Significance to humans

Human relationships with carnivores are extreme and of mixed emotions. On the one hand we respect and revere them. Indeed two species, the wolf and the wild cat, have been domesticated and become our closest animal companions. In the case of the domestic dog, we have also developed and trained many breeds to work for us as hunting dogs, herd dogs, and guide dogs. Carnivores are also important to us aesthetically and economically. We admire their hunting ability and their striking beauty. Many symbols of royalty and heraldry are carnivores. They are a prime attraction for ecotourists, especially where they can be viewed in their natural habitat. Through the ages man has also hunted carnivores for food, medicine, and their pelts, and today they are also hunted for recreational purposes as trophies, often at great expense.

On the other hand, humans and carnivores have long been in conflict because of similar ecological interests. Our ancestors on the African plains competed for food with the larger carnivores. With the development of agriculture and animal husbandry this conflict increased as carnivores of all sizes tended to prey on animals that we had domesticated and were important for us economically. In addition, large carnivores sometimes kill people. Animals that compete most with each other display most aggression towards each other. Moreover, the larger and more powerful ones have a negative impact on the smaller and less powerful competitors—lions influence cheetah and wild dog numbers and wolves impact on coyotes. Humans as the supreme carnivorous animal (not carnivore, which is a taxonomic term) have impacted all their competitors and carnivores have suffered from the brutal and efficient actions of humans as much as, if not more than, any other group of animals. With the human population explosion and the development of more efficient mechanisms for killing, this carnage has accelerated: shooting, trapping, poisoning, and over harvesting have taken a very heavy toll on many carnivore species. Even through the domestication of dogs and cats, their wild ancestors are threatened through crossbreeding with them and spreading disease.

In an attempt to redress the imbalance, a network of governmental and nongovernmental organizations have been established throughout the world and millions of dollars have been spent and are being spent on research, protection and management programs, compensation schemes, and education. Although there have been some successes the situation is serious and a major human effort is required if more of these magnificent and important animals are not to go the same way as the Falkland Island wolf, the sea mink, and the Barbados raccoon.

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