Cancer in conservation


In a 1985 classical paper, the scientist Michael Soulé defined conservation biology comparing it to medicine: “Its relation to biology, particularly ecology, is analogous to that of surgery to physiology…”

A year ago, I participated in a conference where a climate change expert proposed to manage a tiger reserve within the limits of an intermediate scenario of climate change. When he was asked why he would not consider the worse climate change scenario instead, he retorted that in this case, the effect would be so dramatic that no management option was possible. Our apathetical assembly continued with this explanation to elaborate plans that will not work. We were then comparable to a group of doctors treating a patient for flu, discarding the strong possibility of cancer under the pretext that in this case, they would be incompetent.

Such ethical approach would be torn to pieces in medicine because every day, scientists and doctors dedicate their lives to save other people’s lives, whatever the cost to their own comfort and theories. Patients and judges would not tolerate such defeating approach either: the precautionary principle would cry for other specialists’ opinion and action.

The reason for our questionable behavior was that our scientific gathering was simply not up to the mark. To the Indian citizen, who pay taxes to improve science, we were nothing else but a burden.

The truth is that most endangered species (tigers, elephants in particular) are severely stressed. Our conservation successes, if any, are tiny variations in population numbers. Even if populations doubled, these species would still be on the verge of extinction. When humanity’s madness will strike back in the form of severe climatic events, we will lose species because some experts remained lazy.

Jean-Philippe Puyravaud