Wild predators improve human well-being

It is not the first thing that comes to mind, but researches published new results that the presence of wild predators benefits human well-being. It may seems counterintuitive, as often the farmers and hunters express their concern on these animals. However, in their recent article O’Bryan and colleagues show various cases from around the world, where predator presence helps the well-being of local people.

Supporting local farmers

In their study, O’Bryan and colleagues show us how the presence of the dingo, a wild dog-relative, helps local farmers. Just as the wolf in Europe, dingos once in a while grab a sheep or cattle. However, this negative impact is outweighed by the positive impact, as dingos also hunt the kangaroos, which compete with livestock for grass. By hunting the kangaroos, there is higher food abundance for livestock. As a result, dairy and meat production increase, and thereby financial profits for farmers.

In Europe, the wolf, lynx and golden jackal are widespread predators. Wild herbivores that could compete with livestock for grasses, like deer, are the most important part of the wolf’s and lynx’ diet. Although deer do not feed as much on grass as kangaroos do, more research in Europe would be needed to find out whether this beneficial relationship between wolves and farmers also exists.

Predators keep diseases at bay

Another interesting case occurs in the region of Mumbai, India. Here, leopards are hunting feral dogs. Many feral dogs suffer from rabies, leading to thousands of bite incidents and possibly even deaths every year in India. As the leopard hunts for feral dogs, even up to 40% of their diet, calculations show that 90 rabies cases are avoided each year.

In Europe, rabies has almost completely disappeared for many years. However, as we wrote earlier in our article ‘Wolfpacks manage disease outbreaks’, studies from Slovakia showed that only 7% of the Classic Swine Fever outbreaks occurred in wolf pack territory. A Swine Fever, as the African variant is currently spreading over Europe, is not dangerous to humans, but it is to pigs. Having wild predators kill infected, sick and weak individuals helps preventing the spread of the disease. In fact, wolves appeared to be better than humans in stopping the spread of the disease in some areas. As a result, the risk for pig farmers is also lower, compared to areas where the Swine Fever continues to spread.

Less lethal wildlife collisions

An interesting example from the United States shows that annually there are over a million vehicle-deer accidents, with 200 human deaths. Yet, the presence of cougars, hunting deer, result in less wildlife-vehicle collisions. A modelling study over a period of 30 years, showed that in the eastern US alone, cougars can decrease accident rates by 22%.

In Europe, millions of wildlife-vehicle collisions occurs every year. For example in Germany alone, more than 250 000 incidents happen annually. Nowadays, there are 73 wolf packs in Germany, which focus mostly on roe and red deer. Although not many scientific studies addressed the impact of wolf presence on wildlife-vehicle collisions in Europe, it is well possible that there is a correlation. Unfortunately vehicles do not only crash into deer, but also wolves. In Germany, the number one cause of wolf deaths is a vehicle collision.

Protecting fruiting trees with birds of prey

In New Zealand, vineyards suffer lots of damages from songbirds, eating the grapes. Fencing out these small birds with nets seems impossible, but nature presented another solution. Presence of bird of prey, in this case the New Zealand falcon, drastically reduced the number of songbirds attacking the fields. It may well be possible that a similar solution may solve an issue in the Netherlands. There, the animal causing the highest wildlife damage is the Great Tit. This little bird enjoys the flowers, bugs and fruits in orchards, causing millions of damages each year. More than geese, deer, or even wild boar for that matter.

Predators keep it clean

Some predators also like to scavenge, and are thereby helping to keep their surroundings clean. Take for example the golden jackal, a highly flexible animal that adapts easily to new circumstances. In Serbia, researchers calculated that golden jackals clean up over 3 700 tons of road-kills and human waste. Estimates for the entire golden jackal population in Europe calculate they get rid of 13 000 tons of animal waste.

In many of these cases, researchers need to study the correlations in more detail. But it is safe to say that people should not experience the presence of wild predators as a negative thing. Just as any other animal, predators are part of nature and have an important role in the ecosystem.

Read the full study in the preview below:

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