An algorithm developed by Australian researchers has been making news lately and raising the ethical question of whether or not some species of animals should simply die out. The algorithm looks at species with populations lower than 5,000 and combines risk factors together to give an outlook on the likelihood of whether or not the species will be able to rebound.
The tool has been developed to help aid researchers and scientists in prioritizing conservation efforts. Simply put, species that don’t seem like they will re-establish themselves should receive less help than species that seem to have a better chance of survival.
This line of thinking seems to follow the traditional Darwin type thinking that is the center of the “survival of the fittest” concept. The weak die out and the strong live to see another day. However, due to human intervention matters are no longer that simple. Additionally, just because numbers of a species drop to precariously low levels, this does not mean that a species is a lost cause- look to the American Bison as an example.
Due to human intervention, in 1890 the population of this species had dropped from millions to under 1,000. Due to conservation efforts, this species has moved from critically endangered to being off the “red list” completely. It would be quite interesting to know what the algorithm would have stated the odds of this resurgence happening at.
Although extinction may be the natural order of evolution, this situation also raises the question of whether humans should step in- ethically or morally, and help species on the brink of extinction. After all, long before humans arose, species were naturally becoming extinct and dying out.
The cuddly, lovable Giant Panda is a good example of this. Although cute and snuggly, these large bears are extremely ill-fitted for long term survival. First, they have serious issues with reproduction, which is a bit vital for propagating a species. Then, they have the strange characteristic of being an entirely herbivore bear species, and it seems like even their digestive tracts are against them. The have to eat an astonishing amount of bamboo daily just to stay alive, and then their bodies have to work so diligently to digest the bamboo that they expend almost as much energy to digest their food as they gain from their food. Are we wasting money, time and effort to keep this animal alive simply because it’s cute and personable?
By looking at the odds stacked against it, most people would say yes. But, most people don’t realize that in the past decade wild panda numbers have been rising, without any human intervention. As the Panda’s natural environment and food source has been protected, the species is staging its own, unaided comeback. If this animal is capable of this on its own, is it really proper to say that it should be allowed to die out?
When looking at situations like the Panda and Bison, it becomes very hard to discern where human intervention should begin and end. The Bison were saved entirely because some humans were determined to undo the damage that prior generations did. The Panda’s don’t fare so well with direct human intervention- instead, this species does best when simply left alone.
Although this algorithm can be a useful tool when looking at the odds of survival, it does not seem to paint the entire picture that conservationists need to look at when deciding where to allocate resources. Sometimes money just needs to be utilized in different ways for different species. In the Panda’s case, money is best spent providing the animals with protected areas to be left alone in. For the bison, the money was well spent providing breeding programs. The Earth has an amazing amount of biodiversity and it should be humanity’s goal to retain and help foster the growth of future flora and fauna. However, just as all species are different, plans to protect the populations of different species need to be as unique as the creatures themselves.