Wildlife under threat due to our eating habits - World Wildlife Day opinion piece

04 March 2020

By Dave Neale, Animals Asia’s Animal Welfare Director

Wild animals and their natural homes have never been under so much pressure in recent times than they face right now. 

World Wildlife Day 3 March

A rapidly growing human population demands more land for housing, industry and food production. Inevitably this is all too often at the expense of wild animals that have lived without conflict on such land for many hundreds or thousands of years. Losing their homes with little or no way to defend them for themselves and their families.

Much of this natural land is being lost to meet our insatiable desire to consume more and more meat and dairy products, with wild animals homes being bulldozed to make way for the growth of feedstuffs to feed to animals, pushing our natural world and our wild animals towards a catastrophic end. 

Animal agriculture is responsible for 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, more than the combined exhaust from all transportation sources. Meat and dairy production is responsible for 60 per cent of agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions, while the products themselves provide just 18 per cent of calories and just 37 per cent of protein levels around the world.

Stig Nygaard - In the morning light

Livestock and the production of  livestock feed occupies 1/3 of the earth’s ice-free land, with vast areas of natural forest being destroyed each day to provide space for livestock and to grow animal feed. 

Some of the most biologically diverse areas of the world, are particularly at risk as the demand for meat increases. Cattle ranchers have clear-cut millions of square kilometers of forests for grazing pastures, devastating wild animal populations and decimating natural carbon sinks in the process. 

Brazil is home to half of the world's 15,000 remaining jaguars. Their numbers are shrinking as huge areas of grassland and rainforest are being converted to soya plantations. Most of the soya production going to factory farming, to feed industrially reared farm animals for us to eat.

Joelle Hernandez Cattle ranching

Sumatra is one of the most diverse places on Earth, home to the Sumatran Elephant. But more than half of its lowland forests have been destroyed to make way for palm plantations. As a by-product palm kernel is shipped in large quantities out of Indonesia to feed intensively reared animals. This boosts the profitability of the palm industry, further encouraging the destruction of the elephants' habitat. The few remaining elephant herds have just patches of forests left.

One-third of the world's grain production is now fed directly to animals. This demand for land to grow feed is increasing the pressure on both natural habitats and already scarce grazing land. Grazing moves into marginal land where it leads to desertification and subsequently into forests and ecologically sensitive areas leading to further conflict with wildlife. Intensive animal farming is now one of the biggest drivers of species extinction and biodiversity loss. 

The impact of such wholesale destruction is generating increasing debate both within society and political circles, and this may eventually lead to politicians globally legislating to help reduce the impact of our agricultural practices. But we can not, and we should not wait for politicians to act when we have the answer to the problems in our own hands, and all it will take is for us to adapt our daily lives and change our daily behaviours to help save their homes from destruction.

The single biggest way in which we can all reduce the destructive impact we are causing to our wild animals lives is by changing our daily eating habits

A meat diet is estimated to require 18 times more land than a vegan diet. Eliminating meat and dairy products from our diets could reduce an individual's carbon footprint from food consumption alone by up to 73 per cent, and if everyone stopped eating meat and dairy products global farmland use could be reduced by 75 per cent, an area equivalent to the size of the US, China, Australia and the EU combined.  

Jeanne Menjoulet Vegans nightmare

Not only would this result in a significant drop in greenhouse gas emissions, it would also free up wild land lost to agriculture, one of the primary causes for mass wildlife extinction. Land that could be given back to the natural environment and help to sustain the many millions of animals and plant species that are currently tinkering on the edge of extinction. 

Whilst this ideal world where everyone lived from a plant-based diet is an unrealistic prospect, we must take individual responsibility for the devastation we are causing.

To save the planet, and to save wild animal species from extinction we much use less water and reduce our use of gas guzzling transportation but we must also change our daily eating habits towards a plant-based diet to reduce our personal impact, reducing greenhouse gas emissions,  global acidification, eutrophication, and freeing up land and water to be used as intended by the natural environment and the wildlife that share our planet.

Charles Smith - stoneledge farms CSA

Saving the planet from ecological destruction is no longer a luxury, it is a responsibility that we all have on our shoulders, and saving an individual animal's home is something that we must all strive to do as if it was our very own home and our own families lives under threat. 

Start today by eating less meat and dairy products each week, and by doing so you will play your part in reversing this destructive trend and help protect global biodiversity. Not only is eating less meat a healthy personal choice – it’s a change that can help protect wild animals and their wild homes.

The answer is in the choices we make each and every day.
Wayne S. Grazio - Lettuce Farm Worker