Why Saving Species Matters


Adapted from Stewart Elgie's "Briefing Notes on the Species at Risk Act" (2002).

Obviously, there is some debate regarding the relative importance of the reasons listed below.

  • Protecting endangered species protects us: Wild species clean the air and water, renourish the soil, and maintain the planet's ecological processes which support human life. Loss of species have unknown effects on the ecosystems they inhabit. Loss of too many species may result in ecosystem collapse.

  • Ecological indicators: Endangered species are like canaries in a coal mine. When a species becomes endangered it is a visible warning that the ecological system it inhabits is also in danger (and that more species may be lost unless we take action). For instance, when beluga whales wash up dead on the shores of the St. Lawrence River, and must be disposed of as hazardous waste, it is a clear sign that toxic pollution is damaging the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River system.

  • A living laboratory: Loss of endangered species may lead to the loss of life saving drugs. Over 40% of our medicines come from wild species, including many cancer-fighting drugs. For example, the drug taxol, now one of the leading treatments for ovarian cancer, was recently discovered in Canada's pacific yew tree. Similarly, the drug used to treat Leukemia and Hodgkin's disease was discovered by Canadian scientists in the Rosy Periwinkle, a rare plant from Madagascar. Even Aspirin comes from the willow tree. Loss of endangered species may lead to the loss of life saving drugs.

  • National identity: Wild species are an integral part of our national identity; they adorn our flags, our artwork, and our currency. They act as symbols of our nation.

  • Economics: Protecting endangered species makes good sense ecologically, but also economically. According to a Statistics Canada Report (The Importance of Wildlife to Canadians), Canadians spend $9 billion a year in wildlife-related activities (such as birdwatching, fishing, or visits to natural areas), generating $5 billion in tax revenue and over 200,000 direct jobs. The livelihoods of many Canadians depend on maintaining our diversity of wild species.

  • Global duty: With its vast lands, rich array of wildlife and comparative wealth, Canada has a unique opportunity and duty to be a world leader in conserving species and spaces. If Canada cannot effectively protect its endangered species how can we expect developing nations to do so?

  • Sustainable development: The major challenge facing modern society is to learn to live sustainably. We must learn to meet our needs in ways that leave behind a healthy planet for future generations. One of the most basic requirements of sustainable development is to be able to meet our needs without wiping out other forms of life. We must meet this basic challenge--of protecting our endangered species--before we can hope to address even more difficult challenges (such as climate change).

  • Ethical reasons: Many people believe that all species have an inherent right to exist and that it is morally wrong for humans to exterminate other species that have occupied the planet for tens of thousands of years.

Threats to Wild Species

  • The single greatest threat to species is loss of habitat the places they live, breed, feed and raise their young. Habitat loss is responsible for over 80% of species decline in Canada.
  • For example, 75% of Canada's original prairie has been paved or plowed, including 99% of the tall grass prairie. Southern Ontario has lost over 90% of its original Carolinian (deciduous) forests and wetlands, giving it the nation's highest concentration of endangered species.
  • An estimated 240 acres (about 200 football fields) of natural habitat is lost every hour in Canada, displacing wildlife species that lived there. This trend must be halted if we are to preserve our biological diversity.
  • Other causes include pollution, over-harvesting, and introduction of alien species.