There are countless ways in which humankind has had disproportionate effects on our planet and most of those effects have been negative. A recent study led by the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel looked at the total combined weight of various groups of mammals on Earth. The results are that human beings and our domesticated mammals are the overwhelming majority of the total mass of mammals.
We think of large land mammals – elephants, bears, bison, wildebeests, and so on – as adding up to a massive amount of animal matter. The study determined that all wild land mammals put together add up to about 22 million metric tons. Wild marine mammals – such as dolphins and whales – add up to about 40 million tons in total. These sound like pretty big numbers until we look at the human and human-created side of the equation.
The study found that humans weigh about 390 million metric tons, while domesticated mammals – like sheep, cows, and pigs as well as dogs and cats – weigh about 630 million metric tons combined.
All told, wild mammals account for only 6% of all mammals by weight. People and their domesticated animals make up the other 94%. This enormous imbalance is an indication of how profoundly humans have reshaped life on Earth. House cats total twice the weight of African elephants and pigs add up to twice the weight of all wild land animals combined.
The conclusion to draw from the big picture here is that wild animals on Earth are not doing very well. We already knew this from many other perspectives, but this census by weight presents a stark picture of the extent to which we have taken over the planet and its ecosystems.
Total Weight of Wild Land Mammals Less Than One-Tenth Weight of All Humans
Photo, posted December 27, 2006, courtesy of Nigel Hoult via Flickr.
Earth Wise is a production of WAMC Northeast Public Radio