One of the greatest tragedies of our time is being both witness to and having a hand in the sixth extinction (which you can read more about here and here). Not only is it challenging and seriously depressing to try to understand this (a headline I saw this morning actually read: “Polar Bears Turn to Cannibalism as Arctic Ice Melts”); it often feels downright impossible to come up with solutions for helping endangered species recover.
But when we truly go after long-term solutions, we can start looking to the root of the problem for answers – allowing us to bypass short-sighted quick fixes. We found a great example of this in today’s New York Times about how this has happened in an impoverished region in southern China.
“It Takes Just One Village to Save a Species” tells the story of how, in 1996, Pan Wenshi, China’s premier panda biologist, suggested that in order to save the rapidly disappearing population of endangered langurs, the government address the region’s crippling poverty:
This was at a time when hunters were taking the canary-yellow young langurs from their cliff-face strongholds, and villagers were leveling the forest for firewood.
Dr. Pan quickly hired wardens to protect the remaining animals but then went a step further, taking on the larger social and economic factors jeopardizing the species, [believing] that alleviating the region’s continuing poverty was essential for their long-term survival.
In the 24-square-kilometer nature reserve where he has focused his studies, the langur population increased to more than 500 today from 96 in 1996.
“It’s a model of what can be done in hot-spot areas that have been devastated by development,” said Russell A. Mittermeier, the president of Conservation International. “Pan has combined all the elements — protection, research, ecotourism, good relations with the local community; he’s really turned the langur into a flagship for the region.”
Taking a straight-to-the-source solutions approach helped to create a win-win situation that proves that we can all find ways to live together. In this story, the government backed the solutions that truly brought about recovery. Not all countries are so lucky, but researchers and scientists are still working diligently to identify the long-term solutions that will lead to species recovery anyway. And hopefully, the barriers to implementation will fade away before biodiversity does.
Photo credit: The New York Times, courtesy of the Peking University Chongzuo Biodiversity Research Institute
When I was in software development, the mantra was "if we can get to 85%, then we've successfully completed the project." That may work in software and other business applications (maybe not...look at the financial markets), but it certainly doesn't work with today's complex problems involving the ecology of the planet. I hope that more folks involved in solving our ecological plight will take the time to dig to the root cause as Dr. Pan has done. Bravo!