Wildlife, historical sites and the Maldive islands are under threat. Your interest may even help save themby Prospect / July 20, 2011 / Leave a comment
Published in August 2011 issue of Prospect Magazine
An aye-aye: along with other lemurs, its habitat is threatened by increasing deforestation in Madagascar
In 1991, writer Douglas Adams and zoologist Mark Carwardine published their book Last Chance to See. It charted their journey across the world in search of animals on the brink of extinction, from the aye-aye of Madagascar to the kakapo parrot of New Zealand.
Twenty years on, some of them have hung on and some have increased in number. One, the Yangtze River dolphin, is probably extinct. Like others at the threshold of oblivion, its plight worsened as economic growth caused pollution and habitat damage.
It seems contradictory, therefore, to see the conservation message articulated in terms of economics. It is argued that if people see a financial value in rhinos, komodo dragons, macaws and so on, they will make efforts to keep the species alive.
The most obvious profit to be made is through “eco-tourism,” a booming business, with TV programmes fuelling demand for wildlife experiences. It has in some cases been helpful, for example spurring greater efforts to look after east Africa’s mountain gorillas. For some animals, especially those that are more widespread, such as tigers, there have been local benefits but this has been insufficient to stem a decline towards extinction. In the case of tigers, the continuing loss and fragmentation of habitat, and the poaching of animals for use in spurious traditional medicines, continues to drive these creatures towards the abyss.
Irrespective of the circumstances of individual species, seeking to conserve wildlife through tourism will rarely on its own be sufficient. The value of nature is more profound than the price we are willing to pay to see it. A new branch of economics has emerged on how to value ecosystems and wildlife, and not only in relation to tourism. This is welcome, but it is…