Endangered Wildlife Should Pay for Its Own Protection

PRAGUE/NAIROBI – It will soon be possible to give a digital identity to individual wild animals whose species are at risk of extinction. Currently, these animals’ only economic value is that of their processed body parts. Giving them a digital wallet linked to their identity and the ability to spend money on their own protection could improve their lives and increase their chances of survival.

The Great Apes, including gorillas, chimpanzees, and bonobos, are ideal early candidates for an “Interspecies Money” approach. Only 700,000 of our closest evolutionary cousins survive and their numbers are in steep decline: picture a population equivalent to Washington, DC, scattered in forests along dirt roads or at the edge of thousands of isolated, poor, and fast-growing villages. Humans and Great Apes have not lived well together in the industrial era, but we can do better in the post-industrial age.

We propose starting with orangutans. Only 120,000 of these intelligent red apes remain alive in their forest habitats of Sumatra and Borneo. Although $1 billion has been spent protecting them since 2000, more than 100,000 have been lost to deforestation, harassment, and killing over the same period. The situation could have been worse – some 135,000 orangutans would have died without the conservation efforts – but the investments can hardly be claimed as successful.

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