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Wildlife conservation 2

During the past 2,000 years the world has lost, through extinction, well over 100 species or subspecies of mammals. Approximately two-thirds of these losses have occurred since the mid-19th century, most since the beginning of the 20th. In addition to those mammals already extinct, many others are vanishing or threatened.

The primary factor in the depletion of the world's fauna has been modern human society, operating either directly through excessive commercial hunting or, more disastrously, indirectly through invading or destroying natural habitats, placing firearms in the hands of peoples who previously were without them, or introducing to the native fauna of certain areas (Australia and various islands) more aggressive exotic (nonnative) mammals. Except in the West Indies, comparatively few species seem to have died out within the past 2,000 years from such natural causes as evolutionary senility, disease, or climatic change.

Persons interested in the conservation of wildlife recognize that much more is required than the mere protection of individual animals from destruction by shooting and other forms of direct action. Animal protection must begin with the conservation of the habitat—the area where animals feed, rest, and breed. This naturally involves the preservation of much besides the animal population itself, including conservation of vegetation cover and soil. The comparatively new science of ecology focuses on the association of living things in natural communities and their mutual interdependence and on the possibility of preserving the conditions under which the variety and abundance of natural living forms may continue to exist. But the immense growth of the world's human population and its expanding economic needs, fostering the consequent extension and intensification of industry and agriculture, have encroached upon remaining natural habitats throughout the world. This has been accompanied by the introduction of new types of cultivation, by the drainage of marshes, by the general lowering of the water table, by pollution of rivers and lakes, by destruction of woodlands, and by indiscriminate use of insecticides and herbicides. In many parts of the world there has also been widespread destruction of forests and other great belts of natural vegetation.

Attitudes toward wild animals liable to be killed for food, oil, skins, feathers, or sport are undergoing considerable change in many countries of the world. An example of earlier attitudes is well illustrated by Great Britain, which passed through two centuries of so-called game protection, the original purpose of which was to create artificially high populations of grouse, partridge, pheasant, mallard, and other sporting species and, at the same time, to reduce the populations of such predators as the stoat, weasel, otter, wildcat, and badger, as well as birds of prey including owls. This alteration of the natural equilibrium had many other consequences, particularly in agriculture and forestry. The rabbit and wood pigeon population increased rapidly and caused widespread damage. In some places in Great Britain the landscape was changed by the planting of woods and the creation of other new areas, including artificial lakes for wildfowl—all with the purpose of creating larger populations of certain species for sport. Sport was the privilege of the affluent. There were strictly kept dates for the shooting of game species, and, most significant, there was very strict etiquette in shooting. Poaching was punished by heavy penalties and was kept under control. As a result, the game species did exceptionally well while the total wildlife resources experienced varied fortunes. The modern view is different: total wildlife conservation is rapidly replacing game protection.

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