The Beasts We Hold in Awe and in Fear

“Harmony with the land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left. That is to say, you cannot love game and hate predators…The land is one organism.” ~Aldo Leopold

MN wolf intern 128

Gray wolf track in Minnesota

 For centuries, carnivores have been the subject of both terror and intrigue by man. They stalk the dark forests in children’s stories and threaten beloved characters. In myths and legends, defeating large meat-eating creatures represents the courage and strength of the hero. Many carnivores, such as wolves, symbolize evil or foreboding omens in various religions and superstitions. Tigers and jaguars, for example, are carnivores that are held in high spiritual value by many cultures. The images of these beasts are used as mascots to signify power or intimidate opponents.

It is the raw, untamed ferocity of these animals that captivate audiences from over-sensationalized films, and drive people to want to eliminate them from natural habitats out of fear. Carnivores are among the most well known species in the animal kingdom, yet are also the most misunderstood. People may enjoy seeing them in zoos or on a safari, but the idea of sharing an environment and its resources with them is often considered unthinkable.

Everyone wants their own little piece of paradise, and some are willing to allow animals such as deer or small mammals to reside nearby. However, wherever there are prey species, there are predators. Predators are keystone species that keep an ecosystem balanced. Their presence affects every species of animal and plant in the ecosystem, and indicates its overall health of it. As the human population continues to expand, coming into contact with wildlife is inevitable. When people and carnivores collide, the result usually becomes a competition in which the latter loses out. This is especially true in cases where pets and livestock are preyed upon by local predators.

It is important to understand the natural history of carnivores and how the influence of humans within their native ranges has affected their habitat usage and behavior over time. By understanding human impacts on carnivore ecology, we can begin to understand how conflicts arise. We can learn from past consequences and strive to avoid future issues. It is also important to obtain information on public perceptions and attitudes about the predators they share resources with. A baseline understanding of that ultimately helps researchers and policy makers when determining how to go about conservation initiatives that involve the support from the public.

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