UTSpeaks: Week 167

UTS campus on George Street: Sydney, Australia

Upon entering the room I locked eyes with an old scholarly-type standing next to an hors’ doeuvre platter. He was sheepishly raking an enormous pile of cheese and crackers onto a napkin in the palm of his other hand. Yes I thought, universities are the same the world over.

Instead of my old Alma mater I was outside the Aerial Function Centre of the University of Technology, Sydney. It was on the seventh level and had a balcony overlooking the glittery lights of the Sydney CBD. My friend had invited me to the lecture on animal culling and from the looks of the foyer, it was a popular topic. I’m sure the open bar played no small part in that.

Professor Rob Harcourt and Dr Daniel Ramp were both interested in how people responded to ‘inconvenient animal populations’ and how we could ‘devise more compassionate solutions’.

Trapping and poisoning have almost always been the go-to methods for dealing with ‘pests’ and invasive species. One of the main problems with this mentality is that food webs are extremely intricate and the effect of removing or adding species are not necessarily straightforward.

For example, at its zenith Macquarie Island had 2,500 cats killing 60,000 seabirds per year. The cats were eliminated in the year 2000 which in turn increased the rabbit and mice population. Rodents ate the younger chicks and rabbits removed grass layer which lead to soil erosion and cliff collapses which further destroyed more nests.

The rabbits and mice where then poisoned, which worked, but the young doctor with a skinny mod tie and a mohawk was quick to ask, “was that ethical?”

It was an interesting question that Dr Daniel Ramp proposed. I have to admit I didn’t feel too bad for the rats, but I had also never thought about them as sentient beings suffering a slow death by poison. Dr Ramp also pointed out that to make a significant dent in the rat population a large percentage of them would need to be exterminated at once. If this didn’t happen then a lot of money and time were being wasted to needlessly kill rats.

While I disagree that absolutely no ‘pests’ should be harmed for the sake of conservation, I do believe that to kill as a matter-of-course would be a disservice. The world has changed and so has our environment. Perhaps it is time to realize that these ‘invasive species’ are here to stay and that we should adopt new methods to work around this premise instead of futilely enforcing old boundaries.

Or maybe we should just let Maremma guardian dogs run the world.

What do I know? I just went for the cheese and champagne like all the other nutty academics.

About: UTSpeaks

About: The Centre for Compassionate Conservation

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