“I had drinks with an old college friend last week. As we reminisced and I caught him up on my job leading the Tropical Ecology Assessment & Monitoring (TEAM) Network, he stopped me mid-sentence.
“Don’t get me wrong — I love animals, and camera trapping is cool,” he said. “But why spend so much time and energy keeping track of species halfway around the world? Why does it matter if tapirs in Ecuador or chimps in Uganda are declining? Why should I care?”
This wasn’t the first time I’d been asked these kinds of questions while working with TEAM, which uses camera-trap data to calculate trends in mammal and bird populations in tropical forests on three continents.
In the past, I would respond somewhat vaguely, saying “Wildlife provides key ecosystem services,” or “Animals are a good way to measure the health of a forest.” Though true, these answers were unsatisfying, even to me. It is like answering “Why do you need your liver?” with “Because it keeps your body going.” True, but not compelling or especially useful.
This time I had a better answer, backed by science…”