Overhunting is when a species population is drastically reduced due to hunting, be it for sport or for sustenance.
It can also be used in relation to poaching. Poaching is illegal hunting that goes against restrictions or when it happens on someone else’s land. The problem with overhunting is not only the thinning of a species. But the decrease of a given species can have long-term effects throughout the ecosystem.
If you’re a hunter, you’re likely familiar with the idea of overhunting. You’re also likely concerned how your actions may be incidentally contributing to this. There are ways to prevent overhunting and help maintain a balanced ecosystem.
Overhunting doesn’t happen immediately. There are different factors involved, some incidental and some intentional.
As the human population increases, the need to feed the masses increases, too. High demand for food increases hunting activities as does the need for raw material that come from wildlife like hides and fur. While hunting for food and resources isn’t a problem, the ecosystem will become imbalanced when the species being hunted isn’t given time to regenerate to create a sustainable system.
More so, the more people there are, the more urbanization occurs. This takes away natural habitats for wildlife forcing them into suburban areas. When this happens, people are sometimes encouraged to hunt these animals to control what looks like an overpopulation of the species. However, this is sometimes a false estimation due to the species’ displacement from their natural habitat. This encouragement is a slippery slope that can lead to the overhunting of one or more species.
Human beings have a long history of hunting for survival. With that history come cultural traditions that still hold true today. There are indigenous tribes as well as individual families across the globe that hunt and/or fish as a traditional way of life. Again, this isn’t the problem. It’s the overhunting caused by these cultural influences that are the issue.
In these cases, overhunting occurs when there are more people to be fed. To combat this, governments may step in and put in hunting restrictions in order to try and help the species in question regenerate. However, there are instances when traditional hunters ignore regulations due to their cultural traditions. And this will cause larger problems like endangerment and even extinction.
An example of this can be found in Vietnam. There is a cultural belief in that country that a specific turtle soup will make people stronger. Based on this idea, there are some species of turtle that are now on the verge of extinction. So while they are hunting for food, it’s not due to hunger but because of a traditional, cultural belief.
Similarly, there are some indigenous tribes that hunt as cultural rites of passage and not just for food. For example, the Maasai tribe in Africa hunts lions as a rite to show bravery. There are other groups throughout the world who hunt for cultural or religious reasons, as well, leading to overhunting.
A major issue that has led to overhunting is hunting for sport. This is hunting done for no other reason other than to kill an animal. Sometimes, the hunter is offered a prize or a payment for hunting the species in question. While it’s illegal in a lot of countries, it is legal in others causing the depletion of some animals.
Despite being illegal in some places, there are some who continue to hunt for sport illegally. This is known as poaching and is something that is actively being fought especially in Africa. Sometimes, the people doing this don’t realize the harm they’re doing but most of the time poachers are only after money, using their kills to illegally collect resources to sell to others.
This isn’t just done in Africa, however. There are some hunters in more developed places that still hunt for sport. For example, there are deer hunters in North America that hunt for bucks in order to mount their heads as a trophy. Here, there is a more of a chance that the deer hunter used the deer meat to feed their family, though, since deer are a popular game meat.
Bird hunting is also done for sport in certain places. Here, birds like quails, ducks, and similar fowl are shot in flight for competition sports. This practice has led to a decline in a number of bird species.
While it was mentioned briefly, there are resources that can be collected through hunting animals. There are raw materials that big game can provide like ivory and animal pelts. There are also ingredients found in cosmetic products that are made from certain animals.
For example, certain whales are overhunted because their skin produces oil used in a few different beauty products. Due to the high demand for these things, hunters will go after certain species without thinking about sustainability. In the Americas, this is seen through crocodile hunting who were overhunted for their skin’s use in the fashion industry.
Image Via Stockunlimited
No matter the causes behind the overhunting of a given species, the process has long-lasting and damaging effects that spread further than just the local species population. If you’re unfamiliar with overhunting and what it can do, consider the effects of overhunting the next time you question sustainable hunting or fishing regulations.
Overhunting is one of the biggest causes of species extinction. In fact, the World Wildlife Fund reported that overhunting causes 23 percent of all animal extinctions. When one species is hunted to such a degree where the animals don’t have a chance to repopulate the species is considered endangered. Unless the species is given a chance to repopulate, it’ll disappear due to overhunting and will be classified extinct.
Overhunting can actually disrupt the natural migration and hibernation patterns of different animal species. This is one of the overhunting effects that isn’t discussed much, but it is a negative effect of the practice, none the less.
Here, there is evidence that shows that species that are hunted during hibernation or migration become conditioned to expect the killings. This conditioning stops them from hibernating or migrating over time. This can cause a ripple effect in ecosystems.
For example, if a species that hibernates in the winter no longer do so, they’ll need to eat during the months when they’d usually be hibernating. Instead of their food supply having the time to regenerate, it will be eaten instead. This can cause a deficit in whatever that food source is and lead to other problems throughout the ecosystem.
The effects on ecosystems
Ecosystems are directly impacted by overhunting. Every living organism sharing a habitat needs one another to thrive and survive. When the natural order of a habitat is disturbed through something like overhunting, it has an effect on the entire ecosystem by creating an imbalance in that biosphere. For example, if you overhunt a predator species, you can have an overpopulation of their prey which can then lead to a deficit in the food of that prey species.
For example, foxes eat rabbits which eat vegetation. If foxes are overhunted it can lead to an overpopulation of rabbits since there won’t be as many foxes to keep the ecosystem balanced. When this happens, the overpopulation in rabbits can lead to a decrease in natural vegetation. This can push rabbits into farms and gardens in the hunt for food which will cause new problems including a surge in rabbit hunting.
Hunters, no matter how cautious they try to be, leave behind a carbon footprint. In most cases, they drive to hunting fields and set up camps leaving behind clouds of carbon dioxide and litter. This negatively affects the environment. Too much carbon dioxide can kill plant life while the smoke from campfires can also harm different parts of the ecosystem.
All of this adds up and can completely destroy natural habitats over time. When natural habitats are destroyed, the organisms that live there will not only be displaced but will lose out on their food supply creating the aforementioned imbalanced ecosystem.
The damage caused by overhunting can be severe, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t be stopped. There are ways to prevent overhunting and preserve populations and ecosystems as a whole. If everyone does their part, normal hunting can continue without the biosphere suffering.
One of the best ways to prevent overhunting is to make and enforce regulations. When laws are put in place to stop things like poaching or illegal animal trading, overhunting will happen less frequently. However, even with laws in place, they need to be enforced in order to do any good. If there are no fearful punishments for these crimes or if they aren’t prosecuted properly at all, people won’t be inclined to follow them.
When poachers see that they can’t sell their kills due to the fear of illegal animal trading laws, they won’t waste their time or energy hunting. This will help species replenish themselves and help keep illegal activity in the hunting world to a minimum. In the same vein, there can be manufacturing laws put into place that limit or ban products made with ingredients derived from endangered animals.
Regulating normal hunting is another way to prevent overhunting. There are some hunting laws that not only designate set times when you can legally hunt certain species but that also put limits on how many legal kills each hunter can have during a given season. While this might seem unfair to those who hunt for food, it’s a strict law that can help species repopulate to a sustainable number.
Providing people with knowledge on a topic can help them make better decisions. There are some hunters who may not know what overhunting is or what damage it can do. By actively creating awareness of the topic you can create enough of a buzz where you can affect change in individuals and even in the law.
With social media and campaign websites like change.org, you can bring light to under-discussed topics like overhunting. By making people pay attention to the dangers of overhunting you can hold these irresponsible hunters accountable for their actions. Debunking claims that all hunters are to blame for bad practices at the same time. Similarly, you can hold lawmakers’ feet to the fire and convince them to make, pass, and/or enforce overhunting laws.
If you aren’t able to effectively create awareness campaigns on your own, you can instead support conservation agencies that are already working on bringing awareness of overhunting to light.
The World Wildlife Fund, Oceana, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare are some agencies that you can help fund to stop overhunting. Most conservation agencies already put a lot of time and effort into campaigns to protect wildlife and natural habitats from a variety of threats including overhunting and poaching.
Overhunting for economical gains like that done by whale hunters or ivory hunters only happens because there is demand. If that demand didn’t exist, there would be no need for the supply. By boycotting products that you know are made with endangered animal parts you can help shift the supply and demand chain.
You can choose to stop buying leather products, boycott certain cosmetic companies that use oils made from animals, or abstain from buying fur. These are all products that benefit from overhunting. If enough people do this, the manufacturers will get the hint and stop making those products. Without the products, there would be no need for the animal parts thus preventing overhunting and poaching.