A new study found that excess hunting could kill off most of large mammals on the planet in the next 200 years. Scientists estimate that if the current situation continues, cows could be the largest mammals left.
Large mammals like saber-toothed cats, oversized ground sloths, and woolly mammoths once roamed the Earth in large numbers. Over the millennia, they went extinct.
The study shows that the mammals that were killed off were usually up to three times larger than species that survived. The “downsizing” trend affects the entire planet. Also, mammals that did survive are much smaller than their ancestors that went extinct.
Study authors estimate that the trend may continue in the next few centuries, with many large animals that are currently considered endangered to go extinct. According to the study, in the next 200 years, the largest mammal species left on the planet could be the domestic cow.
Large Mammals are Shrinking
Large mammals may also see their average weight sink to around six pounds, which is roughly the weight of a small dog. These animals weighed from 37 pounds to 216 pounds when giant sloths walked the Earth.
The findings appeared this week in the journal Science.
Study authors explained that the upcoming extinction of large mammals will be caused by human activities. Researcher Kate Lyons noted that extinction became an issue for large body sized animals when humans started making an impact.
Researchers underlined that the extinctions happened “not very long after” humans entered the scene. “It just seems to be something that we do,” Lyons added.
The research team speculates that human intervention affected the average body size of many animals, as they found some ancient species in Africa being 50% smaller than their counterparts on other continents when humans started impacting their environment.
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