If endangered animals and plants lack a known benefit to mankind, should we care if they disappear? Many people are uneducated about the impact plants and animals have on society. Although multiple species benefit society, many of those species are endangered. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service, FWS, states, “Biologists estimate that since the Pilgrims stepped foot on Plymouth Rock in 1620, more than 500 species, subspecies, and varieties of the Nation’s plants and animals have become extinct” (p. 4). Saving endangered species can contribute to the field of medicine, save other species, and can alert people to contaminants.
The contribution to medicine is only effective if endangered animals are rescued. Scientists have discovered only a small portion of the world’s species and have just begun to find possible human health benefits to mankind. Particular plants have substances used in medicine to treat cancer, heart disease, and a variety of other diseases. For example, scientists found that fungus gave us penicillin, which fights off bacteria. The FWS states, “More than a quarter of all prescriptions written annually in the United States contain chemicals discovered in plants and animals” (p. 8). Another example is the Pacific yew tree. This specific tree extracts the compound taxol. Taxol has become the standard treatment for advanced cases of ovarian cancer. Thousands of women were affected each year until the discovery of the Pacific yew tree. Other interesting discoveries is venom from a tarantula species that may lead to the treatment for neurological disorders, such as Parkinson’s disease. If any of these species had been extinct before their chemistries were known, the treatments would have gone with them.
[bookmark: _gjdgxs]The removal of a single species can set off a chain reaction affecting many other animals. This is especially is true for the keystone species. Their extinction can adversely affect the environment. One example of a keystone species is the gray wolf. The gray wolf started to control Yellowstone National Park’s largest herd of elk, which had been eating trees that grew along streams. The FWS reported, “The recovery of these trees is cooling stream ﬂows, which beneﬁts native trout, and increases nesting habitat for migratory birds. Beavers now have willow branches to eat, and beaver dams create marshland habitat for otters, mink, and ducks. Wolves even beneﬁt the threatened grizzly bear, since grizzlies ﬁnd it easier to take over a wolf kill than to bring down their own elk” (p. 7).
Certain animals can alert people to the effects of some contaminants before excess damage is done to the environment and society. An example from the FWS stated, “The rapid decline in bald eagles and peregrine falcons in the mid-20th century was a dramatic warning of the dangers of DDT—a strong, once widely used pesticide that accumulates in body tissues” (p. 12). Freshwater mussels are also productive environmental indicators. These animals draw in water and then filters food particles from the water. The method that the mussels use helps keep the waters clean. Although these animals help clean the water, they are usually the first to die of water pollution. Other threats to mussels that can alert people of contaminants includes siltation, the competition of nonnative mussels, stream channelization and dredging, and the pressure of free-flowing streams and rivers. The common argument for saving endangered species is the constant worry of finances. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department calls birding “the nation’s fastest outdoor recreation.” The estimation that birders pump each year is $400 billion into the state’s economy. In a recent study, the FWS estimates that wildlife watching-not just bird watching-generated $85 million in economic benefits to the nation in 2001.
The loss of plant and animal life is a mistake, because extinct species can never be revived. The extinction of a species has been compared to ripping pages out of a book that has never been read. Threatened plants and animals are worth saving because of the effect they have on not only in the United States, but also worldwide. Saving endangered species has a vital and everlasting impact to the field of medicine, plants and animals, and people today and the future.
- United States Fish and Wildlife Service. (2005). Why Save Endangered Species? Arlington, Virginia.