(Introduction) We could now well be facing the world’s sixth mass extinction of plants and animals, and the worst loss of species, since the dinosaurs died off 65 million years ago. Research by Stuart Pimm, a biologist at Duke University, put a number on how fast species are now becoming extinct. His study, published in the journal Science, suggested that while one species, on average, went extinct per every 10 million each year before humans came onto the scene, that number has soared to between 100 and 1,000 species today. In this light, human efforts to save our endangered species today have much increased, but, really, how much of this effort is of concrete importance, relative to the amount of effort and resources put into it?
(Refute 1) Some say that it is not important to save the species in danger of extinction, because it is only an economic and resource drain without any foreseeable benefits/paybacks. For example, The Global Tiger Recovery Program (GTRP), which aims to save tigers from becoming extinct in the wild and double the wild tiger populations, estimates between $100-200 million will be spent per year for the next 10 years to save tigers. And that is just to save one species from extinction (in the wild). And there are thousands of endangered species to be saved. In 2010, the cost of managing tiger reserves alone cost at least $82 million, according to the Economist. To reduce the threat of extinction for endangered species all over the world, almost $5 billion could be spent on this area every year with an additional $76 billion to both establish and maintain protected areas for threatened wildlife. These figures are from a just-published study in the journal Science and underscore the extent of funding needed to preserve biodiversity around the world.
(Supporting 1- Economic benefits, counter eco. drain) However, I beg to differ. The global value of ecosystems (which depend on biodiversity) is estimated at $124 trillion per year. An estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes. Up to 50% of the global $640 billion a year pharmaceutical industry depends on natural resources. Furthermore, this economic value of biodiversity is particularly important for certain countries. For instance, Australia’s tourism accounts for around 8% of the GDP, and is growing at a rate of 5% per year. This value depends on maintaining healthy ecosystems. Other than that, in the United States, the reintroduction of the endangered gray wolf into Yellowstone National Park proved to be a huge draw for tourists, and much of this money was used to further scientific research into gray wolf conservation. Conservation of endangered species has paid itself back many times over, hence, it is important to continue such efforts.
(Supporting 2) It is also important, as these endangered species have many medicinal and research uses. Many medicines and new products are developed from plants and other organisms. For example, Cinchona quinine, a genus of 38 species native to the tropical Andes forests of western South America, was the anti-malarial drug of choice until the 1940s. Aspirin originally came from willow bark. Pacific Yew, a near-threatened species according to the IUCN, produces taxol, a chemical used in fighting cancer. Beyond medicine, other products have been and can be developed from plants. (Srub mints serve as natural insecticides.) These species are only a small proportion of the plant species capable of practical use. Humans have still not found, nor tapped into the potential of many plant species around the world. However, many of these species could go extinct before we can ever discover them; even for plants species that are identified as useful and endangered (aforementioned ones), if no precaution is taken, they may become extinct quickly. Such would cause their potential to be lost completely. Hence, it is important to continue conservation. Beyond plants, endangered animals have research uses. Recently, marine biologists have been optimistic that the study of dolphins might help them understand cervical cancer since they are the “only species besides humans that we know of that can harbor co-infections in the genital mucosa.” The killing of these marine mammals limits the research and development humans will be able to do.
(Supporting 3) It is important, as these endangered species balance the ecosystem. Due to the interconnectedness of the ecosystem, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, one extinct plant species can lead to the loss of 30 other insect, plant, and animal species found in the higher levels of the food chain. These individual plant or animal species are sometimes called the keystone species. If they become extinct, the whole ecosystem will be changed drastically. Endangered keystone species include the Northern spotted owl, Gray wolf, and sea otters. For instance, sea otters control sea urchin populations that would otherwise inflict extensive damage to kelp forest ecosystems, and lead to far reaching consequences. Currently, declining sea otter populations in Alaska led to a rise in the number of sea urchins, and consequently the decimation of kelp forests. This leaves fish populations with no place to hide or breed, causing them to migrate to other places. Once the fishes migrate, the bald eagle population is forced to switch their diet to marine birds. As shown, a butterfly effect ripples through the whole food chain.
(Supporting 3- cont.) This goes beyond the balance and health of ecological systems; sometimes, if a particular endangered species goes extinct, human health may also be adversely affected. For instance, the extinction of the passenger pigeon led to a proliferation of Lyme disease. This is because, passenger pigeons’ main food source, acorns, also happened to be the main food source for deer mice, the main carrier of Lyme’s disease. With the former’s extinction, deer mice face less competition for food (acorns), causing their populations to grow, along with the Lyme disease causing bacteria. Research conducted by biology Professor Rodolfo Dirzo and his colleagues in Kenya have studied how the absence of large animals such as zebras, giraffes and elephants impacts the ecosystem. They observed that affected areas will be overwhelmed with rodents quickly, as seeds and shelter from grass and shrubs become more easily available and the risk of predation drops. Consequently, the number of rodents doubles, as does the number of disease-carrying ectoparasites they harbour. Many of the pathogens the researchers found on the rodents in Kenya pose a threat to human health, including the bacteria that cause plague. (In Africa, a decrease in lions and leopards led to a dramatic increase in Olive Baboons, which threaten farm crops and livestock, and spread intestinal worms.) Hence, it is of importance to continue conservation.
(Supporting 4) Lastly, it is important, as the will to protect these endangered species, in fact, animals and nature in general, demonstrates a certain value of society. If a species goes extinct, it’s lost forever. Theodore Roosevelt once said, “When I hear of the destruction of a species, I feel just as if all the works of some great writer have perished.” To him, a loss of species is akin to a tragedy. As a society, we have a moral responsibility to prevent this from happening, especially because animals are sentient beings like us. An international panel of neuroscientists declared in 2012 that non-human animals also have consciousness, and that humans are not unique in recognizing themselves in mirrors or in making decisions. Hence, we should also treat animals like sentient beings, and protect them, as we would protect ourselves, from harm and extinction. If not, we would be exhibiting speciesism, an arbitrary distinction based on the incorrect belief that humans are the only species deserving of moral consideration, and such speciesism, like racism and sexism, is a form of prejudice, unjustified and irrational. Hence, it is important that we strive to save the species in danger of extinction.