Conservationists decide which species to survive 


The issue of deciding which of the world’s threatened species to save is a sensitive but critical one, according to a leading conservationist.

Charles Darwin University Research Fellow with the School for Environmental Research, Dr Kerstin Zander has approached the problem by observing the species with the most number of breeds to have gone extinct, cattle.

Dr Zander and her colleagues turned to an approach which was first outlined by economist Martin Weitzman, of Harvard University.

“In the 1990s, Weitzman devised a formula for prioritising species for conservation,” she said.

“This considers the cost of saving a species, how economically useful and genetically diverse it is, and the increase in its chance of survival if chosen.”

Dr Zander's team applied the formula to the Borana breeds of cattle in east Africa.

“We found that the cattle would be best preserved by saving the Ethiopian breed, rather than those in Somalia and Kenya,” she said.

“That's partly because the Ethiopian cattle are at most risk of extinction, but also because herders were willing to work towards conservation.

“Ethiopian herders rely heavily on the traditional Borana cattle husbandry, and their entire pastoral lifestyle could become extinct with the cattle breed.”

Co-author, Karin Holm-Muller of the University of Bonn in Germany said the aim was to figure out where money would make a difference.

"If a cattle breed is not at risk, or if there is no chance of changing anything, don't put money into it,” she said.