Our appetite to live next to big cats again is increasing – Zoo House News
Rapid economic growth has brought rare species of large carnivores to the brink of extinction, but ecologists have suggested our appetite to live alongside big cats again is increasing.
Scientists from the University of Reading have studied the relative fates of 50 species of large carnivores worldwide over the past fifty years. They found that social and economic factors such as quality of life were more closely linked to declines in large carnivore species than purely environmental traits such as habitat loss.
The first study of its kind suggests that the best way to save carnivores like lynx, bears and lions is to promote a sustainable model of social and economic development, rather than just focusing on issues like climate change. As people get richer, their tolerance for big cats and other carnivores increases.
dr Thomas Frederick Johnson, who led the study while in Reading, said: “Our habitat and climate have been degraded and chaotic to make way for rapid economic development. We know that this has led to a decline in biodiversity, but our research has shown that this economic trend is causing declines far more extreme than anyone expected or imagined.
“Amid the rapid development, people appear to be becoming less tolerant of carnivores, conflict is exploding and we suspect poaching and persecution cases are exploding.
“The decline in large carnivores is sharp. Lions and tigers are already absent from more than 90% of their historical range. At home, many of Britain’s carnivore species such as lynx, wolves and bears have already been hunted to extinction.’
In the study, published in Nature Communications in collaboration with the UK Center for Ecology & Hydrology and Argentina’s Instituto de Biología Subtropical, the research team examined how changes in social and economic systems could help carnivore recovery.
While rapid economic development is driving species to the brink of extinction, it has also resulted in vast improvements in our quality of life. Analysis by Dr. However, Johnson and his ecologists suggest that once people achieve high quality of life and economic development slows, a tipping point has been reached and persecuted species have a chance to recover.
The researchers suggest that the recovery is partly related to improved habitat protection in advanced economies, but also to a more harmonious relationship between humans and carnivores. What was once considered a dangerous pest is now recognized as an important part of our ecosystems and culture.
The resurgence of large carnivores can already be seen in Western Europe, where improved quality of life and slower economic development have led to gray wolf populations increasing by 1,800% since the 1960s.
dr Johnson said: “This gives us hope that we can restore our lost ecosystems and that we might one day see lost carnivores return to UK shores. But we also need to think about how to save wildlife in countries that are currently experiencing rapid growth and where extinction is likely.
“Our findings suggest that a slower, more sustainable economic model can protect predator populations, but this also risks keeping people trapped in poverty for longer.” We urgently need to develop solutions that can support both biodiversity and people, and perhaps the world’s advanced economies need to provide more financial assistance to protect our global biodiversity.”