Animals play an important role in our lives, but they don’t always get the credit and respect they deserve. In return for the benefits and services they provide, humans cut down nearly 20,000 square miles (an area slightly smaller than West Virginia) of forests across the world each year—forests that could serve as habitat for the many species of animals upon which we depend. While there are many reasons animals are awesome and deserve our protection, here are four reasons that keep me coming back to studying them.
They Save Lives
Aside from being incredibly adorable, sloths might also hold the key to treating a variety of illnesses that plague us today. After trudging through the rainforests of Panama and collecting fungi samples from sloths, a team of scientists recently isolated several different types of fungi that showed promise in fighting the strains of parasites that cause malaria and Chagas disease. Several of these fungi also demonstrated potential for serving as a new line of antibiotics, as well as a potential treatment against breast cancer.
They Build Things
Just like us, animals are great engineers. Beavers, for example, drastically modify their environment by building dams to create a calm pool in which they can construct their homes.
These dams, in turn, help humans by providing flood control through water management. Spiders also change their environment by building beautiful webs that are used to snare unsuspecting insects. In addition to providing a way for the spider to obtain a tasty snack, these webs also help prevent agricultural and other pests from becoming too numerous, protecting our food supply from an entomological menace.
They Provide Food
Fish are an important source of protein for over three billion people across the world, but such a high demand for fish comes with unintended consequences and has led to the overexploitation of many fish stocks. As many as 32% of the world’s fisheries are fished at rates
faster than they can be replaced by natural processes and consumption of fish has only continued to rise in recent years with the average person now consuming over 44 pounds each year—further pushing global fish stocks deeper into the red zone. The good news is that national governments are finally taking action to ensure our oceans are able to provide food for future generations through the establishment of marine reserves like the one recently created off the coast of Antarctica. At 598,000 square miles (that’s more than twice the size of Texas!) in size, this new marine reserve will be the largest ever created.
They Make Us Happy
Whether it’s a bird, fish, hedgehog, dog, or cat, pets make people happy. If our spending habits are any indication of the value we place on pets, then the $60 billion Americans spend on their pets each year speaks volumes about our desire for animal companionship. Having pets can also help reduce anxiety and depression in their owners by increasing the levels of serotonin and dopamine in the brain, which are known to have pleasurable and calming properties.
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