The Insatiable in Pursuit of the Inedible
By Stephen Leahy
Nov 28 (IPS) – In an ironic twist, officially listing a species as endangered drives up its value to collectors and consumers, putting it on an even faster track to extinction, researchers in Paris reported Tuesday.
A perverse human penchant for possessing the last remaining giant parrot, tegu lizard or lady’s slipper orchid increases the value of the species so that collectors will spend thousands of dollars and go to any length, legal or illegal, to obtain them.
This triggers a positive feedback loop between exploitation and rarity that drives a species into an extinction vortex, Franck Courchamp and colleagues write in the scientific journal PloS Biology.
“It can be dangerous for a species to announce that it has become rare if it cannot be protected from exploitation,” Courchamp told IPS from his office at the University of Paris-South in Orsay, France.
“Even inconspicuous species can suddenly become valuable just because they are rare,” he said.
Hobby collectors, the exotic pet trade, trophy hunters, traditional medicine and luxury goods made from rare species are among the forces pushing rare species into extinction.
And the scientific literature is often used to identify the next hot species, Courchamp found.
Immediately after an article recognised the small Indonesian turtle (Chelodina mccordi) and Chinese gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) as rarities, their prices soared on the exotic pet market. The turtle is now nearly extinct and the gecko can no longer be found in its southeastern China niche.
Exotic pet traders covet a wide range of creatures, including orangutans, monkeys, reptiles, birds and wild cats, as well as arachnids, insects and fish.
The Internet is a major factor in driving species into extinction faster than ever, says Ernie Cooper, director of wildlife trade at the World Wildlife Fund-Canada.