We often talk about the “law of the jungle“, » a phrase that conjures up a violent image of each individual out for himself and in conflict with others. But this is not a true vision of life in the wild. The living world is no idyll, certainly, but cruelty and injustice play no part in it.
Living organisms are all engaged with one another in complex food chains. Virtually all these chains start with some form of plant life (plants, algae, phytoplankton) capable of manufacturing its own organic substances. These ecosystems function, therefore, as a result of solar energy, which is crucial to a plantís survival. Each link in the chain is food and then predator in turn. When one organism dies, it keeps another organism alive. Predation also plays a regulatory role that benefits the species by eliminating weak or sick individuals which serve as easy prey. The cycle continues until the organic matter becomes waste, or a cadaver, at which point it decomposes, through other links in the chain, into mineral elements that are reincorporated into plants once more.
There is still a great deal we do not know about the relationships between species, not all of which are related to food. Species can also depend upon one another for shelter, protection, movement from place to place, and reproduction.Plants need insects to convey their pollen from flower to flower while feeding on their nectar. Others rely on animals to scatter their seeds, either by swallowing and disseminating them in their excrement, or by transporting them on their coats. The clownfish shelters inside the sea anemone, having evolved a natural immunity to its stinging tentacles. Corals harbor inside their bodies a type of microscopic algae essential to their growth.
These complex relationships demonstrate that if we wish to safeguard the existence of any particular species, we can only do so within its natural habitat, since it is here that it fulfills its role relative to the other species present, and to humankind. A hippopotamus isolated in a zoo is no good to anyone. A hippopotamus in Lake Edward, in Africa, fertilizes the waters generously with its excrement, so benefiting the fish, which are present in large numbers for humans to catch.