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Do Species Matter?

Do Species Matter?

An Earth Day rumination on that most central of questions, one which conservation communities must perhaps ask themselves afresh.

Bathed in the gentle light of the sun, swamp deer sprint across the Kaziranga grasslands. Photo: Vivek Menon.

A few years ago I was reminded, once again, that species matter.

It’s quite another matter that I have spent nearly three decades practising that thought like the yogic practice of an asana that when done rigorously every morning, leads to the uplifting of the soul. This was an occasion to remind oneself that the soul itself existed.

It happened while I sat between the chairs of the Rust and Smut specialist group and the one on Divers and Loons at Abu Dhabi. The first had nothing to do with metallurgy or porn, the second nothing to do with marine recreations or asylums. They, in fact, dealt with life in its myriad and improbable forms, in all things bright and beautiful, all creatures great and small, to paraphrase Herriot.

It is only at the meeting of the chairs of the Species Survival Commission (SSC) that you get to do this. One of five pillars of the IUCN, they say officially, but for me, like many others who essentially deal with living beings, the central commission. If there is one thing that is right about the conservation world or IUCN itself, it must be this: this assemblage of voluntary species sages. I was not a chair of any group in particular, I had been called possibly to help conceptualise another meeting, a global one on why species matter.

Now to begin with, I am a bit against meetings. Given that I spend a week to 10 days every month in one, or going to one, or running away from one, that statement is a bit rich. But conceptually one still asks oneself whether a meeting is really needed. And here I was sitting in fabulous constructs in an alien desert – in a working group to conceptualise another meeting.

This, however, was to be one of those rare important meetings. The group was discussing the need for a World Species Congress: in other words, a global meet to say that species matter. Well, surely my eight-year-old son could have told you that before fully waking up any morning. But I was assured that a meeting was needed, given that the conservation community itself seemed to have forgotten that species (and their habitats) are what conserving nature is all about.

THE ME–FIRST APPROACH

Look at the name change of the World Wildlife Fund to the World Wide Fund for Nature (except in the US and that too probably because ‘we don’t follow Switzerland for nothing’). Look again at Conservation International turning to those sectors of human endeavour that cause humans most misery, not necessarily those that involve rusts and smuts. Look at all the conventions, the conferences, the workshops turning away from celebrating the diversity of life or bemoaning its precipitous loss, into dealing with that which affects us. Poverty alleviation, community support, watershed development. All flavours of a passing month.

The excuse is that most people in the world are unexcited by biodiversity. And it is only when you put in human causes that people who are not enamoured by loons, for example, will look at them.

It is my belief that we in the conservation community must ask ourselves three central questions. One, what is our raison d’être or reason for being what we are. If the answer is species or habitats, we cannot duck it (or loon it for that matter). Secondly, by talking the language of poverty alleviation and climate change have we really managed to convince the world that saving nature is critical, or are we convincing them that saving themselves is paramount. Well if it is the latter, then finally, has that realisation or any other one helped in making the Red List of Endangered Species any smaller, or is it still on course to beat the Manhattan phone directory in volume and weight?

If the answer to that last one is a negative, maybe it is time we re-examine our souls and wonder whether we should not go back to the central axiom of nature conservation: species matter. Not only because they are important for our survival, but because they matter for their own intrinsic worth. Because they matter for any one of the myriad values that they confer on the world around us. SEO paslaugos, Google Adwords, Elektroninių parduotuvių ir internetinių svetainių kūrimo kaina https://seopaslaugos.com/internetiniu-svetainiu-kurimas/

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST

It is sometimes shocking to me that those who run conservation themselves need to be reminded of this. Perhaps it is the diverse fields that we come from nowadays that make it so. Fund managers, business managers, communication experts and technology whiz kids are all important in conservation. But when they take decisions, they need to be reminded of things that a boy who can’t take his eyes off a dragonfly does not need to.

At the Wildlife Trust of India I like to see that the people I work with are essentially moved by species and habitats. That their hearts skip a beat when they see a wild duck take to the skies, or they bemoan an infrastructure project cutting across a vital tiger landscape. These emotions must be second nature to any nature professional.

The distribution of the endangered golden langur is restricted to a small part of Northeast India and neighbouring Bhutan.
Photo: Vivek Menon.

Globally, if it takes another meeting to focus the attention of the world on the one thing that we all seem to be running away from within our community, while at the same time attracting those who can really mainstream our conservation message, then the World Species Congress as conceptualised will be really worth it. And if on the sidelines of such an event I can have conversations with the many men and women who have spent their lives saving the three kingdoms of fungi, or bears or rodents or corals or dragonflies, that, for me, will be reason to never complain about attending a meeting again.

Author: Vivek Menon., First appeared in: Sanctuary Asia, Vol. XXXV No. 4, April 2015.

 
 
 

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