Deadly appetite: 10 animals that we are eating in extinction | Atmosphere

If there is a single dish that has come to symbolize the willingness of humans to eat other animals out of existence, it is the ortolan pennant. Traditionally, this diminutive songbird, prized since Roman times, is devoured whole, in one bite, its head hidden under a napkin to hide the shame of God (although, drowned in armagnac and fried, this “delicacy” it’s also just plain messy).

In France, where hunting for Ortolans has been banned since 1999, 30,000 birds are still caught each year, according to the RSPB; they are said to cost up to €150 (£130) each. Despite conservation efforts, the number of Ortolans declined by 84% between 1980 and 2012.

However, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the ortolan as “a species of least concern”. There are many animals that are in much greater danger, according to Professor David Macdonald of the University of Oxford, who reported in 2016 that our culinary habits threaten 301 species of land mammals with extinction.

Here are 10 of the creatures most at risk, based on Macdonald’s study, guidance from the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species, and the Edge of Existence conservation program. from the Zoological Society of London (ZSL).

chinese giant salamander

Once found in central, southwestern and southern China, the world’s largest amphibian has seen its natural population drop by 80% since 1960, according to ZSL’s Olivia Couchman. Despite being listed on Appendix I of CITES (the highest level of protection afforded by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the specimens reportedly fetch more than $1,500 (£1,150) each in the black market, where they are prized as both a delicacy and for their medicinal properties. In 2015, the Washington Post reported that undercover reporters for a Chinese newspaper had caught 14 police officers feasting on salamanders during a banquet at a seafood restaurant in Shenzen.

beluga sturgeon

Beluga in an aquarium. Photo: lapandr/Getty Images/iStockphoto

These ancient large fish (they can weigh up to a ton and a half) could once be found from central Russia to Italy and northern Iran, but overfishing, for their meat and caviar, and the devastating effect of infrastructure Modern fluvial in their migratory spawning patterns have reduced their range to just two rivers, the Ural and the Danube, and the basins into which they flow, the Caspian and the Black Sea, respectively. As MCS’s Jean-Luc Solandt says, this is “definitely one that could be extinct within a generation.” With beluga caviar selling for thousands of pounds a kilo, it’s easy to see why over-harvesting remains a problem. And it’s not the only sturgeon in trouble: Of the 27 species, the IUCN lists 15 others in the same group as critically endangered.


Since the year 2000, more than a million pangolins, the world’s most trafficked wild mammal, are believed to have been killed for their meat and blood, as well as their scales (which are used in traditional Chinese medicine). When all eight pangolin species received an Appendix I listing in 2016, everyone at the Cites convention is said to have cheered. However, as Dan Challender of Oxford University points out, alarming seizures continue to take place: 8.3 tonnes of scales (amounting to 13,800 pangolins) in Hong Kong in January (the shipment from Nigeria was headed for Vietnam); 30 tons of live and frozen animals and body parts in Malaysia in February. Since the Asian species, in particular the sonar and the Chinese, are no longer commercially viable because there are very few left, the local demand is being met by the intercontinental trade. Paul De Ornellas, WWF UK’s chief wildlife adviser, describes this as “one continent sucking up another’s wildlife”.


Angel shark. Photography: BIOSPHOTO/Alamy Stock Photo

The MCS says this species is “one step away from extinction” in the wild. Its area of ​​distribution, which until the middle of the 20th century extended from Norway and Ireland to Morocco and the Black Sea, has been reduced by 80%; it has been declared extinct in the North Sea. This sedentary bottom-dwelling fish is most threatened by trawling for other species, where it forms part of the accidental bycatch.

Yangtze giant softshell turtle (also known as red river turtle)

Once widespread in Vietnam and China, this species has now been reduced to just four known individuals, thanks to local appetites for its meat and eggs. With two males in different Vietnamese lakes and the other pair in a Chinese captive-breeding program that has yet to be successful (the male has a damaged penis, according to the New Yorker), Couchman says it would be very surprising if the species survived. The plight of this freshwater turtle highlights that of the broader population of turtles: after primates, they are the second most threatened of the world’s major vertebrate groups.

Eastern lowland gorilla (also known as Grauer’s gorilla)

Found in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, this gorilla is particularly vulnerable to poaching for bushmeat, associated with illegal mining camps. While the other subspecies of the eastern gorilla, the mountain gorilla, is the only great ape to see increasing numbers, the eastern lowlands are in steady decline. Although violence in the region has made accurate accounting impossible, its population is estimated to have dropped by 77% in a single generation to 3,800 individuals, according to the Edge of Existence list.

european eel

European eels on ice. Photography: PicturePartners/Getty Images/iStockphoto

These mysterious fish migrate from the Atlantic (believed to have spawned in the Sargasso Sea) to fresh, coastal waters to grow, then return to the ocean to breed. While little is known about either process, juvenile (“glass”) and mature (silver or yellow) eels have been consistently overfished, to the point that yields have halved since the 1970s. 1960. Since overexploitation is just one of the many threats facing eels, MCS urges us to “avoid eating European eel at any stage of its life cycle.”

red colobus

Zanzibar red colobus. Photograph: Nature Picture Library/Alamy Stock Photo/Alamy Stock Photo

Christoph Schwitzer of the Bristol Zoological Society says this group of monkey species (there are 18) is an excellent example of large-bodied primates being hunted to extinction “because they make good family food.” They are found in sub-Saharan Africa, where habitat degradation and improved road access have seen the commercialization of hunting wild animals, with devastating effects. One species, Miss Waldron’s red colobus, is already feared extinct, having not been seen in the wild since 1978, while the most recently discovered, the Niger Delta red colobus, is on track to disappear in the next few years. five years.

Indri (aka Babakoto)

Madagascar’s lemurs, of which the black-and-white singing indri is the largest, are the world’s most threatened group of primates: 105 of the island’s 111 known species and subspecies are threatened with extinction. While habitat degradation due to slash-and-burn agriculture has long been a problem (with human eating habits posing an indirect threat), the last 15 years have seen an alarming increase in subsistence hunting and hunting. commercial poaching for local restaurants, according to Schwitzer. This new threat is linked to the political and economic crisis on the island. As Couchman says, people are starving.


They may look like antelopes, but these large forest-dwelling mammals, found in the Annamite Mountains along the Laotian-Vietnam border, are more closely related to wild cattle and buffalo. Western science only learned of its existence in the early 1990s, when antlers were found in the homes of Vietnamese hunters. Little is still known about them today, including how many remain. The Edge of Existence list says there could be as few as 30 left. For De Ornellas, saola is linked to “empty forest syndrome,” a real concern for this region of Southeast Asia where almost all large animals have been hunted for food. .

This article was modified on April 9, 2019 because Grauer’s gorillas can be found in the mountains of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, but not also in northwestern Rwanda and southwestern Uganda, as an earlier version claimed.

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