Biodiversity and Conservation

, Volume 27, Issue 6, pp 1539–1544 | Cite as

Why conserving species in the wild still matters

  • David L. Stokes


Wildlife conservation efforts have traditionally prioritized protection of species in the wild over protection in zoos and other captive states. This emphasis mirrors a long-held and more general Western view of the wild and wilderness as antidote to the ills of civilization. However, recent philosophical treatments have posited that with the rise of human dominance in the world we have reached the end of nature as distinct from human culture, true wilderness no longer exists, and nature and wilderness are merely social constructs. With the putative disappearance of wild nature, its status as an organizing principle in conservation is called into question. While debate over the objective existence of wild nature continues, this commentary argues that regardless of one’s opinion on the philosophical issue, there are important practical reasons to continue to prioritize conservation of species in the wild. These are: the reality that this is the only practical hope for the vast majority of endangered species, the value of relatively wild habitats in accommodating species’ evolved requirements, the value to both ecosystems and humans of species remaining functional components of ecosystems, and the role of the wild in inspiring conservation action by humans. Ironically, as the world becomes ever less wild, conservation of species in the wild becomes more important.


Species conservation Wilderness Anthropocene Conservation practice In situ conservation Ex situ conservation 



I thank Amy L. McKendry, Jennifer Atkinson, and Jason Lambacher for thoughtful discussions of this topic. Amy McKendry also provided editorial advice that greatly improved the paper.


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V., part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Interdisciplinary Arts and SciencesUniversity of Washington BothellBothellUSA

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