Killing Carnivores is Hurting the Rest Of Us

Reading about Western Australia’s terrible plan to prevent shark attacks evokes simultaneous feelings of rage and sadness. Everything about the plan is steeped in fear and myth. Attacks on humans are extremely rare (you’re more likely to be killed by your neighbor’s dog) and previous attempts to reduce shark attacks by killing sharks have failed repeatedly. But the ignorance and blood-lust of this plan isn’t the worst part.

Humans find sharks scary because they’re predators — some of the most powerful in their ecosystem. Like bears, tigers and other predators, sharks are some of the few animals that outmatch the (unarmed) human. So we dub them “dangerous” and feel completely justified in hunting and slaughtering them. What we fail to realize is that ridding the earth of threatening carnivores only puts our own survival in danger.

According to a new study, more than 75 percent of the 31 species of large land predators, such as lions and wolves, are in decline. Of these, 17 species are now restricted to less than half the territory they once occupied. Researchers warn that this carnivore cleansing “is changing the face of landscapes from the tropics to the Arctic” and creating “a widespread cascade of impacts.”

“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said William Ripple, lead author of the paper and a professor in the Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society at Oregon State University, in a press release. “Many of them are endangered,” he said. “Their ranges are collapsing. Many of these animals are at risk of extinction, either locally or globally. And, ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects.”

And what are those effects? Well among other things, carnivores play a vital role in maintaining the delicate balance of ecosystems which cannot be replaced by humans hunting the animals they normally prey on. When carnivores disappear, species like deer and elk move in. “More browsing disrupts vegetation, shifts birds and small mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem in a widespread cascade of impacts,” explains Ripple. These include crop damage, altered stream structures, and changes to the abundance and diversity of birds, mammals, reptiles and invertebrates, said the scientists.

The reverse is also true. Where large carnivores have been protected — such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland — ecosystems have responded quickly, said Ripple. “I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is. It isn’t happening quickly everywhere, but in some places, ecosystem restoration has started there.”

Learn more:

Loss Of Biodiversity Could Mean End Of Human Race

Biodiversity Loss Threatens Global Economy

Image via Thinkstock

162 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven9 months ago

thanks for the article.

Carrie-Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Janice Thompson
Janice Thompson2 years ago

Stupid human trick: Thinking we know more than Mother Nature.

june t.
june t.2 years ago

sounds like it is a knee-jerk reaction to a problem.

Alex H.
Alex H.2 years ago

The tragedy in the current world situation is that most people have no idea about the delicate balances in the Earth's ecosystems.Humans are a cancer on the planet.Many think they are superior to all the other fauna,and can destroy anything they are frightened of,at random.How dare they??!!The present government in Western Australia is typical of the unimaginative,specieist regimes which are wreaking untold havoc on the environment,and everything in it,either for profits or because they CAN !!Intelligent and compassionate people can just look on with horror because no amount of written concerns is making any difference.What are we supposed to do?Have a revolution?Sadly,Australians have been largely disarmed some years ago,and now I can see why!

William Meade
William Meade2 years ago

killing of feral cats is already resulting in
huge increase in rats etc

michael peters
michael peters2 years ago

The End of man is quickly approaching, and it's by his own hand.

David B.
David B.2 years ago

i think those in power are well aware of what happens when we destroy t6he way we do.it's just that they don't give a dam . there not going to be here to reap what they sew so why should they care?

Ruhee B.
Ruhee B.2 years ago

Humans have no tolerance, no respect to the natural world, to the environment, to virtually every wild animal. I long for the day that nature will prove "what goes around, comes around"

jan macek
jan macek2 years ago

It is not only the large predators that we humans go after; it is also rattlesnakes. Many of these rattlesnake roundups use gas to force the snakes out of their dens. This not only kills the snakes but also kills the animals that use the burrows. It can contaminate the ground water. Please, contact the TPWD in Texas and tell them no gas and no more rattlesnake roundups.