19 October 2016
Culls are routinely carried out around the world in the name of upholding biodiversity and animal welfare. Are they ethical and do they work, asks Alice Klein
By Alice Klein
HIPPOS in South Africa, cats in Australia, deer in the US, badgers in the UK. Across the world, governments are announcing plans to cut back the numbers of some of our most-loved animals. The latest is a proposed cull of 250,000 Siberian reindeer – which could spread anthrax – just before Christmas.
Such mass slaughter invariably sparks fierce debate between politicians, conservationists, farmers and animal-rights activists. Is it reasonable to kill animals if they threaten other species or are under threat themselves?
There are three circumstances that justify lethal wildlife control, says Bidda Jones of animal welfare group RSPCA Australia. The first is if culling will save animals from an even worse fate. For example, South Africa announced last month that it would kill some 350 hippos and buffaloes to prevent herds from suffering food shortages while the country endures a severe drought.
Culling can also be necessary if other animals are harmed by a species out of control. Feral cats are culled in Australia to protect native wildlife. Kangaroos are also lethally controlled when their numbers balloon, to prevent them from destroying vegetation that supports other species.
Finally, animals that threaten livestock or human safety may need to be eliminated. In the US, overabundant deer are culled to prevent car collisions and Lyme disease transmission to humans. In the UK, badgers have been culled to slow the spread of bovine tuberculosis among cattle. And Norway has recently approved a plan to cull two-thirds of its native wolf population to reduce attacks on sheep.