At ABC Newswe learn, “Time is running out to save mammals (August 16, 2011):
Of the 5339 documented species of mammals that are alive today, a quarter are threatened with extinction in the wild, according to their estimates.
And, we are offered a “new strategy.” A group of biologists proposes to solve the problem by introducing the mother of all bureaucracies:
They suggested the UN’s Biodiversity Convention weave a single vision, identifying which areas and species are at risk and how resources can be mustered to save them.
This work should then be coordinated by an authoritative institution with global reach, such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
One thing you can’t accuse today’s conservationist of is an excess of common sense. How would bigger bloat at the UN help with the following set of facts?:
Africa is, hands down, the hardest hit. Africa is also home to most of the world’s poorest, most desperate human beings, also the most likely victims of violence. So we are asking women who watch their children suffer with malnutrition to care about some life form out in the bush, that lacks any economic or emotional value, that they rarely even see.
It gets worse. We’re not even all that sure of our facts:
Quantifying such perils is hard, given that many mammals are elusive species and may live in fragmented, out-of-the-way habitats, the experts admitted.
Indeed, Australian investigators reported last September that of 187 mammals that have been “missing” since 1500, 67 species have subsequently been found again.
Not only that, but many listings could just be political opportunism, as with the sagebrush lizard. So we waste resources producing social conflict over non-problems while real problems go unattended.
Another thing, governments don‘t run countries; bureaucracies do. In this case, the bureaucracy might have a bigger annual budget than a small, poor country – which means what, in terms of their relationship?
These biologists deserve great credit for the 52,000 photos they gathered of elusive wild animals, but their proposed solution is not a new strategy: It’s the same old strategy.
Looking at the situation from a design perspective, one might observe two things:
1. It’s probably difficult to extinguish an animal from an environment to which it is well adapted because adaptations work on so many levels. An animal that is easily extinguished is probably just clinging anyway.
Therefore, we should pick our battles carefully, based on in-depth studies of a life form’s role in an ecology. As things stand, emotion rules. Far more people would care if lions died out on the Serengeti than if earthworms died out in Germany – but it’s the latter loss that would be catastrophic. Can we eliminate the emotion? Of course not, but if we care enough to do things right, emotion mustn’t rule.
2. Speaking of emotion, far more people worldwide care about lion cubs than African children. And that’s a key cause of endangerment of many trophy species today. Let’s take poaching, for example. It’ easy for rich foreigners to get upset. But if a man can pay his kids’ school fees by capturing and selling a chimp to a private zoo collector, who’s to blame him? Especially when there is no legitimate industry in his region, and if he owned much of anything, it would be looted by corrupt officials? (The ones he discreetly pays off to keep quiet about the poaching. And does anyone really believe that UN bloat will change that? )
Oh, and you say that chimps are “just like us”? Yes, well, surprise, surprise, that guy’s kids are just like him. And who in their right mind would not expect him to be more concerned about them than about the chimp?
To come near a solution, we need to make it as much in his interest to police poaching as it currently is to poach. That means thinking pragmatically, not emotionally. If there is a private zoo and research facility market for chimpanzees, then there will either be poaching or breeding. The advantage of persuading poachers to start breeding animals instead is that they then police poachers themselves. In the Wild West, they strung guys up for that (Lynch’s Law).
Don’t expect to see much informed discussion of these issues in legacy mainstream media. Their formula does not admit of any reflection beyond cute cub faces in the water, with an ominous question mark or two. And a thousand African kids have to die before anyone even notices briefly.
Which is too bad, because we’ll have much better luck warding off extinctions if we start treating people as if they were unique (a design perspective). The local people are not just obstructions to whatever we happen to want. They are the only ones who can really do anything about local extinctions.