In today’s vernacular, the word “survivor” can connote many things: a popular T.V. show, someone who passed a challenging academic course, a hit song by an American R&B group and more importantly, an individual who has fought a battle against a life threatening disease.
In the natural world, however, survival is an everyday pursuit.
Thirty years ago, the wild wolf population in the U.S. was less than 300. Today, the population has grown from several hundred to over 4,000. Various species of wolves now live across the continent, and the Great Lakes’ wolf may soon be removed from the Endangered Species Act due to its population rise. Human understanding and valuing of wild ecosystems and the animals that live in them has increased, resulting in serious efforts to reintroduce, support and bolster these wild populations.
The peregrine falcon story begins in the early 1970’s when the species was listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Conservation Act of 1969 and again at the passing of the Act in 1973. Told through named birds in various urban habitats, the reintroduction of more than 6,000 birds was encouraged by the EPA’s banning of DDT, a type of pesticide, in 1972. Today, this bird of prey remains federally protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and its survival has marked the most dramatic success of the Endangered Species Act since its inception.
But why should we as humans care about wolves or falcons? These animals’ only focus is to kill, right? Why do they matter? Too often these types of predatory species can be perceived as dangerous or harmful to the human population and are not valued as essential elements to our ecosystem. However, this is not the case. Wolves keep in check other large mammals whose populations can increase to unhealthy levels. For example, in Yellowstone National Park the absence of wolves allowed the moose population to balloon to five times over normal levels, and woody vegetation areas were destroyed by these large land animals. As vegetation areas declined, a set of bird species was lost in the parklands. Additionally, scavenger species thrive when wolves are present to hunt. Leftovers of wolf kill provide food to a host of other birds, mammals and insect species including 445 species of beetle. Falcons keep small birds of prey species in check and protect from overpopulation of introduced, non-native species. In addition, trained falconry birds are used at man-made facilities such as airports to perform necessary work including scaring off ducks and geese from runways.
How can you help these species continue to survive and avoid repeating history? Visit the Arboretum’s newest exhibit, Wild Survival, to find out more about the lives of wolves and falcons in North America and their struggle to survive, including the cultural and economic pressures that continue to shape their existence. On display January 23 – May 8, 2016 inside the Baker Exhibit Center, this exhibit provides a compelling, continental perspective on wolves and falcons today in addition to other large mammals that experienced overhunting challenges in the past.
Exhibit components that comprise Wild Survival are provided by the Bell Museum of Natural History at the University of Minnesota. Some additional mounts are on loan from the Museum of York County, Rock Hill, S.C. Exhibit support for Wild Survival is provided in part by Smoky Mountain Living magazine, Gasperson Moving & Storage and the Museum of York County.
Ecology photo credit: PatternsinNature.org