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Humans may be bad news for native carnivores

Populations of native carnivores that live near human settlements are in decline, scientists say. That could be bad news for their human neighbors, who benefit from the critical “services” – from pest control to waste disposal – that the animals provide.

“While predators and scavengers are a large source of conflict, such as big cats in Africa and Asia or dingoes in Australia, there are many examples where they may provide benefits to humans,” Dr. Christopher O’Bryan of the University of Queensland said.

O’Bryan and fellow researchers from the university and the Wildlife Conservation Society undertook an exhaustive analysis of research literature about leopards, bats, vultures and other carnivores – hunters and scavengers alike – to discover the benefits each species might offer humans.

“Our paper identifies studies that have shown these benefits across a broad spectrum, from mountain lions reducing deer-vehicle collisions and bats saving corn farmers billions per year by reducing crop pests, to vultures savings millions in livestock carcass removal,” O’Bryan said.

For example, efforts to rebuild cougar populations in the U.S. have led to a drop in vehicle-deer collisions.

They also found that declining carnivore populations bring problems. Regions where red fox populations drop tend to see an increase in Lyme disease, they discovered.

And that’s bad news, because the researchers also found that native carnivores are on the decline in many areas where humans have set up shop, including leopards, African lions and 17 different vulture species.

“There is a lot about of research highlighting the negative impacts of predators and scavengers, and we are only just now beginning to understand the potentially irreplaceable services that these animals can provide human societies,” said co-author Dr. James Watson, director of science at the Wildlife Conservation Society. “We must understand that if we lose these animals, humanity loses.”

The research analysis has been published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

By Kyla Cathey, staff writer

Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher, Wildlife Conservation Society

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