In this question, the word ‘danger’ does not refer to the danger to which individuals of any species may be subjected. Danger in this case means the danger to which a whole species is liable. In other words, species may be in danger of becoming extinct, and disappearing for ever from the face of the planet. Of course, we can tell from the fossil record that hundreds of species of animals and plants have come and gone throughout the span of life on Earth. In the past, however, those species that have died out have done as a result of natural causes. The animals and plants that disappeared were those that were unable to adapt fast enough to changing conditions or were unable to compete with their rivals for the available food supplies. There are instances, however, such as that of the dinosaurs, in which it is not at all clear why they became extinct. Many ideas have been suggested, but none of them is wholly satisfactory.
For today’s wild life, there is another, more terrible threat to their existence man. Man is endangering the lives of many species of animals and plants which are unable to adapt to the pressures of man’s increasing numbers and his changes to the natural environment. On the other hand, there are those species that have certainly benefited from man’s activities. In Britain, for example, birds such as the black headed gull have increased in numbers quite dramatically in the last fifty years, adapting well to a semi urban environment and feeding on man’s waste. Even the fox has been able to survive by adapting to become an urban scavenger in many large cities. Unfortunately, the lack of suitable foods has led to the foxes becoming deformed so that individual probably spend a great deal of their lives in considerable pain.
But man is threatening wild life in many ways. Firstly by his spread further and further into the rural areas, man is reducing the areas in which wild life can live. This also includes the effects of widespread farming where forests and heaths come under the plough and many kilometers of hedges are removed. Secondly, man has hunted many animals to extinction. A good example of this is the destruction of the great auk during the last century or perhaps even more famous the death of the dodo. More recently the fate of many species of the giant sea mammals, whales, has been in the news, as their numbers fall to the more efficient whaler’s harpoon gun with its explosive harpoon. Pollution is also affecting the lives of many animals. Millions of sea birds die very unpleasant deaths as a result of their feathers becoming covered in sticky, black oil wast.
It is sometimes argued that if an animal or plant cannot survive man’s ravages, then this is just the course of evolution. Unfortunately, many beautiful and valuable species, on which man himself depends, may never be seen again.