With the recent release of the RHDV1 K5 virus and ongoing debate about the best way to manage introduced predators such as feral cats and wild dogs, the ethical control of pest animals is an important consideration here in Australia.
Back in 2015, a group of conservationists, government researchers and animal welfare experts from around the world came together in Vancouver to talk about ethical wildlife* control. When a team of experts assemble to confer on an important issue, you know things are about to get interesting.
After much discussion and workshopping, the group – which included RSPCA Australia’s Chief Scientist Dr Bidda Jones – developed seven principles for ethical wildlife control. A paper co-written by the forum participants outlining the seven principles has recently been released, and you can read it here.
When it comes to determining the necessity of wildlife control, here are the questions we need to be asking ourselves:
Can the issue be eased by changing human behaviour?
As our population continues to grow, people are taking up more and more of the space once occupied by wild animals, affecting their food and habitat. Where possible, changing our behaviour to allow for co-existence should be the first step towards solving any issues.
Does the issue actually justify wildlife control?
Whatever the scenario, it’s important to have real evidence of the need for wildlife control. Is considerable harm being caused to people and their livelihoods, property, ecosystems and/or other animals?
Do we know what the desired outcome is and how to monitor it?
Before undertaking wildlife control, we need to know what needs to be achieved. Are we looking to reduce crop loss? Increase the population of a particular type of endangered animal? It can’t just be about reducing the population of the species that has been targeted. The objectives or outcomes of this population reduction have to be measurable.
What is the animal welfare cost?
This question is especially important for animal welfare organisations like the RSPCA. We need to help find ways for wildlife controllers to cause the least harm to the least number of animals. Control methods available for public use also need to cause the least suffering if used without special training.
Has social acceptability been considered?
It’s not just scientific and technical information that should influence decisions regarding if and how to control wildlife. Community values need to be taken into consideration too.
Is the current control plan part of a longer-term project?
Decisions to control animals should be part of a long-term management plan in order to prevent any unnecessary harm or damage.
Is the decision guided by the reality of the situation rather than by the negative labels applied to animals?
When animals are deemed ‘pests’ or labelled with terms like ‘introduced’ or ‘abundant,’ there can be moves to control the population without considering the specifics of what’s actually happening. Wildlife control shouldn’t take place just because an animal with a bad reputation is present in the area.
Participating in groups like these is just one of the ways in which the RSPCA advocates for the welfare of animals (including wildlife) at a local, national and international level.
*Please note that ‘wildlife control’ is another term for ‘pest animal control’