The Anthropocene Bookshelf: Large Predators

Anchorage April 10, 2016 – For me, coming around to Anthropocene thinking put a new light on just about everything. Once you realize we have already altered the course of development of the geosphere in ways we scarcely understand, the connection of albedo loss to ocean and air currents, soil, sedimentation, permafrost, plankton, trophic levels and the rest of it is more easily seen. New light is shed our behaviour, our design and how we regard our own food sources and our public and private lands, as we start casting about for tools for responding to this crisis.

Trying to stay up to date on the many books coming out on this issue, I am also discovering older books in our library that reflect on it. I am nearly finished reading David Quammen’s 2003 “Monster of God, the Man-Eating Predator in the Jungles of History and the Mind, ” which amounts to a tour of the current habitat of the earth’s few remaining large apex predators capable of killing human beings. Perhaps my interest in predators starts from being in Alaska, where healthy populations of wolves and brown bears, black bears and polar bears remain, not to mention walrus, wolverines, orcas and sharks. But I am also deeply interested in ecology and biodiversity and I have heard it suggested that one possible measure of successful biodiversity management is how much carbon a hectare sequesters, and now established ecological theory is saying that healthy populations of both large ungulates and keystone apex predators do much to bolster biodiversity. So to me Quammen’s books qualify for my Anthropocene shelf.

The conclusion of this marvelous book is pessimistic. Quammen has found nowhere on earth where large, apex predators capable of man-eating are likely to survive. Most populations of them have already approached or passed through genetic bottlenecks that limit their resilience and the situation of their habitats are in most cases tenuous. There are those who are deeply concerned about this, but they command little in terms of the kind of resources it would take to address these habitat questions.

Interestingly, a question greatly of interest to Alaskans is largely answered in this book.   Alaskans have not figured out how to successfully co-exist with large predators, or even large ungulates, really. But after visiting the habitat of crocodiles in Australia, tigers and lions in India, bears in Romania, tigers in the Russian far east and more, Quammen finds that often locals in these places have reached successful short-term accommodation and habituation equilibrium with these dangerous populations. It’s possible, he found, and demonstrable. But that does not mean that it can continue indefinitely. And when equilibrium is upset, there are just not very many alternatives remaining.

Adding 4/10/16


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *