Return to Predators!

The critical value of predators.

Not so long ago there was some discussion about how important it was for the natural way of things to include predators. I mentioned how this had been the topic of a post published some time ago in this place.

It was back in February, 2014 and I have republished it today.

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The critical value of predators in our wild lands.

February 24th, 2014

The consequences of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park.

I have two people to offer my thanks to for today’s post: Suzann and Ginger. Both of them within hours of each other sent me an email recommending the following video. So, without further ado, here is that video. (Oh, would you believe this. The video was released on February 13th, 2014 and, at the time of me writing this post, has been viewed 1,453,345 times! Wow!)

Published on Feb 13, 2014

Visit http://sustainableman.org/ to explore the world of sustainability.

For more from George Monbiot, visit http://www.monbiot.com/ and for more on “rewilding” visit http://bit.ly/1hKGemK and/or check out George Monbiot’s book Feral: rewilding the land, the sea and human life: http://amzn.to/1dgdLi9

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.” – John Muir

When wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone National Park in the United States after being absent nearly 70 years, the most remarkable “trophic cascade” occurred. What is a trophic cascade and how exactly do wolves change rivers? George Monbiot explains in this movie remix.

Narration from TED: “For more wonder, rewild the world” by George Monbiot. Watch the full talk, here: http://bit.ly/N3m62h

B-Roll Credits:
“Greater Yellowstone Coalition – Wolves” (http://bit.ly/1lK4LaT)
“Wolf Mountain” (http://bit.ly/1hgi6JE)
“Primodial – Yellowstone” (https://vimeo.com/77097538)
“Timelapse: Yellowstone National Park” (http://bit.ly/1kF5axc)
“Yellowstone” (http://bit.ly/1bPI6DM)
“Howling Wolves – Heulende Wölfe” (http://bit.ly/1c2Oidv)
“Fooled by Nature: Beaver Dams” (http://bit.ly/NGgQSU)

Music Credits:
“Unfoldment, Revealment, Evolution, Exposition, Integration, Arson” by Chris Zabriskie (http://bit.ly/1c2uckW)

FAIR USE NOTICE: This video may contain copyrighted material. Such material is made available for educational purposes only. This constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in Title 17 U.S.C. section 106A-117 of the US Copyright Law.

For any concerns or questions, you may contact us athttp://sustainableman.org/contact/

If you want to read more on a general level, then my post on the 11th January, 2014, An echo in the hills! may be worthwhile. It included this from William Ripple, of Oregon State University:

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Top dogs keep ecosystems in order

Many of these large carnivore species are endangered and some are at risk of extinction, either in specific regions or entirely. Ironically, they are vanishing just as we are learning about their important ecological effects, which is what led us to write a new paper in the journal Science to document their role.

From a review of published reports, we singled out seven species that have been studied for their important ecological role and widespread effects, known as trophic cascades. These are the African lion, leopard, Eurasian lynx, cougar, gray wolf, sea otter and dingo.

Based on field research, my Oregon State University co-author Robert Beschta and I documented the impact of cougars and wolves on the regeneration of forest tree stands and riverside vegetation in Yellowstone and other national parks in western North America. Fewer predators, we found, lead to an increase in browsing animals such as deer and elk. More browsing disrupts vegetation, reduces birds and some mammals and changes other parts of the ecosystem. From the actions of the top predator, widespread impacts cascade down the food chain.

Similar effects were found in studies of Eurasian lynx, dingoes, lions and sea otters. For example in Europe, absence of lynx has been closely tied to the abundance of roe deer, red fox and hare. In Australia, the construction of a 3,400-mile dingo-proof fence has enabled scientists to study ecosystems with and without dingoes which are closely related to gray wolves. They found that dingoes control populations of herbivores and exotic red foxes. The suppression of these species by dingoes reduces predation pressure, benefiting plants and smaller native prey.

In some parts of Africa, the decrease of lions and leopards has coincided with a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten crops and livestock. In the waters off southeast Alaska, a decline in sea otters through killer whale predation has led to a rise in sea urchins and loss of kelp beds.

Predators are integral, not expendable

We are now obtaining a deeper appreciation of the impact of large carnivores on ecosystems, a view that can be traced back to the work of landmark ecologist Aldo Leopold. The perception that predators are harmful and deplete fish and wildlife is outdated. Many scientists and wildlife managers now recognise the growing evidence of carnivores’ complex role in ecosystems, and their social and economic benefits. Leopold recognised these relationships, but his observations were ignored for decades after his death in 1948.

op carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith
Top carnivores, at work keeping things in check. Doug Smith

Human tolerance of these species is the major issue. Most would agree these animals have an intrinsic right to exist, but additionally they provide economic and ecological services that people value. Among the services documented in other studies are carbon sequestration, restoration of riverside ecosystems, biodiversity and disease control. For example, wolves may limit large herbivore populations, thus decreasing browsing on young trees that sequester carbon when they escape browsing and grow taller. Where large carnivore populations have been restored – such as wolves in Yellowstone or Eurasian lynx in Finland – ecosystems appear to be bouncing back.

I am impressed with how resilient the Yellowstone ecosystem is, and while ecosystem restoration isn’t happening quickly everywhere in this park, it has started. In some cases where vegetation loss has led to soil erosion, for example, full restoration may not be possible in the near term. What is certain is that ecosystems and the elements of them are highly interconnected. The work at Yellowstone and other places shows how species affect each another through different pathways. It’s humbling as a scientist to witness this interconnectedness of nature.

My co-authors and I have called for an international initiative to conserve large carnivores in co-existence with people. This effort could be modelled after a couple of other successful efforts including the Large Carnivore Initiative for Europe, a non-profit scientific group affiliated with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, and the Global Tiger Initiative which involves all 13 of the tiger-range countries. With more tolerance by humans, we might be able to avoid extinctions. The world would be a scary place without these predators.

William Ripple does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.

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The ConversationMan! We are a strange species at times!

19 thoughts on “Return to Predators!

  1. We, humans, are predators. We are actually the top predators. We are greater predators than any predators, ever. Predation defines us. Predation, received and inflicted, makes us human.

    By destroying predators, we have been trying to dispose of the concept of predator, in a sort of final solution, hell-bent to destroy and devastate the concept of humanity. A final solution exterminating what we are. How can that be? Why to self-destroy? Because it profits the Elite, the Oligarchy, those among us who predate and think, and feel, accordingly.

    How is this at all possible?

    Human beings have been at the very top of the predation order, for millions of years. As early as Homo Habilis. That’s how humans survived in plains, steppe, desert and savannah, far from the trees. There was no refuge, except for the respect, not to say terror, that human beings inflicted upon other beasts.

    Masai children, ten year old, can walk among the ferocious beasts, because the ferocious beasts fear human beings. I experienced and practiced the same, a little bit, at the same age, in Africa. Seeing an enormous lion communicate respect, as one respects back, is awe inspiring. Then one knows intelligence rules, not just humans, but the beasts, the universe.

    By rejecting the concept of predator and predation, recent “civilization” has been trying to reject our souls and our reality. Fanatical Pacifists will say:”Very well! High time! We have progressed! Alleluia”

    No. Fanatical Pacifists have not understood the most important thing: they made themselves into ectoplasms lower than even sheep. Because indeed sheep themselves are not that pacific, they can be rather aggressive: horns and the like are not there by accident (I have had wild sheep, Ibex, pushing stones on me and others, from up high, deliberately, many times; But for a helmet, once, my spouse would have been killed, by an Ibex sent stone; also once a gigantic sheep, approaching me with a stupid, benign, absent-minded look on its face, then proceeded to push the unsuspecting me off the mountain with its sheer mass…Ever since I have known sheep can be Machiavellian).

    Large predators should be reintroduced everywhere outside of cities, and a few parks. Even in Europe. Large predators, by the way, are not the potentially most lethal: elephants are the most dangerous beasts in Africa, followed by buffaloes (I was charged once by a cow). The key with elephants is to go up wind, and stay as far away as possible from the irascible, vengeful pachyderms with their enormously resentful large brains.

    Let’s reintroduce the entire megafauna, de-extincting species as needed. Yes, it will be frightening. Yes, it will mean we have to learn to instill respect, and show, ourselves, respect for the laws of nature, and the laws of the jungle.

    By reintroducing megafauna, we will not just recover ecological balance for the planet, but mental balance, for ourselves.
    Be all we can be, and evolution meant us to be.

    In particular, stop looking up at few other individuals, our leaders, as if they were gods, as if it were natural that they be our masters, with enormous powers when we have very little. No, they are not our leaders, we humans, the top predators are not meant to be led. Let’s learn that about ourselves.

    Having leaders with their fingers on thermonuclear fire, fed and promoted by bankers, is not natural. We have organized an unnatural order of things, and conditioned ourselves to expect, and respect it. Thus the biosphere is going down the drain. Unimaginable wars are getting prepared.

    Time to rebel. Time to recover an environment which gives us sense, far from Absurdism. We are made to experience the megafauna, to be ourselves, in full. How can we fix the world, the world we are destroying, if we are not fully ourselves? Let’s reintroduce an environment which inspires us and teaches us respects for the laws of nature. Megafauna is central to that.

    1. Patrice, I hardly know how to respond to your interpretation of where humanity finds itself today. Not because I disagree with your analysis, far from it!

      It’s more because I sense the arrival of something beyond the realm of what we, humanity, understand.

      Today is the anniversary of the day ten years ago that the financial subprime meltdown went global. BBC Radio 4’s The World At One was devoted to reviewing how these last ten years unfolded. Listen to it here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08zzlr2#play

      In no way did it lessen my feelings of uncertainty. Down even to being uncertain of what to say here!

      1. Paul: Thanks for admitting to uncertainty. Our powers have never been so great, thus, so is our uncertainty. It’s healthy to admit it! As I told Colettebytes, it took me a very long time to get where I am now. Assuming the supremacy of Nature is most humbling, yet most instructive.

  2. A wonderful post Paul and I have to agree with Patrice, for saying it is about mutual respect and learning to adapt with one another as Nature intended..
    “By reintroducing megafauna, we will not just recover ecological balance for the planet, but mental balance, for ourselves.
    Be all we can be, and evolution meant us to be.”

    We humans have meddled in nature and we have upset the natural balance.. We take species also away from their own natural habitats and place them where they shouldn’t naturally be.. Then we cry out when the balance is upset and other species then suffer as a consequence..
    We have only to look at the crayfish in our waters in England.. The American Mink in the UK .. The rabbits in Australia .. not to mention the various insects now being brought across the Harlequin Ladybird, which is wiping our our own Ladybirds.. The lists goes on and on..

    Thank you for this share Paul

    1. Thanks Sue! You put well what I tried to say. Not respecting Nature is the most basic moral flaw (even the Buddhists are trying very hard to understand that point; although in the end, many of them fail, as they replace the teaching of Nature by that of… Buddha.) Native American “Indians” understood this well. Most certainly because so did all prehistoric religions (as they enabled survival!)

      The ravages of the insect world in the USA are beyond alarming. I lived for decades next to a forest which saw thousands of Monarch butterflies visiting every year. Now we are lucky if we see ONE, in an entire year: thanks nicotinoid insecticides for this. No wonder US life expectancy is going down!

      1. Yes I have noted this year especially here in the UK our butterflies are in decline. And do not get me started on insecticides and chemical crop spraying! lol.. Many thanks for taking the time to add your thoughts to my comment.. I know how busy you are.. Many thanks 🙂

  3. Well Nature has managed quite well so far Paul.. And will no doubt sort us humans out at some future point on the horizon..

    So, while I try to be mindful of our environment.. Recycle, care for nature and mother earth and try to be kind to my fellow human beings.. There is not much else to do.. So I am learning to enjoy more now moments, the past is gone and I can not undo.. and tomorrow is never going to arrive.. So. LOL 🙂 We do our best, in our now moments and if we understand the only person we can change is ourselves.. And the more of us who see this and try to do so, to live in harmony and peace with each other.. Then we are indeed helping change the world.. One thoughts, One deed, One Action at a time..
    Confucius said
    ” “He who learns but does not think, is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.”,
    🙂 It is a sad fact.. That Mankind never seems to learn from his mistakes.. or else why would we keep repeating them??
    And I would love it for wolves to be roaming free.. And have watched some wonderful documentaries on how they are being introduced in certain area’s again.. It is only the Fear mankind has built up within him that sees these wonderful animals as dangerous to him..

    Another wonderful read Paul 🙂

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