What’s the point in saving them all?

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What’s the point in saving them all?

From The National Humane Education Society (NHES)
October 2011

Who would notice if the splittail minnow disappeared tomorrow? Truthfully, not many people. So, why do we save them? The obvious reason is that we cherish all life on this planet and understand the need to protect fragile wildlife from our destructive influence.

In the past, we have written about the importance of saving the endangered Delmarva Peninsula fox squirrel and the Sacramento splittail minnow. These species, and others such as the snow leopard, elkhorn coral, and the myriad of endangered animals in tropical rainforests, have extremely limited habitat. Even with healthy numbers, none of these species would be widespread. They are uniquely adapted to their own corners of the earth. While this adds a certain beauty and mystique to their existence, it also makes it too easy to wipe them from the planet.

Who would notice if the splittail minnow disappeared tomorrow? Truthfully, not many people. So, why do we save them? The obvious reason is that we cherish all life on this planet and understand the need to protect fragile wildlife from our destructive influence. But science has another reason to protect these specially evolved animals. As our climate changes, we are uncertain of the future. Will certain areas cool? Will deserts become more expansive? However future habitats look, nature has prepared these special animals to fill that niche.

A recent scientific study showed that some specialized Ice Age animals, such as the wooly rhino, were prepared for the chilly era well before their expanded habitat existed. The Tibetan Plateau, currently home to the snow leopard, housed the ancient wooly rhino and others, preparing them for the chilly Ice Age. As an incubator for future successful species, the plateau acted as a “cradle of evolution.”

In the same way, the habitats of today’s endangered and rare species could be preparing them for their “takeover” of the future world. Tropical rainforests, coral reefs, and other isolated biomes are commonly cited as cradles of evolution. Without the ability to see into the future, we have no way of knowing which biome will provide tomorrow’s animals. Therefore, each is valuable and we must give the same protection to rare species such as the snow leopard as we do widespread animals such as the African lion (who, by the way, could use some help, too).