Today, humanity’s imprint can be seen all over the world, from the towering skyscrapers that define our modern metropolises to the pyramids and other great monuments of our past. Human activity is also visible in our huge open fields of farmland and the roads that connect everything. But what would the world be like if people didn’t exist?

Some scientists create an image of pristine nature and a plethora of animals, both familiar and unfamiliar. “I believe it would be a considerably more vegetated world with a plethora of enormous animals scattered throughout all continents except Antarctica,” Trevor Worthy, an associate professor of palaeontology at Flinders University in Australia, told Live Science.

In a world without contemporary people, our extinct human ancestors, such as the Neanderthals, might still exist. And they would have surely altered the landscape.

Humans have transformed the planet at the expense of countless species, like the dodo (Raphus cucullatus) and the Tasmanian tiger (Thylacinus cynocephalus), which we have driven to extinction via activities like hunting and habitat destruction.

According to the most conservative estimates, the extinction rate on Earth today is more than 100 times what it would be without humans, and it hasn’t been higher since the Cretaceous-Paleogene (K-Pg) extinction event 66 million years ago, which wiped out about 80 percent of animal species, including nonavian dinosaurs. In other words, humanity collided with the globe like an asteroid, and the dust is still settling as species declines.

“My great, great grandfather was able to watch flocks of thousands of parakeets in natural landscapes,” Worthy said. “My grandfather saw flocks of a hundred, my father saw a few, and I’m lucky if I see two in the forests.

The collapse of nature caused by humans suggests that Earth would be a much wilder environment without us, with some vanished giants, such as moas, standing out more than others. Over millions of years, this group of ostrich-like birds, some of which stood up to 11.8 feet (3.6 metres) tall, evolved in New Zealand. According to Worthy, within 200 years of humans’ entrance on these birds’ lands 750 years ago, all nine species of moa had vanished, along with at least 25 other vertebrate species, including the huge Haast’s eagles (Hieraaetus moorei) that hunted the moas.

Because huge animals have such a large impact on landscapes, their survival is crucial for speculating about a world without people.

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