Endangered Species Handbook

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Predator Prejudice

Project Summary
The purpose of this project is to research the general subject of predator prejudice and its effect on predators in various parts of the world.  Read the material below and the Persecution and Hunting chapter in this book.  The subject in general or a particular predator which has become endangered as a result of prejudice and persecution will be selected for a short report, including information on past and present distribution, control measures taken and the present status of the species.
 
Background
In the United States, Grizzly Bears, Gray and Red Wolves were eliminated from 98 percent of the country south of Canada by European settlers in control programs using poisons, guns and traps.  Today, through natural recolonization and reintroduction, these predators are reoccupying small portions of their original ranges.  Unfortunately, outside national parks, these animals are encountering prejudice.  Local livestock owners, whose ranches surround the protected national parks and forests, oppose their presence.  Livestock owners near one Gray Wolf reintroduction site in Yellowstone National Park in Montana attempted unsuccessfully through a lawsuit to have wolves removed from the park.  Wildlife research over the past century has found that wolves rarely kill domestic livestock, and their predation on deer, elk and other ungulates keep these species strong and healthy.  Grizzly Bears are mainly vegetarian, with occasional predation on small rodents or the calves or fawns of elk or deer, yet they have been hunted out of all but about 1 percent of their original range in the western United States south of Alaska.  
 
Predator prejudice is common throughout the world wherever livestock is grazed in large numbers.  In Ethiopia in East Africa, the Simien Wolf, a small canid that preys mainly on rodents, has been killed off by livestock owners who mistakenly believe them to present threats to their sheep and cattle.  The species is near extinction.  Likewise in South America, Europe and Asia, predators have been heavily persecuted, with wolves, bears, big cats and others eliminated from areas near human habitation and many wilderness areas. 
Seals, sea lions and otters are also the object of prejudice from fishermen who believe that they take too many fish.  In fact, they often prey on fish that are not taken for human consumption, many of which are predators of food fish.  The Caribbean Monk Seal was persecuted to extinction, and its close relative, the Mediterranean Monk Seal, is now critically endangered as a result of killing by fishermen.  Its remaining populations, numbering fewer than 1,000 animals, hide in caves along the coasts.  Sea otters eat invertebrates that eat kelp and sea grass, thereby playing a key role in maintaining these ecosystems in which fish and shellfish flourish, but abalone fishermen consider them unwanted predators.
 
Birds of prey have also been persecuted as threats to livestock or because they competed for the same food as humans.  The Bald Eagle was killed for a bounty in many parts of the United States because it fed on fish, causing fishermen to believe that it was an unwelcome competitor.  Hawks and eagles around the world are shot and poisoned by ranchers and others, reducing many species to endangered status.  In some areas, birds of prey are shot on sight.  Legal protection for these birds has only recently been enacted in the United States, but many other countries fail to accord protection.  They have an important ecological role to play by preventing rodents, snakes and other species from multiplying to pest proportions.  The majority of species specialize in killing rodents, which helps farmers raising and storing grains.
 
Likewise, bats prey on insects and are important pollinators of plants, but they are persecuted in most parts of the world.
 
Snakes are also important predators of rodents, yet they, too, are routinely killed around the world.  They are either considered pests or inspire great fear that they might present a threat to human beings.  Snakes tend to be afraid of people, who are not their natural prey, and if left alone, will not attack.
 
Crocodiles perform a useful role in preying of overpopulated fish, yet they are killed as potential threats or for the leather trade.  A majority of crocodile species are now endangered.
 
Activities
o  Research:  Using the sources listed in the Persecution and Hunting chapter, and others listed below, as well as those available in your library and through computer on-line searches, learn about the subject in general.  Consider the following aspects of the issue:
 
  1. Laws have been enacted since the Middle Ages in Europe encouraging the killing of predators and even punishing those who did not kill and deliver their hides to authorities.  Many of these laws have been altered over the years and now remain in the form of bounties paid for pelts, and regulations permit and encourage persecution of predators.  Are there state laws that allow persecution of predators, including endangered species?  (Read the US Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act to find examples of legalized killing of species considered predators of livestock or fish.) 
 
  2. What attitudes prevail in various parts of the world toward predators?  While negative fears and hatred dominate in many areas, trends are changing in many countries.  North American native tribes traditionally revere predators and incorporate them into their folklore.  Europeans settling America had an opposing view, instituting predator control programs.  What is unusual about the legal status and attitude toward the Gray Wolf in Italy?  (See Persecution and Hunting chapter.)  What happens to endangered Cheetahs when white ranchers who hate predators take over land in Namibia and South Africa?  What education programs are taking place to change prejudices?  The reintroduction in the United States of both Gray and Red Wolves was a result of this new view and the application of the US Endangered Species Act, but education programs have had mixed success.  In some areas, such as Yellowstone National Park, however, tourists are coming in large numbers, spending money in local towns, and watching the Gray Wolves in an open environment considered the best "wolf watching" area in the world.  Could tourism help save predators?  The survival of predators depends entirely on attitudes of people living in their habitats.
 
  3. Biological Studies:  Studies on Gray Wolves in Alaska in the 1940s by Adolph Murie began a major change in knowledge of these animals and their relations with their natural prey that overturned previous misconceptions, many of which assumed that they were destructive to their prey.  These studies have been augmented by other biologists on various predators throughout the world, confirming the important and positive role that predators play in ecosystems.  What studies can you find that examine the biological role of predators of various types, including birds, fish (such as sharks) and reptiles (such as snakes and crocodiles)?  
 
  4. Economic Damage:  Control programs against predators are based on real or assumed damage to livestock or other property or assets, but they have rarely been based on fact.  Exaggeration and fear have distorted estimates of actual losses to predators.  Moreover, the ranchers or herders tend to release their livestock into the wild without guard dogs or other protection.  When their animals are found dead, predators are blamed, when proof is often lacking. When livestock is guarded by dogs or fences, or housed in buildings or pens at night and when giving birth, mortality is usually very low.  Unfortunately, US government programs, such as the Animal Damage Control (ADC) Division of the Department of Agriculture, routinely trap and poison hundreds of thousands of animals each year without proof of their predation on livestock.  Contact the ADC and ask how many traps, how much poison and how many animals of all types have been killed in recent years.  Also ask for the numbers and species of no-target animals, such as endangered Grizzly bears, Bald and Golden Eagles and other wildlife, taken in these programs.  Ask the ADC how it avoids killing endangered animals?  How much is spent on these programs per year, and what alternative programs could protect livestock in non-lethal ways, including guard dogs or other guard animals, such as llamas and donkeys, and by providing information on protecting livestock for far less money?
 
o  Reports and Discussion:  Select the subject of predator control in general for a report based on the information you have gathered in accordance with the categories above.  Discuss this issue in class.
 
o  Select a particular species that has been persecuted to endangered or threatened status by predator control programs.  What was the original range of the species?  What is its present range?  What are the natural prey species of the animal and its habitat?  When did control programs begin to eliminate the species and what were the reasons on which they were based?   Was the species gradually, or rapidly, reduced in both numbers and range?  Were control methods directed at adult animals only or on the young, such as killing pups in the den?  What is the natural behavior of the animal in terms of its social nature with others of its kind, number of young, number of breeding adults in a group, whether it is solitary, and whether it can easily recover its population once control is stopped or tends to decline to extinction?  What are the attitudes of the people who live within its habitat?  What is being done to help the species?  What do you think should be done to prevent its extinction?
 
o  Conservation:  Describe various means of protecting predators that are persecuted.  For example, bats have been conserved through education programs in local communities and schools about their ecological role and how to bat-proof buildings.  Ecotourism is another means of protecting bats, since their flights at dusk can be spectacular.  The economic value of predators in controlling insects or rodents, for example, is an important argument in their favor.  Many approaches are needed, depending on the attitudes held by the local people, the type of damage alleged and the economic factor.  In some cases, the same species can be reviled in one part of the world and admired in another.  The Gray Wolf is now a valued and protected predator in a growing number of countries, but in Russia and other countries, it is still tainted by folklore that bears no relation to fact.  Make recommendations for the conservation of the Gray Wolf or another species in a country where it is persecuted.  Write a brochure and design a poster for a species of your choice that would educate the public about why this species should not be persecuted.

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