conservation priorities over the last decade, siphoning limited resources and cash away from more urgent needs, the authors argued.

In December, 195 nations inked the Paris Agreement, the first global pact to curb greenhouse gas emissions and help poor countries cope with global warming impacts such as rising seas, drought and superstorms.

The agreement, which could be ratified as early as this year, calls for the mobilisation of hundreds of billions of dollars in the coming decades.

The Nature analysis acknowledges global warming could become an increasingly dominant menace for biodiversity in the coming decades.

"But, overwhelmingly, the most immediate threat comes from agriculture and over-exploitation," said co-author James Watson, a biodiversity expert at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

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