Opinion

COMMENT: A survival game like no other

Nicky Moffat.
Nicky Moffat. Warren Lynam

IN THE conservation game, it's not survival of the fittest, but the cutest.

Having held a koala once, I won't jump at the chance again. Their claws are seriously frightening and I no longer think they're very cute.

But the animal has a reputation, and if I were one of its freedom fighters, I'd be holding on to that image for dear life.

Because it seems the only thing that works when it comes to finding private funding for environmental projects is a species' brand.

It's tricky to convince philanthropists to fund the recovery of an ugly or little-known animal or plant, and taxpayers can't be expected to care about every little creature they've never heard of.

Last year, for example, a native rat called the Bramble Cay melomys was declared extinct, after not being seen since 2007.

Did anyone notice except the scientists who no doubt poured their hearts into finding out what they could about the evasive little victim? It barely made the news when its official death was announced.

Don't get me wrong, I want koalas to survive.

It's horrid that their population at Noosa has plummeted from 30 to about five in a decade.

Australia has 80 threatened species for whom the recovery plan is known - but funding is hard to come by.

The problem is not that people don't care - but there's no economic transaction that bridges the world of animals with ours.

For decades, environmental economists have been arguing that we need to change our system so biodiversity and healthy ecosystems have a dollar value.

At the moment, we have a sort of fake currency in operation with biodiversity, where threats like new roads and developments have to provide an offset for the damage they cause. If you remove some woodland, you have to plant another patch elsewhere etc.

That's not a market.

It's hard to put a dollar value on biodiversity because ecosystems and all their parts are complex and numerous - but we need to keep working to find a way.

Ours is the smartest, most resourceful species on the planet and we're really good at solving problems.

It's time we valued our native animals and their homes financially - for the clean water their forests' filtration systems provide us, for the carbon stored in their timber and soils, and for that priceless comfort of knowing they exist.

Topics:  conservation, koalas, opinion column


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