Save Me

I sometimes think there are good reasons why certain species are endangered. I am sure there are plenty of species who were minding their own business and doing pretty well for themselves until we entered the picture and wiped them out. The passenger pigeon springs to mind. However, there are others that look destined to become extinct whether we help them along or not. Nature seems to be telling them (and us) that their time is up. They had their moment of fame and now it’s time to step aside. The cheetah seems to be one of these. No matter what you do to help them they just seem destined to go extinct. Cheetahs are so inbred that they will accept skin grafts from unrelated individuals. Vaccines given to domestic cats to protect them from cat flu actually cause the disease in cheetahs. Normally mild infections, like ringworm, run rampant in cheetahs. Even the animal kingdom seems to be against them with lions doing everything they can to wipe them out by stealing their food and killing their cubs.

Given the limited resources that are available for endangered species programs and the fact that we cannot save them all, it would be logical to expect that those species that have recovery programs got there through a rigorous process of scientific examination exploring the pros and cons of attempting to save them as opposed to leaving them to die out. The chief criterion for commitment should surely hinge upon the program’s chance of success. Unfortunately nothing could be further from the truth. Species get recovery programs for three reasons: 1) someone powerful and influential in a zoo or related institution takes a liking to them and wants to make an effort to save them, 2) someone affluent takes a liking to them and is prepared to throw a heap of cash at a recovery effort, 3) they are cute. The final reason must surely explain all the money being spent on cheetahs and giant pandas. This also helps to explain why many of the species with recovery programs do so poorly, such as the orange-bellied parrot which is worse off now than when its program started over 15 years ago.

Dr. F. Bunny

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