The Bible (Genesis 2:19–20) describes the first man as beginning an inventory of the world’s animal species. Bob Dylan famously set the story to music in Man Gave Names to All the Animals (1979):
“Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago
He saw an animal that liked to growl
Big furry paws and he liked to howl
Great big furry back and furry hair
‘Ah, think I’ll call it a bear’ …”
In spite of all the millenia that humanity has lived on our planet, this inventory has only just begun. An estimated 8.7 million eukaryotic species exist, with about 86% still awaiting description. At the current rate of progress, finishing the job will take centuries – and during that time, many species will become extinct without ever having been inventoried. Many species have already been lost forever.
Some of the older species descriptions will also need to be re-examined. There are specimens on museum shelves which represent unrecognised species. The job’s far from over yet, guys. We obviously need substantially more resources for the task.