What’s Scarier Than Lions, Tigers and Bears? Life Without Them.
By: Beth Stewart
Remember that tourist video of a lion pride and a crocodile playing a deadly game of tug-of-war with a buffalo calf? Just when the lions seemed about to triumph the buffalo herd came charging to the rescue. If you’re like most people you cheered when the baby buffalo got up and staggered back to its herd. For some reason, we humans rarely root for the predator. But if we know what’s good for us, we better start.
A recent study in the journal Science, "Status and Ecological Effects of the World's Largest Carnivores," finds that life without top predators is a scary prospect for the planet—and us. 31 carnivore species weighing over 15 kilograms were analyzed. After reviewing over 100 different surveys the authors conclude that losing predators from ecosystems causes those ecosystems to unravel. The effects range from an increase in pest animals, wildfires and diseases, loss of beneficial species, rivers changing courses, desertification and speeding up of climate change, to name just a few.
In contrast, the environmental and economic benefits these ecosystem engineers provide runs the gamut—from mountain lions who keep mule deer in check allowing plants and trees to grow to sea otters who’s appetite for sea urchins protects kelp beds and the productivity of coastal areas. Even with all our technology we humans cannot duplicate the ecological services these predators provide for FREE 24/7/365 days a year.
Tragically, more than half of these 31 carnivore species are at risk of extinction. A growing human population, loss of habitat, loss of prey, climate change, trophy hunting and poaching are taking a toll on these keystone predators. And all those threats can be traced back to one source: humans.
But if we’re the ones causing the problem we can also be the ones to solve it. We're an innovative species capable of some pretty incredible feats. Recognizing the problem is the first step. Encouraging our political leaders to do something about it is the next.
According to the study authors, “Promoting tolerance and coexistence with large carnivores is a crucial societal challenge that will ultimately determine the fate of Earth’s largest carnivores and all that depends upon them, including humans.”
Please stick up for our fearsome friends. It’s for our own good.
Photos by Beth Stewart.
Beth Stewart is an Associate Creative Director for Animal Planet. She spends most of her spare time volunteering with animals, photographing animals, advocating for animals and generally being wrapped around her two cats’ little paws.