Wolf, © Richard Seeley / National Geographic Stock

When Top Predators Collide

Inability to share the planet more equitably is constraining the welfare of large carnivores and human predators alike. Nevertheless, it is humans that bear primary responsibility for hoarding the planet’s resources. New calls are being issued to rethink how we can more optimally measure and then share this natural wealth so as to create more resilient natural and economic systems.

Grizzly bear, © Michael S. Quinton/National Geographic stock

Carnivores are wide-ranging, but rare because of their positions at the top of food webs. Most of the largest carnivore species, like lions, wolves, and bears, have experienced substantial population declines and range contractions throughout the world during the previous 200 years. Because carnivores require large prey and expansive habitats, they often find themselves in direct conflict with human interests, especially when it comes to domestic livestock.

Nevertheless, large carnivores deliver to our human economies a variety of ecosystem services. These include direct benefits associated with tourism, like photography or nature tours, as well as indirect ecosystem services, like carbon storage to buffer climate change, re-establishing native plants, regulating disease, and even controlling native herbivores that compete directly with livestock for forage. Despite these many benefits, William Ripple and other carnivore specialists recently published a study summarizing how large carnivores face enormous threats that render them exceedingly vulnerable to becoming imperiled and even driven extinct. Human economic systems typically under-value contributions of these large carnivores, and that under-valuing is costing us.

Oil infastructure, © EcoFlight

Oil infastructure criscrosses Beartooth Absaroka Front in Wyoming.

In a separate study, another group of experts led by Robert Costanza questions how we measure economic success. Traditionally, and almost undisputedly, the world has measured a nation’s success by its gross domestic product (GDP). Emphasis on that measurement has driven forms of development that are detrimental to the environment, like oil and gas drilling, or over-developing ecologically important land. A major criticism of GDP is that depleting our natural resources leads to social inequities, instabilities, and perverse incentives. For example, 2010’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill and 2011’s Hurricane Sandy both boosted GDP in the United States. Neither, of course, could be deemed as improving social well-being overall. This study argues that a global society should strive instead for a high quality of life that is both equitably shared and more sustainable.

Is there a solution for all this anthropogenic selfishness? Perhaps. For large carnivores, promoting tolerance and successful coexistence requires novel and bold actions. To coordinate the societal challenge, Ripple and colleagues propose a Global Large Carnivore Initiative to promote greater tolerance for large carnivores, a conservation approach emphasized in Defenders’ work. Costanza and his colleagues propose that we leave GDP behind and instead adopt a new way to measure success – one that integrates current knowledge of how ecology, economics, psychology and sociology all combine to contribute to human welfare. In their words: Building the future we desire requires that we measure what we want.

J. Christopher Haney, Ph.D., Chief scientist

35 Responses to “When Top Predators Collide”

  1. C. Parker

    It’s a sad day when we will spend 2m to kill animals that is part of our ecosystem and we won’t spend 2m to feed children or Americans.

  2. Jodi Desharnais

    Couldn’t we find those idahoans some other way to spend their time? Like build them a golf course or something .
    Seriously people may not want to wrap their heads around this but there’s real death involved here. And these type of people can’t seem to get enough of it- they want to Kill all these Wolves so they can roll around in some more Buffalo Blood! Geez! They are like sick maggots

    • Lizardman o.

      I couldn’t agree more with what Jodi said, no matter how hard i tried. When I was young, and asked about father, mama said a pack of wolves ate him.

  3. Nikki wise

    I believe that if the people in charge of our economies took notice to this research and looked hard enough for a plan for co – existence it’s a very obtainable prospect , one that benefits not only us humans but the animals and the delicate ecosystems of this planet. Reading other articles has explained how farmers can co-exist with large predators using safer and more humane methods other than trapping and shooting , if the governments get behind these projects and promote education and funding in these areas than everyone would benefit especially the large predators that play such a vital role in this world.

  4. Rex

    anthropogenic ? you are the problem! you can’t shove this down peoples throats who actually live out of town and away from people like all y’all, I would like to be able to walk my mail box with out have to carrying a shot gun… You probably don’t want people like me Hunter trapper old white guy as a neighbor so I’m staying where I am and living by what we call the three sss’ies shoot shovel and shut up!

  5. Angela Up North

    I have a great reverence for the grey wolf. The culture out west is so different than in Minnesota. We have by FAR the largest population in the small area in which I live called the Arrowhead Region of Minnesota. I have had some hair raising interactions with them – but never worth killing over. I love what makes my home wild – including the wolf. I write about homesteading, wolves and everyday living in the Arrowhead Region at my blog http://www.angelaupnorth.blogspot.com .

  6. Dr Emy Wilhelm

    I totally agree that humans bear the primary responsibility of managing our planet’s resources. Unfortunately, though, people are the main culprits in upsetting the natural balance of things. Sadly, They are drive by greed and self- centredness.

  7. Merrill Glustrom

    Thanks for the timely commentary!

    An idea that might help protect wolves: A PBS documentary I recently viewed brought out that wolves tend to kill the guard dogs who protect the cattle and sheep, which made me wonder about an idea that a 15 year old implemented successfully in Kenya. Lions were killing their cattle, and villagers were then killing the lions. Fences didn’t help, nor did making noise. This fellow came up with the idea of lights. He invented a strobe-like device, which kept the lions away! Could something similar be used with wolves? (I realize that wolves are much more resourceful than lions, but I thought I would suggest it anyway.) It’s understandable that a rancher would react to having his dog killed.


    It’s really worth watching!

    Would some form of this idea have potential?

    Merrill Glustrom
    Boulder, Colorado

  8. yogimom

    shoot, shovel and shut up? you need to carry a gun to protect yourself from other people just like you?

  9. yogimom

    Trapping is an awful, hurtful thing that inflicts such pain and suffering. No animal deserves that.

  10. barbara chapman

    rapidly loosing all respect for the human race, how often do we hear people say “its terrible what is happening in the World” but ask them to help even by signing a petition and they don’t want to know, if it doesn’t directly hurt them then forget it.

  11. JJ

    Rex, what is the gun for? Do you live in SUCH a wild place that simply leaving your front door invites predator carnivores to lunch? Wow, then you live in a MAGNIFICENT place and you should bow down to your God for allowing you to witness such wild beauty….you are amongst the fortunate. Then, do as God instructed…..be the caretaker of all species in this Garden of Eden. God did not give you a gun to slaughter his beasts….he gave you dominion because YOU were made with the brains and the power capable of CARING for all his creation. Do that. Show respect and LOVE for God, and yourself, by protecting the wild habitats and natures of these wild beasts. And if you are too close and proximal to these wild beasts, you have the capability and the power to move yourself somewhere safer. The answer is NOT to kill. And you certainly needn’t have all that wrath for other fellow humans (who call themselves environmentalists—a dirty word to you?) that simply want to follow that path of love and protection. Don’t hate people because they bring compassion to the world. Learn from them, and perhaps you’ll find some grace there….more satisfying than the hate and venom you have let yourself be lowered to..

  12. Barbra

    Stop covering Viagra scripts for these guys (usually men.) Obviously if they can’t get it up, they take all that testosterone aggression out on killing innocent animals.
    No, really, we must stop indiscriminately killing all other life form on our (shared) planet. Believe it or not, we’re all inter-connected.

  13. eusebio manuel vestias pecurto

    Estou com as vossas causas Portugal

  14. Peggy

    My hat is off to 8 year old Richard Turere. How resourceful he is and I hope that a similar solution can be found for the wildlife. I wish there were a way we could get this information in the hands of responsible senators who may be able to do something about it. We should live in peace with nature.

  15. La Marca Monique

    trapping animals is too cruel, stop doing that barbaric people! you are criminals and abusers.

  16. Barb

    I have a huge population of coyotes here. I also have 2 medium size dogs which would fight and lose to a pack of coyotes. I thought of shooting the coyotes to lower the risk. They even climb my 5 ft. fence and scare the crap out of my house cats. Instead my dogs stay in the fenced backyard during the day. At night and when I leave home, the dogs are inside. I bought a police style flashlight for night walks, which with two dogs, happen every night, and the dogs are leashed. It has worked so far. I’m not a hunter and probably would not hit anything that I wanted to hit. We’ve also had cougar sightings but it’s very rare. I’ve signed a lot of petitions to protect wolves and large predators. It’s their world too. Biggest problem has been loose dog packs. They are very dangerous. Chased me into house. Attacked my dogs at my side. Went after them with a shovel one night. I was enraged. Picture fat old woman in housecoat, fuzzy slippers, screaming at top of lungs swinging a big shovel. They ran. Neighbor said they were smart. He would have run too. True story. My kids were mad at me. Said I was dumb. Willing to co-exist. Not cower.

  17. CM

    I’m actually glad Rex gave his truthful views. I know a lot of people like Rex, and we need to know that that is a very prevalent attitude among those living in the countryside. My mother in law, for instance, lives on a small ranch bordering a national forest. She’s terrified of snakes, even though there are only two poisonous types in her area, and they are not even seen very often. So irrationally frightened of them is she that she carries a loaded shotgun with her when she walks in the woods. I’ve tried telling her that the loaded shotgun is much more of a danger should she trip than any snake would be, but fear is irrational. This guy is fearful. Studies show that non-rabid wolves in America are unlikely to attack people ( I think there’s only been one attack recorded?), so unless he’s carrying his gun because his area is saturated with cougar (also unlikely to attack a full grown man), he’s acting according to his fear. Which is way common, and why wolves are often shot on sight. Fear is hard to educate out of people.

  18. Deb

    One aspect that is, I think, being overlooked…these predators are not taking the healthiest animals. They prey on young, old and sick animals. Doing this helps keep the herds of prey animals healthy. Most hunters are not killing young or sick animals. They want animals in top condition.

  19. Sandy

    Animals must have HOPE just like people. They know their environment is changing. I believe they understand that MAN is changing and raping their surroundings. These animals are not killers of man. They aren`t here to eat us or make our lives miserable. At some point just like MAN all ways does these wonderful animals will have to stand their ground on what little they have left. MAN MUST STOP!! OUR GOVERNMENT MUST KEEP WHAT IS LEFT OF THE EARTH ALIVE. AND LET IT THRIVE. I PRAY GOD CHANGE THE COURSE OF MAN. We all need to do something before it is to LATE; THERE IS SO LITTLE TIME LEFT

  20. Sandi

    I find I do almost nothing but fight to try and get people to understand the necessity of these animals for our planet. We humans are moving into area’s that we should not be moving into. I am seeing so much housing and business’s moving into beautiful and previously wild area’s. This is nothing but a death sentence for animals and in the long run for humans. Climate change is happening and the changes to the planet caused by the killing of species that were there before up and have a extreamly important ‘job’ in the balancing of this planet are being killed and their area’s being taken over. The imbalance of this planet is so obvious but those in power seem to be blind! Wake up world!!

  21. Rose

    Jodi…you are SO RIGHT. C.Parker. Nikki. Dr. Emy. Yogimom. Wes. All so right. thank you so much for caring and seeing the truth. Humans are responsible for the destruction of the earth and for ruining the balance of nature. Ranchers should NOT be allowed to run cattle and other domesticated animals on public lands. Wildlife has to have some place to live. Merrill. Good idea. The lights might work. If humans stopped eating meat or at least drastically reduced the meat consumption then that could help ranchers run cattle on their OWN land and not use public lands.

  22. david mccue

    Where wolves are left in their eco system, said systems are more healthy and balanced. When man hunts, the shoot the trophy animals. The biggest, healthiest, best racks they can find, therefore weaking the herd by killing off the finest specimens and leaving the weeker to breed. When wolves hunt, they kill the weakest, the oldest of the herd, the easist to kill. Therefore leaving the stongest, healthiest, finest specimens of the herd to breed and cary on the strongest genes/lines of their species. So, if a healthy and balanced eco system is the goal, mother nature should be left alone as much as possible to do her job. The results are always better than mans efforts.

  23. Rosamindo

    The real predator is Homo sapiens, an arrogant, not too intelligent (as seen by a comment or two on this blog) animal, who is way out of bounds. Those ignorant animal serial killers out there have a desperate need to feel “superior” because they lack so much of everything else in their little minds. Put them in a stadium together, and let them kill each other–they are too cowardly to do that I’ll bet.

  24. Frank Zukiewicz

    All of these species come together to form the arms of Mother Nature in which the human race is cradled. Together they are our mother. To cause harm to any part of it is like causing your own mother to sicken and die and then you to also sicken and die! Money and power drives this sick world. The end is near for the humans, can’t you feel it?

  25. Heather Stewart

    If people and governments were not so greedy and if we all pulled together we could quite easily live in harmony with our precious wildlife that is rapidly disappearing.
    What a dreadful world without them.
    We must protect them before it is too late…

  26. carrie

    Our human population crisis is the #1 priority of concern. What is the human population reduction agenda on earth? No jobs, no water, no food, no space to live – we are heading there. 7.5 billion humans “is a crisis”. This is not an economy slowing, this is supply and demand, the laws of nature – the facts. Less humans more space – and space for our remaining animal kingdom.

  27. Sam

    The problem is people thinking that they are better than animals. This makes people think it is OK to kill animals for there own selfish pleasure. Humans are like Cancer. We are part of the world, yet we are destroying it.

  28. Lynn Porter

    Rex, I have a certain reptilian contempt for those who travel armed to their mailboxes. Who wants to contact small, thoughtless minds?On the other hand, Frank Zukiewicz, You seem to have the opinion that agrees with most of us: MITAKUYE OYASIN! This is a direct quote from Dr. Ross (HEAD OF THE AMERICAN PLAINS INDIAN MUSEUM) aka Chief EHANAMANI. The meaning is this;We are all related! ALL!Scales, fur, four feet, two feet long tails, long teeth, whom/whatever lives. We kill ourselves as we kill our other relations. How and when are we going to help us all? Poison in the fields-bugs. The poison progresses until we eat the processed food. Then it kills us. National Jewish Hospital has made a case study of the rise in allergic reactions, some deadly. One reason came from ingesting lead pellets that managed to avoid all of our so-called perfect processing plants.

  29. mark

    Idahoans should be dropped in a pit to shoot each other. Disgusting things that live there

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