Posted by: terrauniversity | March 13, 2012

Losing Something Important

By: Rachael Griffitts

Human activities have been the cause of the disappearance of some animals in certain areas. The removal of any organism from an ecosystem can have serious harmful effects to the environment. Real life examples are: the extinction of gray wolves in the western United States in the 1930’s, the decline in the lion population in Africa, and the near extinction of two species of vultures in India. Humans have been the cause of the disappearance of this animals and we are now starting to feel the effects. “The decline of large predators such as big cats, wolves, sharks and giant whales may be ‘humankinds most pervasive influence on the natural world’” (Fears, 2011).

By the 1930’s the gray wolf had become extinct in the western United States. In 1995 and 1996, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service captured wolves in Canada and released them into 2.2-million-acre Yellowstone National Park and central Idaho’s wilderness areas (Chadwick, 2010).The return of wolf made it clear that years without the apex of that region had severely hurt Yellowstone’s ecosystem. The elk population had grown exponential and had eaten all of the tree saplings. Songbirds then had no where to nest, beavers couldn’t make dams, and without the tree roots erosion was becoming a major problem. Once the gray wolf had be reintroduced, the ecosystem began to balance out again.

Africa is now facing a similar problem. Farmers and herders are killing off lions because they pose a threat to livestock and potentially humans as well. “Lion populations have fallen from 450,000 to 20,000 in 50 years” (Hance, 2011). With the lion population declining the population of the Olive Baboon is on the rise. “The problem is that baboons carry an intestinal parasite which can be transferred to humans“ (Hance, 2011). The increase of baboon population means that humans and baboons are meeting more frequently and spreading diseases to humans. Another example in Africa is the over fishing in the rivers. Large fish eat mosquitoes and without fish the spread of malaria is more prevalent.

India is also facing a crisis from the lose of an essential animal, the vulture. “Diclofenac is a painkiller for livestock that is sold over the counter across South Asia and in other parts of the world too“(Experts meet to save, 2006). This drug cause visceral gout, which leads to kidney failure, in vultures. “In the past decade more than 90 percent of two species of vulture, the white-backed and long-billed, once among India’s most populous birds, have been wiped out“ (Trivedi., 2001). This poses a big problem in India because now nothing is eating the carcasses of the livestock, and the carcasses are just accumulating into big piles. These piles are an excellent breading places for parasites and diseases. Wild dog populations have grown at an alarming rate. These wild dogs are very aggressive and sometimes attack humans. They also transmit rabies to humans. The loss of vultures also presents a cultural dilemma. People of the Parsi faith need vultures to consume their dead because of religious believes. Without the vultures bodies have been accumulating in burial sites.

The loss of wolves in Yellowstone caused the decline of the ecosystem and erosion of the land, the loss of lions and fish in Africa has put humans at risk of contracting vector born diseases, and the loss of vultures in India has put humans at risk of rabies and other diseases. Apex predators and scavengers are essential to maintaining a healthy environment for everyone, including humans. An organism, no matter how large or small of a part they play in the ecosystem, can be removed without serious consequences. “The irony … is that we often cannot unequivocally see the effect of large apex consumers until after they have been lost”(Fears, 2011).Not being able to detect this problem until it is almost too late, is a very serious to environmental health.

For educators: Discuss how every organism in the environment is important to maintain a healthy environment. A good way to this is to create a food web to show all organisms depends on each other.
Here is a link to an interactive map about the reintroduction of the Gray Wolf


Chadwick, D. (2010, March). Wolf wars. National Geogrpahic

Experts meet to save vultures from extinction. (2006, February 2).

Fears, D. (2011, July 14). Decline of predatory species throws food chains out of whack, report says.

Hance, J. (2011, July 14). Decline in top predators and megafauna ‘humankind’s most pervasive influence on nature’.

Trivedi., B. (2001, December 28). Vulture die-off spurs carcass crisis.


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