A new study claims that it is normal for large predators such as alligators and mountain lions to appear in unexpected places.
Alligators have been spotted on beaches, mountain lions have been found roaming away from mountains, and killer whales have been swimming in rivers. According to new research, people might have to get used to surprising sightings such as these.
Large Predators Showing Up In Surprising Places
In a new study that was published in the Current Biology journal, researchers acknowledged an increase in the appearance of large predators in surprising places. They attributed the incidents to the recovery of the populations of these animals due to wildlife conservation efforts.
However, these predators are not expanding their territories and venturing into new locations to search for food. The paper, led by researchers from Duke University, suggests that these animals in unexpected places are caused by their attempt to return to ecosystems where they used to live and hunt before humans took over.
"It's the old norm, the way it used to be before we pushed these species onto their last legs in hard-to-reach refuges. Now, they are returning," said Brian Silliman, a marine conservation biology professor at the Nicholas School of the Environment in Duke University.
The researchers synthesized data from scientific studies and government reports and found that alligators, mountain lions, river otters, sea otters, gray wolfs, gray whales, bald eagles, and orangutans, among other species considered as large predators, could possibly be as abundant or even more abundant within "novel" habitats compared to traditional locations.
What Does The Return Of Predators Mean?
The return of predators, according to the researchers, is good for both the animals and humans.
One example that the study mentioned were the return of sea otters in estuarine seagrass beds. They help protect the beds from being filled with algae by eating the Dungeness crabs, which may eat too much of the sea slugs that graze on the algae.
According to Silliman, it would require tens of millions of dollars to reconstruct upstream watersheds that have proper nutrient buffers to achieve the same effect that sea otters have on the beds at no cost.
In addition, the study highlighted the adaptability of the species enjoying the wildlife conservation effects. For example, 90 percent of the diet of alligators who have moved to a saltwater habitat are made up of marine species, showing unanticipated adaptability. This also opens up exciting new opportunities for wildlife conservation, stressed Silliman, as further population recovery might show where else animals can live beyond their traditional habitats.