The World's Greatest Apex Predators

<p><a href="" target="_blank">flickr | AJ Cann</a></p>
<p><a href="" target="_blank">flickr | AJ Cann</a></p>

The food chain is a weird, wonderful and extremely complex thing. At the bottom, creatures that represent the very building blocks of life on our planet and at the top, the pinnacle of evolution which has created the ultimate survivors. These Apex Predators are the best of the lot.

But what is an apex predator? Put simply, it's an animal that has no natural predators of its own and nothing kills it for food. They are the emperors of their ecosystem.

It's debateable if we even deserve a place on this list. As humans, we've mastered the world with our brain power but that doesn't mean we're immune to falling foul of many species' hungry mouths. In addition, we fall way short of the physical abilities of most of these guys so humans have been left off this list. Here you'll find some apex predators from many different environments giving just a flavour of the ferocity of the natural world.

Komodo dragon – Komodo Island, Indonesia

I'm starting off with a slightly cheeky selection; this is because the Komodo dragon is unique to one island in the Pacific and so it has never come into contact with any other big predators other than us. Still, it's awesome and still an apex predator so here it goes. These are the largest species of lizard on earth and others are not really close. Some other species aren't far off in length, but in bulk the Komodo is head and shoulders bigger. Their hunting methods vary from using sheer weight, power and claws to tear prey limb from limb, to taking one small bite of a victim and letting the toxic bacteria in their mouth infect the wound which then slowly kills the animal over days or weeks. How brutal is that? They can also run at 20mph and are quite hostile towards humans. And they swim. And they have basically got armour plated skin. And they have six inch claws. And they grow to three metres long. The only things they don't seem to do are flying or breathe fire, so that's something. If you want to visit Indonesia, maybe take in the Island of Komodo, have a glance through Frontier's Indoensia Projects.

flickr | Adhi Rachdian

African Lion – Africa, India and the Middle East

Although its Kingdom is much reduced, the African Lion is still fairly wide spread. Today it is exclusively found in sub-Saharan Africa and, in very small numbers, India. Evidence suggests the Lion has been common place across the entire African continent, as well as throughout the Middle East all the way to India and even in Mediterranean Europe. No wonder this dude is King of the Jungle. The dominant force on the African savannah, Lions will have a go at pretty much anything, using their size, strength and surprising speed to bring down anything from small deer to small elephants. Varying in size hugely, some males have been estimated at growing nearly nine feet long, while the average is nearer six. Add their ferocious bite, claws and pride teamwork to the mix and they truly earn their almost mythical status as an Apex Predator. Follow the link for more information on Frontier Lion Conservation Projects.

flickr | Ray Morris

Polar Bear – Arctic

The world's biggest bear inhabits the Arctic Circle and feeds mostly on seals and scraps that it can pick up. Highly specialised to the cold conditions, Polar Bear males can grow to 700kg and 3m tall. Add that sheer size to their claws, teeth and speed (both on land and swimming) and you have the recipe to a master of its habitat. The reputation is such with this beast that Inuit people from North America through Scandinavia and onto northern and eastern Russia all have the Polar Bear as part of their cultural psyche. They knew that if they got too close or came between a mother and cubs that was your lot. Simple. Unfortunately, due to climate change and the disruption to the bear's habitat, their numbers are falling and their very existence is threatened.

flickr | Anita Ritenour

Saltwater Crocodile – Southern Asia and Northern Australia

The mighty saltwater crocodile is one of the most dangerous animals to humans on earth as their worldwide body count every year is pushing a thousand. At twenty feet long, with seventy to eighty teeth and weighing a whopping one thousand kilograms, 'Saltie' is far and away the world's biggest reptile. There are very few things that aren't on this guy's menu and are happy to hunt, to scavenge and even resort to cannibalism to get a good meal. Masters of stealth and patience, these crocs can go for months without food if necessary. As if all that wasn't scary enough, their skin is so tough that stories from indigenous peoples report crocs that couldn't be killed by spears and arrows. They're just as fast in short bursts on land as they are in the water so no outrunning one. Plus, they just look really damn scary. Such is their reputation, that the Australian government's policy for dealing with them is to not go anywhere near them in the first place. There's no co-habitation here folks. If you wanted to explore some Australia outback, carefully avoiding crocs along the way, check out these Australia Projects.

flickr | Ib Aarmo

Orca – Oceans, literally all oceans.

Despite being dubbed the 'Killer Whale', Orcas are actually the biggest member of the dolphin family. Considered by science as the world's premier apex predator, Orcas combine amazing physical traits of speed, agility, stamina, size and strength with brilliant problem solving skills, intuition, team work, communication and the ability to improvise. Anything that swims or tries to swim is fair game to a Killer Whale and that's proven by their dominance of every single ocean on our planet. Such is their diversity and success, that Killer Whale have been known to think up new methods of hunting from family to family. These guys have been known to out whit the scientists who are studying them, as well as hunt animals 5 times their size. What more evidence do you need? If you want to get up close and personal with Orcas, follow the link for Frontier Orca Projects.

flickr | Ray Morris

Chances are you expected to see the likes of the Great White Shark on here, or even Wolves or Eagles, but there had to be a cut-off point somewhere, sorry. Still, there's more than enough going on here to give some of us sleepless nights expecting a huge croc to attack from the wardrobe. It happened to Captain Hook after all.

It's also still appropriate to leave us humans off the list, seeing as we kill just as many animals for sport or as a by-product of our other dealings, as we do for actual food. We don't really 'hunt' anymore, as most of our meat is farmed and killed for us. No, this is just paying homage to the animals that have best earned and still deserve the name of an Apex Predator.

By Guy Bezant – Online Journalism Intern Frontier runs conservation, development, teaching and adventure travel projects in over 50 countries worldwide - so join us and explore the world!

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