by Rebecca Nesbit, Press Officer at the Society of Biology
This week I added a poll to the Society of Biology website in honour of our upcoming debate during Biology Week: ‘should we save the panda?’. I admit I haven’t yet voted, because I don’t know what to say.
If I look at the question from a purely scientific point of view the answer is a clear no. We only have limited resources for conservation and we should perhaps focus them on species which either are essential to the ecosystem they inhabit (such as being a food source for other species) or benefit humans directly (such as pollinating our crops or stabilising sand dunes which are flood defences).
Basically – cute and cuddly doesn’t mean ecologically valuable.
But ecological value isn’t all that matters. What shouldn’t be underestimated is the impact of wildlife on human health, both physical and mental.
I recently reviewed The Value of Species by Edward McCord for The Biologist. I wasn’t completely convinced by his arguments because, like it or not, we do have to make choices, but he made a relevant point.
Some species will never provide economic benefit, but he believes nature is so fascinating that all species are worthy of protection. Curiosity is fundamental to our consciousness and sparks our appreciation of other species. If we lost this what would it mean for human existence?
The questions I’m asking myself are:
Is it a problem if the panda survives only in the zoo? Most of us will never see one in the wild, and if ‘because we love them’ is our reason for acting, then perhaps captivity is good enough.
Is beauty important when choosing what to save? Should conservationists be trying to increase the street cred of ‘uglier animals’. I know one who is… check out panellist Simon Watt’s Ugly Animal Appreciation Society.
If we are genuinely keen to prioritise species because we like them, should we protect some invasive species rather then try to eliminate them?
Connected to these, I have already blogged about whether conservation is about protecting humans or whether biodiversity is intrinsically valuable.
Thanks in advance for all your comments.