Wildlife Welfare: What's in it for Me?

21/02/2012 15:16 GMT | Updated 22/04/2012 10:12 BST

Why should you care about wildlife that exists thousands of miles away? All of these different species and seemingly countless variations on a theme. We're interested, entertained when we see them in one of Sir David Attenborough's documentary films, but then, for most of us that's about as close as we have, or ever will, get. After all, we can get on just fine without most of that jungle or coral-dwelling stuff anyway, can't we? There has likely never been a time when you have felt compelled to enlist the help or moral support of a snow leopard.

We like to think of ourselves as sentient beings, but to what end we actually care about the creatures outside of our living rooms, is probably a fair bit less clear. I include myself in this, by the way. I've never seen a poached elephant before, or trekked the Arctic counting whales underneath the melting ice. This world of conservation is still relatively new to me, and because global biodiversity was not a part of the East Yorkshire school syllabus, I had to introduce myself, in a way that was both genuine and relevant to my existing knowledge.

That introduction came when I realised that anyone with a shred of curiosity for technology, architecture or any of the life sciences, has, automatically, placed stock in the education we receive from the animal kingdom.

'Monkey see, monkey do.'

Borrowing from nature is nothing new, it's called 'biomimetics' and we do it all the time. Perhaps one of the most interesting recent examples, comes from a Colorado-based biotechnology company called Sharklet, whose research and development of a shark skin-like film, is ushering in a sleek and scalable new way to protect surfaces, such as medical devices, from bacterial growth.

Whales, too, our much campaigned for mammalian friends, who, according to a recent BBC documentary may have the capacity to feel recognisable emotions, thanks to the presence of spindle cells in their brains, also offer up inspirational design traits. The lumpy bumpy appearance of those lumbering Humpbacks is no accident, as the hydroelectricity and wind farming industries found out when they added similar bumps to their array of turbines. They saw, "[a] staggering 32% reduction in drag, 8% improvement in lift, and a 40% increase in angle of attack over smooth flippers before stalling."

(, 2012)

This is no coincidence, it's evolution, and as the predominant cognitive species on this planet, we do a fantastic job of borrowing only the very bits from the world around us. We are developing gecko-inspired robots that climb walls to inspect potentially dangerous situations like bomb threats, before we send in any people. Surgeons and scientists could soon be using self-sharpening tools, the likes of which are seen in the beaks of sea urchins, whose teeth shed and regrow as they burrow through rock and coral on the sea floor.

We have moved on from Salvador Dali's iconic lobster telephone, to furniture and appliances that mimic nature in much more subtle ways. Nonetheless, the plethora of technologies which owe their development to the marvels of the animal kingdom is astounding. From solar roof panels and less reflective display screens, to infection prevention and better medical tools, everything living, from coral to canopy is integral to our continued progression.

Our planet is a hardy one, and it has endured much more fearsome foe than us, but if we want to carry on exploring the synthetic at the rate we currently are, then we had better not forget where a lion's share of our ideas come from. You don't have to be an avid conservationist to realise the importance of the world out there, but supporting those who are, and the people working from their findings, really is in your best interest.


Sharklet Technologies, Inc

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