The Gap Between Wildlife and the Animal Rights Movement
Excuse the sudden and random departure from the typical self-aggrandizing and narcissistic ornithophilic content. That will return next month. Today I’m exploring a couple questions that have been bouncing in my head for a while…I’d love to hear your thoughts…I’m not calling into question animal rights, just the focus of the movement. – The Great Ornithologist Felonious Jive
Animal rights. I know on some level, I think that’s something almost all of us can get behind…no one, except the most callous and cold-hearted of the human race things its fine to torture animals, or deny that they are capable of pain and suffering. Unfortunately, once we discuss anything beyond this basic point, people vastly disagree on what is right and wrong.
The animal rights movement is (rightly) closely associated with protesting things like factory farming, dogfighting, etc…basically, the mistreatment of animals. This makes perfect sense. What I don’t understand is why animal rights organizations almost completely ignore wildlife. It seems that these people, who purport to claim to care so much about animals, are completely ignorant of the existence of any animal life beyond horses, cows, pigs, chickens and turkeys. Sure PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, who are the biggest and best known animal rights organization), Sea Shepards and the like are involved with protesting and interfering with whaling operations (and I wish them all the best on that front), but they are essentially voiceless when it comes to two of the big evils that face wildlife around the world, namely, habitat destruction and invasive species. As you can see here, PETA does not even address these issues at all, while portraying themselves as indeed giving a damn. Habitat destruction and degradation is far and away the number one reason why wildlife populations are extirpated or go extinct. There is nothing abstract or controversial about this. The number of individual birds and mammals alone that are affected by these factors are countless; and when you consider fish, reptiles and amphibians, it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of life that gets wiped out around the world (and certainly including the U.S.) on a daily basis, both legally and otherwise.
What’s even more frustrating is when animal rights people learn of plans to cull nonnative species. Nonnative species have huge impacts on wildlife species everywhere….mice kill seabird chicks in their burrows, rats eat endangered bird eggs, overpopulated deer clear the understory of forests, pigs root out native plants and terrestrial animals, cats kill anything they can get their paws on. A classic example of what an invasive species is capable of resides on the island of Guam…when one species of snake made its way onto to the island via airplane, practically all of the island’s birds went extinct in a matter of a few decades. The birds had evolved without a predator like this, and with the new snake having no predators, it had no problem decimating the island’s birdlife.
Many governments around the world are now privy to the ecological and economic harm invasive species cause, and some (such as New Zealand and the United States) have invested large sums of money to help make things right, both in programs to prevent nonnative species from becoming established, and to eradicate populations of nonnative animals that have significant impacts on native wildlife. Among biologists and birders alike, these programs are usually met with great praise. For example, when the U.S. Navy wiped out every single rat on Midway Atoll, seabirds flourished afterwards. Rats had previously preyed on eggs and young of practically every defenseless seabird on the island, and had taken to even attacking adult albatross as they sat on their nests. The number of bird lives saved as a result of the rat removal operation can easily be estimated to be into the millions by now. Albatross chicks will no longer have to endure slowly getting eaten alive, unlike this poor bird.
Instead of embracing these fantastic programs, a typical reaction from people within the animal rights movement is to condemn and protest the act, because animals were going to die. The logic of this is ridiculous. Yes, of course it is too bad that so many animals (most often rats, mice and rabbits) have to be killed. But the lives that will be saved by native habitats returning to normal, decreasing predation, and more indirect ecosysytem benefits are countless. People interested in animal welfare who are against this idea are completely missing the point here. It is simply not feasible to safely live-trap thousands of animals and conveniently move them to some rescue shelter…the time and money do not exist, and you will never remove every individual without accidentally killing some. Taking risks with any of these removals of “alien” species renders the whole operation pointless…it only takes two (2) to start the cycle all over again.
This narrow, frankly ignorant point of view is complete hypocrisy. How can people say they care about animals while seemingly ignoring the existence of the wild ones that have been there for thousands of year? Since they never think about cows and chickens going extinct, the concept that this possibility is very real and is what biologists are often trying to prevent goes right over their heads. The simple fact is this; by protesting the removal of harmful non-native species, they are supporting the unnecessary deaths and even extinction of many species.
If you, animal lover, have no interest in providing wildlife a healthy environment, then your efforts and passions are brought into question. I’m not writing this to rant against PETA (god knows enough people do that), in fact their stance on feral cats is comparatively progressive compared to some of their counterparts, although they aren’t exactly on the anti-cat train most birders are on. Obviously its perfectly fine to concentrate on one particular problem (i.e. there is actually a group dedicated to saving lobsters!), but for animal rights groups to claim to be dedicated to animal welfare and practically ignore the most serious issues wildlife face is blatantly hypocritical. By focusing almost exclusively on barnyard creatures and denizens of laboratories, they turn a blind eye to who really could use their help…wildlife!