Rapid development is main threat to big carnivores: Study

Recently, various reports have shown the worrying situation of large carnivores in the world, as the populations of animals such as lions, tigers and wolves have been declining. Rapid human economic development could be the main threat, more than habitat loss or climate change

Rapid development main threat to big carnivores

Thomas Johnson, lead author of the research, “in the midst of rapid development, people seem to be becoming less tolerant of carnivores, conflicts are breaking out, and we suspect that incidences of persecution and poaching are skyrocketing.”

Johnson said populations of brown bears and lynx in Europe are also starting to recover, while tiger populations in India are beginning to grow in a similar fashion.

But many parts of Africa did not support these findings, with carnivore populations declining even as the continent did not see rapid growth. Johnson said this could be because the population had declined under colonial rule decades earlier.

The findings bring to the fore a tension between prioritizing human development versus the protection of carnivores. Johnson suggested that wealthy nations—responsible for the decline in large carnivore populations—could help less developed nations to survive through financial aid. This could involve communities investing in biodiversity enough to earn a living while simultaneously promoting conservation.

On this last point, the researcher explains that they are hunted for their meat or for the wildlife trade. In some cases, these species, such as lions, are killed for posing a threat to a family’s livelihood, such as their livestock, or their lives.

Wolf rebound

In the results, published in the journal Nature Communications, the researchers pointed out that these human elements, which are part of rapid economic development, are having a far greater impact than the effects of habitat loss.

According to researchers at the University of Reading, gray wolf populations in Europe have already soared, increasing by 1,800 per cent since the 1960s due to better quality of life and slower economic growth on the continent. That restoration is happening not only in protected parks but also in wild areas.

The work looked at 50 species of carnivores in more than 80 countries over the past 50 years. Globally, carnivore populations have seen steep declines over the past century, with lions and tigers disappearing from more than 90 percent of their historical range. In the UK, many local carnivore species such as the lynx, wolf and bear are already on the verge of extinction.

Another of the results of the study indicates that as human communities become wealthier and socioeconomic growth slows, carnivore populations can recover. “What you want is for this growth to slow down before the carnivore population disappears completely so that there is at least a chance to recover,” the researchers said.

“Traditionally, habitat loss has been considered the main threat to carnivore populations, but this has been diminished by human development,” they noted. However, in various parts of Africa, they did not support the overall findings.

Population decline

They warn that the continent has not experienced rapid development, but its carnivore populations have declined. “This may be because much of the population decline occurred decades ago under colonial regimes,” says the researcher.

For this study, the researchers looked at 50 carnivore species in more than 80 countries over the past 50 years. Carnivore populations have seen dramatic declines globally in the last century, with lions and tigers absent from more than 90 per cent of their historical range.


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