Tuesday 19 August 2014


When it seemed that, without intervention, the Panamanian golden frog (Atelopus zeteki) would become extinct due to a chytrid fungus infection, conservation scientists removed as many of the remaining population as they could, to give the species the best chance of survival in a controlled, fungus-free environment.

Seeds of the world's smallest water lily (Nymphaea thermarum) were collected before the plant's habitat was destroyed forever, to preserve genetic diversity and grow new plants with a view to repopulating similar habitats in the future.

In both these cases, the organisms were saved from their environment before it killed them. It seems rather brutal to gather up all the surviving members of a species and take them away to a terrarium or greenhouse, leaving the ecosystem without a significant component. Some may think this is an interference too far.

These came to mind today, because several of my students from my previous workplace have come to enrol at my new college. I've done the calculations, and this does not leave a lot of students for A-levels at the old place. With declining numbers and support over the years for this qualification in this organisation, the localised extinction of A-levels is imminent. So my students, with my blessing, have moved to a nurturing and supportive habitat, and assured their survival.

At least that's what I keep telling myself when I worry that, in trying to do the best for the students, I have been the one to kill off the qualification I fought so hard to keep going at that place.

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