Phenomenal human population growth over recent decades has exerted immense pressure on natural resources, resulting in widespread destruction of natural habitats and heightened activities of illegal trafficking of products of endangered animal species. As a result, many animal species all over the world face extinction as evidenced by the death of the only surviving male northern white rhino on 19th March, 2018 which left only two of such subspecies living on Earth. Some, however, view extinction of animal species as a natural process that cannot be avoided. Those that hold this view argue that animal populations need be regulated to free resources for 'more valuable' animals and humans to thrive (Pearson, 2016; Lacy, 1995). Others contend that extinction of animal species is likely to threaten human existence due to the inter-independent nature of their relationship (Paterson, 2006). The author of this essay seeks to contribute to this debate by arguing that animal extinction should be stopped to save Mother Earth and all that lives therein, including animals, plants, and humans, from extinction.
Some of the opponents of conservationist efforts base their arguments on the principles of the theory of evolution. For evolutionists, extinction is a natural cycle that cannot be regulated. For instance, extinction rate of species has increased a hundredfold in the last hundred years yet different forms of life continue to inhabit the Earth (Marshall, 2015). Although all animals born will die, some die prematurely as a result of diseases, starvation or predation. Such eventuality has made scholars to suggest that, for animals to enjoy more than a marginal existence, it is critical that they have proper nutrition, protection from diseases, competitors, predators, and adequate space in their natural habitats. That is to say, for natural resources to adequately support life on Earth, the lives of some animals must be sacrificed either through human activity or forces of nature (Lacy, 1995). Therefore, there is little need for conserving animal species threatened with extinction. Under these circumstances, the threat of extinction faced by some animals is interpreted in the context of the perpetuation of the animal kingdom and not the sustainability of individual animal species.
Other scholars propose that the utilitarian view should shape interventions seeking to conserve wildlife. This school of thought argues that species of animals should be kept alive as long as their existence reaps more value to society compared to their absence. In other words, animal species should be conserved to the extent that they generate value to humans (Paterson, 2006).In some way, proponents of this argument emphasize on carrying out a cost-benefit analysis of animal species when deciding whether such species require protection or not. In this respect, a recent study by McCarthy et al.(2012) estimated that the cost of conserving threatened land animals is in the region of $79 billion every year. Inferentially, the amount of money needed to conserve both aquatic and land lives could be staggering. Based on this argument, the amount of the financial resources cited above could bring more value to humans if it used to address societal problems such as disease and starvation (Marshall, 2015). The cost could be even much higher when the costs of human-wildlife conflicts are included.
Despite the validity of the evolutionary and utilitarian views, they do not seem to offer sustainable solutions to the problem of animal extinction. As such, developing a conservation framework based on these arguments would be selfish on the part of human beings in the sense that the value, in this case, is what is benefits them and not the planet as an entire system that sustains animal, human and plant lives. In this respect, Paterson (2006) cautions that animals humans of today consider of less value may be of great benefit to the future generations. For this reason, conservation should focus on the preservation of species of all animals.
Economic benefits (implied in the utilitarian view) are the most cited reasons by conservationists regarding protection of wildlife. Undoubtedly, wildlife, especially in developing countries, generate a considerable amount of revenues in the form of foreign exchange earnings from tourists' visits (Pearson, 2016; Marshall, 2015; McCarthy et al., 2012).Revenues obtained from ecotourism is then used to establish schools and hospitals within the communities that surround wildlife. Indeed, scholarly evidence suggests that support or opposition to wildlife is based on the economic benefits that local communities get from their existence. Notably, a study by Paterson (2006) and Van der Ploeg, Cauillan-Cureg, Van Weerd, and Persoon (2011) indicate that communities in the Philippines and Tanzania protected crocodiles and land animals respectively because of their economic value as measured in objective terms. Such findings emphasize the need to increase efforts to conserve animals as it translates to the protection of livelihoods.
Conservation of wildlife increases the quality of the physical environment. For instance, animals play a significant role in keeping soils fertile by depositing their waste into the soils. Besides enhancing soil fertility, animals help in perpetuating plant life by facilitating pollination in crops (Marshall, 2015). Fertility of soils and pollination are crucial processes in so far sustainability of vegetation and humans are concerned. This relationship demonstrates that different forms of life are dependent on each other for survival and sustainability of individual species. If the concept of interdependence lacks in the conservation equation, it could spell doom for animal and human populations (Pearson, 2016). Again, it is worth noting that is impossible to measure, in objective terms, the value of these relationships because of their complexity.
Inter-dependence between different forms of aquatic life further demonstrates the need to conserve animals. For example, studies have found that the presence of crocodiles in rivers increases the yield of fish. Crocodiles eat ailing fish in higher proportion compared to healthy fish. This behavior ensures that the stock of fish in waters is kept in the right proportion. On the other hand, crocodile droppings are a nutritious meal for fish because they contain chemicals essential for fish growth. Similarly, Alligators in Florida create and maintain deep ponds that offer refuge for fish, snakes, and frogs during dry periods (Van der Ploeg et al., 2011). The highlighted relationships suggest that failure to conserve crocodiles and alligators could endanger the lives of many aquatic creatures and that of humans.
In some cultures, the presence of animals provides 'cultural nourishment' to the people. Some groups of people cherish the presence of animals in their surroundings. Like tourists, they just feel happy in seeing them around. For instance, some communities in Namibia protect animals because they cherish their presence within their settlements (Paterson, 2006). Some of these values cannot be measured as claimed by the utilitarian view.
The threat of extinction of animals needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Some scholars suggest that protection of animal species should be based on the value that such animals offer to humans. This view propagates the notion that the sole reason for the existence of animals is to sustain human life. On the contrary, evidence from the above discussion suggests that the entire ecosystem is a complex system that is sustained by a continuous interaction between animals, plants, and humans. As such, any attempt to downplay the significance of animals in the system amounts to a disregard of the health of the entire ecosystem, including that of human beings. Therefore, extinction of animals must be stopped not because their existence generates income for some groups of people or act as a cultural heritage for tribal communities, but due to the critical role animals play in sustaining the life of the human race.
Lacy, R. C. (1995). Culling surplus animals for population management. Conservation and Animal Welfare, 187-194.
Marshall, M. (2015, July 14). What is the point of saving endangered species? [Television series episode] In BBC Earth. London: BBC.
McCarthy, D. P., Donald, P. F., Scharlemann, J. P., Buchanan, G. M., Balmford, A., Green, J. M., ... Butchart, S. H. (2012). Financial costs of meeting global biodiversity conservation targets: Current spending and unmet needs. Science, 338(6109), 946-949. doi:10.1126/science.1229803
Paterson, B. (2006). Ethics for wildlife conservation: Overcoming the human-nature dualism. BioScience, 56(2), 144-150. doi:10.1641/0006-3568(2006)056[0144:efwcot]2.0.co;2
Pearson, R. G. (2016). Reasons to conserve nature. Trends in Ecology & Evolution, 31(5), 366-371. doi:10.1016/j.tree.2016.02.005
Van der Ploeg, J., Cauillan-Cureg, M., Van Weerd, M., & Persoon, G. (2011). 'Why must we protect crocodiles?' Explaining the value of the Philippine crocodile to rural communities. Journal of Integrative Environmental Sciences, 8(4), 287-298. doi:10.1080/1943815x.2011.610804
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