Conservation Versus Extinction
THE battle between conservation and extinction rages on. Many charitable organizations pressure governments to adopt stricter conservation laws in order to protect endangered species.
Recently, for example, various groups met with Chinese officials and won their cooperation in efforts to eliminate the trapping of Asian black bears. These animals had been taken for their bile and gallbladders, which are used in traditional Oriental medicine.
To protect a species in one country but hunt it out of existence elsewhere does not bode well for its preservation. Consequently, international agreements have proved timely—and there are many. The Convention on Biological Diversity, the Rio Treaty, came into force at the end of 1993, closely followed by an Agreement on the Conservation of Bats in Europe. The International Whaling Commission added the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary to that of the Indian Ocean in an attempt to protect great and minke whales. But perhaps the most powerful agreement is the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.—See box.
Man still has much to learn about the relationships of creatures, one to another. East African fishermen who introduced the Nile perch into Lake Victoria to build up food stocks triggered what zoologist Colin Tudge called “the greatest ecological disaster of this century.” Some 200 of the lake’s 300 native fish species went into oblivion. Although recent evidence blames soil erosion for upsetting the balance of species, the governments of the three countries that border the lake have now established an organization to determine which species of fish can be introduced without endangering the native ones.
One area that reports success is the captive breeding program that many zoos run. “If all the world’s zoos truly put their weight behind captive breeding, and if the public put their weight behind the zoos, then they could between them save all vertebrate species that are likely to need captive breeding in the foreseeable future.”—Last Animals at the Zoo.
The zoo on the tiny British island of Jersey breeds rare animals with a view to their subsequent reintroduction into the wild. In 1975, only 100 St. Lucian parrots remained in their Caribbean home. Seven of these birds were dispatched to Jersey. By 1989 the zoo had bred 14 more and had returned some of these to St. Lucia. Now reportedly upwards of 300 grace that island.
Similar schemes elsewhere have proved successful. National Geographic reports that the 17 red wolves remaining in North America bred so well in captivity that more than 60 have now been returned to the wild.
Animals in danger are not always necessarily threatened with extinction. According to the book Endangered Species—Elephants, between 1979 and 1989, the number of African elephants declined from 1,300,000 to 609,000—some of this the result of ivory poaching. Then public pressure to outlaw the ivory trade mounted. Yet, opposition to the ban on ivory became vociferous. Why?
In both Zimbabwe and South Africa, conservation policies proved so successful that their national parks and wildlife preserves housed too many elephants. New Scientist reported that Zimbabwe needed to have 5,000 elephants removed from Hwange National Park. Pressure groups recommended relocation. Park officials put the surplus elephants up for sale and suggested that Western agencies that oppose culling “put their money where their mouth is and move them.”
Failures occur, nevertheless. Many express concern over the plight of species reintroduced into the wild. The Siberian tiger survives well in captivity, but in the wild it needs some 100 square miles [260 sq km] of forest, free of poachers. Moreover, “put a zoo-raised tiger straight back into this environment,” notes The Independent on Sunday, “and it will almost certainly starve.” A gloomy prospect indeed!
Realistically, not every species has its own specialized team of helpers. And it is not simply a lack of manpower that compounds the problem. No matter how dedicated conservationists are, when faced with official corruption, greed, and indifference as well as war and even the threat of death, what hope have they of success? What, then, is the solution to the problem of endangered species? And how are you involved?
[Box on page 7]
An International Weapon
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species is a powerful weapon in the fight against illicit trafficking in endangered species. Leopard pelts, elephant ivory, tiger bones, rhino horns, and turtles are among currently banned commodities. The agreement extends to include endangered timber and fish stocks.
However, Time warned: “Unless the member nations can find a way to make the rules stick, . . . they may find that the animals they’re trying to protect no longer exist.”
[Picture on page 8]
Have some conservation efforts been too successful?
Courtesy of Clive Kihn