Endangered Species Handbook

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Vanishing Species

Actions and Attitudes: Page 4

     Another fundamental element to the future survival of wildlife in a world crowded with humans is tolerance and a belief that the Earth must be shared.  Public opinion has been crucial in land use and protection of natural habitats and landscapes so that wildlife and plants were allowed to survive, even in parts of the world with overcrowding where land was at a premium.  Fewer species are threatened in parts of the world where wildlife is respected and considered part of the landscape.  In Africa, wildlife flourished when native peoples were the guardians of the land, prior to the 18th century when Europeans entered as colonial rulers.  European rule resulted in overhunting and development of large-scale ranches and farms that were fenced, creating a drastic decline in wildlife.
 
     Native Americans have a less proprietary view of nature than Europeans, and many tribes believe in spiritual connections with trees and animals.   They treat nature's assets as gifts, for which they express gratitude.   In the intervening centuries since colonization of North America by Europeans who failed to respect nature, views have come full circle for many Americans.  Wilderness and nature preservation have become high priorities, based on both scientific discoveries about how ecosystems function and a growing desire by people to appreciate nature.  Some scientists believe that connections with nature have been an intrinsic part of human nature for millions of years.  Dr. Edward O. Wilson calls this "biophilia," or "love of living things," and cites it as a primary human trait.  Such ties to nature have nurtured new conservation zeal to help preserve disappearing wildlife and landscapes. 
 
     For some people, however, even the most basic ecological and evolutionary principles are refuted in favor of views that justify exploitation and species' extinctions.  They describe conservationists as irrational "tree huggers," and animal lovers as "bunny huggers."   Anti-environmentalists have formed organizations in the United States, operating collectively as the “Wise Use” movement.  Many elected government officials share these views, and have voted for legislation that fails to protect endangered species and results in destruction of important wildlife habitat.  US Congresswoman Helen Chenoweth, a Republican from Idaho, believes that there should be a public referendum regarding which animals can live and which will be allowed to go extinct (Egan 1996).  Chenoweth stated to The New York Times:  "A species goes out of existence every 20 seconds. Surely a new species must come into existence every 20 seconds. There's no way human beings can regulate that dynamic" (Egan 1996).  Humans can, indeed, affect the "dynamic," as they have for millennia, and when species are lost, their loss is our loss.  Evolutionary biologists would be dumbfounded at her statement.  Although species are passing into extinction at a fast rate, new ones are not evolving every 20 seconds, nor even every 20 years or every 200 years, unless one considers the mutations of viruses and bacteria to be new species.  Once the Tiger or Right Whale--or any of Earth's myriad species--becomes extinct, it is gone forever.  The film "Jurassic Park," which concerned the recreation of dinosaurs from their DNA, is total fiction.  Science has not found a way to clone species from DNA obtained from dead animals because the DNA becomes scrambled after death.  Nor are such scientific feats anticipated in the near future.


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    ©1983 Animal Welfare Institute