“Anywhere you find humans, you find the extinction of species,” says biologist Mathias Pires, a professor of biology at Campinas State University (UNICAMP) in Brazil.
The near-eradication of the American bison (Bison bison), the largest land animal in North America, is a case in point. These one-ton bovines once roamed the prairies in herds numbering in the millions. The bison’s distribution was so vast that it was found from Alaska all the way down to northern Mexico.
But with the arrival of the first European colonialists in North America, the bison was hunted near to extinction. In the 19th century, fewer than 100 of the animals remained in the wild. Today, their numbers have recovered slightly, and they can be found in small herds mostly in protected areas.
Pires’s observation of the destructive power of humans isn’t new, but now he and several colleagues have put into numbers the impact that we as a species have had on the other species that share this planet since Homo sapiens first migrated out of Africa 50,000 and 11,000 years ago.
“The late Pleistocene was the period when the great human migrations out of Africa began to take place,” says Lilian Sales, a UNICAMP researcher and the lead author of the new study that maps out the original and current distributions of 145 large mammal species. “Man’s arrival and the disappearance of some species were synchronous.”
Lead Image: American bison grazing, by Arturo de Frias Marques via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0).
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