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To What Extent Have Reintroduction of Endemic Species to Their Natural Place of Origin Been Successful?

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Ecological restoration is process in which scientists are trying to introduce to initiate the recovery of a damaged ecosystem. Many environmental changes or human caused changes can damage a functional ecosystem such as hurricanes, floods, wildfires, global warming, pollution and deforestation. Restoration ecology is the scientific study of repairing disturbed ecosystems through human intervention. A small branch of ecological restoration includes reintroduction of endemic species, reintroduction is the deliberate establishment of individual animals of a species into a damaged habitat for conservation purposes. Reintroduction biology is a relatively young discipline and continues to be a work in progress. It is essential that we explore this issue in more depth as it will provide us with answers and perhaps some consequences of what we are about to do. In order to fully explore this topic we will need to consider the Global and National perspectives of different countries, we will also need to look into the viewpoints of locals, government foundations within countries and manufacturers/farmers.

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Global perspective

In 1964 a small population of black footed ferrets were discovered in South Dakota and after extensive study by local local biologists they noticed that the small population was starting to decline, they decided to capture 9 ferrets in hopes of attempting to breed them in captivity. The organisation decided to try and apply the new reintroduction program to save the species from extinction. The goal of the program was to initiate a self-sustaining population that doesn’t require constant monitoring. From the efforts of the AZA Black Ferret SSP Program these animals successfully reproduced and thousands of their population have been released into native lands in South Dakota.

However there have been some severe but not necessarily bad consequences of the release of these animals. These ferrets hunt and eat prairie dogs in the wild and when they were released they began to hunt again and the population of prairie dogs decreased drastically. To some in the countryside however including local farmers, they have found this incredibly beneficial to the growth of their fresh produce and have supported the release of the ferrets. After a few years of reintroducing the captive bred ferrets, scientists found evidence of a newborn virus that infects both prairie dogs and black footed ferrets. These animals usually hunt and eat prairie dogs as their main source of food however the new mutation of the virus now infects prairie dogs as well. The main issue at the moment is that when the ferrets kill and eat an infected prairie dog it in turn gets infected and dies of disease. There are also other genetic diversity pool issues in which at the rate of their breeding, the ferret’s rare genetic pool becomes unstable after many generations making them more susceptible to the spreading plague. As a result of reintroduction we found that both species of animal have begun to decline in numbers, as a solution the WWF have attempted to fund a research program founded to fight this disease known as Sylvatic Plague. There have been many attempts to try and create an oral immunization for the prairie dogs and the ferrets and the creation of the drug has been successful and they have administered the drug to several ferrets all of which show positive results. On the other hand, the production of the immunization is extremely costly and many think that it is not worth it to continue administering the drug as there are also other animals in need of financial support in order to survive. An example of these animals includes the Eurasian Lynx, but in this example we have found that the reintroduction efforts have been successful. Lynx population usually flourishes in dense forests and rocky outcroppings. The population is estimated to be roughly 50,000 and the majority of which are in Russia and China. This species of cat was once very common in Europe but by the 19th century the population declined drastically due to excessive hunting for their exquisite fur. They were captured then bred in captivity, unlike the black footed ferrets they benefited the ecosystem and the biodiversity around them. When their numbers declined the number of pests and deer went out of control and they began to damage the woodland and forests in Europe which is part of the reason why there have been attempts to bring their species back. Once the population stabilised, the deer and pest population fell and it benefitted local farmers and agricultural producers.

National perspective

Hong Kong is home to various critically endangered and threatened endemic species examples of these would include the Chinese White Dolphins also known as Pink Dolphins, Hong Kong Blind Skink, Hong Kong Cascade Frog, Hong Kong Newt and of course the endangered Romer’s Tree Frog. This specific species of frog was discovered in a cave on Lamma Island in the early 1950s but ever since that cave collapsed a year later the frog was thought to be extinct until it was rediscovered in 1984. The government recognised this issue and took action by rescuing a little over 200 individual frogs before the construction of the new Hong Kong International Airport in 1992. These captive frogs were bred successfully and showed signs of good health not just physically but also genetically. The offspring were successfully released into 8 selected sites in Hong Kong Island and New Territories. The translocation programme was carried out by the University of Hong Kong with the support of a number of conservational organization which includes the AFCD, Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden. Ever since the population of the rare frogs stabilised there have been multiple attempts to better the conservation of the Romer’s Tree Frog (RTF) such as spreading public awareness of the endangered species, public education, installation of breeding pots, habitat protection and long term regular monitoring. In 2008, the government implemented a simple conservational protection over all Romer’s Tree Frog. However another factor that the public is noticing is that when this species of frog is flourishing and beginning to stabilize under the protection of various conservation organisations and the government, other species such as the Pink Dolphin are being driven into extinction through water pollution and construction of the Hong Kong to Zhuhai Bridge and ferry traffic. In the past decade the numbers have been drastically decreasing and in 2017 a hard blow was forced upon the conservationists as a pregnant individual of the species washed up dead on a beach off Lamma Island. The Pink Dolphin was chosen to be the mascot for the 1997 handover but since that day the numbers have been declining from 200 to roughly 43 now. The public concerns over the efforts to protect the Pink Dolphin more over the Romer’s Tree Frog partly because of the importance no only to tourism industry but also because of the value of the dolphins due to them marking a significant handover of freedom.

Future scenarios and solutions

Using stem cell science and genetic engineering to recreate extinct species of plants and fauna. On July 30, 2003, a team of Spanish and French scientists reversed time and brought an animal back from extinction, a species of wild goat (Pyrenean Ibex) I think this solution would benefit the diversity of the ecosystem but not only would it benefit the biodiversity within ecosystems, threatened or endangered ecosystems can also be brought back from the brink it would also benefit the scientific community and would be a large leap for genetic engineering. It could help promote new methods of medicine and practices. Many autoimmune and heart diseases have been treated using gene therapy. Scientists believe that at a certain time by researching gene splicing they can hope to completely eliminate genetic diseases and create pharmaceutical products by cloning certain genes. De-extinction would help scientists find out more about extinct species and why they went extinct and due to this fact they can prevent species that are currently about to go extinct or critically endangered from going extinct. This includes animals such as the Black Rhino, Bornean Orangutan and more. There are several issues with this solution. The cost of trying to recreate extinct species of animal could be too much for many economies to handle and it would negatively impact the economic growth of a country. For example, many endangered animals reside in Africa and their economy is not as scientifically or economically developed as some others such as America. Their economy is supported only by wildlife tourism and exporting goods so it would unwise to use up large sums of money for scientific research. There is also an ethical and religious issue of whether playing around with animals and their genetic code is fair and would it be fair of us to be acting as God and bring back animals just for our own benefits and interest when it might have been our fault in the first place that they may have gone extinct. This solution of genetic modification is doubtless to the fact that it is not a long term solution because the economies of many tourism led countries cannot hold up the cost of scientific research for long also there are other issues that surround their countries such as poverty and pollution. There is an opportunity cost to consider, the public might not be friendly to the idea of using millions of dollars on animals whereas many people live in poverty. There are many cruises and companies that are dependant on the survival of these dolphins, they are exceedingly rare to spot. The Hong Kong Government came up with the idea of eco-tourism that promotes tourists going on dolphin spotting cruises. The income collected from these cruises go to supporting the wildlife funds that try and repopulate the Chinese White Dolphins. This solution is actually an exceptional idea as it not only raises public awareness and provide income to the growing tourism industry but also providing financial support to wildlife organisation seeking to protect the dolphins.

Conclusion

This growing issue of biodiversity loss and extinction of species affects people globally and that includes me, if animals were to go extinct we as humans would lose valuable research material that can be used to produce new drugs and medicines or cure diseases that are at this point incurable. After researching and writing this essay, my point of view on this issue has actually been altered slightly. Before I wrote this essay I was very supportive of trying to attempt reintroduction programs but now I think that there are other solutions that are more effective and also if we were to use millions on expensive reintroduction programs we would lose money when we try to fix other problems that occur in the world. This is an economic phrase that I mention a lot “opportunity cost”, you use money for something but you lose out on something else that you could have use the money on. That is the idea that I have developed over the course of writing this essay, that there are also other problems in the world and that using all our money of saving animals might not be the most efficient way of solving world problems. Of course many other people would disagree with my opinion such as tourism run countries that depend on the endangered wildlife to support their fluctuating economy such as Ecuador, Nepal and Kenya. These countries would support the conservation and captive breeding of these animals since they are essential to the countries growth.

In conclusion, I have learned that ecological restoration is an important topic that deserves public attention but that there are also other factors preventing us from conserving endangered animals.

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