Responsibly Fighting Extinction


Conserving species can be expensive. Do we expend every effort to save them?

Preventing extinction is one of the highest goals of conservation for a plethora of reasons. This deserves it’s own discussion so I won’t cover it in full detail here. Suffice to say that extinction is an irreversible loss of precious life that all future generations will suffer from.

The goal of preventing extinction is the hope of eventually restoring the species to a state in which it can thrive on its own. If that is impossible (for one reason or another) then spending resources to conserve the species only keeps them on life support until funds run out. Responsible conservationists do not fight extinction risks without realistically considering the circumstances.

Here are some (rare) examples of when combating extinction might be a mistake:

  • If it is a form, variant, or overly-split-subspecies that will inevitably re-integrate with the wider species population. 1

  • If a species is going extinct in the wild, but thriving in captivity.

  • Conserving known populations without first surveying for the existence of others.
  • If species is diminishing locally, but thriving elsewhere. So-called “locally extinct,” which is a terrible misnomer.

Most of the time it is unknown whether these conditions apply, which is why we continue to conserve species against incredible odds - because there is still hope. There are some stunning stories of recovery. I want to write a whole post just on this subject, but for now here are some examples of recovery.

With the size of the extinction crisis we are dealing with, it is important to triage. We have to divert resources to places where they will save the most lives, rather than let them flow continuously into a project which depends more on luck than resources.

Occasionally it becomes obvious that is is one of these unfortunate situations and yet we still continue to fight a battle that has already been lost. It is tragic to let a species go extinct, but it is even more tragic when those resources could go towards making a difference for a species that still needs help.

  1. Some of these problems come from the ambiguity in defining “species.” This is a big topic and one I will be continuing to discuss at length. [return]