SciSun: Too Big to Fail   Leave a comment

Endangered Species week is May 17 – 24. While it’s important to remember every day there are thousands of plants, animals, and other species that are Threatened or Endangered – that for many reasons are very close to going away, forever – this week is a special time to think about how our actions and attitudes affect the other species on Earth.

And there are a lot of species on Earth – certainly over 2 million, and some scientists estimate over 10 million. Many of these haven’t even been discovered, but are hidden in jungles, the sea, and other little-explored areas. But of all these millions, most of us probably are probably only aware of a very few well-known or familiar plants and animals that we see or read about every day – the lions and tigers; elephants and polar bears; whales, penguins, and wolves. These types of easily-recognized examples are known as ‘charismatic megafauna‘ – two big words that mean large or well-known animals that most people think are interesting or cute; animals that people can identify with – or anthropomorphize – another big word meaning seeing human behavior in things that aren’t human. For example, just because we see a video of a mother tiger licking or ‘kissing’ her babies, doesn’t necessarily mean the mother is loving the babies – it might just mean the babies are dirty or have a bad smell the mother is trying to remove. But because we want the tiger (or panda or seal) to be part of a loving family, we see human behavior in something that isn’t human. This isn’t to say the animals can’t show love – just every time we see it on a nature video, doesn’t mean they necessarily are.

Not that this is bad, in itself – developing a greater understanding and interest in animals by observing and comparing their actions to our human behaviors is a great way to discover connections and recognize how every species is unique to itself, yet still part of a larger ecosystem – but when any species is taken out of context, it could lead to too much emphasis on some species, and exclusion of others that could be even more threatened but less adorable. And notice that most of these ‘charismatic’ animals look exceedingly huggable? (But we wouldn’t suggest you try to hug any of them. Not only could they be dangerous, but remember they were just licked all over by their mothers).

'Kali at Play'  John Gomes   Alaska Zoo, USFWS

Now, Polar Bear with 30 percent extra fuzziness! Only available for a limited time.

But in a world that’s been forever changed by humans, is it possible, or even reasonable, to try and save every species where environments and ecosystems that have formed over thousands of years, today have been modified or even destroyed in a matter of decades? Could some species already be on the final path to extinction, just as plants and animals have come and gone for millions of years? Because man has moulded the world into a very different place than it was in the past, do we even begin to consider that no amount of compassion or money or action will save some of the species we all know and cherish?

Every recent extinction has been caused directly or indirectly by man. (Well, ‘recent’ as in since man became what we know ourselves as today). If climate change results in fewer places for polar bears to live and raise their young; or if ‘developing’ more and more forest into farmland to feed the growing human population leads to less and less natural environment for elephants; without the poor decisions humans have made in just our recent history the survival pressures and potential extinction of these megafauna would span tens of thousands of years and not only hundreds or even decades, as scientists are now recording.

So should we say ‘been good to know you’ to the wolves and rhinos and other familiar species as they disappear, one-by-one, and exist only in museums or the latest CGI recreations? (Coming soon: the cable premiere of ‘PolarPandaSaurus!’). As long as healthy ecosystems still exist, and we recognize the positive and negative impact of our actions upon these systems, and we make the best choices possible, it’s NEVER too late; but all of us, from scientist to suburbanite, need to ask ourselves important questions about the health, future, and our place in the environment: Are we willing to live so there’s space and resources for all; or do we even want or need every species, or every wild place? And from elephants to sharks; from tigers to pandas to humanity itself; are any of us Too Big, to Fail?


Michonne Says:  Marmots aren’t really big, there are lots of animals that are bigger. But marmots aren’t very small either, there are lots of animals that are smaller. Marmots are just the right size to be a marmot.

Posted May 19, 2013 by ECOVIA eco-adventure® in SciSun

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