‘Planet Earth: Extreme Predators’

And lastly for the sea, it’s the Orca or Killer Whale. They’re found all round the world, in a wide range of depths and temperatures of the oceans. They eat a very wide range of prey from dolphins to sea birds to fish. Different groups of Orcas tend to have different cultures and specialize on different types of prey. But again, they’re very cooperative, very intelligent hunters. They hunt all together in a pack; they do it both very collaboratively which makes them very deadly. They’re also very intelligent, with many ways of capturing their prey, from running onto beaches to catch sea-lions to holding captured sharks upside down so that the sharks can’t injure them.

In your experience, which predator is the most misunderstood and is viewed with the most misconceptions?
Dr. Bennett: I’d put Hyenas at the top of that list. Hyenas are seen as cowardly scavengers and associated with witches and evil. They’re held in contempt everywhere, from local people across Africa and India right through to the Walt Disney movies. Yet, they’re actually intelligent, cooperative and social. They themselves kill up to about 90 percent of their prey, so they’re not even largely scavengers. They’re largely predators.

Which predator would you say is at most risk for extinction in this point in time and why?
Dr. Bennett: Many species are at risk. One that I would put very high on my list is the Ethiopian Wolf. There are probably less than 400 of them left in the world. They only live in Ethiopia on high mountains above the tree line. They are really susceptible to agriculture encroaching on their land. In addition to loss of habitat, that also comes with the risk for disease from canine distemper and rabies transmitted by local dogs. There are so few of them left and a serious disease outbreaks could wipe them out.

Have you ever come cross a predator that has consumed so much of your interest that it led to a change in your field research?
Dr. Bennett: My field research was on primates, not predators. But for a primate that changed my research, it would be the Proboscis Monkey. The first time I ever saw them in the wild, I was just blown away by how extraordinary they were, so I then went back after my PhD to study them for several years. In terms of a predator, this is not my own research, but because I was living in Sarawak, a predator that fascinated me was the Bornean Bay Cat. It’s a largely unknown cat, and for many years it was only known from a couple of museum specimens. Researchers discovered that it was probably reasonably widespread in Borneo, it’s just that it’s very shy, very elusive, so people rarely see it, and little is known about it.

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