Matt Yglesias discusses pandas. While I wonder whether or not it can be shown that pandas, like any other species has gone down an "evolutionary cul-de-sac", I do wonder sometimes if our worry over the exponentially-expanding extinction rate doesn't confuse our priorities somewhat.
When I took high school biology, my teacher made a cogent point - acceptance of Darwin's theory of evolution includes the sobering reminder that extinction is part of the process; a new species may arise to fill a void in the ecosystem. Or, the ecosystem may be changing and whole new areas of opportunity for new species may be opening up even as older ones become redundant or harder to sustain. Even we human beings will go the way of the dodo, giant sloth, and Packard at some point.
There are species such as the gray wolf, hunted to near-extinction due to the fact that they acted like predators (shocking!) and hunted ranchers cattle and sheep, that deserve a shot at saving. On the other hand, there are species like the Giant Panda that receive an enormous amount of attention because they seem cute, but whose evolutionary path has led them to such a narrow place in the ecosystem that extinction may be inevitable, even with human intervention. While they have become the logo for the World Wildlife Fund, and efforts at captive breeding are only beginning to pay off after a generation in zoos in the west, I have to believe that, should we humans allow nature to run its course, they will probably be gone in a century or two. While lamentable on some level, on another it is the way of things.
This, of course, leads us to the whole issue of species extinction in general, and what we human beings should do about it. Trying to determine whether this or that species is "worth" saving, or if the dwindling numbers of that species is due in any correlative way to direct human action, can become a fool's game. Sometimes the lines of correlation (not to say causality) can become so intertwined and twisted that untangling them is more trouble than it's worth.
Accepting Darwin, even in his modified, early-21st century form, means accepting that all species will disappear, at some point. Sometimes, they even die out because another species wins the competition for food, space, and other resources. Human action that creates detrimental effects on other species should not, ipso facto, be considered outside the bounds of Darwin's theory. We do have a certain right (for lack of a better word) to ensure the survival of our own species; if opening more land for cultivation, or creating new spaces for more human beings to live creates hazards for other species, that is part of the process of natural selection, after all.
I realize I am probably ticking off more than a few folks with this, but it's just some food for thought.