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Endangered species can get a second chance

One of the great strengths of the encyclical, Praise Be: On care of our common home (Laudato Si), is its extensive treatment of the importance of biodiversity. Before the publication of the encyclical there had been little writing on biodiversity in Catholic social teaching.

The Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church (2004), published 11 years before the encyclical, does recognise the “environmental value of biodiversity… because it constitutes an extraordinary richness for all of humanity.”

In Praise Be, biodiversity has a deeply prominent role. The encyclical states, “The earth’s resources are being plundered because of short-sighted approaches to the economy, commerce and production. The loss of forests and woodlands entails the loss of species, which may constitute extremely important resources in the future, not only for food, but also for curing disease and other uses.

“Different species contain genes, which could be key resources in the years ahead for meeting human needs and regulating environmental problems” (No.32).

It goes on to make the point, “Other species have value in themselves. It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential resources to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.

“Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plants and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity. Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

The destruction of biodiversity is a disaster for planet earth. Scientists now estimate that 100,000 species become extinct each year through deforestation, poaching and pollution.

The current rate of extinction is estimated to be 1,000 times what it would be in the absence of human intervention.

But amid all the gloom, there is a flicker of hope through targeted breeding programmes. In 1998, the last wild oryx in the Quadi-Rime-Quadi Wildlife Reserve in Chad, was shot by a hunter.

Captive oryx are found in both the Middle East and in northern America. Now the Sahara Conservation Fund and the governments of Chad and Abu Dhabi are involved in a programme to reintroduce oryx into the wild.

Biologist, John Newby, who is leading the Sahara oryx programme, says that Chad is now well able to deal with poachers.

Mike Hoffmann, from the International Union for Conservation of Nature, says a growing number of species has been successfully reintroduced into the wild. In his words, “These species are not out of the woods by any means, but their status is no longer critical.”

Another group of species has been called Lazarus species. As the name implies, these are species which appear to have risen from the dead. 

One such species is the black-footed ferret of the North American Great Plains.

By the 1950s, it was thought that this species had become extinct as a result of farmers poisoning prairie dogs, which is the main source of food for the ferrets. To everyone’s surprise, in 1981, near Meeteetse, Wyoming, a dog killed a black-footed ferret.

During the following years the United States of America Fish and Wildlife Services captured 18 ferrets and reared them in captivity. By 2016 they had reintroduced 300 ferrets at six locations.

The plan is to have 3,000 breeding adults at 30 locations in the Great Plains.

There has been astonishing success with the blue-eyed black lemur in Madagascar. For years it was thought to be a taxonomic error, until in 1985 one was discovered in the Sahamalaza Peninsula in Madagascar. Its population was dropping precipitously, but it made a remarkable recovery. 

Early this year, it was taken off the list of 25 primate species thought to be in peril.

There are now about 3,000 black-footed ferrets in the population so, for now, the animal is safe. Those who are working at preserving species realise that success takes many years of conservation work on the ground.

But then as Praise Be says, “Each creature… reflects in its own being a ray of God’s infinite wisdom and goodness” (No.69).



       • Father Sean McDonagh