Over the history of our species our population has been increasing. As our population increases so too does the demand for resources. Throughout history our species has developed tools and technology to feed this demand. However human tool use has ultimately led to the endangerment and even extinction of many species. Species such as the steller sea cow, passenger pigeon and even the dodo became extinct due to human over-exploitation. New research is finding that other primate species using tool-assisted foraging may be pushing their prey populations to extinction. Some say that primates are entering the ‘stone age’.
Firstly, research has shown that Long-tailed macaques in a national park in Thailand have figured out how to use rocks as tools to crack open snails and oysters. The researchers looked at two different islands. One of the islands had a small population of monkeys using large rocks to break open big shellfish. On the other island, with a more densely populated monkey colony they use smaller stones on smaller shellfish.
This study lead to researches suspecting that the size difference in prey and rocks used is a result of monkeys on the overpopulated island already haven eaten all the largest prey items to local extinction. The monkeys are eating over 1/10 of the islands shellfish population in a year. This over-harvesting of the prey population is going to lead to either population declines in the monkeys or a diet change to a more abundant prey.
Furthermore, on another continent chimpanzees in different regions of Africa are showing destructive feeding behaviour. Chimps in Uganda are hunting to ensure maximum benefit without regard for the consequences for the prey population. The apes have killed and eaten so many red colobus monkeys, the population of the prey has fallen by 89%. The population of chimps is so successful that on hunts, the colobus monkeys have no chance of escape and 3 are killed on an average hunt.
Much like their jungle counterparts, savannah chimps (living on the edge of the jungle) are also hunting a certain prey species to the brink. The difference here is that the chimps have started taking tree branches, sharpening them with their teeth, and using them as spears. The chimps are using spears to hunt bush babies out of their nests. This advancement in tool use is only going to increase the hunting success, adding more pressure onto the prey population.
The standard system for predator prey populations goes like so: if the predator population gets too large then the prey can’t support it and may die off. This leads to the predator population also dying off. This then allows the prey population to increase and so again the predator population. This is the general cycle of events.
However, as is the case a lot in science, the standard is not always the case. Because the chimps and the monkeys do not solely depend on that single prey species (they can get their nutrients and survive from other prey) the predator population can grow even if the prey populations (colobus monkeys and seashells) rapidly decrease.
This trend in the primate research is not just in the wild primates, but is evidently clear in humans. Humans rapidly deplete a certain resource until it is gone and then simply move onto the next one. The problem, not just for the primates but also us humans, is that eventually we will run out of resources and realise we have destroyed everything.
Perhaps we should learn from these studies and prove that we are more evolutionary advanced and forward thinking than our primate counterparts. The way humans are eating (and in truth living, as most aspects of our life are unsustainable) is extremely unsustainable and is not only killing many of our own species but our planet.
The diet of the developed world is one of gluttony and luxury. We feast on animal products without looking at the consequences, much like the chimps feasting on monkeys until they die out, we are in trouble of our resources becoming depleted.
The livestock industry is frankly unsustainable. It causes ridiculous amount of deforestation with 40% of Central American rainforest having already been cleared for cattle. The industry has a huge water footprint, a standard American diet requires 4,200 gallons a day of water (compared to a vegan diet requiring 300 gallons). The industry causes crazy amounts of waste that our polluting our rivers and causing huge ocean dead zones.
Furthermore, the livestock industry is the biggest contributor towards global climate change due to its deforestation but also the amount of methane being pumped out of cattle’s arse. The fact is, as our population increases the livestock industry is struggling to keep up. In the US 56 million acres of land are dedicated to hay production for livestock, only 4 million acres are used to grow food for humans, and yet there is global mass famine.
Just like in the relationship model above our population is increasing so much that our prey (resources) are now becoming depleted. Just like in the model this leads to starvation and in the wild populations often leads to disease. This is a worry that is now been seen in humans. The rapid use of antibiotics for growth-promotion purposes in our livestock has led to the rapid rise of antibiotic-resistant super-bugs that now threaten human populations. According to a report two million Americans become infected with antibiotic-resistant bacteria each year, and at least 23,000 of them die from it.
We are struggling to feed our growing population. This has led to the industry pumping our livestock full of antibiotics to reduce livestock mortality. However, this is leading to bacteria fighting back. We are facing a situation where we could have major super-bugs that cannot be cured through our existing antibiotics.
Much like the primates looked at here, humans are driving resources into the ground. By contrast, humans understand that we can drive a species or resource to extinction. Unlike the chimps, we really can think about long-term future. Unfortunately, it seems we are too prone to devalue it and not care about it. We are eating our way to oblivion. We must start to think about what we consume not only as a species but as an individual.