The Ethics of Culling Wildlife — More News from GEIG

Dateline Florence (I just like saying that), where the Global Ecological Integrity Group Conference continues:

One of today’s speakers — an ecologist from Australia — asked: When is it ethically appropriate to cull wildlife to reduce the disease threat to humans?

While I am pleased that such questions get posed, they raise predicate questions which seldom get asked.  For example:

1) Is reducing the disease threat to humans an objective good?

2) If so, how much are we willing to sacrifice in order to achieve it?

a) I.e., are we willing to likewise ask when it is ethically appropriate to cull humans to reduce the disease threat?

3) What criteria do we use to ethically differentiate ourselves from wildlife?

Please understand that I am not advocating for a policy of culling humans.  I rather wish to question the ethical predicates underlying the culling of animals.

People often assume that this set of questions stems from and is founded on a philosophy of animal rights.  I believe that they first and foremost arise from environmental ethics.  Indeed, I wonder how we who embrace the Land Ethic can avoid shouting them from the rooftops.

–David Cassuto

4 Responses

  1. […] Go here to read the rest:  The Ethics of Culling Wildlife — More News from GEIG « Animal Blawg […]

  2. Your first concern is very interesting, and I do not have the time to develop my thoughts on it fully. My first reaction, however, is that given the typical moral standpoint that humans come first and are distinct, and given recent escalations in the advancement of medicines (and reliance on them), animal-human disease is going to soon be THE paramount issue. “Swine Flu” aside, humans are going to reach a point in our pursuit of immortality (the new American Dream) when we are so dependent on our drugs and immunizations that an ultra-virus will be able to wipe out thousands. Indeed, that is one of the concerns Obama has expressed in his push for national health care. Should this virus originate with a particular animal species, I fear that no efforts by the ESA would be able to spare extermination, if that were a viable option.

  3. One need only understand the concept of transmissible diseases that are usually EPIZOOTIC. That means that they reside in the animal host in relative dormancy with little actual morbidity. Then when conditions are ripe, often unusually good weather and abundant food causing a population explosion and no reduction of the weakest of a species, the disease becomes EPIZOOTIC. An epidemic amongst the host animals flousihes and those who prey on them become efficient carriers, e.g., yersinia pestis or as the beloved malady is well known, The Black Death. At that point transmission to humans becomes very realistic and very threatening.

    Culling certain host animals before an epizootic can arise is common sense. For me (and for most people) there is zero moral consideration involved in doing so.

  4. With respect, this seems like question begging. One cannot logically assert that there is no ethical dimension to culling wild animals when they pose a threat to humans because it is common sense that they need to be culled in order to prevent a threat to humans. That is simply rephrasing the question as a statement. The issue I raised is rather about the ethical basis one uses to differentiate culling humans from culling wildlife. After all, humans pose a much more serious threat to humans than any other animal.

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