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  • Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit?

    By Jack Ashby, on 13 December 2011

    conserving cures displayI think we know what our visitors will think about this latest QRator question on the iPads, but maybe some non-natural history fans will have different opinions…

    Conserving cures?

    Should we only be conserving things that have a potential human benefit?

    Arguments to conserve ecosystems, particularly rainforests, often cite the possibility of finding plant- or animal-based drugs which may add to the human medicine cabinet. Should such considerations be taken into account when deciding what to conserve? Does it matter if a species with no benefit to man goes extinct? How do we decide what to protect?

    The display is accompanied by specimens labelled like this:

    HORSESHOE CRAB
    The blood of these animals was found to be useful in the testing of drugs for the presence of bacteria.

    SPIDERS
    Scientists are investigating artificially producing spider silk, which is incredibly strong, for use in medical sutures.

    RAJAH BROOKE’S BIRDWING
    Some argue that rainforests should be protected in case their species are found to be useful. When ecosystems are protected, so is everything in them.

    FIN WHALE FOETUS
    Most species do not directly benefit human health. Why should these be protected?

    SLOTH BEAR SKULL
    Traditional Asian medicines use bile extracted through open wounds in captive bears. This process is cruel and painful but is legal in China.

    SEAHORSES
    While the potential for Western medicinal benefits may argue for ecosystem protection, many animals are endangered by exploitation for Traditional Chinese Medicine.

    Get involved in the conversation on the QRator website and let us know what you think.

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