The improvements we achieved in our quality of life were to the detriment of the large carnivores we live with on the planet.
More than habitat loss or climate change, our well-being may have played a role in reducing lynx, lion and wolf populations, according to a new study. However, as people’s wealth increases, so does their tolerance for these animals.
This is what can be deduced from a study that, after analyzing the fate of 50 species over the last half century, concludes that the rapid economic development of human societies has driven many of these animals to the brink of extinction.
A team of scientists from University of Reading (UK), led by Thomas Frederick Johnson, found that social and economic factors such as quality of life were more closely associated with declines in large carnivores (such as bobcats, lions and bears) than with purely environmental circumstances. the loss of their habitats or others associated with phenomena derived from climate change.
This means that direct human action on fauna has been more harmful than indirect activities, which can lead to soil erosion or contamination of water or the atmosphere.
In the article published in Nature Communicationsin association with the Center for Ecology and Hydrology in the United Kingdom and the Institute of Subtropical Biology in Argentina, the authors suggest that the best way to save carnivores is to promote a sustainable model of development, rather than just focusing on issues such as global warming . global.
The Twilight of the Great Carnivores
“The decline of large carnivores is steep. Lions and tigers are already absent from over 90% of their historical range. In the United Kingdom, many of the carnivores, such as the lynx, the wolf and the bear, were once hunted to extinction.”, indicate the authors.
What happened is that some of these species can pose a threat to humans, their animals and their crops, which is why a conflict originates there.
As Johnson explains, “people’s actions (such as poaching, sport hunting, and even prosecutions for their attacks) lead to greater declines in large carnivore populations than habitat deterioration and climate change”.
For her part, the team’s Spanish researcher, Manuela González Suárez, recognizes that there are no “data on the effects of poaching or poaching for all species and regions”, but it is a fact that direct persecution of animals can lead to their disappearance.
A turnaround when more wealth is achieved
However, as societies become more prosperous and economic growth slows, people’s tolerance of – and desire for protection – towards big cats and other carnivores increases among people.
“Although we were not able to model hunting, we do know that a higher level of education and better socioeconomic resources tend to reduce the risk of conflict and, therefore, of retaliation. [por sus ataques] or defensive hunting”, argues González Suárez. The scientist points out that the impact of disputes is minimized, for example, with “loss compensation plans”.
Escape hunger at all costs
To better understand the phenomenon, the British researcher proposes the European continent as an example, where, a hundred years ago, there were “high rates of poverty and hunger”. In this context, “tolerance to carnivorous animals was very low”, because no one could afford it”a wolf ate your cattle”.
During the past century, excluding the disruption of World War II, “Europe’s population skyrocketed and people struggled to escape poverty”, which generated “a greater consumption of resources and a consequent intolerance towards large carnivores”, which brought them to the brink of extinction.
However, with the slowdown and stabilization of economic growth in recent decades and with citizens less exposed to the impacts of poverty, “his respect for carnivore life seems to have grownsays Johnson.
This leniency, as well as better legislation, added to the tasks of biodiversity conservation, “allowed European carnivores to recover”, according to the scientist. A paradigmatic case is that of the gray wolf, whose populations have increased by 1,800% since the 1960s, according to the presentation.
But this curve does not occur uniformly in the rest of the world, as there are regions that are on other stretches of their trajectory towards development and are even in the midst of rapid economic growth, which indicates that they will not reach the break-even point at the same time. inflection at which endangered species have a chance to recover. The team examined how changes in the social and economic system can promote such restoration in nature.
A more harmonious relationship with large carnivores
To reach a reconciliation between people and other large carnivores at the same time, in Johnson’s words, it would be necessary to walk a path of coexistence that could consist of “direct financial aid to people living close to biodiversity”.
In his opinion, to contain the risk of losing most of the biological diversity of developing regions, “rich countries must support the poorest people in the world”. And in this mission, thehumanitarian tools” are not enough, nor the “ecological remedies, such as the creation of protected areas”.
A more sustainable model can protect carnivore populations, something that González Suárez also has an impact on: “We can consider that economic development presupposes, in principle, less precariousness of the family economy and a livelihood less directly linked to local natural resources; therefore, if a family with 50 cows accesses agricultural subsidies and compensation for losses, it may have a calmer attitude in the presence of a large carnivore, even if it attacks one of its herds.”.
The Spanish researcher contrasts this situation with that of a family”with two cows, who lives day to day and needs medical or veterinary assistance”, to deduce that “It is not difficult to understand that a carnivore can represent a big problem for them.”.
But, also in this case, education and traditional habits are key elements, since “there are cultures that coexist well with large carnivores, even when resources are few and precarious”.
How we perceive our role on the planet
Hence the importance, according to González Suárez, of “how we perceive our role on the planet“how crucial”understand that we are more a part” when evaluating the rest of living beings.
He also points out that there is another angle to consider and it is the one that has to do with the transformations of the environment, due to the use of natural resources and the population load in the territory: “In a less developed country, human beings tend to have a rural way of life, with little infrastructure and low consumption of resources, but as the socioeconomic level increases, per capita resources increase, usually population density and infrastructure.”. This implies a better use of the natural environment and an impact on the fauna.
Also, “when a society’s level of development is high, imported raw materials are consumed and local primary production is reduced, while population growth slows down and is concentrated in cities, which opens the doors to the renaturalization of the countryside and recolonization or expansion of large carnivores“, he adds.
These factors, along with achange of mentality and greater appreciation of fauna”, can make coexistence possible, concludes the researcher.
In any case, those responsible for the study recommend an economic model of slower and more sustainable development that, without “lock people in poverty longer.” be able to develop “solutions to support biodiversity and people”.
Thomas F. Johnson et al. “Socioeconomic factors predict population changes of large carnivores better than climate or habitat changes.” Nature Communications (2023)