Extermination of large predators such as wolves and bears has a cascading effect on delicate ecological balance
Thursday 9 January 2014
A plea to restore populations of some of the world’s most dangerous animals has been made by scientists who claim the loss of large carnivores is damaging ecosystems.
More than three-quarters of the 31 species of large land predators, such as lions and wolves, are in decline, according to a new study. Of these, 17 species are now restricted to less than half the territory they once occupied.
Large carnivores have already been exterminated in many developed regions, including western Europe and eastern United States – and the same pattern of “carnivore cleansing” is being repeated throughout the world, said scientists.
Yet evidence suggests 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.
“Globally, we are losing our large carnivores,” said lead researcher Prof William Ripple, from the department of forest ecosystems and society at Oregon State University in the US.
“Many of them are endangered. 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.”
Humans have waged a long-standing war with large carnivores that kill livestock and threaten rural communities.
But the international team from the US, Australia, Italy and Sweden called for a global initiative to conserve large predators.
The scientists suggested it could be modelled on the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, an expert group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). It is committed to helping European predators including the wolf, lynx and brown bear reoccupy many of their former habitats.