There are several reasons. One is that not all countries agree to add some of the species that the US or other countries believe are endangered to the endangered species list. This list, when agreed to, provides protections for certain animals. Another reason is that not all members of the country will agree to follow these rules. When there is still a demand for elephant tusks, tiger organs or blue fin tuna meat someone will bet against being caught and hunt them anyway. This follows into the next problem, is that it is difficult to enforce these rules, since jungles and oceans are so large and the enforcement is sparse, it is difficult to always catch the perpetrators. We need to continue to educate the world about the need to preserve as much of our wildlife as possible.
Interesting question Claudia. First of all, it needs to be considered why an animal is endagered to begin with–and likely it is because of human activity. And generally humans are very reluctant to change their activity if they dont receive direct and immediate benefit from it. As human population grows, and humans live on and disturb more and more of the earth’s surface, there is more and more loss of wildlife habitat. Without the forests or the meadows or whatever ecosystem a species is best adapted to, a species population will decline and eventually become endangered, if not extinct. Humans also intentionally hunt several species, now often for medicinal purposes, and the economic forces driving these activities are quite potent. So, part of the reason it is so challenging to protect endangered species is becuase often the reason the species is endagered to begin with is because their mode of life is at odds with human activity and the humans are winning and have little desire to change.
Once it is known that an animal is endagered, in order to protect it, scientists need to know quite a bit about the species’ ecology–its bahavior, range, diet etc. In order for conservation efforts to be effective they have to be well directed–as in putting the money and resources into the key places that will gain maximum benefit. It takes quite a bit of knowledge abouth how an animal operates and how it fits into the larger ecosystem to be able to identify these key places of maximum leverage.
There are three main reasons which make protecting endangered species difficult.
The first is that habitat destruction, the largest cause of extinction; small preserves created to sustain animals usually cannot encompass the area required to keep the population going. In some places people have tried to connect different preserves in order to correct for this; while effective this stratgey usually comes into conflict with humans’ need to connect to each other.
Another is too little intervention too late. If you have a dwindling population, there may not exist sufficient genetic diversity to maintain the population; for example if you have two members of one cheetah family left, and they are cousins that share some recessive gene that makes them weaker in some way, they may pass that weakness on to their offspring, and they may all suffer and die because of it. Also, if you have a very small number of individuals left – it may be hard for them to come into contact with each other, especially if they are usually solitary animals.
The third reason is that endangered animals can’t pay for their own protection programs. Say that a rancher in Indonesia reports a tiger killed one of his buffalo; the conservation group has to get the call, drive out to where the tiger was seen, track the tiger down, tranquilize it, bring it back to the lab for testing and shots and perhaps a radio collar, observe it for a while to make sure that it is healthy, then transport it again back to somewhere it has a better chance of surviving, because the next farmer might shoot it, and not call the conservation group. All of these steps are expensive and require trained professionals – and the tiger is not paying his bill; the person who usually does is the girl who get her parents to buy a tiger T-shirt from the zoo.
A good book that covers many of the challenges of preserving species in detail is Song of the Dodo, which can be found here:
In general, there are different reasons why a species is endangered. Directly, it could be that humans really like the animal (for food or another use and have overhunted it) or very much dislike it (like snakes, wolves or other animals that humans fear or that we feel is detrimental to our lives, livestock, etc.). Indirectly, species become endangered because of habitat destruction or disease. These are hard things to reverse, especially if large companies or heartless people are involved.
Furthermore, there are many species in the world and we know very little about most of them. It is expensive to study a species to understand its complete needs and natural history. Even if funds were avilable to try to recover or save a species, we may lack the knowledge of how and the time to figure out how.
Funally, many endangered species may have always been rare or may be endangered at the end of their range where conditions are not ideal for them to live. These individuals are even more difficult to protect because they have always been vulnerable.
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