Could predators be beneficial to our environment?

Predation is an ecological phenomenon that involves biological interaction of a hunting organism preying on its target, often described as the prey. However, an even more direct and easier definition is that a predator is a creature that hunts and kills other animals for food (Nature Wildlife). Predators work on the principle of Detect-Attack-Capture-Consume.

Predators employ various techniques and skills in order to catch their prey, some hunting in groups, others in solitary through ambush or even through poisoning their victims.

Some of the world’s deadliest predators make for a fascinating watch as they hunt, strike and ambush their prey squeezing out the life in them. But this is only so when watching at a safe distance or through the comfort of a camera lens, television set or binoculars.

The food chain and food web cycle work through these activities as a predator strikes prey, feeds on it and the remains decompose to feed other micro-organisms lower in the food chain and when broken down further, fertile soils are created conducive enough for the growing plants that herbivores (prey) readily live on. And the cycle therefore continues.

Predators abound in numbers and are of different species and are found in various but particular terrains depending on their hunting habits. The list is long from the lions, leopards, tarantula spiders, the great white shark, black mamba, crocodiles, piranhas, wolves, grizzly bears and the list goes on.

Lion in predatory action.Photo credit;Catersnews

Lion in predatory action.Photo credit;Catersnews

However, these are the most well-known predators, others are less recognized but do an equal job.

Consider the case of white pelicans which cooperate and form a semi-circle and by flapping their wings continuously, they drive fish to shallow water where they are easily captured.

It’s still a strategy used to acquire a meal through a predatory trap. It is however important to note that not all predators kill their prey and feed on them, some cause harm to their prey in a form that will eventually kill the victim or some simply lay a trap for their prey.

Some also chew and eat their prey in bits while others swallow their prey in full and digestion occurs over some days.

So we may wonder what, if at all, is the benefit of predators to the environment? Predators contribute greatly to biodiversity of communities of organisms by preventing dominance of a particular species or organism.

This maintains the equilibrium of populations, and prevents occurrences such as over-grazing and over-browsing of grassland savannas and woody shrubs by herbivores which are the prey.

To continuously thrive in their environments, predators and prey both have adaptation strategies such as camouflage to help blend into their environments.

Predation is always a constant calculation of energy costs and benefits. This is because an attack consumes a lot of a predator’s energy and therefore each attack is carefully considered by the animal and the most preferred attacks are those that have a higher chance of success, otherwise the hunt is deferred for a later but better time when the benefits of the attack will yield more energy than which will have been consumed during the hunt.

This mostly applies to predators that attack and chase down their prey. Due to this reason, some predators prefer to attack humans or domestic animals. Such predators adapt to such behavior possibly due to old age or disease that weakens them and therefore hinders them from chasing after their kill, leaving them to rely on easier targets.

An example of such an occurrence is of the Tsavo Man Eaters, two mane-less lions that attacked Indian workers who were in the Tsavo area building the railway bridge over the Tsavo River in Kenya.

The number of people killed by the lions remains unclear but several people were devoured before the lions were finally killed by a Briton named John Henry Patterson.

Specimens of these lions can be found in the Field Museum in Chicago, USA. Very recently, in Kenya and still in the Tsavo area, a game warden was attacked by a lion while guarding tents in preparation for the Presidential visit in the area to oversee progress of the Standard Gauge Railway that is currently underway.

Could this be the return of the ‘Man-Eaters’?