Farming and hunting pose a more immediate threat to wildlife than climate change, researchers said, in a controversial plea to redirect resources earmarked for species conservation.
In an analysis of nearly 9,000 "threatened" or "near-threatened" species, scientists found that three-quarters are being over-exploited for trade, leisure or food.
Demand for meat and body parts, for example, has driven the Western gorilla and Chinese pangolin to near extinction, and pushed the Sumatran rhinoceros — prized in China for the supposed medicinal properties of its horn — over the edge.
And more than half of the plant and animal species in the study have suffered from the conversion of their natural habitats into industrial farms and plantations, mainly to raise livestock and grow commodity crops for fuel or food.
By comparison, only 19 percent of these species are currently affected by climate change, according to the study published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature.
Conservation priorities, the researchers said, must reflect this reality.
"Addressing the old foes of over-harvesting and agricultural activities are key to turning around the bio-diversity extinction crisis," said lead author Sean Maxwell, a professor at the University of Queensland in Australia.
Climate change has overshadowed more traditional conservation priorities over the last decade, siphoning limited resources — and cash — away from more urgent needs, the authors argued.