This is something that I have been thinking about for years, and writing last week's post, about Cecil, sort of reminded me of it. In light of all of that happened with him, I hope no one takes this the wrong way. I have no scientific basis for this theory, it's simply a thought I had that has stuck with me over the years. I only mention it here because I often still find myself wondering about it.
Have you noticed that it seems that the majority of species that are threatened, or engangered, or that have increasingly low populations tend to be carnivores? Obviously they are not the only ones, but there seem to be very few carnivores who aren't, in some way, at risk. Now, obviously, a very large part of this is caused by humans. We see carnivores as threats, either to ourselves or to animals that we raise for food. Humans simply cannot stand the idea that they may not be the most dangerous species around, and therefore feel the need to kill any other species they perceive as competition.
However, I have often wondered if there is another reason why the carnivore populations seem to be declining so much. I think that perhaps nature is gradually moving away from the need for animals who depend upon the flesh of other animals for survival. When you think about it, it's really not a necessary thing for animals to kill one another at all. Nature has a way of keeping things in balance without this violence. Everyone thinks that (as it is often used to justify hunting) if no one kills the herbivorous animals they will become overpopulated and end up dying from starvation. This is true to some extent, but it would only take a few generations for them to adjust. Animals who are often prey for other animals, or humans, procreate in excess to compensate for the number of them that are killed. If they were no longer being killed, they would soon start producing fewer offspring.
Furthermore, the food chain becomes less and less stable closer to the top. At the bottom, where the herbivores are,there are lots of options. If something happens that one plant species is no longer available, there are about a thousand others to choose from (at least for most animals). Further up though, there are fewer options. If, for some reason, a carnivore is unable to attain the animal he normally depends upon for food, he is in a lot of trouble. The entire system would be much more sustainable if no animals had to depend on other animals for food. As much as our planet has been changing in recent years (albeit due almost entirely to humans, and our irresponsibilty) I'm afraid that it will soon become necessary for all beings to be more flexible with their diets.
I'm also starting to suspect that there may be some sort of transition happening in the mentality of some predator animals. I have seen quite a lot of stories in recent years about animals, usually (but not always) domesticated ones, befriending other animals who would normally be considered food for them. There have even been instances of carnivorous animals raising orphaned herbivores. I can tell you from experience that my cat (one of them, though not the other) has always shown almost no interest whatsoever in hunting. I have never known him to kill even so much as a bug, though he does enjoy watching them sometimes. And I have seen many other stories of other people's cats who seem to be equally nonviolent.
I just can't help but wonder if the dwindling number of carnivores in the wild, and the apparent trend of normally predatory animals losing interest in killing, might be nature's way of moving toward a more peaceful existence. Whether it is or not, the best thing that we can do is to stop interfering (by this I mean killing animals and destroying the environment) and allow nature to sort things out as it sees fit. The less damage we cause, the easier it will be for other species, and the planet as a whole, to make the best of all that we have already done to disrupt the system.