Manatees are as much a part of Florida’s identity as oranges and Mickey Mouse. Picture, for a moment, a manatee floating effortlessly beneath the water’s surface, looking for a patch of vegetation to munch on before it innocently moves through a precious Floridian body of water. Pretty majestic, right?
Manatees got lucky. Their conservation required minimal adjustments to the ways Floridians and tourists enjoy boating hobbies. Unfortunately, most endangered species aren’t as fortunate.
As humans continue to develop land in order to meet demands for our own species, territory clashes will occur with animals that have established their niches long before we showed up. Protecting these animals can cost millions of dollars and allow the government to unfashionably influence the use of private property.
People often resist changing for animals if it will alter their own livelihood, but unpopular policies for the sake of species protection are currently adhered to by the enforcement of law. Unfortunately, Congress may soon change the government’s stance on endangered animals.
According to the Center for Biological Diversity, the Endangered Species Act was legislatively attacked more than 60 times in 2017. Those attacks focused on defunding attempts to enforce laws that protect endangered species but also impede on land development. The President Donald Trump administration now considers economic analysis when deciding whether to save an animal, and an economic value on living things is something scientists can’t seem to effectively refute.
Endangered animals should be protected because this Earth is not just ours. We share it with other living things, and it’s their home just as much as it is ours. Scientists shouldn’t have to use another argument to save these animals, but under the current administration, scientists will have to push for the protection of many endangered animals without the law behind them. The best solution is to argue in terms people will understand and care about.
An exemplary success story is the relationship between the Ecuadorian brown-headed spider monkey and cacao farmers. With only 250 of the monkeys estimated to be left on this planet, this monkey is one of the most endangered primates on record. The problem was, in an effort to plant more cacao, locals to the Chocóan rain forests had been cutting down trees that provided a home for the spider monkeys. These farmers performed backbreaking labor just to survive, so why would they care if a monkey is losing its habitat? Realizing the farmers were driven by making money, scientists brought in Samuel von Rutte, an expert in fermenting cacao, to lead training sessions on how to grow more valuable cacao without cutting down trees. Since then, farmers have tripled their profits from $1.50 to $3.50 per kilo, and scientists are already seeing optimistic signs for the spider monkey’s future. Scientists only became successful once they merged conservation with the values of the farmers.
It would be ideal for everyone on earth to see an altruistic purpose to share the planet with other animals, but more endangered animals risk the possibility of becoming extinct as scientists wait for this miraculous paradigm shift. No one wants to see an animal disappear forever, but people will still value personal matters over the life of another living thing. Scientists must change their argument to terms people care about in order to save endangered animals.
Joshua Udvardy is a UF environmental engineering junior. His columns focus on science.