Wildlife refers to all non-domesticated plants, animals, and other organisms. Domesticated organisms are those that have adapted to survival with the help of (or under the control of) humans, after many generations. Domesticating wild plant and animal species for human benefit has occurred many times all over the planet, and has had a major impact on the environment, both positive and negative.
Wildlife can be found in all ecosystems. Deserts, rainforests, plains, and other areas—including the most developed urban sites—all have distinct forms of wildlife. While the term in popular culture usually refers to animals that are untouched by human factors, most scientists agree that wildlife around the world is impacted by human activities.
Humans have historically tended to separate civilization from wildlife in a number of ways including the legal, social, and moral sense. This has been a reason for debate throughout recorded history. Religions have often declared certain animals to be sacred, and in modern times concern for the environment has provoked activists to protest the exploitation of wildlife for human benefit or entertainment. Literature has also made use of the traditional human separation from wildlife.
Anthropologists believe that the Stone Age peoples and hunter-gatherers relied on wildlife, both plant and animal, for their food. In fact, some species may have been hunted to extinction by early human hunters. Today, hunting, fishing, or gathering wildlife is still a significant food source in some parts of the world. In other areas, hunting and non-commercial fishing are mainly seen as a sport or recreation, with the edible meat as mostly a side benefit. Meat sourced from wildlife that is not traditionally regarded as game is known as bushmeat. The increasing demand for wildlife as a source of traditional food in East Asia is decimating populations of sharks, primates, pangolins and other animals, which they believe have aphrodisiac properties.
Many wildlife species have spiritual significance in different cultures around the world, and they and their products may be used as sacred objects in religious rituals. For example, eagles, hawks and their feathers have great cultural and spiritual value to Native Americans as religious objects.inu
Wildlife has long been a common subject for educational television shows. National Geographic specials appeared on CBS beginning in 1965, later moving to ABC and then PBS. In 1963, NBC debuted Wild Kingdom, a popular program featuring zoologist Marlin Perkins as host. The BBC natural history unit in the UK was a similar pioneer, the first wildlife series LOOK presented by Sir Peter Scott, was a studio-based show, with filmed inserts. It was in this series that David Attenborough first made his appearance which led to the series Zoo Quest during which he and cameraman Charles Lagus went to many exotic places looking for elusive wildlife -- notably the Komodo dragon in Indonesia and lemurs in Madagascar. Since 1984, the Discovery Channel and its spinoff Animal Planet in the USA have dominated the market for shows about wildlife on cable television, while on PBS the NATURE strand made by WNET-13 in New York and NOVA by WGBH in Boston are notable. See also Nature documentary. Wildlife television is now a multi-million dollar industry with specialist documentary film-makers in many countries including UK, USA, New Zealand NHNZ, Australia, Austria, Germany, Japan, and Canada.
Fuelled by media coverage and inclusion of conservation education in early school curriculum, Wildlife tourism & Ecotourism has fast become a popular industry generating substantial income for poor nations with rich wildlife specially in Africa and India. This ever growing and ever becoming more popular form of tourism is providing the much needed incentive for poor nations to conserve their rich wildlife heritage and it's habitat.
This subsection focuses on anthropogenic forms of wildlife destruction.
Exploitation of wild populations has been a characteristic of modern man since our exodus from Africa 130,000 – 70,000 years ago. The rate of extinctions of entire species of plants and animals across the planet has been so high in the last few hundred years it is widely considered that we are in the sixth great extinction event on this planet; the Holocene Mass Extinction.
Destruction of wildlife does not always lead to an extinction of the species in question, however, the dramatic loss of entire species across Earth dominates any review of wildlife destruction as extinction is the level of damage to a wild population from which there is no return.
The four most general reasons that lead to destruction of wildlife include overkill, habitat destruction and fragmentation, impact of introduced species and chains of extinction.
Overkill occurs whenever hunting occurs at rate greater than the reproductive capacity of the population being exploited. The effects of this are often noticed much more dramatically in slow growing populations such as many larger species of fish. Initially when a portion of a wild population is hunted, an increased availability of resources (food, etc) is experienced increasing growth and reproduction as Density dependent inhibition is lowered. Hunting, fishing and so on, has lowered the competition between members of a population. However, if this hunting continues at rate greater than the rate at which new members of the population can reach breeding age and produce more young, the population will begin to decrease in numbers.
Populations in confined to islands – whether literal islands or just areas of habitat that are effectively an “island” for the species concerned – have also been observed to be at greater risk of dramatic population declines following unsustainable hunting.Overkill is really very very dangerous to our animals.
Habitat destruction and fragmentation
The habitat of any given species is considered its preferred area or territory. Many processes associated human habitation of an area cause loss of this area and the decrease the carrying capacity of the land for that species. In many cases these changes in land use cause a patchy break-up of the wild landscape. Agricultural land frequently displays this type of extremely fragmented, or relictual, habitat. Farms sprawl across the landscape with patches of uncleared woodland or forest dotted in-between occasional paddocks.
Examples of habitat destruction include grazing of bushland by farmed animals, changes to natural fire regimes, forest clearing for timber production and wetland draining for city expansion.
Impact of introduced species
Rats, cats, rabbits, dandelions and poison ivy are all examples of species that have become invasive threats to wild species in various parts of the world. Frequently species that are uncommon in their home range become out of control invasions in distant but similar climates. The reasons for this have not always been clear and Charles Darwin felt it was unlikely that exotic species would ever be able to grow abundantly in a place they had not evolved in. The reality is that the vast majority of species exposed to a new habitat do not reproduce successfully. However occasionally some populations do take hold and after a period of acclimation can increase in numbers significantly having destructive effects on many elements of the native environment they have become part of.
Chains of extinction
This final group is one of secondary effects. All wild populations of living things have many complex intertwining links with other living things around them. Large herbivorous animals such as the hippopotamus have populations of insectivorous birds that feed off the many parasitic insects that grow on the hippo. Should the hippo die out so to will these groups of birds, leading to further destruction as other species dependant on the birds are affected. Also referred to as a Domino effect, this series of chain reactions is by far the most destructive process that can occur in any ecological community.
- Endangered species
- Wildlife management
- Ex-situ conservation
- In-situ conservation
- Conservation biology
- Conservation ecology
- Natural history
- Wildlife gardening
- Gene pool
- Genetic Pollution
- Genetic Erosion
- Diamond, J. M. (1989). Overview of recent extinctions. Conservation for the Twenty-first Century. D. Western and M. Pearl. New York, Oxford University Press: 37-41.