The 100th edition of our my.Wildlife eBulletin this month got us thinking about the 100 most threatened species from
around the world, and where Queensland and our Society fit in to the picture.
The official list of the world’s 100 most threatened species, entitled ‘Priceless or worthless?’, was published on 11 September 2012 at the World Conservation Congress in South Korea, the quadrennial meeting of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). Compiled by more 8000 scientists from the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the first-of-its-kind list brought to light the century of plant and animal species clinging most precariously to existence as a result of human actions such as habitat destruction, pollution, hunting and climate change.
The vast majority of the 100 places on the list are filled by little-known species such as the willow blister, a spore-shooting fungus that grows parasitically on twigs in a small corner of Wales. Far fewer are held by more widely known species such as the Javan rhino and Attenborough’s echidna.
Certainly belonging to the former category is Queensland’s red-finned blue eye, a small fish restricted to four springs in the centre of the state with an estimated population of less than 3000 individuals, a distinction that earns the species – and Queensland – a spot on the unenviable list.
With a title like ‘Priceless or Worthless?’, the list presents us with the challenge of whether we care more for species that are iconic and “charismatic” and which have “obvious benefits” to humans. Speaking for itself, Wildlife Queensland feels it can answer the topical question with a conscious ‘no’.
The Society’s works to reconnect and restore the natural range of the ‘cute-and-cuddly’ mahogany glider in far north Queensland are given no higher priority than those of our Upper Dawson Branch in protecting the habitat and survival of the boggomoss snail, a lesser-known and arguably less favoured species.
WPSQ’s ‘top 10’:
- Richmond birdwing butterfly
- Mary River turtle
- Boggomoss snail
- Bridled nailtail wallaby
- Flying fox*
- Marine turtle*
WPSQ’s ‘top 10’ clearly reflects the Society’s disregard for playing favourites. While the Richmond birdwing butterfly is undoubtedly a stunning creature and is therefore more likely to engage the affections and support of the wider community, the plight of the often-contentious flying fox is no less vital in the eyes of Wildlife Queensland.
“We have an obligation to do everything in our collective power to conserve any animal at risk of extinction,” says Senior Projects Officer, Matt Cecil. “While I admit this may seem idealistic, giving up on any species is, in my opinion, a slippery slope. It starts with one species, after which a path is laid to rationalize giving up on a second, a third, and so on.”
Wildlife Queensland’s focus remains firmly on all native plants and animals within Queensland that suffer at the hands of habitat loss or degradation, predation, pollution, invasive species, and/or knowledge gaps in their baseline data.
“Take for example the Of Least Concern platypus,” says Policies and Campaigns Manager, Des Boyland. “In Queensland, its distribution is unknown, particularly its western limits. The nationally Endangered spotted-tailed quoll is similarly elusive and its total populations are certainly unknown.”
“With limited resources available, there’s always been a debate as to where conservation funds are best spent,” continues Boyland. “Should they be directed towards preventing species from becoming endangered or should they go to protecting and conserving those on the brink of extinction?” Wildlife Queensland’s view is that both areas need to be addressed.
“A society that knowingly allows any species, charismatic or otherwise, to drift into extinction is frighteningly bereft of conscience and compassion,” writes Wildlife Queensland President, Peter Ogilvie. “A critical factor in that statement is the word “knowingly”. It is one of the key roles of our organisation to help people know what is happening to our wildlife, and advise them what might be done to halt the destructive march to extinction.”
Chair of the IUCN Species Survival Commission, Simon Stuart, agrees that “all species have a value to nature and thus, in turn to us humans. Although the value of some species may not appear obvious at first, all species in fact contribute in their way to the healthy functioning of the planet.”
In an April 2015 press release Hon. Greg Hunt, Federal Minister for the Environment, stated that “there are more than 1750 mammal, bird, reptile, fish, frog, insect and plant species now at risk and we can’t afford for declines in their populations to continue. Each of these species has its own intrinsic value, and collectively they enrich our lives and our country.”
But if highlighting iconic species leads to raised awareness of broader conservation issues, surely it can’t be all bad. “Promoting conservation of a more common species like the platypus can be useful because of the associated ecosystem health requirements of the platypus,” explains Cecil. “While the face of the issue is the cute animal, the true message should be about improving ecosystem health.”
“This message needs to be clear: improve or sustain ecosystem health and we should always have platypus in our waterways. Allow ecosystem health to continue to deteriorate and we may see this common species become listed.”
“It’s an important function of a wildlife advocacy group to promote conservation of all wildlife and its associated habitats,” concludes Cecil. “Don’t forget, extinction is unequivocally forever. No amount of money can bring them back once they’re gone.”