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What we appreciate, we conserve

- By Erna van Wyk

 Science and the facts gained through science inspire people to change their lives and attitudes, and influence their behaviour to conserve the diversity of life on Earth. This is according to Harry Greene, world-renowned herpetologist and Professor of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University (US).

Speaking at the School of Animals, Plants and Environmental Sciences’ Alumni Talk Series held recently, Greene said this diversity of life is under serious threat from human-related causes. In his talk, titled: The Beauty in the Beasts: Snakes, Natural History, and Conservation, he examined how natural history – the study of organisms in the environment – plays a vital role in enhancing  appreciation for organisms and environments, thereby influencing the value judgments that ultimately underlie all conservation.

Quoting from Senegalese conservationist Baba Dioum’s well-known 1968-speech, Greene explained: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." He sketched the world as a place of beauty and harmony, and also of danger, saying everything is deeply connected and worth preserving.

The esteemed international conservationist said research and teaching help to make people care about the planet, and “when we appreciate something, we conserve it”.

Listen to his full lecture: Part 1 and Part 2.

Greene is the award-winning author of Snakes: The Evolution of Mystery in Nature (UC Press) that won the PEN Literary Award and was a New York Times Notable Book. He was formerly the curator of Herpetology the Museum of Vertebrate Zoology, and professor in the Department of Integrative Biology at the University of California, Berkeley. In 2000 he was awarded the third Edward Osborne Wilson Naturalist Award, presented by the American Society of Naturalists.