Could large carnivores be the new ‘canary in the mine shaft?’

This article brings up some important questions. Predators and prey have co-existed for millennia. We know that large carnivores eat ungulates but the fact that both thrive indicates that the predation has been what scientists call ‘compensatory’. The population of ungulates is only affected by predation in the same way that sickness and natural death would affect them. The enigma that is being observed now is that ungulates and predators are not keeping this biological balance and, in fact ungulate herds are diminishing.

Many states and provinces are resorting to exerting extremely heavy pressure on carnivores in an attempt to retain prey numbers. The Cougar Fund has always questioned the wisdom of managing one species for another-especially when the targets are carnivores and the prey is being preserved for socially driven harvest demands. The socially driven harvest is similar to the mine owner demanding the extraction of ore in spite of the obvious danger.

The deeper question is why is this happening? Is normal predation becoming additive because wolves, bears and cougars are ‘over-indulging’ in keeping with our cultural propensity? We doubt that…We think it is more likely that the predators are actually indicating some greater danger, somewhat like the canary in the mine shaft! If ungulates are dying because of something greater-like gasses in a mine shaft- the affect of the carnivores is telling us to look beyond predation. Instead of heeding the bigger picture-the ‘gas’ which could be climate change, habitat destruction, human encroachment-our agencies are trying to resuscitate the canary!

It is time to stop pretending that killing predators is solving the problem. It is time to recognize that until we harness the negative effects that we, as humans, are having on the planet, we are merely scapegoating wolves and cougars and bears. We are making political choices to manage for the hunter and not the animal. We are making excuses to distract from our own behavior and we are not looking at the big picture of what our planet needs, rather at the short term instant gratification of what a minority of people want.

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