By Tibor Hartel
I recently read a BBC News paper about viewpoints of scientists regarding the maintenance of panda – a species of which persistence highly depends on expensive holding facilities. According to some scientists, species with similar fate are (i) expensive and resources are limited and (ii) have little to no chance to live in natural environment in the future (they depends therefore on technology and money). In such conditions, many researchers argued that giving up maintaining such species may be a solution.
This is an interesting topic for debate, both for non-academics and academics. Certainly, we have feelings toward these, many time’s ‘cute’ animals. And in most of cases, indeed, human impact is the main factor driving them in (the threshold) of extinction. It is therefore socially acceptable to feel sorry for these animals and make lobby to do everything in order to save them – even if it is about keeping them (especially those which are what the majority of us perceive ‘beautiful’, ‘cute’) in captivity.
Below I highlight three points regarding this aspect, while drinking my morning coffee (my excuse). Consider these as invitation for a debate or if not, just thinking about this – increasingly actual – issue.
First, I see the captive maintenance of species somehow like a forced maintenance of a human organ in a lab (kidney, heart or whatever that can be). Completely out of a wider context (ecological or anatomical) and with a virtually zero possibility to reintroduce species (organ) in a natural system (body) may indeed be a bit inefficient investment. Species have ecological functions and organs have anatomical (physiological) functions.
Second, for general public (which is more and more disconnected from nature, and basically experience nature in zoo’s and / or TV) it may represent an easy and preferred solution e.g. when is about arguing about further human expansion in natural environments. Somehow in the line of this: ‘We could allocate money to maintain species in captivity, as it is with panda. And make the highway too. In this way it may be good for wildlife and people as well’. I heard even worse arguments than this from various people.
Third, it is not only about maintaining individuals of species. It is not about maintaining the phenotype (i.e. the apparatus, the body). The body is what we see, and we love. This body is maintained by a whole set of genes. This unseen program makes individuals and populations adaptable in (ever?) changing world and ultimately maintains the species. Populations may collapse e.g. because of loss of genetic diversity. So: to really maintain a species we should maintain the whole arsenal of ecological and evolutionary factors which maintained its populations viable. By maintaining landscapes and habitats unfragmented.
I feel good to see that people tend to be more and more sensitive toward species loss. And in various countries movements for animal rights start to be frequent. This is good, I welcome such maniphestations (of course, I can also be critical about them but this is not the point now). It would be nice to channel this increasing ‘societal energy’ for saving animals to habitats and whole landscapes. Because wildlife can be saved and maintained only together with, and not separately from, natural context.