So why should we save endangered species in the first place? The disappearance of endangered species is not just one single tragedy but a symptom of a planetary catastrophe. Along with each and every extinct species go the other elements of its ecosystem - components of Earth's crucial life-support systems.
The first prime argument in favor of saving endangered species is that simple compassion demands their preservation. Other life forms on this planet have the right to existence, and human needs and desires are not the only basis for ethical decisions.
Man's right to kill other animals, to push organisms to extinction, to play God, has been repeatedly questioned. To David Ehrenfeld, in his book The Arrogance of Humanism, this is the ultimate form of arrogance, that humans believe they are the only important life form and that they alone can decide whether others should live or die. Many others believe that Homo sapiens has a great moral responsibility upon which we must not turn our backs. In part because we have the power to destroy them, we must respect the rights of the other organisms of Earth.
Secondly, other species should be preserved for their beauty, symbolic value, and intrinsic interest. There is a wealth of knowledge that can be obtained from studying the unique organisms that live on the earth, knowledge that can be used to learn more about ourselves. The wonderful diversity of this world, from the iridescent blue Morpho butterfly to the wise elephant to the crystal shell of a diatom, is what makes our home so special.
It is interesting to note that humans use many animals as symbolic of ideas and philosophies. Not only in names like the Mercury Cougar, Audi Fox, and Ford Falcon, but also in such American phrases as strong as an ox, lionhearted, a real tiger, brave as a bull, sturdy as an oak, free as a bird. It is also apparent in such national symbols as the American eagle, the Russian bear, and the double eagle of Napoleon. In many cultures, people have developed such special relationships with animals that they worship them. Not only that, but humans seem to be more comfortable and attuned to nature in general. This became clearly evident in the United States after World War II, when Americans rushed to move into the suburbs and out of the big cities. People depend on nature and wildlife in fundamental ways. Why do men and women grow plants even in the worst city slums? Or surround themselves with dogs, cats, fish, and birds as pets? Perhaps they are trying to recapture a more natural way of living, surrounded by wildlife and animals. It might just be that people intuitively know that preserving nature is essential to preserving the spirit and body of the human being.
A third argument is economic. By preserving such endangered species such as the whale, a certain amount of money can be made annually through harvesting them on a sustained-yield basis. The Amazon jungle provides a treasure of as-yet-undiscovered foods, drugs, and organisms. The raising of certain plants and animals also provides employment for thousands of people around the world. Other species provide direct benefits to human beings and should be preserved for that reason.
Finally, the last argument is the most important and yet the least understood. It involves indirect benefits to humanity. Other species are living components of ecosystems which provide humanity with numerous free services - services whose disruption would lead to a collapse of civilization. By damaging our biological welfare, Homo sapiens is attacking itself.