Throughout geological history species have died out. Dinosaurs lived for 160 million years, but eventually, probably due to climatic and subsequent vegetational changes, became extinct.
Extinction is necessary for the development of biodiversity and we, ourselves, would not exist if it were not for extinction.
The current human species, Homo sapiens, - to which you and I belong -, is the result of millions of years of experiment and extinction. We exist due to the fact that something else died out.
Extinction is therefore, in itself, not a bad thing, but part of the developing process of evolution.
Biodiversity, the sum total of different animal, reptile, amphibian, bird, insect, arthropod, fish, viral and plant etc. species which is living in an environment and is in equilibrium, has taken many billions of years of evolution to reach the present level.
It is essentially fragile.
The biodiversity building blocks, species, exist because they perform a useful homogeneous role within the biotope. Take out one of the building blocks and little may happen, but the more of these blocks we take out, the more likely it is that the whole ecosystem will collapse – and the human species with it.
I would like to repeat that: In an ecosystem each member performs an inter-specific function whether they are predator or prey – they are all part of the food chain and useful. The possible exception to this rule is us – we are at the top end of the food chain and would not be missed.
The first hominids existed about 2.5 million years ago. At that time, the species was just one tiny part of the existing ecosystem.
Although we are uncertain exactly where the first hominid species came from, it is fairly certain that it was somewhere in eastern Africa.
From there they gradually spread out, i.e. walked, into the rest of the world. This took a long time and there were several radiations of hominids before we, Homo sapiens, became the only surviving hominid species.
We probably helped to kill off the other hominids, so you might say we already have had a great deal of experience of the extinction process.
We did not have much impact on the environment so long as our population size remained small. In the geological past the rate of extinction was slow, except at five identifiable mass extinction points, spanning a few hundred thousand years.
It is speculated that man is currently manufacturing the sixth one, which will only take a few hundred years.
During the last 10,000 years a large number of animal and plant species have become extinct, including the mammoths, the great Auk and sabre-tooth tiger.
Since the civilisation of our species, within the last five hundred years, this rate of extinction has increased so rapidly that it is estimated that the activities of man now results in the loss of two or three plant or animals species a day.
The well-known conservation emblem, the Dodo of Madagascar, is only one of the many examples of negative human interaction with it’s own biodiversity. Many species have been eaten into extinction by mankind, but now habitat destruction has become our major weapon against biodiversity.
The rapid growth of the human population within the last hundred years has placed increasing demands on the environment. It is not only the question of living space, but also the increased demand for agricultural and industrial land to accommodate the needs of the population which has dramatically affected our environment since the 2nd World War. You have seen how the already reduced forest cover here in Negros has declined since 1945 to effectively nothing.
This is a global phenomenon and since the world population is forecast to nearly double by mid century, 2050, the situation is not likely to improve.
In addition to the population growth, we have created our own home-grown environmental problem by making holes in the ozone layer which causes the greenhouse effect and warms the planet. Just to put iceing on the cake, I would also like to remind you that in 2028 we are scheduled to have a near-miss with the asteroid XF11.
The present situation and future outlook should please everyone who enjoys catastrophic scenarios.
We do have, however, a few options.
The first, and easiest, is to do nothing. This is the course of action taken by many people and, particularly, most politicians. If any of you are politicians, please do not take this personally, but do something about it.
Secondly, we could commit suicide, which would reduce the pressure on environmental resources, but unless a lot of people did this it would not materially effect the situation.
Thirdly, the option we have selected, is to try to stop the erosion of habitats and support reforestation measures, to help establish nature reserves where the endemic species are protected, to support local educational awareness programmes and to help with captive breeding programmes for endangered species and their eventual re-introduction back into the wild.
This last option may sound simple and clear, but it is not easy, nor quick, nor cheap to put into effect.
It takes ten minutes, at most, to cut a tree down with a chain-saw, but sixty years before a seedling becomes a tree of the same size. If you cut a forest down, it will take at least three tree generations, about six hundred years, before the forest is restored to it’s original state.
One of the major reasons for political disinterest, here and everywhere else, is that no forest conservationist will live long enough to see his work come to fruition. Humans are used to seeing quick returns on their investments.
I am sure Gerry can tell you many stories about the problems concerning his habitat restoration on the watershed here in Bacolod. Few similar projects are as successful as his, but they all have similar problems.
National parks and protected areas rely on governmental action for their creation and effective management.
Since the huge population we already have requires, even demands, recreational facilities and green spaces, one would think this was not a problem area.
However, politicians react more favourably to golf courses and leisure parks than to the preservation of animal habitat. It is also not enough just to designate an area as protected, but measures must be implemented to really enforce the protection. Here in the Philippines, one of the most threatened areas in the world, protection is not taken seriously enough by the authorities.
NFEFI has a developing educational programme which would do credit to any European or American NGO. We have absolutely no chance of saving our biodiversity unless present and future generations are adequately informed about the critical biodiversity situation and motivated to do something about it.
I am a member of the IUCN Conservation Breeding Specialist Group (CBSG) and consequently particularly interested in captive breeding. I am concerned with the breeding of endangered species in captivity and have supported the Biodiversity Conservation Center in Bacolod since it was conceived.
Unfortunately, the initiator and brains behind this project, William Oliver of Flora & Fauna International, is not here today, but deserves full credit for the co-ordination which has taken place since my first visit in 1996.
I do not doubt, after many decades of captive breeding experience, that the BCC will be able to fulfil its objectives.
The important question for all conservation breeding activities is what do we do with the animals? Bacolod, for example, has a very limited space for expansion and, like other facilities, some plan for the longer-term should exist.
A complementary, integrated plan, is essential for all wildlife conservation projects. Long-term perspectives are ultimately the short-term steps in conservation. Those of us who wish to do something positive for biodiversity conservation must think in time phases much longer than our own life cycles.
As a poet once put it, " the road to Hell is paved with good intentions".