13 December 2005

<i>Sus salvanius</i>

PygmyhogA coalition of conservation groups calling themselves the Alliance for Zero Extinction has published a report detailing 800 species on the verge of extinction. They have previously staved off extinction for a few species, including the pygmy hog (Sus salvanius, pictured left). My question is, "Why bother?"

This isn't a popular argument, I know, but I've become more and more Darwinian the longer I work in this field. We're the only species in history to actively try to affect the fortunes of our co-earthdwellers. Why should we aim for "zero extinction"? Extinction is a part of evolution and has been happening constantly since the beginning of life on Earth. Without the help of a great many extinctions humans would never have evolved.

Don't get me wrong, I don't want the whole planet to be paved over, but we're not yet close to the same order of magnitude inflicted by the known mass extinction events (which purged 50-90% of existing species tens or hundreds of millions of years ago). Why do we draw such a distinction between our typical "industrial" existence and the separate "natural" world? We're merely a part (admittedly perhaps too big for our britches) of the greater environment.

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