A number of articles have recently suggested that humanity is slowly, but surely, killing off wildlife as it grows in population. Some Americans believe they are superior to wildlife and can treat the environment however they wish, with no significant personal consequences. When I was a child, I used to think that the world was my playground, a playground that repairs itself no matter how much damage I inflict on it. I seemed to believe in this self-repairing playground because I never saw any immediate consequences from hurting the environment.
In discussions of wildlife conservation, one controversial issue has been deciding how much responsibility humanity should take in conserving wildlife. On the one hand, hopeful conservationists argue that although not perfect, humanity can change its environmentally-destructive behaviors and even possibly bring extinct animals back to life. On the other hand, pessimistic conservationists contend that unless humanity takes drastic measures to preserve wildlife, many species that are currently alive today will eventually become extinct.
Common sense seems to dictate that once a species goes extinct, the extinction is permanent. However, there is a possibility of bringing extinct species back to life. According to a TED Talk presented by Stewart Brand, an avid environmentalist, the technology to bring extinct species back to life is being developed and becoming increasingly promising. Stewart Brand sees de-extinction, the bringing of extinct species back to life, as a way for humanity to make amends to extinct species.
Although de-extinction of a species would be an incredible accomplishment scientifically, these species have become extinct for a variety of reasons, mainly natural selection. Most extinct species would not be able to survive in the present time, whether it be because of environmental changes, humans, or other species. The main reason for de-extinction would be to make humans feel better about the animals they've killed. There would be no functional purpose to de-extinct a species, and there may even be negative consequences for doing so.
Species deserve their best chance at surviving. However, in 1987 scientists took that to a whole new level. At the time, there were only 22 condor birds left in California. Scientists launched a captive-breeding program in the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoos, where they brought all the remaining wild condors to be raised. Lizzie Wade, a science writer from Mexico City, questions the effectiveness of this captive breed program, “If the captive-breeding programme succeeded in its mission of raising birds that didn’t depend on humans for food, shelter, or any other basic necessity of condor life, it failed in other ways. The zoo-bred birds refused to adopt the manners we demand of wild animals. They weren’t scared of humans; they weren’t even willing to politely ignore us. Rather, they seemed fascinated by us."
Considering that captive-breeding was a disaster for these California condors, scientists turned to another method, known as puppet-rearing. This method required zookeepers to steal eggs from captured condors and raise the chicks with a hand puppet, which looks similar to an adult condor. Wade observes, “It’s tempting to see puppet-reared California condors and whooping cranes as victims of a horrific real-life version of Plato’s cave: after living in a shadow world since birth, they are suddenly dragged out into the blinding sunlight and forced to cope with an incomprehensibly rich and complex reality. Ill-equipped to live in anything but a carefully managed simulacrum of nature, they crack under the pressure. When viewed from this angle, it is hard to imagine why keepers thought puppet-rearing would produce psychologically healthy animals. When we must capture all the wild condors and raise their children for them, what is the difference between survival and extinction? Between nature and artifice? Wild and tame? Puppet and animal? There’s fear and more than a little disgust in not being able to tell the difference,” Saving a species from extinction does not mean we are helping the ecosystem; in fact we may be harming it.
Another example of humans interfering with the ecosystem occurred several years after some fishermen had released goats on one of the Galapagos islands. These goats had been released on the island in the 1950s. By the 1990s, this small population of goats had increased to over 100,000. These goats were a nuisance because they would eat vegetation on the islands, leaving the rare tortoises with destroyed habitats and very little food. What is known as Project Isabela was started in response to this massive goat issue. As part of this project, helicopters with sharp shooters flew around the islands and killed over ninety-five percent of the goats on the island.
Although I agree that shooting those goats was an extremely effective way to save the tortoises and the landscape, I do not agree that humans have the right to interfere with nature in this way. Holly Doremus, an environmental law professor at Berkley School of Law, makes a great point, “There’s no place, no matter how remote we get, that hasn’t been effected by human activity…We are radically remaking the world; and the question is, what’s our responsibility? I certainly do not think it is our responsibility to decide which animals live, and which animals die. I believe that we should let nature run its course, and accept whatever happens." Others may disagree and say, “We’re God, we might as well get good at it. And we’re going to have to create these ecosystems based on our best science."