news for Americans concerned about the environment. More progress has been
made in saving animal species around the world than many people realize—and
things could get even better if people are realistic about which ones need
protecting in the future.
Consider the world’s
whales. Only 25 years ago, most whale species were in crisis. Now, 70 of
the 75 species of marine cetacean (whales, dolphins, porpoise) are no
longer endangered. The whale has been saved. Only a very few, such as the
blue and humpback, now require continued total protection from hunting.
Now, as we adapt to these achievements, we may need to look again at the
institutions that regulate the environment on our behalf and how they are
run. By insisting on maintaining total protection for a few saved and
abundant species, governments and environmental organizations actually do
conservation a disservice. Such an approach puts at risk the international
cooperation necessary to establish appropriate levels of protection for all
species. The next environmental challenge could be that of protecting the
international environmental institutions themselves.
To save species from extinction we must be honest about what species are
genuinely at risk and really need total protection. If species are no
longer endangered, we can chalk it up in the win column, remove the
endangered label and ensure any subsequent human dealings with it are
carried out in a carefully managed and sustainable way.
Such honesty presents a new challenge because many people have a
favorite species. The whale might be one. Preventing hunting of a few
thousand of the world’s million or so minke whales, however, is not at
all important for global species conservation. Total protection of minke
whales is not merited by their real abundance.
Many other animal species are genuinely at risk. A system of protection
that seems increasingly corrupted by arbitrary and unscientific
preferences, however, only endangers them more.
Conservation requires honesty because it relies on cooperation and
goodwill. Honesty, therefore, provides the best protection for the future
of all species.
|Eugene Lapointe is President
of IWMC World Conservation Trust. He was Secretary General of CITES, the
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and
Flora, from 1982 to 1990.