Pray for the Predators

The financial cost of protecting endangered species is enormous. Since 1985, the World Wildlife Fund, a charity largely funded by public donations, has invested over $1 billion in endangered species. In 2007, U.S. federal and state spending on wildlife protection was around $1.65 billion. What’s more, wildlife protection campaigns frequently feature predator species, such as sharks, tigers, wolves, and lions, in their headlines even though these animals pose a direct threat to human lives and incomes. So why protect them when they are so costly?

Fishermen, divers, and surfers might indeed question the need to protect sharks. After all, in 2008 the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) reported that there were nearly sixty cases of attacks on humans. However, sharks do far more than intimidate swimmers. As apex predators-species at the top of the food chain-they perform a key role in maintaining the fragile balance of the ocean ecosystems. For instance, coral reefs with lots of sharks have greater numbers of and a better variety of other fish species, particularly those that eat coral-killing algae. Also, where shark numbers have been severely reduced, the negative effects on ocean ecosystems are apparent. For example, the number of large sharks off the east coast of the United States has declined by more than 50 per cent and, as a result, there are now ten times as many cownose rays. These rays eat shellfish, such as scallops and clams, which has severely damaged the U.S. scallop industry. The fishing industry has also been affected; the drop in shellfish has led to a decline in water quality, which leaves coastal zones struggling to support large numbers of young fish.

On land, the image of apex predators as vicious killers is also hard to ignore. Their apparently aggressive behaviour means that they are seldom looked upon with much affection, especially in areas where life for local people is already very difficult. Take Tanzania for instance, where more than 300 people have been killed by lions since 1990. However, the relationship between these predators and land-based ecosystems has been found to be just as connected as sharks are to ocean environments. Justin Brashares, a researcher at the University of California, has found that the falling number of lions in sub-Saharan Africa is the most likely cause of the sudden increase in baboons. The growing baboon population is more than just a nuisance. The baboon presence in the area now threatens crop production on an unprecedented scale.

It’s even more difficult to convince people of the value of apex predators when conservation projects might result in these animals becoming more of a menace. In forest conservation areas in Nepal for example, tiger attacks have jumped to around seven per year. Studies showing that the effects of not protecting apex predators are worse than the effects of protecting them are not limited to far-off Indian jungles or Africa grasslands. In the United States, the reintroduction of wolves was fiercely criticized by farmers at the time it was first authorized. However, the growing population has controlled elk numbers, which, in turn, has led to tree regeneration. Other related effects include an increased variety of species, reduced erosion, and improved forest fire recovery rates. Coincidentally, wolves also attack coyotes, which are responsible for twenty-two times more livestock deaths than wolves and cost farmers and ranchers $ 7 million a year.

Although apex predators may be costly in terms of lives and money, the overall returns on the conservation investment appear to outweigh individual losses. So if ever you are tempted to try soup made from shark fins, or if you see a TV program showing the death of a big cat from poaching, consider the catastrophic effect these activities have up and down the food chain from the smallest organisms at the bottom, to the number one predator at the top: us.

an animal that hunts, kills and eats other animals:
lions, wolves and other predators

a set of animals or plants in which the members have similar characteristics to each other and can breed with each other:
Over a hundred species of insect are found in this area.

a planned group of especially political, business or military activities which are intended to achieve a particular aim:
The protests were part of their campaign against the proposed building development in the area.

plural of wolf

plural of wife

plural of mouse

a line of words printed in large letters as the title of a story in a newspaper, or the main points of the news that are broadcast on television or radio:
The news of his death was splashed in headlines across all the newspapers.
the eight o'clock headlines

to cause something, especially a problem or difficulty:
Nuclear weapons pose a threat to everyone.

various or several

to frighten or threaten someone, usually in order to persuade them to do something that you want them to do:
They were intimidated into accepting a pay cut by the threat of losing their jobs.

the highest point or top of a shape or object:
the apex of a triangle/pyramid
FIGURATIVE He reached the apex of (= the most successful part of) his career during that period.

easily damaged, broken or harmed:
The assassination could do serious damage to the fragile peace agreement that was signed last month.
I felt rather fragile (= weak) for a few days after the operation.

a very large area of sea; used in the name of each of the world's five main areas of sea:
the Atlantic/Pacific/Indian/Arctic/Antarctic Ocean

coral reef
a bank of coral, the top of which can sometimes be seen just above the sea

very simple, usually small plants that grow in or near water and do not have ordinary leaves or roots

to gradually become less, worse, or lower:
His interest in the project declined after his wife died.

a large flat sea fish with a long narrow tail

sea creatures that live in shells and are eaten as food, or one of these creatures

describes people or actions that show an intention or desire to hurt someone or something very badly:
The police said that this was one of the most vicious attacks they'd ever seen.

behaving in an angry and violent way towards another person:
Men tend to be more aggressive than women.

almost never:
Now that we have a baby, we seldom get the chance to go to the cinema.

a feeling of liking for a person or place:
He had a deep affection for his aunt.
She felt no affection for the child.

something or someone that annoys you or causes trouble for you:
I've forgotten my umbrella - what a nuisance!
Local residents claimed that the noise was causing a public nuisance.

(the total amount gathered of) a plant such as a grain, fruit or vegetable grown in large amounts:
The main crops grown for export are coffee and rice.

never having happened or existed in the past:
This century has witnessed environmental destruction on an unprecedented scale.

dangerous quality that makes you think someone is going to do something bad:
He spoke with a hint of menace.

a tropical forest in which trees and plants grow very closely together:
The Yanomami people live in the South American jungle.

a large area of land covered with trees and plants, usually larger than a wood, or the trees and plants themselves:
The children got lost in the forest.

describes a place that is a great distance away

a usually hot, liquid food made from vegetables, meat or fish:
Would you like a bowl of soup?

a thin vertical part sticking out of the body of especially a fish or an aircraft which helps balance and movement:
The aircraft has a long tail fin.

to catch and kill animals without permission on someone else's land:
The farmer claimed that he shot the men because they were poaching on his land.

a bad situation:
The emigration of scientists is a catastrophe for the country.

Direct link to the Game


Direct link to Word Families

 Reference: Focus on Vocabulary
FoV 01 - C07U26

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