I´ve heard it one thousand times: “You can´t protect what you don´t know.” That is how some researchers or conservationists justify their favourite hobby: Killing and collecting animals (and plants). Various times I experienced during university excursions into rare biotopes, that professors from the biodiversity conservation lab greedily picked the only visible flower, or beetle of a species that was anyway highly endangered from extinction to enlarge their private collections.
One possible excuse for behaviour like this was that this particular species was not in the collection yet. And sometimes, the species itself would be present in the collection already, but not an example from that specific biotope (or country, or region…). What I don´t understand is, why do non-taxonomist collectors have to take 30 or more individuals, if the phylogeny and taxonomy of the species itself has already been rather well described? All that would happen to those dead exemplars would be pinning them with a needle into a wooden box, next to the other 30 individuals from the same species. What does this still have to do with protecting a species? And why do people want to own these forms of life in rigor mortis? There are enough museums and already existing collections (especially of the well sampled parts of the world)- why do people still believe another collection is useful to the world?
I am convinced that this acquisitiveness is neither necessary nor healthy for our environment. I see that the largest negative impacts on animal population derives from other human activities, but I wouldn´t underestimate the effect of withdrawing individuals from a population, especially in endangered or declining ones! Even though there are legal restrictions which regulate the protection levels of animals and plants, I experience that many specialists don´t care about them. Of course I see that collections are very often the basis for science, but does it necessarily have to continue in that old-fashioned way in private living rooms? I couldn´t imagine to share my living room with 2364 dead animals!
I am very happy about modern photography, with which we can take precise and nice pictures of the animals in their living condition in their natural environment. Maybe even more comparisons of individuals or species in science could be derived from photographs.
Killing of individuals could be avoided in many other cases in science as well, I guess. For genetic investigation for example, a small fragment of the animal´s body is already be sufficient to do the analysis. And how do all the conclusions on the genetic diversity help protecting a species if in the end the last individuals were transformed into collection or investigation material?
I think we should be more careful regarding the issue of private collections, especially because destruction of life on earth is permanently on-going. Let´s not forget that “Every stupid boy can kill a beetle, but all professors in the world cannot construct a new one” (Schopenhauer, German philosopher).