24 September 2012
From time to time it is useful to talk about the core focus of this forum ~ the importance of predators in nature's balance. Most humans are guided by myth and misinformation in forming their views about how much (if at all) we should tolerate, even encourage, the presence of wolves, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcats, grizzly bears, and other meat-eaters. Here's why ~
"Carnivores play an integral role in maintaining healthy ecosystems by regulating deer and elk, as well as smaller mammal populations. Most of these species need large areas of land to meet all of their food and habitat requirements. For this reason, carnivores, especially wide-ranging species such as grizzly bears, are considered to be 'umbrella' species. By protecting large wild areas for predators to live and roam, we are, in effect, saving a place for many more animal and plant species.
"Yet sustained lethal control, as well as trophy hunting of some of these species, has had a devastating impact on the environmental health of the North American continent. Biologists have found that many large native carnivores are 'keystone species', and play a pivotal role in maintaining ecological integrity and preserving species diversity. The disappearance of a keystone species (wolves, mountain lions, etc.) triggers the loss of other local species, and the intricate connections among the remaining residents begin to unravel. Species losses cascade and multiply throughout the ecosystem in a domino effect. In the words of conservation biologist John Terborgh, 'Our current knowledge about the natural processes that maintain biodiversity suggests a crucial and irreplaceable role for top predators. The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.'
"Simply put, by protecting top and mid-level carnivores, we protect the health of natural biological systems upon which other species depend."
Among the species whose survival is at stake is homo sapiens. We fancy ourselves to be apart from, and dominant over, the natural world. In truth we are only one part in the web of live ~ an increasingly parasitic, destructive part. With each habitat we destroy, with each species we disrupt or drive to extinction, we hasten the day when we ourselves face oblivion.
But species-centric survival aside, with self-awareness and power comes responsibility. It falls upon us to learn to be good stewards for life on our planet. Our ability (or lack of ability) to assume the mantle of protector, must be informed by our sense of ethics, our empathy for other living beings, and our understanding that they too have a right to exist and thrive. Should we fail in this endeavor, we will prove to be nothing more than a cancer on the face of the Earth. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, the world will little note nor long remember our passing.
More on the ecological importance of carnivores
Cougar predation key to ecosystem health
Without top predators, ecosystems turn topsy-turvy
Top predators key to ecosystem survival, study shows
Next phase in protecting species ~ living with them
Without sharks, food chain crumbles
More science about carnivores
Cougar management guidelines for North America
Cougar population dynamics and viability in the Pacific Northwest
Ecological melt-down in predator-free forest fragments
The importance of large carnivores to healthy ecosystems
Saving the big cats
My thanks to the group Anti-Hunting in America for the quoted text and references.