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AUS Press: Spare the cane toad?

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Posted by: W von Papinešu at Tue Jan 25 09:40:55 2011  [ Report Abuse ] [ Email Message ] [ Show All Posts by W von Papinešu ]  

AUSTRALIAN BROADCASTING CORPORATION 17 January 11 The people who would spare the cane toad (Sara Phillips)
"If the toad is facing towards the vehicle, the air that's inside the toad is trapped within the head and blown out towards the back end, and the toad really goes off with a bang - like a balloon going off."
So said Brent Vincent in a 1980s documentary about cane toads in Australia. He was explaining how much he loves the Australian environment and does everything in his power to kill as many of the introduced pest as he can. He chooses to run over them with his van.
Some people like to practise their golf swing on the invaders.
Other people bash them with sticks, put them in the freezer, or suffocate them.
Australians so loathe the poisonous toad that you'd be hard pressed to find anyone much perturbed by these confessions. Cane toads kill native wildlife when they are eaten by them, or by out-competing them for food. They are feeding, fighting and fornicating their way across Australia. As a rule, we hate 'em.
But not everyone feels quite this way. Animal rights group, Animals Australia believes that killing any animal (unless to end suffering) is bad. Cane toads are animals too.
Before dismissing the idea of being kind to cane toads completely out of hand, imagine for a second that it was a rabbit.
Rabbits cause more than $100 million in damage to Australian crops every year. They also dig burrows, making soil more prone to erosion and dust storms. Out in wild areas, they eat the same foods as Australian native marsupials, and breed faster than them, meaning the natives are left with nothing to eat and nowhere to live. In short, they are as bad or worse for our environment than cane toads.
But can you imagine Australians cheerfully joking about playing golf with a rabbit, or swerving down the road to savour the sound of a splattered bunny?
The truth is that we humans hate cane toads because they are a danger to our environment, but our nonchalance about killing them stems from the fact that they are cold and ugly. We know pestilent rabbits are killed too, but that's done distantly, by diseases released by scientists.
Humans are remarkably 'speciesist' in this way. The cuter the creature, the kinder we are, despite the fact that as far as zoologists can tell, all animals suffer pain.
And 'speciesism' is exactly the accusation that animal rights groups level against people who wish to implement feral animal control. The argument goes something like this: Why should humans get to decide which animal should live where, and kill the undesirable one? All lives are precious.
But this argument in itself is speciesist.
Carol Booth, policy officer at the Invasive Species Council, which aims to eradicate the ferals said via email, "It is unfortunate to see concern for animal welfare motivate . This amounts to denial of animal welfare impacts of feral animals, because these predators and herbivores cause a lot of suffering for native animals by their impacts."
Booth continues, "The ongoing severe threat to species and degradation caused by feral animals suggests that if control operations were stopped, Australia would lose many more species, and ecosystems would suffer immense degradation. Australia needs more and better control of feral animals, not less."
In other words, death by cane toad is a nasty way to go. By advocating leaving invasive species in peace, animal rights groups are indirectly advocating an unpleasant end for many Australian natives. So a choice has been made about which animals live or die.
But by killing the introduced species that are making life difficult for the native animals, humans again are making a choice about which animals live and which die.
So with both sides able to be accuse each other of speciesism, the debate then essentially becomes about which is more valuable: the preservation of Australia's unique ecosystems, or the preservation of life.
Peter Singer is an ethicist whose views are the inspiration for many animal rights groups. I asked him how we should approach the problem, "I think we should be concerned about all animals, not only those that happened to arrive here before 1788. Where killing can be done humanely, and is necessary to preserve endangered species, it may be defensible," he said.
But even in this scenario - where an animal is the last of its kind - a choice is still made. The choice whether to kill, and which to kill. Like a nurse in a triage ward, the desperateness of the situation is evaluated and appropriate measures taken.
Environmental triage is speciesist, but in many ways it is appropriate that the final decision rests with humans. After all, it was human intervention in the environment that caused the problem in the first place.
The people who would spare the cane toad


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  • You Are HereAUS Press: Spare the cane toad? - W von Papinešu, Tue Jan 25 09:40:55 2011

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