Encyclopedia > Megafauna

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The large animals of any particular area or time are its megafauna. Generally a "large animal" is considered to be one weighing over 100 pounds (45 kilos). Aside from its general and more strictly correct meaning, the term is often used as a shorthand way of referring to particular groups of large animals, most commonly ones that became extinct in geologically recent times. The sense in which the term is used is usually apparent from the context:

  1. Particular groups of large, extinct animals. For example, "American megafauna", meaning the various species of large American mammal that became extinct about 13,000 years ago.
  2. Any group of large animals. For example: "South American megafauna", meaning all large animals in South America today: anaconda, jaguar, giant anteater, capybara, llama, and so on.
  3. A board game published by Sierra Madre Games.
  4. The term "charismatic megafauna" refers to animals that have great popular appeal: for example, the Giant Panda, the Red Wolf, the Blue Whale or the Koala. Charismatic megafauna often garner a disproportionate level of public concern. For the environmental movement, directing public attention to the plight of, say, the panda can raise support for the protection of not just the panda itself, but the entire ecosystem it depends on too. Environmental activists are well aware of this effect, and are skilled at using the extra "leverage" of a charismatic species to achieve more subtle and far-reaching goals. On the other hand, the public concentration on charismatic species can easily become counter-productive and often leads to the plight of other, less prominent but more seriously threatened species being ignored. For example, in Australia there is invariably public uproar at any move to control or exploit the Eastern Grey Kangaroo (which is not remotely threatened, and because it no longer has predators often reaches plague proportions), and yet barely a ripple of concern for seriously endangered species such as the Gouldian Finch[?], the Murray Cod[?], the Feather-leaved Banksia[?], or the Spotted Tree Frog[?].

Table of contents

African megafauna

Asian and European megafauna

Australian megafauna

American megafauna

Island megafauna

Oceanic megafauna

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