Extinction is a natural process—survival of the fittest. Nature periodically eliminates species of all shapes and sizes, so why is it so important for us to protect them?
From earth-shaking dinosaurs like T-Rex to the meter-long, eight-legged Brontoscorpio with its light-bulb-sized stinger, no species is safe from annihilation.
Global calamities such as the Ice Age wipe out species both weak and strong. Natural selection takes care of others.
Yet environmentalists insist that we make an effort to save endangered species , even those which are “useless” to human needs.
The polar bear, the condor, the West Indian manatee, the Sumatran tiger… the list goes on and on. Why bother?
The classic response is to consider the huge flightless dodo bird. It inhabited the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean until the Portuguese arrived and began spice trading in 1501.
By 1681, the dodos were extinct. Most had been killed as food, while their ground-nest eggs were devoured by pigs, monkeys and rats introduced to the predator-free environs as part of a Dutch penal colony.
Only much later was it discovered that dodo birds played a critical role in the island ecosystem. They ate fruit that fell from centuries-old trees. Only by passing through the dodo’s digestive system could the tree seeds become active and grow.
Now those trees, which can live up to 300 years and give shelter to other bird species, face possible extinction. And it’s not due to natural selection or disaster. It’s purely because of human ignorance.
Right now, the whale shark provides a similar example. This largest of all fish species feeds only on plankton and krill. It poses no danger to humans, but it has been overfished by those who value its fin for soups.
Most recently, the BP oil spill contaminated one of their most important feeding grounds, too.
If whale sharks die off, so will their role as part of ecotourism in the Maldives and Seychelles. Future generations of snorkelers and divers will be denied the opportunity to encounter these magnificent creatures.
Little is known about what subsequent imbalances in the marine environs may occur.
But perhaps the most important reason to protest the loss of “useless” species is to curtail the destructive practices of the world’s most ruthless predator—mankind.
When a species dies, so do its medicinal, ecological, commercial and recreational applications, known or unknown. Only by preserving species for future generations can we ever discover how “useful” they truly are.
Alfablue, October 2012