What we owe Earth's other predators

Humans must be good stewards of Earth's creatures -- even of those that once vied with humans for dominance.

Apex predators such as lions, bears, and wolves sit atop the food chain. Until Homo sapiens came along, nothing could beat these powerful animals. Mano a mano, nothing still beats them. But with technology and teamwork, humans pushed apex predators to the fringes of the planet. They are now mostly seen from a safe distance – in zoos, wildlife preserves, and on National Geographic specials. Sometimes, though, a chance encounter occurs: A tiger mauls a farmer in northern India; a hiker startles a grizzly in Yellowstone. Trauma ensues.

Humans don’t tolerate animal attacks. Yet more people are killed by dogs every year in the United States than by free-range predators such as bears and wolves. While a dangerous dog might be destroyed, dogs themselves are flourishing. Between 70 million and 80 million of them live in American homes. They enjoy our largess, share our sofas, and rarely contribute to the bottom line. If an otherwise friendly dog snarls, we try not to provoke it again.

That should be how we treat free-range predators. They are more mysterious and potentially more aggressive than Canis familiaris, but a run-in with one is vastly more rare and shouldn’t lead to a death sentence. In a Monitor cover story, Todd Wilkinson, who has chronicled the return of wolves to the American West, reports on the difficult issues surrounding the return of grizzly bears. And Thomas D. Mangelsen’s stunning photos capture these magnificent creatures in the wild. (Click here to read and view.)

A grizzly can bump the scales at 500 to 600 pounds and be up to 10 feet tall. Little wonder that humans long feared them, fought them, reduced their numbers, and banished the remainder as the frontier expanded. In recent years, though, conservation efforts have brought these animals back from the verge of extinction. As their population has recovered and their range has extended, debate has stirred over whether to take them off the endangered species list. The success of species recovery could open the door to their being hunted again.

Grizzlies feed on elk, deer, and other species as well as the seeds from whitebark pine trees, cutthroat trout, and the army cutworm moth – not exactly human delicacies – and would rather give humans wide berth. Still, as bear populations increase, the possibility of conflict grows. Rare as a clash is, news of one spreads fast. Ranchers count their livestock and load their rifles. Park rangers and guides become more vigilant. Hiking and camping no longer seem like carefree vacation options, even though visitors are attracted to the wilderness in the first place because they want to get closer to nature.

Coexistence isn’t easy among humans, as each day’s news makes clear. It isn’t easy between humans and other species either, especially those that are big, powerful, and once were rivals for animal-kingdom dominance. But humans won that war. That achievement has brought with it responsibility for the well-being of Earth’s other creatures – if for no other reason than that it would be lonely at the apex without them.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

QR Code to What we owe Earth's other predators
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today