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A human taste for rarity spells disaster for endangered species

ave his life for top their list. Overhunting for food and feathers pushed the great auk (Pinguinus impennis)--a flightless, now-extinct bird that laid only one egg a year--to the brink of extinction. But it was likely scientists and museum collectors anxious to nab an increasingly rare specimen, the authors suggest, that finished the bird off. And trophy hunting collectors have placed increasing pressure on rare species as their focus has shifted from killing the most dangerous animals to killing the rarest. The pursuit of social status and health can also trigger the anthropogenic Allee effect, as many rare species are coveted as luxury items--whether for handbags, exotic cuisine, or dining room furniture--or traditional medicines. The exotic pet trade continues to threaten orangutans, monkeys, reptiles, birds, and wild cats, as well as a wide variety of arachnids, insects, and fish. And it appears that pet trade dealers read the scientific literature for clues to the next hot species: immediately after an article recognized the small Indonesian turtle (Chelodina mccordi) and Chinese gecko (Goniurosaurus luii) as rarities, their prices soared. The turtle is now nearly extinct and the gecko can no longer be found in its southeastern China niche. Even well-intentioned activities like ecotourism may destabilize threatened populations.

How to conserve biodiversity when simply declaring a species endangered catalyzes its exploitation? Since many collectors, pet owners, and ecotourists actually care about biodiversity, the authors hope that education may go a long way toward curbing these human activities. Education could even mitigate the damage of trophy hunting and luxury consumption if society stigmatized activities responsible for driving a species to extinction and people could no longer take pride in displaying such "treasures." But for those who prize rarity above all else, only strengthened regulations and interventions will decrease the probability of
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Contact: Natalie Bouaravong
press@plos.org
415-568-3445
Public Library of Science
27-Nov-2006


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