The current extinction crisis is caused primarily by human impacts upon wild populations. Large carnivores are especially sensitive to human activity; because their requirements often conflict with those of local people, predators have been actively persecuted in most regions of the world. In this paper, the impact of people upon predators is analysed by relating local carnivore extinctions to past and projected human population densities. There are strong associations between high human density and the loss of carnivore populations from a region. Interspecific variation in ability to survive at high human densities probably reflects species' ability to adapt to human-modified habitats. However, regional and temporal variation in individual species' sensitivity to human density is more likely to reflect the activities of local people than the phenotypes of local carnivores. Local culture, government policy and international trade all influence human attitudes to predators and, therefore, the impact of people upon carnivore populations. The importance of these factors may mean that extinction risks for carnivores will continue to increase, even though human population growth is projected to deccelerate during the new millennium. This points to an urgent need for techniques to resolve conflicts between people and predators at either the local or landscape level.