Monday, January 20, 2014



"The Carnivore Way" could be key to large predator conservation

May 2nd, 2014 in Biology / Ecology
North America's mountainous backbone, stretching from Mexico to Alaska, could serve as a model for balancing the needs of large predators and people, an Oregon State University biologist suggests in a new book.
In "The Carnivore Way: Coexisting with and Conserving North America's Predators," published May 1 by Island Press, Cristina Eisenberg describes the ongoing efforts of humans to coexist with wolves, cougars, wolverines and other species in a largely wild but developing landscape.
Eisenberg, who grew up in a hunting and ranching family in northern Mexico, is an instructor in the Oregon State College of Forestry, a Smithsonian research associate and an Earthwatch scientist. She obtained her doctorate and completed two post-doctoral fellowships at Oregon State.
From her home in northwestern Montana, where grizzlies and wolves outnumber people, she traveled more than 13,000 miles – from the Arctic to northern Mexico – to trace corridors that link carnivores with the habitats they need to thrive. She met with scientists who studied these animals and with officials who found ways to conserve grizzlies, wolves, wolverines and other species. She talked with conservationists who hiked the trails and documented challenges to predators and their prey.
"Large carnivore conservation is ultimately about people," Eisenberg wrote. "Science and environmental law can help us learn to share landscapes with fierce creatures, but ultimately coexistence has to do with our human hearts."
For Eisenberg, it also has much to do with ecosystems. Wildlife scientists have documented the crucial role that large carnivores play in shaping forests and rangelands, she said.
"When you're out there on the ground and a wolf shows up or a cougar shows up and starts doing what they do, you have these 'aha' moments," Eisenberg said. "What I'm doing in 'The Carnivore Way' is providing a lot of stories and examples. There's a massive amount of science in the book, but in the end, it's sharing those 'aha' moments that help people connect with these animals."
In a world in which ecosystems are reeling from climate change and other human influences, she said, wolves and other carnivores can restore resilience that benefits the resources that people depend on. By maintaining a role for carnivores, ecosystems are more likely to rebound in the face of drought, fire and other disturbances linked to a changing climate.
"Scientists studying ecosystems worldwide have found that carnivores indirectly improve the health and vigor of plant communities by reducing the density of their prey and in some cases by changing prey behavior," said Eisenberg. "In many places in North America, for example, by preying on elk, wolves reduce the browsing pressure that elk place on plants. This enables trees and shrubs to grow to maturity and provide habitat for many other species, such as songbirds."
Eisenberg's research on the effects of predators on ecosystems has been supported by Parks Canada and the High Lonesome Ranch, which occupies 400 square miles in western Colorado. She and Oregon State co-investigator David Hibbs recently obtained Earthwatch Institute funding that will support their research on wolves, elk, and fire for several years. Articles featuring her research have appeared in National Geographic, The New York Times, High Country News and other outlets.
In 2010, Island Press published her previous book, "The Wolf's Tooth," which describes the ecological roles of large carnivores. She is writing a book on climate change, "Taking the Heat: Wildlife, Food Webs, and Extinction in a Warming World," also for Island Press.
Provided by Oregon State University
""The Carnivore Way" could be key to large predator conservation." May 2nd, 2014. 

Thank you Twiggi @twiggtops for sharing this with us.


Art: Pamela Platt Studios boards
Posted on June 10, 2013 by Rubenature

Nature swiftly responds when we stop trying to control it. This is our big chance to reverse man’s terrible destructive impact

Could the destruction of the natural world be reversed? Could our bare hills once more support a rich and thriving ecosystem, containing wolves, lynx, moose, bison, wolverines and boar? Does our wildlife still bear the marks of the great beasts that once roamed here? George Monbiot narrates an animation on the enchanting subject of rewilding.

Until modern humans arrived, every continent except Antarctica possessed a megafauna. In the Americas, alongside mastodons, mammoths, four-tusked and spiral-tusked elephants, there was a beaver the size of a black bear: eight feet from nose to tail. There were giant bison weighing two tonnes, which carried horns seven feet across.

The short-faced bear stood 13ft in its hind socks.

One hypothesis maintains that its astonishing size and shocking armoury of teeth and claws are the hallmarks of a specialist scavenger: it specialised in driving giant lions and sabretooth cats off their prey. 

The Argentine roc (Argentavis magnificens) had a wingspan of 26ft.

Sabretooth salmon nine feet long migrated up Pacific coast rivers.

During the previous interglacial period, Britain and Europe contained much of the megafauna we now associate with the tropics: forest elephants, rhinos, hippos, lions and hyenas. The elephants, rhinos and hippos were driven into southern Europe by the ice, then exterminated about 40,000 years ago when modern humans arrived. Lions and hyenas persisted: lions hunted reindeer across the frozen wastes of Britain until 11,000 years ago.
The distribution of these animals has little to do with temperature: only where they co-evolved with humans and learned to fear them did they survive.

Most of the deciduous trees in Europe can resprout wherever the trunk is broken. They can survive the extreme punishment – hacking, splitting, trampling – inflicted when a hedge is laid. Understorey trees such as holly, box and yew have much tougher roots and branches than canopy trees, despite carrying less weight. Our trees, in other words, bear strong signs of adaptation to elephants. Blackthorn, which possesses very long spines, seems over-engineered to deter browsing by deer; but not, perhaps, rhinoceros.

All this has been forgotten, even by professional ecologists. Read any paper on elephants and trees in east Africa and it will tell you that many species have adapted to “hedge” in response to elephant attack. Yet, during a three-day literature search in the Bodleian library, all I could find on elephant adaptation in Europe was a throwaway sentence in one scientific paper. The elephant in the forest is the elephant in the room: the huge and obvious fact that everyone has overlooked.

Since then much of Europe, especially Britain, has lost most of its mesofauna as well: bison, moose, boar, wolf, bear, lynx, wolverine – even, in most parts, wildcat, beavers and capercaillie. These losses, paradoxically, have often been locked in by conservation policy.

Conservation sites must be maintained in what is called “favourable condition”, which means the condition in which they were found when they were designated. More often than not this is a state of extreme depletion, the merest scraping of what was once a vibrant and dynamic ecosystem. The ecological disasters we call nature reserves are often kept in this depleted state through intense intervention: cutting and burning any trees that return; grazing by domestic animals at greater densities and for longer periods than would ever be found in nature. The conservation ethos is neatly summarised in the forester Ritchie Tassell’s sarcastic question, “how did nature cope before we came along?”

Through rewilding – the mass restoration of ecosystems – I see an opportunity to reverse the destruction of the natural world. Researching my book Feral, I came across rewilding programmes in several parts of Europe, including some (such as Trees for Life in Scotland
and theWales Wild Land Foundation)
in the UK, which are beginning to show how swiftly nature responds when we stop trying to control it. Rewilding, in my view, should involve reintroducing missing animals and plants, taking down the fences, blocking the drainage ditches, culling a few particularly invasive exotic species but otherwise standing back. It’s about abandoning the biblical doctrine of dominion which has governed our relationship with the natural world.

The only thing preventing a faster rewilding in the EU is public money.
Farming is sustained on infertile land (by and large, the uplands) through taxpayers’ munificence. Without our help, almost all hill farming would cease immediately. I’m not calling for that, but I do think it’s time the farm subsidy system stopped forcing farmers to destroy wildlife. At the moment, to claim their single farm payments, farmers must prevent “the encroachment of unwanted vegetation on agricultural land”.
They don’t have to produce anything: they merely have to keep the land in “agricultural condition”, which means bare.

I propose two changes to the subsidy regime. The first is to cap the amount of land for which farmers can claim money at 100 hectares (250 acres). It’s outrageous that the biggest farmers harvest millions every year from much poorer taxpayers,
by dint of possessing so much land. A cap would give small farmers an advantage over large. The second is to remove the agricultural condition rule.

The effect of these changes would be to ensure that hill farmers with a powerful attachment to the land and its culture, language and traditions would still farm (and continue to reduce their income by keeping loss-making sheep and cattle). Absentee ranchers who are in it only for the subsidies would find that they were better off taking the money and allowing the land to rewild.

Despite the best efforts of governments, farmers and conservationists, nature is already starting to return. One estimate suggests that two thirds of the previously forested parts of the US have reforested, as farming and logging have retreated, especially from the eastern half of the country.

Another proposes that by 2030 farmers on the European continent (though not in Britain, where no major shift is expected) will vacate around 75m acres, roughly the size of Poland.
While the mesofauna is already beginning to spread back across Europe, land areas of this size could perhaps permit the reintroduction of some of our lost megafauna. Why should Europe not have a Serengeti or two?

Above all, rewilding offers a positive environmentalism. Environmentalists have long known what they are against; now we can explain what we are for. It introduces hope where hope seemed absent. It offers us a chance to replace our silent spring with a raucous summer.

Coin event – Launch of George Monbiot’s book ‘Feral’ about rewilding and climate change. from Zoe Broughton on Vimeo.

• A fully referenced version of this article can be found at




By Carl Safina
updated 10:43 AM EST
February 13, 2014

(CNN) -- The Internet has erupted with outrage over the Copenhagen's Zoo's killing of a healthy young giraffe deemed surplus.
Zoos are wholly artificial situations and their animals depend utterly on humans to decide their lives and their fate. That's obvious. Less obvious is that "wild" animals the world over now live in de-natured habitats, where humans also largely decide their lives and fate.

Here where I live on Long Island, New York, townships of the posh East End are asking federal sharpshooters to kill thousands of deer over the next several years. Needless to say, there's been controversy. What does it mean to defend nature in a place like this?

When people say there are "too many" deer, I ask, "Too many for what?"
If the deer ate every grape in every vineyard and every potted plant on every doorstep, I wouldn't want anyone to kill them.
We've put homes and farms onto their world, and I think it cruel of us to want to finish the job by killing what survives.
You don't deserve to eat someone's lunch (or take a life) just because you've spread your blanket over their picnic.
I have no patience for people who want to kill deer because they don't like the way deer fences look. I keep deer off my vegetables with flexible plastic bird netting; it's been 100% effective (and it's nearly invisible). I don't like to see taxpayers subsidizing farmers by killing deer at public expense, rather than farmers erecting fences. I'd rather subsidize fences; we subsidize enough bullets.

But for me as an ecologist, those aren't the issues. The question is: What else is happening to remaining land and wildlife when we've killed all the predators of a large nibbling creature?

I called Marguerite Wolffsohn, a naturalist whom I've known since we were just kids fresh out of college doing temporary nature-center gigs and looking for jobs. She found a job with the East Hampton's town planning department. (East Hampton canceled its intended participation in the deer kill this year because it had insufficient time for procedural requirements.) Better than anyone I know, Marguerite works thoughtfully within the totality of the East End deer proposal, the deer controversy, deer lovers and detesters, and—lest they get left out—the deer themselves.
"People against the plan to shoot deer feel that killing deer is killing nature," she said, "but actually, the deer are killing nature." Wildflowers, forests and other forest wildlife have all suffered, she says. "The huge showy lupine displays of 20 years ago have disappeared. Pink lady's slipper orchids: They're another good example, practically gone." The forested areas of the East End now have very little undergrowth—deer have eaten it.

Wolffsohn's husband, John, a former park ranger and a keenly observing naturalist, added, "I defy you to find a single hickory, sassafras, beech or oak seedling around here."
And along with the demise of the forest understory went the birds who made a living there. "We don't hear hermit thrushes and wood thrushes in the woods behind our house anymore, and very few towhees," Wolffsohn says, "And I wouldn't be surprised if the disappearance of whip-poor-wills here over the last 30 years"—they nest on the ground, in shady areas—"is partly deer-related." Bobwhite quail, common in our youth and also ground-nesting, have also all but disappeared.

Wolffsohn explains that by munching away the forest understory, deer set the stage for an explosion of invasive non-native plants. Garlic mustard is one. "Deer won't eat it and its toxins inhibit other plants, so it just takes over," she says. "Japanese barberry is another." Some birds do eat barberries. Mockingbirds, for instance, rely partly on barberries for winter survival. But the other thing to which barberry bushes give a winter-survival boost is ticks.

Barberry bushes create conditions of moisture favorable to ticks. And high densities of deer directly promote high densities of ticks because deer are suitable hosts for the same ticks that spread very nasty diseases like Lyme and babesiosis to humans.

So, too many deer for what? Too many for forests and for other creatures and for human health.
Ironically, for decades from the mid-1900s through the 1960s, wildlife management was largely focused on reversing the near-extinction of white-tailed deer.

For centuries after Europeans arrived here, deer were shot relentlessly for their value in meat and skin. It's no coincidence that a dollar is called "a buck." Natives had of course hunted them for millennia but never with the thorough efficiency of Europeans.

As weapons improved and farms spread, deer vanished from most of their former range. So did their main predators, wolves. U.S. government agents exterminated wolves south of Canada.

Wildlife managers scrambled to prevent deer extinction while promoting recreational hunting, in part by ruthlessly suppressing wolves and other four-legged hunters.
Without predators, the deer slowly but increasingly did their part, fruitfully multiplying. Then suburbs gave them refuge from human hunters. People had missed deer so much that lawns sprouted statues of deer "families"—proud buck, doe, spotted bambino. Suburbanites were thrilled to glimpse real live ones. For a few years it was a good time to be a deer.

Deer deserve no blame for anything. Deer are innocents in a world we've put out-of-round. We first shot them to pieces and then set them up to explode without check.
We provided incidental safe haven in our neighborhoods and now despise them there. None of the problems people have with deer are the deer's fault. I pity them for the dilemma we've placed them—and ourselves—in. There are too many deer because there are too many people.

Deer do need population control. That, we have in common. But unlike with humans, you can't give fawns the opportunity to go to school and welcome each doe into the workforce and empower them to reduce their lifetime family size to an average of two. But perhaps there's a kinder and gentler way: letting sharpshooters administer birth control hormones rather than bullets?

"That doesn't work," Marguerite says. She e-mailed me the state's deer management document, which says, "Based on considerable research on fertility control for deer ... this strategy has not proven to be a viable, stand-alone option for managing free-ranging deer populations." If you want to bring deer densities down, you have to kill them.

For millions of years, that was the arrangement wrought by the interacting forces of wolves and other creatures, landscapes and deer themselves.
A creature evolved to have two children per year is reliant on predators to keep its world balanced. Without predators in a world of our making, the current density of deer is a problem. And not just for us.
There is no pain-free alternative for the deer themselves. Without being killed by predators or bullets, deer build to densities that suffer high rates of traffic collision and the misery of high winter starvation.

In parts of the West, wolves are returning, with very beneficial re-balancing effects on lands and wildlife. Even there, many people detest wolves with a hatred that is cultural and mainly irrational, largely out of sync with, and wholly out of proportion to, reality.

Giving wolves back their job of managing deer, so difficult out West where there's room, is wholly impossible here. For now, it looks like we're stuck with having to deal lethally with innocents in a problem we've created. It's grim that only the deer will get the shifted blame, take the rap and suffer the consequences. All too human.

Copenhagen's giraffe was deemed "surplus" by the zoo—not enough room, they insisted, for a responsibility of their own creation. Marius the giraffe paid full price in full innocence. But almost anywhere you look now there is less and less room on an ark having trouble floating in a rising sea of us.
And so often, we blame the victims. They say the most intelligent animals are those who recognize themselves in a mirror. We should try it sometime.

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Editor's note: Carl Safina is a MacArthur Fellow, Pew Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow, a professor at Stony Brook University and founding president of Blue Ocean Institute. His books include "Song for the Blue Ocean," "The View From Lazy Point" and "A Sea in Flames." He is host of the 10-part series "Saving the Ocean," which can be seen free at


It is not morning in the photo, no commuting is going on, and the only predator responsible for the decline of Bison are humans. 

American Bison
American bison join the morning commute on Hwy. 89 in Yellowstone National Park in Wyoming. In the early 1800s, about 65 million buffalo roamed North America, but hunting and poaching had a devastating effect on their population. By 1890, fewer than 1,000 remained. Today there are about 4,000 at Yellowstone. The decline of such large such predators is causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.
Mark Ralston / AFP/Getty Images

A lion sits in its enclosure at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Hythe, England. Humans have touched off the world’s latest mass extinction, according to a report in the journal Science, and the consequences are being felt on land and in water systems as large predators vanish. The dwindling number of predators contributes to the spread of disease, wildfires and invasive species.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A baby wildebeest sleeps at Port Lympne Wild Animal Park in Hythe, England. A reduction of big herbivores such as wildebeest in East Africa through hunting is a problem, a new report says, because their demise has led to increases in plants that fuel wildfires. The report was conducted by a team of 24 scientists and funded primarily by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook.
Dan Kitwood / Getty Images

A leopard sneaks out from the bush at the Born Free Foundation in the Shamwari Game Reserve near Port Elizabeth, South Africa.
Gianluigi Guercia / AFP/Getty Images

Gray wolf
A gray wolf at Yellowstone. Since the wolf population has declined, elk and deer have flourished in the park on willow trees and saplings, threatening a crucial part of the forest on which other creatures rely.
Mcneil Lyons / AP

Bull elk
A six-point bull elk scans its surroundings near the Widgi Creek Golf Club in Bend, Ore.
Andy Tullis / AP

Cow-nosed ray
The decimation of sharks along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has allowed their main prey, the cow-nosed ray, to proliferate and dine heavily on the threatened Chesapeake Bay oyster. One million baby oysters placed on an artificial reef in the Great Wicomico River were wiped out in a single day by a school of ravenous cow-nosed rays, surprising the federal agency in charge of the restoration project. "We didn't really know anything about the cow-nosed ray," said Doug Martin, project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in Norfolk, lead agency for the multimillion-dollar oyster initiative. The rays, commonly found in the bay during summer months, tore like a scythe through the $78,000 in baby oysters planted in June in the Great Wicomico.
Anonymou / AP

Bull shark
A bull shark estimated at 300 pounds circles a boat fishing the the Gulf of Mexico out of Sabine Pass near Port Arthur, Tex.
Pete Churton / AP

Blue whale
In this picture taken on March 26, 2009, shows a blue whale swimming in the deep waters off the southern Sri Lankan town of Mirissa. The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world,” causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.
Ishara S. KodikaraI / AFP/Getty Images


By Darryl Fears, Published: July 14, 2011 
The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be “humankind’s most pervasive influence on the natural world,” causing prey animals to swell in population and throw food chains out of balance, a new report says.

Humans have touched off the world’s latest mass extinction, according to the report, published Thursday in the journal Science, and the consequences are being felt on land and in water systems as large predators vanish.

“Recent research suggests that the disappearance of these animals reverberates further than previously anticipated,” says the report, “Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth.”
In addition to creating an overabundance of prey, the dwindling number of predators contributes to the spread of disease, wildfires and invasive species.

The decline of wolves in Yellowstone Park is cited as an example of what can happen. Elk and deer in the park once flourished on willow trees and saplings, threatening a crucial part of the forest on which other creatures rely.

The report also mentions the slaughter of lions and leopards by hunters and herders in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. As a result of the killings, disease-carrying olive baboons have thrived without their top predators and inched closer to food crops and people.

The decimation of sharks along the U.S. Atlantic Coast has allowed their main prey, the cow-nosed ray, to proliferate and dine heavily on the threatened Chesapeake Bay oyster.

A reduction of big herbivores such as buffalo and wildebeest in East Africa through hunting is also a problem, the report says. Their demise has led to increases in plants that fuel giant wildfires in the dry season.

Americans don’t have to visit federal parks or sub-Saharan Africa or plunge into seas to see the consequences, said Ellen K. Pikitch, a co-author of the report and a professor at Stony Brook University in New York. Many experience the problem every day in their own back yards.

“People who live in North America know it’s hard to grow a garden because deer will eat it,” said Pikitch, a marine biologist. “The lack of wolf populations throughout North America has led to an expansion of the deer population.

“You may hate wolves. You might think they’re dangerous. But without them, the land changes,” Pikitch said. “Deer carry ticks. We humans become more susceptible to diseases such as Lyme disease.”

Wildlife advocates say efforts to protect one species of predator in the United States were set back when the Obama administration signed a bill in April that removed 1,300 wolves from the endangered species list in northern Rocky Mountain states. It was the first time Congress had taken a species off the endangered list. The law allows limited hunting of the animals to begin this summer.

Other studies have examined the collateral damage caused by the near-extinction of large predators and herbivores. But the report in Science is the first to tie together the impact on land animals as well as salt and freshwater marine life, Pikitch said. It was conducted by an international team of 24 scientists and funded primarily by the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook.

Much of the science in this area of study has focused on the threat to life at the bottom of the food chain, theorizing that small animals and plants are important because so many creatures rely on their survival.

Although “bottom-up” research is fundamental and important, the report says, “top-down” research deserves wider consideration “if there is to be any real hope for understanding and managing the workings of nature.”

The report acknowledges that top-down research of the food chain is difficult to conduct, noting that it can take decades to measure the effects of the disappearance of large predators.

“The irony . . . is that we often cannot unequivocally see the effect of large apex consumers until after they have been lost” and the ability to restore the species has also been lost, the report says.

Large predators, or apex species, include animals that people adore, such as otters, and others not so popular, such as vultures.

On the Pacific Coast, from Alaska to the southern tip of California, sea otters were hunted in the 1900s to near-extinction for their pelts. Their absence started a chain of events that nearly eliminated the kelp forests that nurture all manner of marine life on the coast.

Sea otters feed on sea urchins, which dine on kelp. Without otters, the sea urchin population exploded. The kelp forest started to disappear. When sea otter populations elsewhere were re-introduced to a few areas along the coast, the kelp started to rebound.

A telling consequences of the absence of large predators can be found on the Scottish island of Rum, where wolves have been gone for more than 250 years and red deer thrive, the report says. The once forested island is now treeless.

7/16/2011 8:41 AM MDT
Any photos used to illustrate this article are appropriate as both biotic and abiotic systems show effect from the presence or loss of apex predators. Robert T. Paine (U of Washington), a co-author of the article, proved years ago the effect of removing a single predator (sea stars) from tide pools. Paine coined the term “keystone species,” and provided a strong foundation for trophic science. In 2006, William J. Ripple (another co-author) and Robert L. Beschta, both at Oregon State U, published an article comparing an area of Zion National Park with nearby North Creek, demonstrating the degradation of habitat, diversity, and stream hydraulics without Puma concolor (mountain lion, cougar) presence to control ungulates. John Terborgh (Duke) and James A. Estes (U CA Santa Cruz), lead authors of the topic article published “Trophic Cascades: Predators, Prey, and the Changing Dynamics of Nature” in 2010.

The facts have been forthcoming for years, Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) told us of his coming to understand the role of predators in the maintenance of nature. Yet, our state Fish & Game departments (F&G) and our federal government continue to subsidize the slaughter of apex predators; hunters talk of preserving wildlife while taking trophies of the true protectors of wildlife; and we, the citizens, rest ineffectually with our comfortable mythologies that have nothing to do with preserving our biosphere. 

Independent scientists that publish their studies rely on funding and income, just as the rest of us do. They have personal thoughts about what we ‘should’ do, but as we have politicized action in the US, scientists often silence the ‘should’, citing only the science. It is up to each of us, individually, to understand the meaning and import of studies such as cited in the article, and to take action. Write letters; comment on the import of the science, not the photo editor’s choices; write legislators and administrators to tell them to get aligned with science (or fire them); get involved, or your grandchildren will face a far harsher world than is already coming their way. 

Media, politicians, hunters, ranchers, farmers, F&G and others sell fear of predators. It’s profitable for them. Family dogs kill more people in a year than mountain lions have in 120 years, for instance, yet the profit-seekers howl “public safety” to justify every killing year. Hunting blogs post comments like “if you see a protected wolf, gut-shoot it, they say you can’t kill it, they don’t say you can’t shoot it.” We declared war on top carnivores before our shoes had cleared Plymouth Rock. You and I pay for that stupidity everyday. Worse, the environment that we all depend on is rapidly deteriorating. It doesn’t matter whether it’s man’s fault, if we can slow the degradation, we must.

“Doctor, if this deadly disease is natural and not the fault of man, then I don’t want you to cure me. My politics inform me that if we’re not the cause, we shouldn’t be the cure." Right?

7/15/2011 4:28 PM MDT
The first and last pictures in this slide show baffle me. I think maybe your point is that humans can make species extinct, and we nearly have for some big creatures that everyone will recognize and like. 


John Roach NBC News

A gray wolf stands in Yellowstone National Park. A new study shows that the world's largest carnivores, including wolves, are in decline around the world.

A few years after wolves were reintroduced to the Northern Rockies in 1995, fifth-generation Montana rancher Rick Jarrett gave up on the parcel of federal land near Yellowstone National Park that he grazed for 20 years. The carnivores harassed his cattle so much that they stopped gaining weight. Skinny cattle don't sell.

"It wasn't worth being there anymore," he told NBC News. To turn a profit, he now confines his livestock to several thousand acres on and around his ranch in Big Timber, where his cattle and sheep are free to pack on the pounds — for now. The wolves, he said, will eventually get there, too.

While Jarrett is bitter about having to live with wolves, such coexistence is increasingly necessary if the world hopes to reverse a downward spiral of its largest carnivores such as wolves as well as lions, tigers, and bears, according to a review study published Thursday in the journal Science. 

As the carnivores decline, ecosystems and food chains that humans depend on for survival are unraveling and, in many cases, adding to the economic woes of everyone from farmers to ecotourism companies.

"We should be thinking of ourselves in the end because if enough important species go extinct and we lose enough ecosystem services and economic services, then humanity will suffer," William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University in Corvallis and the study's lead author, told NBC News.

What to do?
Ripple and 13 colleagues from around the world found that more than three quarters of Earth's largest carnivores are in population declines. Most occupy only a fraction of their historic ranges and more than half are threatened with extinction.

African lion occupy 17 percent of their historical range and have experienced dramatic population declines due to killing in defense of humans and livestock, according to the study in Science.
Image of African lion
Denis Glennon / Kirstin Abley

The paper's main finding is familiar to wildlife conservationists — large carnivores are in trouble — but pays scant attention to the most important problem: "What are we going to do about it?" Craig Packer, an ecologist at the University of Minnesota who was not involved with the study, told NBC News.

"I think that is a huge challenge."

Finding solutions is complicated, Ripple noted. The study, he said, is meant to illustrate the plight of carnivores and what humans stand to lose if the creatures go extinct — information that could steer policy via, for example, a global committee focused on carnivore conservation. 

In the paper, the researchers argue that humans are ethically obligated to conserve large carnivores — the animals have an intrinsic right to exist on planet Earth. They then back the argument with examples of the way the role carnivores play in the ecosystem help humans.

In Africa, for example, loss of leopards and lions has translated to an increase in baboon populations, which in turn are raiding farmers' livestock and crops for food. "In extreme cases, the farm family needs to keep their children home to guard the crops instead of go to school," Ripple said.

Other benefits of carnivores noted in the study include control of deer, elk, and moose populations, which in turn keep forest plants healthy for other critters, limit erosion, and enhance water quality. Parks full of wolves and bears also attract tourists, whose dollars boost local economies.

Wolf-specific tourism in Yellowstone National Park, the paper notes, brings in $22 to $48 million per year.

What's more, the scientists add, regions where carnivores keep other animal populations in check are full of plants that soak up carbon from the atmosphere, helping to slow global climate change. Jarrett, the Montana rancher, doubted such arguments would foster better feelings toward wolves.

Sea otters prey on sea urchins, which in turn allow kelp to thrive and soak up carbon, helping mitigate climate change, according to the study.
Sea otter ~Norman Smith

"Granted carbon sequestration is important," he said, "but the benefit we are going to get from wolves … is so insignificant it isn't even funny."

The reality, noted Packer, who is an expert on human-carnivore interactions and deeply involved in African lion conservation, is that humans naturally fear these animals, often for good reason.
"You cannot expect somebody living in rural Africa or rural Asia to risk being eaten by a lion or a tiger so that your moral sense is gratified back in California or Texas or New York," he said. "Conservationists need to recognize that there are legitimate reasons why people want to get rid of these animals."

To reduce human predation on lions, Packer advocates the controversial use of patrolled and maintained fences that serve as a physical barrier between people and wildlife.
Ultimately, he said, the conflict among humans about our relationship with carnivores comes down to emotion versus intellect. While arguments such as carnivores' ability to buffer ecosystems against climate change are "interesting," in the end, he said, emotion usually wins. 

"You have to find ways that people feel safe and that people benefit economically."

John Roach is a contributing writer for NBC News. He started this role in November of 2005. Roach is responsible for environmental coverage on the website. Roach has also contributed to National Geographic News, MSN, and other outdoor and environment related magazines. To learn more about him, visit his website.



The largest terrestrial species in the order Carnivora are wide-ranging and rare because of their positions at the top of food webs. They are some of the world’s most admired mammals and, ironically, some of the most imperiled. Most have experienced substantial population declines and range contractions throughout the world during the past two centuries. Because of the high metabolic demands that come with endothermy and large body size, these carnivores often require large prey and expansive habitats. These food requirements and wide-ranging behavior often bring them into conflict with humans and livestock. This, in addition to human intolerance, renders them vulnerable to extinction. Large carnivores face enormous threats that have caused massive declines in their populations and geographic ranges, including habitat loss and degradation,persecution, utilization, and depletion of prey. We highlight how these threats can affect theconservation status and ecological roles of this planet’s 31 largest carnivores.

Ecologically important carnivores. Seven species of large carnivores with documented ecological effects involving (A) “tri-trophic cascades” from large carnivores to prey to plants, (B) “mesopredator cascades” from large carnivores to mesopredators to prey of mesopredators, and (C) both tri-trophic and mesopredator cascades. [Photo credits: sea otter (N. Smith), puma (W. Ripple), lion (K. Abley), leopard (A. Dey), Eurasianlynx (B. Elmhagen), dingo (A. McNab), gray wolf (D. Mclaughlin)]

Based on empirical studies, trophic cascades have been documented for 7 of the 31 largest mammalian carnivores (not including pinnipeds). For each of these species (see figure), human actions have both caused declines and contributed to recovery, providing “natural experiments” for quantifying their effects on food-web and community structure. Large carnivores deliver economic and ecosystem services via direct and indirect pathways that help maintain mammal, avian, invertebrate,and herpetofauna abundance or richness. Further, they affect other ecosystem processes and conditions, such as scavenger subsidies, disease dynamics, carbon storage, stream morphology, and crop production. The maintenance or recovery of ecologically effective densities of large carnivores is an important tool for maintaining the structure and function of diverse ecosystems.

Current ecological knowledge indicates that large carnivores are necessary for the maintenanceof biodiversity and ecosystem function. Human actions cannot fully replace the role of large carnivores. Additionally, the future of increasing human resource demands and changing climate will affect biodiversity and ecosystem resiliency. These facts, combined with the importance of resiliente cosystems, indicate that large carnivores and their habitats should be maintained and restored wherever possible. Preventing the extinction of these species and the loss of their irreplaceable ecological function and importance will require novel, bold, and deliberate actions. We propose a Global Large Carnivore Initiative to coordinate local, national, and international research, conservation, and policy.

Science 10 January 2014: 
Vol. 343 no. 6167 
DOI: 10.1126/science.1241484
Status and Ecological Effects of the World’s Largest Carnivores
William J. Ripple1,*, James A. Estes2, Robert L. Beschta1, Christopher C. Wilmers3, Euan G. Ritchie4, Mark Hebblewhite5, Joel Berger6, Bodil Elmhagen7, Mike Letnic8, Michael P. Nelson1, Oswald J. Schmitz9, Douglas W. Smith10, Arian D. Wallach11, Aaron J. Wirsing12
+ Author Affiliations

1Trophic Cascades Program, Department of Forest Ecosystems and Society, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.
2Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95060, USA.
3Center for Integrated Spatial Research, Department of Environmental Studies, University of California, Santa Cruz, CA 95064, USA.
4Centre for Integrative Ecology and School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia.
5Wildlife Biology Program, Department of Ecosystem and Conservation Sciences, College of Forestry and Conservation, University of Montana, Missoula MT, 59812, USA, and Department of Biodiversity and Molecular Ecology, Research and Innovation Centre, Fondazione Edmund Mach, Via Mach 1, 38010 San Michele all'Adige (TN), Italy.
6Department of Organismic Biology and Ecology, University of Montana, Missoula, MT 59812, and Wildlife Conservation Society, Bronx, NY 10460, USA.
7Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, SE-106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
8School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales 2052, Australia.
9School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.
10Yellowstone Center for Resources, Yellowstone National Park, Post Office Box 168, Mammoth, WY 82190, USA.
11School of Marine and Tropical Biology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
12School of Environmental and Forest Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
↵*Corresponding author. E-mail:

Received for publication 5 June 2013.
Accepted for publication 18 November 2013.
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