By Marlena Norwood
Predators in the wild strike their prey with fear, for they are so fast, big and strong that no prey stands a chance. What should strike us with fear, as stewards of the Earth, is that so many of these predators are critically endangered species.
In any ecosystem, there are trophic levels – the producers (plants and other photosynthetic organisms that obtain their energy from the sun), primary consumers (small herbivores), secondary consumers (larger carnivores), and decomposers. This general food chain represents a cycle of life – the decomposers returning to the Earth and atmosphere what the producers consumed. If any of these four levels is disrupted, it affects all other levels devastatingly.
Predators, like every other organism, play an essential role in ecosystems – they control the populations of small herbivores that in turn control the populations of plants and so forth. So many ecosystems around the globe are being greatly disturbed by the absence of these vital predators.
Big cats in the wild are well known as some of Earth’s most deadly predators. Three species in the panthera genus are critically endangered – the last step before extinction.
Due to illegal wildlife trade and habitat destruction, the Sumatran Tiger population from Indonesia is down to less than 400 individuals in the wild. The Amur Leopard population from the temperate forests of Russia is even more critically endangered with now less than thirty individuals. Even more frightening is that the South China Tiger is considered “functionally extinct” – meaning that there is believed to be none of the species left in the wild.
The impact upon the ecosystems in which those big cats reside can be devastating, since ecosystem stability depends on the intricate balance between trophic levels. But what about back home – here in the US?
The US may not have majestic leopards and tigers roaming around (although the endangerment of species half way around the world still affects us because of the interdependency of all ecosystems), but we have some amazing predators of our own that need help.
Seen throughout almost the entire United States, the endangered gray wolf is considered a keystone predator (predators that prey on multiple animals in order to moderate entire food chains). Back in 1995, Yellowstone National Park made a highly successful effort to reintroduce gray wolves into the area. The World Wildlife Federation (WWF) is also helping out by making it easy for you to adopt a gray wolf.
Focusing in on the west coast, the gray whale is another endangered predator to watch out for. Gray whales are endangered because of significant habitat destruction in the Northern Pacific Ocean due to offshore oil drilling and other industrial projects that disturb aquatic habitats. The WWF is currently pushing for stricter standards on offshore projects in order to protect these whales.
Here’s what can you do to help not only the endangered species in your area, but also those around the globe – as all of Earth’s ecosystems are interdependent:
- Select your region on the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service endangered species page to view all of the endangered species in your area and suggestions for how you can get involved to help those species.
- Join the WWF’s campaign and sign their petition to stop wildlife violence, a primary cause of big cat extinction.
- Adopt a species – Click here to learn about how you can adopt a tiger for just $50.