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  • Writer's pictureJenni Foshey

Why You Should Care about Carnivores

Updated: Sep 30, 2020

We know that all species serve a purpose in their ecological niche. All species are equally worthy of being protected, but in this article, I will be focusing on the order carnivora (the proper classification name of carnivores in terms of taxonomy). So, let’s dive in!

 

Why Is Carnivore Conservation Important?


First, carnivores have a huge impact on their ecosystems because of their place in the food web. Some carnivores are apex predators, which means they are the top predators in the ecosystem and have no natural predators of their own. Carnivores help maintain ecosystems. For instance, let’s say we are looking at wolves, rabbits, and vegetation. If vegetation is high, there is more for the rabbits (herbivores) to eat, which will increase rabbit populations. In turn, with more rabbits there will be more for wolves to eat. Then wolf populations would increase and eventually the number of rabbits would decrease (being eaten by wolves) and the vegetation would grow (less rabbits consuming them).  It’s kind of like a cycle. And this leads into the second reason as to why carnivores are important; they can self-regulate populations.


And lastly, they are important because of the significant conflicts with humans (carnivores killing livestock, pets, etc…). This carnivore-human conflict is caused by three main things. 1. Fear. People are scared of them because of their reputation in media and stories, or personal experiences. 2. Misunderstanding. People may misunderstand their ecology and life history characteristics which can cause humans to not like carnivores. And, 3. Distrusting research. There is a ton of carnivore research out there and a lot of what is found is often times distrusted because the research displays things about carnivores that isn’t always beneficial to humans (like having carnivores around is ecologically beneficial, but may not be to farmers who rely on their livestock for a living and have to deal with the carnivores). With carnivores present, it is hard for these people to protect their livestock, which can lead to them hunting the carnivores, which is an ecological pitfall. 



How Are Carnivores Threatened?


Conservation is focused around the science of what’s ecologically/environmentally wrong, figuring out why, and implementing strategies and plans to correct it. Every taxonomic order you research is going to have some threats. Some more than others. Looking at the order Carnivora, 61% of species are threatened. There are so many threats to carnivores including the following 

  • Habitat loss 

  • Pollution (debris, rodenticide, etc…)

  • Climate change 

  • Exotic species 

  • Disease 

  • Over-Exploitation (like, the Puma concolor coryi (Florida Panther))

The above threats are not special to just carnivores. So, what is it about carnivores that makes them super threatened? 

  • Body size 

  • Trophic cascading effect (the food web example I previously described above) 

  • Rarity

  • Reproductive range 

  • Home range 

  • Behavior

  • Social structure



Why Should We Care?


Well first off, you just read how important carnivores are in the first section of this article, which basically gives you a bunch of reasons why. But also, carnivores hold many values in different perspectives. 


First, there’s the intrinsic value. This describes the beauty of carnivores to human importance. For example, carnivores are often in cave art and are school mascots to symbolize strength. 


Second is the utilitarian value. This describes the practical/useful perspective of carnivores. For instance, pest control, ecological regulation for less invasive species and less disease.


Third is an ecological value. This is reflecting on the relationship carnivores have with herbivores and primary productivity (like the food web example i described above in the first section), which plays a role in overall biodiversity.  


Lastly is the economic value. This is the primary human perspective as we are the only species that cares about economics. Carnivores are a popular sight to see in the tourism industry. Just think of how many people go to National Parks and on African Safaris to see the big carnivores like lions. 



 

I hope you learned a little bit about carnivores and how important they are for ecosystems and why we should protect them. 


If you would like to donate to a carnivore conservation cause, please click below. This is a program established by Dr. Amy Dickman and her two friends, Ayubu Msago and Alphonce Msigwa in 2009 inspired by their time at Ruaha National Park in Tanzania.



I chose this program to link to this article because Ruaha is in Tanzania, which I obviously have a huge place for in my heart since I studied there last summer. I also chose this program because they partner with the Henry Vilas Zoo for a Big Cat Conservation Weekend to engage with and educate zoo visitors, which is very close to my campus (University of Wisconsin- Madison). 

 




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