Photograph by: Lori Tan
The Philippine eagle is one of the largest and most endangered eagles in the world. The raptor is currently documented on just four Philippine islands—Mindanao, Luzon, Leyte, and Samar. Scientists estimate that perhaps only a few hundred pairs remain in the wild. With a wingspan of nearly seven feet and a weight of up to 14 pounds, the species, Pithecophaga jefferyi, casts an impressive shadow as it soars through its rainforest home. Its long tail helps it skillfully maneuver while hunting for its elusive prey, like flying lemurs or palm civets.
But securing prey has become increasingly difficult for one of the world’s largest raptors. Continued deforestation due to logging and development in the Philippines has pushed the eagle to the brink of extinction. Today, those that remain struggle to find enough food and habitat to survive. Though some of these resourceful birds have adjusted to the reduced surroundings, development continues to threaten their existence.
Conservationists are dedicated to providing the national bird a secure home. The question is why? What is the point of saving the Philippine Eagle and other endangered species?
- We need healthy and diverse ecosystems to survive
Living organisms – plants, animals and microorganisms – supply a myriad of ecosystem services upon which life depends. They provide:
- Clear air to breathe
- Clean water to drink
- Fertile soil to produce food
- Physical materials for shelter and fuel
- Stabilization of the Earth’s climate
- Protection against flood and storm damage
- Plant pollination
These functions are supported by biodiversity – including the number of species and their relative abundance. Biodiversity refers to the variability of the Earth’s genes, species and ecosystems – and their interdependence. Think of it as a “web of life”. There is a direct link between native species richness and ecosystem health – and hence, quality of human life. Research shows that as species are lost, ecosystems start to lose functionality and become more prone to collapse. The loss of an essential species can disrupt ecosystem services and have many unintended negative consequences.
- In Africa, a decrease in lions and leopards led to a dramatic increase in olive baboons, which threaten farm crops and livestock, and spread intestinal worms.
- The extinction of the passenger pigeon is connected to the proliferation of Lyme disease. Passenger pigeons ate vast quantities of acorns, which today support large populations of deer mice – the main carrier of Lyme’s disease.
- Declining sea otter populations in Alaska led to a rise in sea urchin numbers – their main food source. The urchins decimated the kelp forests, leading to a loss of habitat and food for numerous other species.
Biodiversity is the cornerstone of our existence on Earth. As argued by ecologist Euan Ritchie: “Why should it matter to us if we have a few less species? We are connected to and deeply dependent on other species. From pollination of our crops by to carbon storage by our forests, and even the bacteria in our mouths, we rely upon biodiversity for our very existence.”
- Biodiversity enriches our lives
Human cultures have co-evolved with our environment. Consequently, many species play an important role in peoples’ cultural identities. For example, the endangered Asian elephant is a spiritual icon in Asia. In Hinduism, the powerful deity honored before all sacred rituals is the elephant-headed Ganesh. Even in a less spiritual society such as Australia, cultural values place importance on the rugged and remote ‘bush’. Unique threatened species such as the Koala and Tasmanian Devil are national icons. Biodiversity also provides us with recreational joy. This is particularly important in a highly urbanized society such as Sydney, where the ability to connect with the natural environmental can inspire and heal.
- Biodiversity has immense economic value
The global value of ecosystems (which depend on biodiversity) is estimated at $124 trillion per year.
- An estimated 40% of world trade is based on biological products or processes
- Up to 50% of the global $640 billion a year pharmaceutical industry depends on natural resources
- The value of pollination services from wild pollinators in the U.S. alone is estimated at up to $6 billion dollars a year.
The economic value of biodiversity is particularly important. Tourism accounts for a significant percentage of GDP with a continual annual growth rate. This value depends on maintaining healthy ecosystems.
- Morals: Conserving species is the right thing to do
Each species represents thousands and millions of years of change and adaptation. Each species is complex and unique, with its own distinct history and identity. When a species is wiped out by human over-use of natural resources, we force an untimely end to its extraordinary story. We destroy this life force, and we can never bring it back. Extinction is forever.
As poetically expressed by the ethicist Holmes Rolston III: “Several billion years’ worth of creative toil, several million species of teeming life, have been handed over to the care of this late-coming species in which mind has flowered and morals have emerged. Ought not those of this sole moral species to do something less self-interested than count all the produce of an evolutionary ecosystem as…resources for their larder, laboratory materials, recreation for their ride?”
Having survived through the trials of life for millennia, species have a right to continued existence. And our future generations have a right to enjoy the benefits they offer. We didn’t create species, but our actions are destroying them. We are morally obliged to stop this.
Philippine Eagle Pamana found shot dead in Davao Oriental last August 16, 2015 Photo by Philippine Eagle Foundation
Sources: ngm.nationalgeographic.com, ecocene.com.au