Wednesday, September 28, 2011

No Kill and Conservation

I have always been an animal lover and advocate, and I have always been a tree hugger and conservationist. No way to tell which came first; they are part of the same thing. 

To me, it seems perfectly natural that if you grew up loving furry animals, you'd want to conserve habitat to help other furry animals grow and thrive. If you love nature and feel motivated to protect it, of course you'd feel an affinity for the creatures who live in it. 

So you may imagine my consternation when I started encountering people who were in one camp, and not only disinterested in the other but actually hostile to it.

In graduate school, I was part of a group tasked with figuring out management options for addressing the toll of invasive species on native wildlife in New Zealand. In many island ecosystems, introduced species--commonly rats, cats, and possums--have had a devastating impact on native wildlife, decimating the many native endemic species of ground-nesting birds and others who have no defense against these predators.

This project seemed like a perfect opportunity to me to see what humane options are out there for dealing with nonnative wildlife to protect indigenous species. 

I was surprised with the vitriol with which some of my colleagues said we should "just shoot 'em," which seemed not only a cruel way to deal with cats and rats but also an inefficient one. A little bit of digging uncovered some fascinating work being done on Virus-Vectored Immunosterilization for nonnative species--a sort of hands-off TNR program for feral animals--and this ended up being the approach our group advocated. 

At the other end of the spectrum are animal advocates who have not taken the trouble to inform themselves of basic tenets of ecosystem science. Nathan Winograd, a prominent No Kill advocate who is addressed in an excellent letter by Edie at Will My Dog Hate Me?, says that simply by virtue of being there first, native wildlife have no precedence over the nonnatives who have taken over.
A Survival of the Fittest ethic that I suppose means American pioneers were perfectly justified in giving smallpox-covered blankets to Native Americans, and the Manifest Destiny that drove native bison to near extinction as cowboys and their stock took over the American West was not the least bit morally suspect. 

An ethic that, if brought to its natural conclusion, will leave us humans to enjoy our kudzu-filled and brown tree snake-infested gardens free from the trill of songbirds and the wonder and complexity of native, functioning ecosystems. 

While I absolutely embrace the concept of No Kill and am grateful for the growing awareness of its possibility and the simple steps that make it possible, (Check out the great list at In Black & White, for example) I do feel that a proponent of such an important movement needs to be much more thoughtful before venturing into territory where his knowledge is so lacking and his views could be used to justify so much ecological havoc. 

Animal rights advocates and conservationists are natural allies, and we should be working harder at nurturing a symbiosis rather than advocating for each other's extinction. 


  1. Woof! Woof! Great POST ... Golden Thanks for sharing. Will check out the links you mentioned. Lots of Golden Woofs, Sugar

  2. Agreed. Mr. Winograd has done a lot of terrific things, but he has been known to take it too far. I have read his book and I really liked what Edie had to say to him in her post. The thing is, all animals, all lifeforms, are important to the planet and to human existence. To put one ahead of the other just because it was there first, or to put one ahead of the other just because it is surviving better, doesn't benefit anyone. It is frustrating when environmental and animal advocates are disconnected in this way.

    That being said, I also recognize there is a disconnect between my eating meat and my concerns for animal welfare. It's something that weighs heavy on my brain but have chosen not to deal with yet.

  3. Amen! I completely agree with you. I think that native species should be preserved AND I think that there are humane ways to address issues where an invasive species has been introduced, like cats and rats. As we all know, the chain that exists between all species and the health of our planet is a tenuous one. One link broken can have a deteriorating effect on the rest of that chain. I was actually surprised when I read your post to see that Winograd has such a radically different view than I would have expected from him. (P.S. I loved Edie's post too.)

    By the way, the guy who was featured on Animal Planet living with wolves? He's been working with rancher in the U.S. to try a humane method of keeping wolves away from their livestock. The sound of other wolf calls. Not a bad idea eh?
    Great post.

  4. Edie's post was awesome, wasn't it? I really think its possible to be a powerful advocate without creating more conflict.

    It sounds like you're putting some good thought into the meat issue. It seems to me that absolutes of vegetarianism or meat eating are not as important as making consumption decisions with consciousness.

  5. Thanks for visiting your post and the post below
    Benny & Lily

  6. I think that Winograd is reacting to environmentalists--like the ones in my grad program--who are too eager to eradicate invasives by inhumane methods. But he paints us all with a broad brush, rather than building bridges with those who are seeking a different way.

    That's cool about the wolf guy. There are lots of humane ways to keep livestock safe from wolves...alpacas, dogs, fencing, hiring ranch hands. I like your method too. Of course, if you ask me, livestock have no business in wolf country in the first place--especially not on public lands! But that's a discussion for another day. Thanks for your great comments.

  7. Excellent post. I will be re-reading this.

  8. I always find philosophical divergence in natural allies an interesting phenomenon. I think it comes with a sense of betrayal: "I thought you and I were on the same page, and we're not!"

    Sometimes, in an attempt to be fair to both sides we're fair to neither. Right now (saw this on the news last night!) Canmore, Alberta, is struggling with a rabbit infestation that's bringing coyotes into town. Some people want the bunnies shot, some want them trapped, sterilized, and released. The second option doesn't solve the coyote problem, which puts people's pets in back yards at risk. But the first idea is just brutal.

    Do you want to reconvene with your grad school group and find a solution? Canmore awaits! :)


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