Discovering New Species May Only Put Them at Risk

Critically endangered species. Image: Benny Trapp, Wikimedia Commons

While scientists and animal advocates usually celebrate when a new species is discovered, there is a dark side that not many people consider.

Publishing scientific papers with species’ descriptions, locations, and other pertinent information has conservation value, but can also be dangerous to the animals themselves.

Especially when a species is rare, colorful, or otherwise unique, there is the chance for exploitation before necessary safeguards can be put into place. Commercial dealers profit by attaining and selling rare animals in the pet trade.

Publications that release the exact location of exotic animals can result in dealers seeking them out and removing them from their environments, in the most extreme cases leading to their extinction.

On one hand, publishing relevant information about a new species, especially regarding their locality, leads to legislation that enacts protocols for conservation and protection of the species. But timing is everything. If private collectors get ahold of individual members of a species first, then that information has instead negatively contributed to the animal’s livelihood.

A Laotriton laoensis salamnder that quickly became in high demand after its discovery was published. Image: Paul Bachhausen via ScienceDirect

In an interview published by Mongabay, biologist Bryan Stuart recounted his discovery of Laotriton laoensis, a newt found in a very limited region in Laos. Soon after the species’ announcement, commercial pet dealers began seeking out the newt and selling it through the illegal pet trade for large sums of money.

Although the story has a happy ending, it highlights the precautions researchers have to take in uncovering new species, including suggestions such as working with authorities before publication in order to ensure the animal’s protection.

The intent is also to raise awareness of the pet trade and incite buyers into doing their research before purchasing an animal that may have been taken from the wild.