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Human Causes of Extinction: Overexploitation

written by: JenniferB•edited by: Niki Fears•updated: 10/16/2008

Overexploitation is a series problem that occurs when the human destruction or use of a species outpaces that species’ ability to reproduce.

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    Humans Harm the Wild

    One of the major human activities that leads to the irreversible biodiversity loss is the overexploitation of certain animals. This occurs when the human destruction or use of a species outpaces that species’ ability to reproduce. This often happens when certain organisms are highly prized by humans, which is the case with animals and plants whose parts are used as medicinal therapies in some societies. Sadly, three of the Earth’s eight species of tiger are already extinct. What’s worse? The five remaining species are gravely endangered, in part due to the demand for their bones, which are believed to treat arthritis, and erroneously believed to reverse male impotence. Exploitation also affects plants as well including popular wild-grown medicines – including Echinacea, the common cold remedy.

    Overexploitation also occurs when an animal competes directly with humans for the space and resources to survive. A classic example is that of the gray wolf, which was nearly exterminated in the United States by hunters who were determined to protect their livestock. With the proper education and management, resource managers have been able to bring back wolf populations. However, in situations where species ranges cross international borders, such recovery can be much harder. Species that cross the international boundaries during migration or live in the world’s oceans are highly susceptible to overexploitation since it can be difficult to maintain a healthy population when no single government can regulate the total harvest. This difficulty was observed in the near extinction of numerous whale species during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries due to the unregulated harvest by multiple nations. Unfortunately, other fish are similarly threatened including stocks of cod, swordfish, and tuna.

    How can we reduce the threat of the overexploitation of endangered plant and animal species? Here are some simple steps:

    • Make informed decisions when it comes to purchasing animal or plant-based products including seafood and flowers.

    • Support legislation that promotes habitat protection and species conservation.

    • Engage in promoting the living habits that protect endangered and threatened species: maintain natural habitats on your property, avoid building homes in areas that border important wildlife communities and follow hunting and fishing regulations.

Human Causes of Extinction

According to the IUCN, the biggest threats to biodiversity are those related to human activity. This series explores some of the different types of human activity that are having devestating effects on a variety of species.
  1. Problems Caused by Introduced Species
  2. Human Causes of Extinction: Overexploitation
  3. How Human Activities Contribute to Coastal Ecosystem Decline
  4. Habitat Rehabilitation: The Answer to Human Activity
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