Monday, October 1, 2012

100 most endangered–are they worth saving?

Last month, 8,000 scientists from the Zoological Society of London (photo from Craig Turner, Zoological Society of London) and the IUCN presented a paper at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea.  This paper listed the 100 most endangered species on Earth and discussed whether these species were worth saving.  In previous posts, we’ve discussed myths about endangered species, as well as why we should care about specific species that were spotlighted as endangered species of the week.  But in a time when conservation groups and charitable organizations try to justify species conservation based on whether the species are valuable to humans, the question of “why save species?” is one worth discussing.

I believe that each species has intrinsic value, regardless whether we can quantify its value via a cost/benefit analysis.  That said, not everyone agrees.  There is a more practical answer to the question, “why save species?”  The simple answer to this question is that nature is built like a spider web.  If we think of each species as a strand in the web, each time a strand (or species) is removed, the web becomes less effective.  Remove enough strands and the spider web will cease to function (like when you accidentally walk through a spider web, ruining it and your hair in one movement).  How many species can we afford to lose before the natural environment upon which we depend no longer functions?  As the famous biologist E.O. Wilson once said, “One planet, one experiment.” 

Source:  “The 100 most threatened species.  Are they priceless or worthless?”  IUCN website, accessed 10/1/2012.

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