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National Geographic's Strange Days on Planet Earth
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PREDATORS
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Why Others Care

Predators have held a special place throughout human history — as adversaries, totems, sources of food and profound spiritual inspiration. Today, scientists are realizing that these fiery flesh-eaters play a vital role in the structure and function of our ecosystems. Unfortunately, as we work to unveil the significance of these animals, we are simultaneously depleting populations worldwide. David Quammen, author of Monster of God:

“The man-eating predator in the jungles of history and the Mind paints a grim picture of our future if we continue business as usual: By the year 2150, zoos and test tubes will likely be the only places that Bengal tigers and all other man-eating predators will survive . . . My guess, a regretfully gloomy one, is that the last, wild, viable, free-ranging populations of big flesheaters will disappear sometime around the middle of next century . . . That's not far off — less than eight human generations.”

The same holds true for the oceans as on the land. Far from being the inexhaustible harvest grounds touted by renowned biologist Thomas Huxley in 1883, the oceans are showing marked signs of depletion. A 2003 report in the journal Nature authored by Ransom Myers and Boris Worm of Dalhousie University announced that in merely four decades, industrialized fisheries have depleted 90% of the large commercial species including bluefin tuna, Antarctic cod and tropical groupers. In a news interview following the release of the paper, Dr. Worm stated:

“The impact we have had on ocean ecosystems has been vastly underestimated. These are the megafauna, the big predators of the sea and the species we most value. Their depletion not only threatens the future of these fish and the fishers that depend on them, it could also bring about a complete re-organization of ocean ecosystems, with unknown global consequences.”

References
» Myers, R.A. and Worm, B. (2003). Rapid worldwide depletion of predatory fish communities. Nature, 423, 280-283.
 
» Quammen, David. (2003). Monster of God: The Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind. New York: Scribner.
 

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