February 2016 – Killing for Survival

In New Zealand conservation is all about killing. It’s tragic but it’s true. The animals we kill we call ‘pests’.

Before people came, bats were the only mammals that had made their own way to these islands. New Zealand was a land of birds, lizards and invertebrates including giant weta and metre-long earthworms which were eaten by enormous worm-eating snails. All other warm-blooded furry animals in native forests are foreigners – rats, stoats, ferrets, feral cats, hedgehogs, deer, goats and pigs – and between them they are eating the wildlife to extinction and even destroying the forest itself.

Few people take pleasure in killing and conservationists, who care about the living world, like killing least of all. But if the native forests and wildlife are to prosper, then the pests have to go.

At Aongatete volunteers kill pests using poison bait and traps. The baits are approved by the Animal Ethics Board and the traps are designed to kill instantly. But we cannot avoid the reality that animals suffer and it is not their fault.

All the animals we call pests belong in different ecosystems around the world. There they are ‘native’ animals beautifully adapted to live as a natural part of their own ecosystem. When accidentally or in ignorance we introduce these exotic species to our NZ ecosystems we do so without the enemies, diseases and other factors that controlled their populations in their native ecosystems. In our native forests they multiply out of control and harming our native wildlife and forests.
While we need to control pests we must do it as humanely as we can. It is disturbing that the SPCA reports increasing acts of cruelty towards animals like possums and goats, and often the response is that ‘they are only pests’. Pests they may be but we have caused these animals to be pests by bringing them here. They are our responsibility. We should not unduly vilify them or encourage children to be cruel to what we may call ‘vermin’.

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