Are endangered species worth saving if they offer us no economic value? That is the question posed by a new report by 8,000 experts selected by the Zoological Society of London and the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The report, entitled “Priceless or Worthless? The world’s most threatened species,” not only lists the 100 most endangered animals, plants and fungi species, it comes right out and asks the question most environmentalists, corporations and regulating bodies avoid: “Do these species have a right to exist, or do we have the right to drive them to extinction?”

With strident honesty, professor Jonathan Bailie of the Zoological Society states that the majority of the 100 species “do little for society other than represent cultural or existence values” and have no measurable impact on “the global economy, jobs or security.” The report then asks experts from the political, legal, funding and communications sectors to weigh in on how to save these species, and whether they should be saved at all.

The species on the list range from the exquisitely beautiful (see: Luristan newt, Iran) to the unquestionably ugly (see: Red River giant softshell turtle, Vietnam and China, only four left in the whole world). Some, like Attenborough’s pitcher plant found in the Philippines, are quite obvious visual stunners, while others, like the Estuarine pipefish, blend in so well with their surroundings you might not see one if you were looking directly at it. As Dr. John G. Robinson, executive vice-president of Conservation and Science at the Wildlife Conservation Society says in the report, “These 100 species … are beautiful, intriguing, unusual, unique, thought provoking, and emotionally stimulating. They are an expression of the world’s diversity.”

(Tip: Check out the report for some amazing photographs.)

But rather than reach only negative conclusions, the report urges the world to take action, and tells the stories of several nearly extinct species that were “pulled back from the brink,” including the humpback whale and the Rodrigues fody, a rare bird found in Maurutius.

The report concludes with a list of specific actions that can be taken to avoid seeing these species go extinct. It’s not a question of whether it’s possible; it’s a question of whether there is the will to do it.

Main photo credit: Shutterstock