This, my first entry, was inspired by watching the third episode of Dara O Briain’s Science Club on the BBC iPlayer.
WHY SAVE PANDAS? WHY SAVE ANY ANIMALS?
The episode concerned itself with extinctions and posited the idea that we are in a 6th mass extinction, one caused by us. Conservation was the topic of the moment and Alok Jha, a member of the Science Club team, and Science correspondent at The Guardian newspaper posited the question, ‘Are Pandas worth saving?’ This got me thinking, and so I decided to write this article with regards to Alok Jha’s question.
If anyone’s seen the logo for the WWF you’ll know that it is a Panda, and a quick glance at their UK homepage shows an array of campaigns asking to save other equally iconic animals – Tigers, Penguins and Snow Leopards to name a few. I have absolutely no qualms about this. In fact, I actively encourage anyone reading this to donate as much as you can spare to this cause.
My issue rather is that the overuse of such flagship species to promote conservation has eclipsed the reasons why species need to be saved. Of course, if there is anything that can be done to save a species it should be done, but resources are finite and so allocating funds wisely is of great importance.
Species dying out is a natural event; in fact 99% of all species that have ever existed no longer do so. It is not ridiculous to suggest that without the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 mya, mammals would not have got their chance to thrive and we would not be here now.
There is no denying that the rate of extinction now is much greater than the natural ‘base rate’, and we most certainly have a large part to play in that. There’s hunting, climate change, deforestation and traditional medicines to name but a few.
My issues lie with the fact that it doesn’t seem to be a priority to explain why species need to be saved other than to simply say ‘they just do.’ Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that there even needs to be a reason to save animals, other than that they’re great! Animals play a key part in their environments and without certain species, whole food webs fall apart and the local habitat can suffer a huge loss. However certain animals are more important in this respect. The Honey Bee, for example, is dying out. Without them, pollination of wildflowers and crop plants grinds to a halt, let alone honey production. Whilst I understand that this may sound selfish – they provide us with a service – but when resources are tight, surely a creature such as this ought to be prioritised?
Another aspect of conservation that I feel ought to have more attention is that of preserving biodiversity. We are blessed with a planet possessing such diversity of life that it is almost ridiculous, so to that end, would the smart move in terms of allocating conservation funds not be to try and preserve the greatest variety of life?
I have no conclusive answers here, just food for thought. By all means, save Pandas, but spare a thought for the weird and wonderful and the underlying creatures that hold an ecosystem together. I know it can be hard to empathise with the plight of say, an Ant as compared with a cuddly animal, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not worth saving.