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Killing Off Our World’s Predators is Killing Our World

Humans have done a lot of damage to our planet, but some of the worst has been killing off the predators. It’s a crime against nature and here’s why.

Predators are essential to maintaining healthy ecosystems and when these killers are eliminated, it throws things out of balance. It can even cause a “trophic cascade,” which is a series of effects through an entire food chain.

Several studies have shown the negative impact of killing off predators. For example, a 1966 study found that when a predatory starfish was eliminated from a coastal habitat, it caused mussels to move down from the tide line and displace several organisms including barnacles, sea anemones, and other diverse species.

In another study, sea otters were overhunted, which caused sea urchins to multiply and eat entire kelp forests. This was also recently linked to the extinction of the Steller’s sea cow, which used to eat that kelp, in the 18th century. These are just two of many studies that show the effects of killing predators.

Photo by Steve Wilson / CC BY 2.0
Photo by Steve Wilson / CC BY 2.0

So, why do we kill the predators of our world? Part of it is from our evolutionary history, dating back to when our ancestors had to kill predators that posed as both competition and threats to our survival.

Another reason is for economic interest, where people kill predators as a cautionary way to prevent them from attacking their livestock (which isn’t an overly frequent occurrence). This economic interest also takes shape in poaching and hunting trophies, like in the case of Cecil the lion.

Photo by Yellowstone National Park / Public Domain
Photo by Yellowstone National Park / Public Domain

Humans have already driven several modern-day predators to extinction, including North Africa’s Atlas bear, North America’s short-faced brown bear, the Caspian tiger, a marsupial carnivore in Tasmania called the thylacine, and the Zanzibar leopard.

Furthermore, humans have pushed remaining big predators into a fraction of their old territories. Leopards are gone from 66% of their original range in Africa and 85% in Eurasia. Tigers now have a mere 7% of their original territory and African lions have just 8%. And gray wolves only exist in Minnesota and Alaska now.

Our emotions tell us to eliminate predators, whether because of fear or greed, but in reality, these actions interfere with and destroy ecosystems. Instead, humans should celebrate these animals and what they do for our world, and save our planet by saving the predators.

Featured image by Chris Parker / CC BY-ND 2.0