Conservation: Why do we care?

CONTRARY to popular belief, the importance of conservation isn’t something only nature and animal-lovers can understand. Conservation isn’t simply “I like this animal and I don’t want it to disappear”, or even “we must make sure every single living creature remains as it is now”. Instead, it is an effort to balance the world’s ecosystems and biodiversity, and often what we use from them.

So why do we conserve the panda? After all, many pragmatic people have come to realise that the panda does not do much. Worse still than the panda is the kakapo, a giant ground parrot so bad at staying alive that it needs almost constant supervision. It seems that conserving these animals has a basis purely in profit due to curiosity. So why do we try? Why should we try? And, of course, why do we care?

Kevin Dooley/Flickr

Kevin Dooley/Flickr

While many active conservationists will take the moral high-ground when faced with criticism, the issue of conservation is, by far, more complicated than a simple matter of what is morally right. What is always difficult to tell is what happens to your environment if one animal goes extinct? It seems obvious in hindsight that the disappearance of wolves in the United Kingdom has lead to an unmanageable rise in deer. Many other cases aren’t as simple. Sea otters, for instance, eat sea urchins. Sea urchins eat algae, and are devastating in large numbers: they can literally leave huge areas of wasteland where there once was forests of kelp. Kelp forests are prime habitats for a huge variety of marine vertebrates and invertebrates: fish, food for fish, and food for food for fish (etc). If sea otters were to be hunted to extinction, a cascade of events would happen soon later. The direct results to you… less fish. Less food for fish. And it goes on. This is a simplified example.

Another example would be jaguars, tigers and other large cats. These animals need huge territories, and in these territories there is a huge diversity of animal and plant life. By conserving them, you by default help protect a large environment which will in many cases help protect the ecosystems associated. Large cats are a good example, because not only do they help by proxy, but many people like, and will pay to protect, them.

The job of conservationists is not easy. They need to identify:
– Which species is important to conserve?
and therefore: What would happen is it were to go extinct?
– How best to conserve them?
keeping in mind: How to interest the public?

and many, many more.

How many of you would care to conserve a tiny, obscure species of fly?
The question to keep in mind is always ‘Why’ it is important.