Woe to the descendants of animals who, brought from one country into another, have found themselves dubbed “invasive species.” A vast reserve of poisons, traps, even firearms have been marshaled into service to eradicate them. Island nations, which harbor a population of native wildlife of rich diversity, have found themselves having to resort to such measures. But might there be more humane alternatives?
Australia has brought in sharpshooters with guns to thin out its population of wild camels, the largest in the world. The U.S. government is planning to drop toxic, dead mice on Guam to kill off millions of brown tree snakes; these have eaten up so many birds that the spider population on the island has exploded. The entire population of feral cats on Ascension Island in the south Atlantic Ocean was killed to make it possible for one of the rarest seabirds in the world, the frigatebird, to have a chance at survival.
On New Zealand, a country the size of Colorado, economist Gareth Morgan raised a huge outcry when he called for the killing of cats. His aim was to make New Zealand safe again for the many, many native species of birds whose numbers have dwindled.
It is not only cats who the country wants to rid itself of but, as The Atlantic details, a full range of immigrant animals, “pests,” including rabbits, rats, weasels, stoats, goats, deer, hedgehogs and possums. Some 30 million of the last-mentioned inhabit New Zealand. The marsupials are originally from Australia where, across the Tasman Sea, the mountain brushtail possum is considered enough of a rarity that it can been seen at the Australia Zoo for special “possum encounters.” Possums born and raised in New Zealand are more likely to find themselves in “encounters” with motor vehicles.
Should animal “pests” be dealt with as a pestilence? As Kate Littin, an animal welfare advisor to New Zealand’s government, says, “Just because they’re a pest doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned with minimizing their distress.” As noted in the The Atlantic,
Littin wants the example her country sets for the world to be one of “compassionate conservation.” After researching the effects of the poisons used on rats and possums, she helped come up with a framework of relative humaneness for pest control that’s now being used on rabbits across Australia. “It’s not a revolution,” she said. “But it’s an evolution.”
It might be “easier” and more “convenient” to take out the poison and the bullets, but rather than trying to eradicate invasive species as cheaply as possible, the framework that Littin cites asks that we keep the pain and suffering of animals — non-native and, of course, native — at the forefront and seek ways to minimize and avoid causing them undue distress.
The framework only has a few “more humane” suggestions (fencing, live trapping) for dealing with invasive species. But it does offer another, ethically driven way of considering an issue that is not going away. It is hardly the possums’, or the camels’, or the cats’, or any non-native species’, fault that they are the “resident aliens” of the countries they call home.
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