As a city-bred Singaporean whose experience with Nature has been limited to my brief stint in the military, I tend to think of Her (the personification tends to be female) less as a kindly woman who looks after everyone but more as an evil bitch intent on unleashing all manner of bugs and spiny plants on humans. As a result, I tend to be a little sceptical about the importance of saving endangered animals.
Which is not to say I don’t think protecting the environment is important–in fact I think it is of the utmost importance, given the doomsday tales that are being reported the world over about our seas becoming more inhospitable and the imminent collapse of oceanic ecosystems that will result in jellyfish being the only seafood left available. Ecosystems are also worth saving–I think it would be dangerous to allow entire ecosystems to collapse, considering how little we know about how the world or in fact we ourselves work.
On the other hand, spending money to protect individual species like pandas and tigers seems to me to be an extravagent use of funds that could be better used to feed starving children. If the black-and-white bears can’t even be bothered to breed, I personally don’t think they’re likely winners in the evolutionary runups to see which species can survive in a Homo sapiens-dominated planet.
Of course, they’re cute and all, and it would be nice to imagine that twenty years down the road you’ll be able to bring your children to some kind of zoo where they can see a panda, marvel at its cuteness and forget it within a week. Also, without them, I guess there would be little inspiration for children to grow up to become whaling-ship-chasing eco-warriors. The WWf would be left without their champions for fund-raising–after all, very few people would be convinced to save nature if they were shown its uglier creations:
Want to save the Aye Aye?
So as far as I’m concerned the only purpose for saving pandas and tigers is for aesthetic reasons (whether aesthetic reasons are good enough to constitute a moral responsibility to save these animals is another question altogether, I think).
Of course, it might be argued that, unlike pandas, tigers play an important role in their ecosystems as apex predators, but frankly I think we’ve more-or-less got the apex-predator roles down pat. And it doesn’t help for me to read about wildlife fanatics describing why we should save them: Tiger population critical, species at crossroads: WWF (Environmental News Network).
Just want to point out a quote taken from Sujoy Banerjee, director of WWF India’s species program from the article: “Whenever there is human-tiger conflict, the ultimate loser is the tiger.”
That could have come straight out of a Calvin and Hobbes strip.