Are threatened species priceless or worthless?
A recent study concludes that the cost of saving the world's endangered species could cost up to ￡50 billion a year. It left conservationists and scientists with the question: can we afford to save species from extinction?
Professor Jonathan Baillie, the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) Director of Conservation, said that the donor community and conservation movement are leaning increasingly towards a 'what can nature do for us' approach. According to Baillie, species and wild habitats are valued and prioritised according to the services they provide for people.
"This has made it increasingly difficult for conservationists to protect the most threatened species on the planet. We have an important moral and ethical decision to make: Do these species have a right to survive or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?"
Species such as the Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Pygmy Three-toed Sloth have all topped a new list of the species closest to extinction released by the ZSL IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature in September this year.
For the first time ever, more than 8 000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission (IUCN SSC) have come together to identify 100 of the most threatened animals, plants and fungi on the planet. But conservationists fear they'll be allowed to die out because none of these species provide humans with obvious benefits.
The report, called Priceless or Worthless?, was presented at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in South Korea.
"All the species listed are unique and irreplaceable. If they vanish, no amount of money can bring them back," says Ellen Butcher, ZSL, co-author of the report. "However, if we take immediate action we can give them a fighting chance for survival. But this requires society to support the moral and ethical position that all species have an inherent right to exist."
Saved from extinction
Their declines have mainly been caused by humans, but in almost all cases scientists believe their extinction can still be avoided if conservation efforts are specifically focused. Conservation actions deliver results with many species such as Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus) and Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) have being saved from extinction.
The Humpback Whale was saved from extinction after they were hunted close to extinction. The whales were hunted for their blubber (baleen and flesh). The specimen was used for production of a range of products and they were infused into meat for pet-food, gravies for human consumption, oil for glycerine and soaps, gelatine for photographic film jellies, glands for medicinal and pharmaceutical use.
A ban on hunting was placed by the International Whaling Commission in 1966, after 250 000 were killed. The whale population has recovered ever since, with an estimate of 80 000 distributing around the world and they are now up-listed from "endangered species" to "least concerned" on the endangered species list . Their natural curiosity and friendly nature led them to become eco-tourism attractions.
The last remaining subspecies of wild horse, the Przewalski Horse were, was at the brink of extinction in the 19th century. The Mongolian wild horse suffered from human interferences such as excessive hunting for their meat and their hide, and loss of habitat. Interbreeding with other domesticated horses also led to the destruction of their own genetic heritage.
In 1900, a project started to return the horse to the wild. Captive breeding in European zoos reintroduced and returned the horse to its hometown in Mongolia. Today, an estimate of 1 500 Przewalski Horses roam the globe.