What about those endangered animals and the media hype that follows every time the IUCN updates its Red List? Why should we care if the polar bear lives, or if poachers kill the rhino? Shouldn’t we concentrate on saving humans from poverty instead?
This problem has two approaches. One is recognizing the inherent worth of creatures shaped by millions of years of evolution. 'God's Creation' for the believers. Can we let our preference to burn 2km worth of fuel instead of walking, endanger or possibly exterminate an entire living species? This debate veers off into the often-ambiguous realm of morality. So let us take a practical approach. When scientists/conservationists appeal for the conservation of the Giant Panda or the Tiger, the fundamental message is often overlooked. That is as a large, enigmatic species, their habitat requirements encompass those of a variety of wildlife in its range. Hence, by saving one tiger, you are extending your protection to entire ecosystems, multiple complex webs of species interacting with each other that create an astonishing operatic harmony in nature.
But what about those smaller endangered animals? If they are so endangered, their populations may not even produce a significant effect on ecosystems?
Well we don’t really know. That is why so much funding focuses on research of endangered species. If their populations fall below sustainable levels in the wild, efforts are undertaken to support their recovery (eg. Californian Condor, Black-footed Ferret). First, because we don’t want to lose another species. Second, because many species of flora and fauna may have inherent qualities of which we simply are not aware. What if the extinct grass species was capable of curing cancer? And what if that ugly looking rodent was a seed hoarder and consequently, critical disperser for the species? (For those of you theists shaking your heads in disbelief and calling it far-fetched: if we believe in the existence of a supreme being that we have never seen or heard, imagining cancer-curing endangered plants isn’t really such a big leap of faith, is it?) We just don’t know, and ignorance is deadly in the best of circumstances.
So yes, in a way, wildlifers are contributing to human welfare. Sometimes, though the research doesn’t get implemented into policy or ground action. Another drawback is that the results are not immediately visible- you don’t get heart-wrenching animal testimonies such as:
“I now have a place I can call home. Thank you Dian Fossey” – In debt, Gorillas in the Misty Virungas
“Thanks to Dr. Schaller our future generations will not be persecuted anymore”- Love, Wei-Wei & Tang-Tang, the Last Pandas of Wolong
“Mr. Attenborough has brought our plight before the world.”- Forever grateful, Critters of the Bornean bat caves
In fact, much effort needs to be invested into monitoring the effects of any change upon forest communities. Conservation practitioners often prefer to direct their work to the origin of the problem rather than wait around for it to manifest into another ugly spectacle. Working for conservation on the ground requires a diverse skill set- negotiation, outreach, strict enforcement of laws, the ability to improvise on existing methodologies, marketing, fund-raising and so on. One scientist cannot possibly fulfill all these roles, though many try their best. Conservation requires representatives from civil society to step up and lend their expertise to the cause. The cause of human welfare, if it appeases their conscience.