The role of the apex predator in the wild cannot be understated, but, it can certainly be undermined. We humans have a real knack for causing all kinds of headaches for Mother Nature and her top predators. The lion, the wolf, the shark, and other keepers of the top spot on the food chain have been repeatedly harassed, hunted, demonized, and otherwise treated unpleasantly by humans for the last couple hundred years, and it has had devastating effects on ecosystems across the globe.
For example, in the United States’ world-renowned Yellowstone National Park, located in Wyoming, the majestic Gray Wolf has been put through the wringer at the hands of humans since the 1920s, and it has almost caused the whole park to collapse!
In the 1920’s, the US government financed an attempt to eradicate Gray Wolves from Yellowstone National Park (which, in hindsight, was really stupid). And, by 1926, poof! The Gray Wolf had disappeared from Yellowstone like last year’s Halloween candy, and that’s when the park’s fragile ecosystem began to unravel.
Without its top predator, the historic national park was overrun with elk, and they devoured the park’s vegetation and degraded the landscape (they also developed an extremely obnoxious sense of self-assuredness without the wolf around, which made them very difficult to be around).
In addition, floods became rampant, fish stock suffered, food supplies were as scarce as a cat at a pool party, and birds and beavers made like hockey sticks and got the puck out of there. There were also tremendously nefarious effects on smaller mammal populations, such as coyotes, rodents, and a veritable smorgasbord of other cheeky and potentially very talented woodland critters.
But, realizing its mistake, the US government reintroduced the wolf in 1995 after a 70 year hiatus. And, wouldn’t you know it, the reintroduction of the wolf restored the balance to Yellowstone’s ecosystem and it began to flourish again!
So, the moral of the story is: if humans screw around with nature, the effects are catastrophic.
Here’s where it gets really frustrating: despite the lessons that history has taught us, the United States Congress currently is trying to remove the Gray Wolf from the endangered species list in the Great Lakes area, and this whole disastrous episode is going to take place yet again, but in a different part of the country!
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