Carnivores have long been the bane of human development. From the earliest times, humans have competed with other predators for food, space and safety. Today, long after the extinctions of many of the world’s carnivores, we are starting to realize our error in driving them into the last remote corners of globe (or right off the globe entirely), and campaigns to return top predators to ecosystems around the world are in play.
In America, Yellowstone Park is a shining example of purely ecological motivations and outcomes. The loss of wolves sparked a trophic cascade, leaving overpopulated grazing species to deplete vegetation, causing soil erosion and habitat loss for birds and small mammals. Reintroduction of the wolves in the 1990’s brought balance to the ecosystem, allowing trees to grow without pressure from browsers, which in turn increased the stability and diversity of the entire area. Bears, lynx and lions have been shown to provide similar services. Bears are important seed dispersers, increasing the diversity of plants in their environments. Lynx control the abundance of destructive species like rabbits and hares; and lions have been correlated with the management of dangerous crop pests such as baboons.
However, in many places, the value of carnivores is still measured by what they are worth dead. In early 20th century South Africa, bounties were placed on carnivores of all species to make the country safe for people and livestock. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that people realized trophy hunting was more lucrative than farming in many cases, which brought back an incentive for maintaining and reintroducing lost or threatened carnivore populations. So while carnivores are allowed to exist, it is only to allow them to be killed for profit later.
Carnivores the world over are losing ground, literally. Their forests are being logged, their prey species are being hunted, and they are being persecuted for the threat they pose to livestock and human safety, or simply for their parts. Most of them occupy just a fraction of the territory they did historically. Mostly exterminated in the western world in the last century, the remaining strongholds in more developing nations are rapidly disappearing as hunting increases along with human population.
Just as many carnivore species are nearing the very brink of extinction, we as humans are only just beginning to come around to the fact that we desperately need them. As much as people seem to wilfully ignore it, we all depend on wildlife for survival; clean air, water and buffers from natural disasters. Tree biomass leads to higher carbon storage and species biodiversity as a whole creates a world more resilient to disaster. Protect carnivores, protect ecosystems, protect ourselves.
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