Response and responsibility: Humans as apex predators and ethical actors in a changing societal environment.
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Managing apex predators has become increasingly challenging as their roles in food webs evolve according to interactions with humans, changing societal influences, and expectations. Human engagement with these species is complex and ancient: they have been seen as pests, nuisances and threats; they have instilled fear, concern and even hatred; and they have demonstrably influenced human economic activity. They are also deeply embedded in the traditions and folklore of many societies, embodying virtues such as strength, intelligence and fearlessness. More recently, the role of apex predators has been reassessed, demonstrating pivotal functions in the shaping of trophic structures within complex ecosystems, suggesting the possibility of a reappraisal of the fundamental relationships between humans and these species. As contemporary considerations have begun to incorporate both ecological and philosophical perspectives, the advent of the Anthropocene has recast humanity as the preeminent apex predator, with global ecological implications. These various dimensions of the human-predator nexus present considerable philosophical, ethical, and practical challenges for conservation planners, wildlife managers and policymakers. Here we argue that humans are not only key participants in food webs but are also the only species with the ability to make ethical choices and decisions with profound consequences for other components of these complex networks. This position implies responsibility and stewardship toward other species. Alternative management approaches, such as compassionate conservation, reflect the changing perspectives currently underway within contemporary societies' interactions with other top predators and therefore need consideration.
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Wildlife and Habitat Management