Large carnivores – from wolves to sea otters – are some of the most admired animals on the planet because of their importance, power, and grace. Yet, our beloved carnivores may be no more soon if we continue encroaching upon their lives. What this means is not only a bleak future for them, but also a doomed one for us all.

What’s going on?

A new report, published in Science, penned by scientists from all over the globe – from Australia to the U.S. to Italy – tells us that the world’s large carnivore populations are near collapse – some even at risk, either globally or locally, of extinction.

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Researchers discovered that 77 percent of all top or apex predator populations are in decline and that more than half of their historical ranges have also been cut by over 50 percent.

These top predators (i.e. those over 33 pounds) may seem so different in many regards, but they all have one common denominator in their lives: humans.

What’s the danger?

Their livelihoods and the world as we know it are both in danger because of how we perceive and subsequently treat these apex predators.

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While we may all love to watch in wonder at lions, wolves, and the like on TV or in photographs – amazed at their behaviors and skills – in real life, many consider them problems. They are viewed as “competitors, pests and deadly threats,” Mongabay notes.

What’s more, there is a “classic concept” that still prevails in the minds of many that “predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife,” yet this mentality is long “outdated,” as Phys.org reports from the study’s researchers.

Instead, what we need to start embracing – and embracing fast – is that there is a “growing body of evidence for the complex roles that carnivores play in ecosystems and for their social and economic benefits,” as reported by Phys.org.

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To boil this down to one simple phrase: we need large carnivores.

Why are top predators so important?

A common example of why apex predators are so significant can be taken out of one of Yellowstone National Park’s many conservation chapters.

At one point, the park’s gray wolf population was nonexistent due to overhunting, resulting in heavy herds of grazing animals, and even some with irregularities, but all of whom would have been successfully managed by a healthy, stable wolf population. Yet, without the wolves, vegetation was decimated, bird and small mammal patterns shifted and the whole ecosystem went out of flux.

But, thankfully, because of proper conservation initiatives and increased understanding, their populations are now rebounding as is the park’s ecosystem.

Success stories like these do exist, yet there are not enough of them because carnivores, like so many other animals, are not getting the attention they desperately need.

As Wildlife Conservation Society says in a press release on the study, carnivores:

  • Control herbivores to the relief of plants.
  • Mitigate global warming.
  • Enhance biodiversity.
  • Restore rivers and streams.
  • Regulate wildlife disease and livestock disease spillover.

And as lead author and Oregon State University professor, William Ripple, says, “Nature is highly interconnected,” and remember, Green Monsters: we are a part of this interconnectedness as well, and so it’s high time we start paying attention and changing the way we view and treat these necessary beings.

What can I do to help?

The main causes for the decline in large carnivore populations around the world differ from place-to-place but the common contributors include: habitat loss and degradation, persecution, depletion of prey, overhunting, and use of their parts or pelts for trophy hunting, fur, or traditional medicine.

So what can you do in your daily life to help mitigate these effects even if you don’t engage in these practices yourself? Here are some ideas:

  • Avoid purchasing products that directly contribute to habitat loss and degradation such as palm oil and unsustainable paper and wood products.
  • Stand up to local land-grabs for development or wildlife policies that place crucial species at risk of hunting by contacting your local officials, joining a grassroots group, spreading awareness on social media, and/or writing letters to your local papers. (More tips on grassroots advocacy here.)
  • When choosing to make a charitable gift, think of conservation organizations such as Wildlife Conservation Society, World Wildlife Fund, Panthera, and others who are doing much of the groundwork for top predators of all sorts.
  • Spread awareness about threats to top predators and tolerance of these crucial species through social media and among family and friends by sharing informational articles such as those located in OGP’s Conserve & Protect! page.

Can you think of any other ways we can save top predators together – either locally, state-wide, nationally, or globally? Tell us and other Green Monsters with a comment below!

Image source: USFWS Endangered Species / Flickr