MadSci Network: Zoology

Re: Why are people wanting to kill endangered species of the rain forest?

Date: Wed Feb 11 13:37:36 1998
Posted By: Neala MacDonald, Grad Student, MSc in Zoology, University of Western Ontario
Area of science: Zoology
ID: 885911517.Zo

Good Question. I cannot imagine that very many of the people who are 
responsible for the killing of endangered species of the rain forest do so 
deliberately.  Probably the worst culprit (with the longest-lasting impact) 
on these rare plants and animals is simple economic development. Much land 
is being cleared of trees and natural forest so that crop plants such as 
tobacco and coffee can be grown for profit, which feeds the local people 
working there. Logging (as well as the access roads that are cut into the 
land for this) changes the landscape, permits uncontrolled erosion of 
precious soil, and as the vegetation changes it affects all the organisms 
in that food web.
 Many species cannot change quickly enough to survive, and the endangered 
ones tend to be the first to go (which is really sad because biodiversity, 
or species variety, is one of the most important features to help an 
ecosystem survive). So habitat destruction is one of the main sources of 
extinction. {Which is a shame - for all we know the cure for some major 
disease lies in the roots of some plant in the rain forest. If we don't get 
a chance to study it's medicinal value before it all gets plowed under - we 
will never know what it could have done for humankind!}
Furthermore, as a species becomes rare, it's value increases to wildlife 
collectors. Because they are now willing to pay more money, it is very hard 
for some poachers to resist this offer, and they will take the risk of 
hunting endangered animals. 
One of the best ways to combat both of these forces driving the killing of 
endangered rain forest species is to elevate the value of the ecosystem to 
the culprits doing the damage. Tourism (and tourist dollars) have been used 
somewhat successfully in some places, such as the rain forest in Rwanda, 
Africa. Unfortunately the main tourist attraction - the rare Mountain 
gorilla - may actually be susceptible to human diseases that are being 
accidentally transmitted by tourists! 
It's a tough decision all around, and it is important to put yourself in 
all individual's shoes. But awareness of the facts is the best defense for 
anyone. I highly recommend that you visit the nearest zoo and find out 
more, and perhaps ask what they are doing for the conservation of 
endangered species...
Keep up the good work!

Neala MacDonald
Zoologist and Science Outreach Coordinator
University of Western Ontario
London, ON, Canada

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