Nature is amazing. But it isn't always kind. Every ecosystem has a food chain, with almost every organism being eaten by something larger, until we reach the top and find the apex predator. It might be easy to root against a predator in a nature documentary, hoping that gazelle narrowly escapes the lion's clutches.
But what would happen if the predators simply weren't there at all?
It might seem like the world would suddenly be a happy place full of sunshine and rainbows once the mean old predators—and their sharp, scary fangs—are gone.
The reality is much different. Though it might not seem nice for wolves to eat elk, allowing elk populations to grow unchecked could have catastrophic consequences. Taking an apex predator out of an ecosystem has ripple effects down to the plant life, which can also lead to erosion, landslides, or other devastating events that affect the health of the land itself.
It might seem like removing an apex predator from an ecosystem is a ridiculous scenario, but it's not that far-fetched. Across the board, numbers of apex predators are dwindling because of habitat destruction, humans overhunting their prey, climate change, and perhaps the most upsetting reason: trophy hunting.
Because apex predators are ferocious animals, some humans take great delight in hunting them for sport. A taxidermist will preserve the animal looking fierce, and the hunter can forever brag to their friends about how Man triumphed over Beast.
Scientists aren't just guessing what happens when apex predators are removed from an ecosystem; we've seen it happen. As DNews explains, wolves in Yellowstone National Park were nearly driven to extinction around 80 years ago, and even after their populations have returned, the ecosystem has not fully recovered.
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