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When Conservationists Kill Lots (and Lots) of Animals

Compassionate conservation concerns itself with identifying alternative ways to save species without killing, and this seems like a straightforwardly good idea. Why cause pain and suffering if there is another way?

EMMA MARRIS: ‘Before leaving the United States for Australia, I read a report from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation that 6,000 wild buffalo, horses, donkeys, and pigs had been culled from Kakadu National Park in 24 days. I absorbed the information, but felt little. Sitting in the flies and the heat, watching the soft muzzle of a caramel-colored Nubian wild ass ripple the surface of the water, it occurred to me that I did not want this individual animal killed. But one donkey doesn’t change the environment. Ecologists contend that in their free-roaming tens of thousands, non-native herbivores graze the desert to dust and turn wetlands to mud barrens.

Arian Wallach and her students say donkeys and other non-native species have been scapegoated. Erick Lundgren says he has been unable to find any studies showing that donkeys destroy diverse ecosystems: “It seems very evident to me that the only herbivores to be substantially affecting plant communities there are the cattle—that are maintained at such ludicrously high densities.”

In cases like these, where most conservationists see killing non-native species as an obvious way to help restore a degraded landscape, Wallach sees a puzzle to be solved. Step one: Stop overstocking cattle. Step two: Stop killing dingoes that might prey on the donkeys and keep their numbers down. Do this and the ecosystem will sort itself out—no killing required.

Wallach is one of the most prominent voices in an emerging movement called “compassionate conservation,” which claims that all or nearly all conservation killing is unnecessary. It is still very much a minority position in a field that prizes biodiversity and nativeness and sees extinction as the greatest evil.

Mostly, compassionate conservation concerns itself with identifying alternative ways to save species without killing, and this seems like a straightforwardly good idea. Why cause pain and suffering if there is another way? But I am interested in the hard cases where there is no other way, where conservationists really do have to choose between killing off thousands of animals and letting a native species go extinct. Then what do they do?”‘ SOURCE…

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