Removing predators may seem like a smart idea on the surface, but it’s having a bigger impact than imagined.
As humans, it is in our nature to want to change the world we live in to suit our needs. We created agriculture, aqueducts, and construction to ease our way of living. However, as positive as many of our changes are in the short term, some can be dangerous to the ecosystem over time.
In the last 200 years, we have made a concerted effort to remove carnivores from their natural environments. According to a recent study conducted across Europe, Australia, and the United States, the detrimental effects of this rival even climate change in sheer impact, as reported by The Guardian.
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Although it seems like a good idea to remove predators on paper, in practice it can negatively affect all levels of the ecosystem. Dr. Mike Letnic of the University of NSW and co-author of the recent report compared environments in which humans have removed predators to those in which the predators still flourished. By and large, the ecosystems that still featured the natural predators were more balanced.
For example, in Australia the dingo has been almost completely removed from the country’s eastern and southern states. Though the removal of the dingo is good news for local sheep populations, it has proven to be unexpectedly bad for small local mammals such as bilbies and poteroos. This is because dingoes are also responsible for controlling the fox population. Without the dingoes, the foxes can make a massive dent in the bilby and poteroo populations.
Similarly, the decrease in the dingo population has led to an increase in the kangaroo population. More kangaroos means overgrazing, which could result in desertification and has even been suggested to be a cause for the spread of Ross River fever.
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In North America, the removal of wolves has led to a boost in deer populations. Not only has this been attributed to an increase in Lyme Disease spread by their ticks, but the overgrazing that results inevitably from the overpopulation of any herbivore is suspected to change even the flow of local rivers. Without thick vegetation to create slow-moving waters, the fish that depend on them are in real danger.
Of course, there are other, more direct ways these changes affect humans. One example can be found in west Africa, where the lions and leopards were removed. While this initially appeared to help people, it led to an increase in the baboon population. Baboons are fairly intelligent animals, clever enough to raid human crops. Families were forced to pull their children out of school in order to defend their crops.
The dangers are all very real, and they affect us in countless ways, from our environments to our health even to our personal freedoms. In our efforts to change the world for the better, we need to remain conscious of the danger that comes with playing with an ecosystem. Removing a predator may seem like an easy, beneficial solution to a problem, but it is important to remember to the ecosystem in which the predator belongs has likely thrived thus for hundreds of years. The slightest change can destroy the entire system. As such, humans should proceed with caution when playing with nature.