Sightings of great white sharks off the coast of Western Australia have sparked a fierce debate by local politicians and communities alike and a possible cull has been announced. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know how many great whites are left or that they are an endangered species, they represent a clear and present danger to man. We all know that sharks are man-eaters and scores of people lose their lives to jaws every year. So when the same local communities started protesting against any proposed cull, fishermen and politicians who were relying on the public safety tagline to get their proposals through were forced to think again. Then, there were the actual figures.
So let’s start there shall we. Of the 360 or so species, only three are known to attack and occasionally kill people, the great white, the tiger and the bull shark. Other species such as oceanic white tips and so forth can be opportunistic man-munchers, but very rarely do so and therefore we can generally forget them. Worldwide, the average number of human deaths attributed to shark attack per year is six. That’s it, six. In 2012, CITES scientists writing in the journal for Marine Policy estimated the number of sharks killed by humans for purposes ranging from food to medicine to simple by-catch was a staggering 97 million. Those kinds of odds are not in Jaws’ favour.
Hunters and politicians in the United States are proposing the removal of the grey wolf from the endangered species list. In Ohio and Wisconsin, hunting and culling is already being sanctioned or considered to ‘protect’ deer herds and public safety. Again though, the figures don’t quite add up. Wisconsin for instance has a population of approximately 630 wolves, who might kill 20 or so deer a year. This equates to 13,000 deer a year being consumed by Wisconsin wolves per annum, presuming they eat nothing but venison. In 2012, Wisconsin hunters bagged themselves a total of 243,779 Bambi. A further 40,000 were killed by cars. For the last few years, the hunting records for deer in Wisconsin have grown on average by 7% per annum. Without a doubt, a serious impact is being made on the deer population in Wisconsin by a cold and cunning killer, but it isn’t the grey wolf. Again, scientists declare that the biggest factors effecting deer populations are hunting, road-kill and winter. They almost suggest at times that predators and prey have some kind of symbiotic relationship, that their success or failure is somehow linked, but this of course must be simple science fiction.
So what about the threat to livestock and people from wolves? On average, in the U.S, 60-70 livestock complaints are made each year and approximately 100 wolves a year are dispatched by the government in response. In the whole of the U.S, Europe and Russia, wolf attacks on people average one every six years. In Asia, things are a little different and wolves take on average 250 people a year, but figures are being reduced. It’s hard to estimate the number of wolves killed globally each year, but in the U.S alone, the unstable population of 17,000 animals is reduced by anything between 1,397 and 2,000 animals alone. How long a population of apex predators can stand losing between 8 and 9% of their numbers annually remains to be seen.
Bears fare little better. Stable populations of black bear and more fragile populations of brown bear in U.S National Parks are often being moved due to public safety concerns, usually brought about by people feeding the animals or approaching them to photograph, habituating the bears to human presence as they do so. Again, there is a complete reluctance on our own part to take responsibility for our own actions. Bears in the U.S kill approximately 1-2 people a year. Globally, this grows to about 6 humans getting taken down by polar, grizzly or other Ursus family members per annum. The U.S responds with approximately 50,000 bears killed per year and a likely 100,000 bears killed globally either also by hunting or through poaching, bear baiting and the black-market medicine trade.
Clearly, a great and powerful, self-serving predator is out there and putting the lives of millions of animals at risk without apparent refrain or reason. Unfortunately though, it turns out to be us.
Hunting is a $21 billion dollar industry in the U.S alone. Threats to livestock have to be taken seriously not because of the huge numbers of animals being lost, but because farmers and their associated unions have huge sway on votes and to a smaller extent, public opinion. But the point is, this is simple corruption. A minority of people are influencing the demise and destruction of the natural world as we watch from the sidelines in exchange for wealth and power. Now, we have a choice. We can either continue to swallow the soundbites we are given about our wildlife and it’s so called management, or we can question and investigate for ourselves the facts, which seems the only option when we are turning to politicians, farmers, hunters and politicians to make our decisions for us whilst expecting them to never serve their own interests whilst doing so.
Otherwise, what happens is this. A whaling body set up and funded by nations that hunt whales will rarely if ever, take action to stop whaling and may even seem sympathetic to nations that continue to do so. Fish and game departments will lift hunting restrictions in 27 states, seeing immediate declines in black bear and grey wolf and the possible extinction of the puma in the eastern states entirely. Closer to home, a government may spend millions of pounds killing just over a 1,000 badgers to reassure farmers, fail to enforce hunting laws and restrictions because it is something they sympathise with or openly bribe councils to allow fracking within their districts. After all, it’s not like we’re going to say anything, is it?