“Saving” species for our own satisfaction

Hazel Gordon

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Extinction is a natural process, the most recent mass extinction was of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. What’s not natural is the increasing  rate at which species are becoming endangered, and it’s all due to human activity. 1,000 and 10,000 higher than the natural extinction rate, i.e. the rate of extinction that would occur if humans were not around.  Climate change is contributing to global warming which in turn is devastating much of the earth’s ecosystems, plants and the animals who live there.

The Amazon Rainforest - Nguyen Ngoc Chinh (Flickr)
The Amazon Rainforest is home to 16,000 different types of flora, photo by Nguyen Ngoc Chinh (Flickr)

There are many organisations worldwide such as Wildlife Conservation Society and World Society for the Protection of Animals who’s goal is to protect our wildlife, but is this goal achievable? A  study from the American Association for the Advancement Science revealed that it would cost over $76 billion every year to protect endangered species and preserve their habitat. Compare that to the cost of ending world hunger, which is a mere $30 billion per year.

Preserving nature, what’s in it for us?

The planet’s wildlife is dying because of how badly human’s have abused their ecosystems. Perhaps we all feel bad that orangutans, pandas, and polar bears are all under threat because of deforestation and rising sea levels. it’s upsetting that these cute and majestic animals, among many others such as beautiful rain-forests are being punished for our exploitation of the earth, so maybe that is why we want to correct some of our damage. If this is the argument it means that what we actually care about doing is saving what is aesthetically pleasing to us, which is a very savage method of prioritising our good deed.

So what does this mean for the unfortunate looking creatures of the world? There is very little awareness about endangered “ugly” animals. Who decided that the lowland gorilla was more important than the proboscis monkey? – both breeds are equally endangered but one gets a lot more awareness than the other.

Proboscis Monkey, photo by Tom Frohnhofer (Flickr)
The Proboscis Monkey is endangered but there is a lack of interest in saving “ugly” species, photo by Tom Frohnhofer (Flickr)

Most organisations will focus on saving animals such as bears when looking for donations, for example because they are the cute animals that the public care about saving. The mascot for World Wildlife Fund for Nature is a giant panda and their adverts usually feature tigers.

Giant Panda, photo by Chi King (Flickr)
Giant Panda’s are the poster-child for endangered species, photo by Chi King (Flickr)

In regards to plants, appeals to save the rain-forests are generally followed by bio-prospecting. This is the search for plants and animals that may be useful to us for medicinal purposes. So we don’t really care about plants that are not going to benefit us.

Our main reason for trying to save the environment should be because we are the ones that destroyed it. Sadly the reality is that we only want to preserve what serve our own self-interest.

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Hazel Gordon