Priceless or Worthless? The Fight for Earth’s Most Endangered Species

If some smidgen of bacterial goo was found on a faraway asteroid, it would be the discovery of the year, perhaps the century. Life on Earth would not be alone! Yet when it comes to the life that surrounds us, people can be remarkably cavalier, even downright callous: What’s another frog species more or less? What’s it do for us, anyways?

Indeed, many conservationists have renounced the species-saving approach to nature, instead embracing the notion that nature is best preserved when it provides people with some tangible economic benefit. Creatures that don’t have an obvious utilitarian value are out of luck.

Some conservationists are fighting back. In “Priceless or Worthless?,” a report issued Sept. 11 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Zoological Society of London, a desperate plea is made on behalf of Earth’s 100 most threatened species — creatures that, without direct and immediate human action, will cease to exist.

Among the menagerie of the endangered are rhinos and rats, turtles and birds, even insects and plants and fungi. These last are hardly charismatic, and not the sort of species typically associated with inspirational calls to protect life, yet they make the essential moral question all the more striking: What has a right to life?

“While the utilitarian value of nature is important, conservation goes beyond this. Do these species have a right to survive, or do we have a right to drive them to extinction?” said Jonathan Baillie, the ZSL’s conservation director, in a press release.

On the following pages, Wired looks at a few of the imperiled species described in “Priceless or Worthless?” Each represents a singular form of life in the universe, and each is literally irreplaceable.

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About endoftheicons

The Leuser Ecosystem on the island of Sumatra in Indonesia is in grave danger. Local politicians want to allow logging, mining and palm oil plantations in this vulnerable area. Sumatran orangutans, rhinos, elephants and tigers are already hanging on by a thread. They will not survive the destruction of the Leuser Ecosystem.

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