Mark Carwardine

The broad­caster and cam­paigner airs his views on com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tion and in­vites your thoughts on the sub­ject.

BBC Wildlife Magazine - - Contents -

Can we pre­serve bio­di­ver­sity with­out re­sort­ing to killing an­i­mals?

Con­ser­va­tion­ists are cold­blooded killers. That may be a lit­tle harsh – I’ve yet to meet one who does not care pas­sion­ately about all an­i­mals great and small – but there is no doubt that con­ser­va­tion can some­times in­volve an aw­ful lot of killing.

If you are a con­ser­va­tion­ist in New Zealand, for ex­am­ple, your mo­ti­va­tion is to bring back se­verely de­pleted pop­u­la­tions of na­tive birds. But, in or­der to do so, you have to spend an in­or­di­nate amount of time killing all the in­tro­duced fer­rets, stoats, weasels, rats, cats, dogs, hedgehogs and pos­sums that now run amok in this once preda­tor-free land. The harsh re­al­ity is that, with­out killing the an­i­mals that threaten na­tive species, there would be noth­ing left to pro­tect.

So, here’s a ques­tion: can we safe­guard Earth’s bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity while treat­ing in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals with re­spect? That’s not the way we do things at the mo­ment – con­ser­va­tion gets on with the daunt­ing task of sav­ing species and pop­u­la­tions, while in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals are the con­cern of an­i­mal wel­fare or­gan­i­sa­tions.

But there is a grow­ing re­solve to com­bine ef­forts and re­set the bal­ance – through a move­ment called ‘com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­va­tion’. In other words, con­ser­va­tion with a heart. It is un­de­ni­ably a won­der­ful as­pi­ra­tion. But is it a re­al­is­tic bright new way, or merely a naive utopia?

It does some­times feel as if we are on a slip­pery slope to­wards a rather ab­stract, cold-hearted, save-a-speciesat-any-cost style of con­ser­va­tion. As if com­pas­sion for in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals is no longer po­lit­i­cally cor­rect. Per­son­ally, I hate sports hunt­ing, for ex­am­ple. I know all the ar­gu­ments for se­lec­tively con­trol­ling pop­u­la­tions through hunt­ing. Still, I just don’t like it. But I know I will get lots of hate mail for say­ing so. Does it make me a less pro­fes­sional or re­al­is­tic con­ser­va­tion­ist? I don’t be­lieve it does.

Un­for­tu­nately though, killing for con­ser­va­tion is not as clear-cut as we’d like it to be. To il­lus­trate the point, here are three ex­am­ples, with one sim­ple ques­tion: are they ac­cept­able?

First, Alaska. Griz­zly bear hunt­ing in the largest and most sparsely pop­u­lated US state is de­signed specif­i­cally to re­duce bear abun­dance, in the hope that there will be more moose and cari­bou – to hunt. That must be wrong.

Can we safe­guard bi­o­log­i­cal di­ver­sity while treat­ing in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals with re­spect?

Sec­ond, the re­mote South At­lantic is­land of South Ge­or­gia. This spec­tac­u­lar wildlife par­adise was dev­as­tated by rats and mice, which were in­tro­duced by seal­ing and whal­ing ships in the 18th cen­tury. But re­cently – af­ter nearly a decade, £10 mil­lion and hun­dreds of tonnes of poi­soned bait – the 165km-long is­land was de­clared ro­dent-free. And, sure enough, the birds are bounc­ing back. If ever there was a con­ser­va­tion suc­cess story, this is it, and the killing – surely – was over­shad­owed by the stronger moral duty to care for the na­tive pen­guins, al­ba­trosses, pip­its and other birds. That must be right.

Third, North Amer­ica’s Pa­cific North­west. En­dan­gered north­ern spot­ted owls are un­der threat from more ag­gres­sive barred owls, which have been ex­pand­ing their range. The US Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice came up with an an­swer: shoot enough barred owls to save the spot­ted owls. But how many is ‘enough’? 100? 1,000? 10,000? More? It’s im­pos­si­ble to know where to draw the line. Or, in­deed, if a line should be drawn in the first place.

There will al­ways be ex­treme views: kill, kill, kill for con­ser­va­tion, or never kill any­thing at all. But there has to be a mid­dle ground, even if it re­quires a par­a­digm shift in think­ing. We should strive for a happy medium, where it’s okay to care about in­di­vid­ual an­i­mals, not just num­bers.

MARK CARWARDINE is a frus­trated and frank con­ser­va­tion­ist.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? If you want to sup­port Mark in his views or shoot him down in flames, email wildlifelet­[email protected]­me­di­

In Alaska, griz­zly bears are legally hunted ev­ery spring and au­tumn.

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