This morning my email inbox was brimming over with news about an essay published in Science magazine by researchers from the University of Victoria (Canada) and the Raincoast Conservation Foundation called "The unique ecology of human predators." While the full essay is currently available, I think it important to include the summary here: "Paradigms of sustainable exploitation focus on population dynamics of prey and yields to humanity but ignore the behavior of humans as predators. We compared patterns of predation by contemporary hunters and fishers with those of other predators that compete over shared prey (terrestrial mammals and marine fishes). Our global survey (2125 estimates of annual finite exploitation rate) revealed that humans kill adult prey, the reproductive capital of populations, at much higher median rates than other predators (up to 14 times higher), with particularly intense exploitation of terrestrial carnivores and fishes. Given this competitive dominance, impacts on predators, and other unique predatory behavior, we suggest that humans function as an unsustainable "super predator," which--unless additionally constrained by managers--will continue to alter ecological and evolutionary processes globally."
The groundbreaking results of this study have also been summarized widely. One excellent summary by Jonathan Amos called "Humans are 'unique super-predator'" begins as follows: "Humans' status as a unique super-predator is laid bare in a new study published in Science magazine. The analysis of global data details the ruthlessness of our hunting practices and the impacts we have on prey. It shows how humans typically take out adult fish populations at 14 times the rate that marine animals do themselves. And on land, we kill top carnivores, such as bears, wolves and lions, at nine times their own self-predation rate. But perhaps the most striking observation, say authors Chris Darimont and colleagues, is the way human beings focus so heavily on taking down adult prey. This is quite different from the rest of the animal kingdom, for which the juveniles of a species tend to be the most exploited."
The Science essay concludes (numbered references are available in the essay): "Transformation requires imposing limits of humanity's own design: cultural, economic, and institutional changes as pronounced and widespread as those that provided the advantages humans developed over prey and competitors. This includes, for example, cultivating tolerance for carnivores (7), designing catch-share programs (27), and supporting community leadership in fisheries (28). Also key could be a new definition of sustainable exploitation that focuses not on yields to humanity but rather emulates the behavior of other predators (14). Cultural, economic, and technological factors would make targeting juvenile prey challenging in many cases. Aligning exploitation rates on adults with those of competing predators, however, would provide management options between status quo exploitation and moratoria. Recent approaches to resolve controversies among fisheries scientists reveal how distant such predator-inspired management prescriptions are now. For example, although the mean "conservative" fishing rate estimated to rebuild multispecies fisheries across 10 ecosystems (0.04) is one-fourth their maximum sustainable yield rates (0.16) (13), it remains 4 times the median value we estimated among marine predators globally (0.01). Consequently, more aggressive reductions in exploitation are required to mimic nonhuman predators, which represent long-term models of sustainability (14)."
We have a lot of work to do to try to reverse the destructive trends for which we are responsible, and I offer that compassionate conservation (please see "Compassionate Conservation, Cecil the Murdered Lion, and Blaze the Slaughtered Yellowstone Bear" and links therein) and personal rewilding are essential parts of the solution. Education is also critical. While it is more than likely we will never go back to the way things were, we must do everything we can to make things better for future generations. Why have kids if we don't work hard to be sure they will inherit the best possible world?
No one is spared from our predatory ways: We really do kill here, there, and everywhere
While the BBC essay and others, including the original report in Science, do not make for especially pleasant reading, I urge everyone to read something about this new groundbreaking study, for its results are important for every single human on Earth. No one is spared from our predatory ways that don't even work for us, and there really are far too many of us. We're all in this mess together, and we might as well face up to this obvious fact that many want to deny. People often ask something like, "So, where are the data about our unique and destructive ways?" Well, here they are for all to see.
Note: Please see "Study: Humans Are 'Unsustainable Super Predator'" on HUFFPOST LIVE. Please also see this essay by Jane Goodall -- "Jane Discusses the Horrors of Trophy Hunting" -- and "Cougar plan causes uproar among conservationists" to learn why killing cougars doesn't work.