Killing for conservation (KFC) is a common practice to supposedly cure the problems at hand caused by many different species. I recently sent out the abstract for a study titled "Assessment of animal welfare for helicopter shooting of feral horses" conducted in central Australia and a number of people wrote back to me with deep concerns about the results. I share their concerns and this study shows precisely why animal welfare fails individual feral horses, as it does individuals of numerous other species.
In the abstract for the above study we read:
Context: Helicopter shooting is an effective tool for reducing feral horse (Equus caballus) populations that are considered overabundant. However, this tool has been less commonly used in recent years because of concerns about animal-welfare outcomes, which have not previously been quantified.
Aims: The aims of the present study were to assess the helicopter shooting of feral horses to determine (1) the duration of stress, (2) the frequency of adverse animal-welfare events and (3) the influence of explanatory variables in determining welfare outcomes.
Three helicopter shooting programs were studied in which 937 horses were observed "ante-mortem" as the researchers put it, which means before they were shot (but not necessarily killed instantaneously), and 630 horses were studied after they were killed. The researchers estimated "the duration of stress from pursuit and the mode of death: chase time (CT), time to death (TTD) and total time (TT; CT+TTD)." They also measured instantaneous death rate (IDR). They discovered:
For all horses, the median CT was 42 s, the median TTD was 0 s (median TTD for horses not killed instantaneously was 15 s), and median TT was 52 s. At least 1% of horses were non-fatally wounded, IDR was 63% (60–66%), and 3% (2–5%) of horses were not shot in the cranium, neck or thorax. Shooter skill was the most important determinant of whether or not a horse had an instantaneous death.
The median is the middle number of a distribution of numbers, which means that an equal number of horses would fall above and below this value for a specific measure. So, for example, not only were horses stressed while being chased by shooters in helicopters, but also at least 6 horses weren't fatally wounded, around 233 horses did not die instantaneously, and 19 horses weren't shot in the cranium, neck, or thorax.
Shooter skill turns out to be the key variable in the success of these murderous programs. But, why are they conducted in the first place? Why not stop the killing rather than looking for better shooters?
KFC leaves far too many individuals to suffer and then die, and this is why animal welfare fails individual animals. In our book called The Animals' Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age, Jessica Pierce and I argue that the science of animal welfare needs to be replaced by the science of animal well-being in which the life of every individual matters. "Success" rates like those reported for killing feral horses from helicopters are unacceptable.
Australia and many other countries are well known for their wars on wildlife and other animals, equating positive outcomes in animal welfare studies with the killing of wild, feral, and "commercial" beings in the "most humane" ways possible. For example, in another horrific study, baby kangaroos, joeys, were killed using different methods to determine the most humane ways of ending their short lives. The techniques that were assessed included decapitating joeys, stomping them to death, and using a forceful blow to the head.
The objectivity with which the researchers write is truly off-putting. They chose to kill healthy babies in a variety of ways, many known to cause pain and suffering. On page 22 of their report we read: "It was also observed that when joeys were held by the back legs and hit on the head with an iron bar they struggled and moved their head, making it a more difficult target to hit. These animals sometimes required two or more blows to cause unconsciousness, which is unacceptable as it could result in pain and suffering prior to losing consciousness. With blunt trauma to the head, applying the blow to the correct position with sufficient force to cause immediate insensibility is essential for this method to be humane."
Reading this report sickened me, and you can learn more about it in an essay called "Animal 'Euthanasia' Is Often Slaughter: Consider Kangaroos." This coming September, there will be a meeting in Sydney called Killing for Conservation.
The importance of compassionate conservation in putting an end to needless killing
Compassionate conservation, which is more than "welfarism gone wild," can readily offer non-lethal techniques for dealing with the "problems" caused by different species. The basic tenets of compassionate conservation include "First do no harm" and, similar to the science of animal well-being, compassionate conservation stresses that the lives of all individuals matter. A discussion of the aims and goals of compassionate conservation can be found in an essay published in BioScience called "Compassion as a Practical and Evolved Ethic for Conservation" and in a book titled Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation.
Also in Sydney, there is the world renowned Centre for Compassionate Conservation. There also is an upcoming meeting on compassionate conservation supported by the Born Free Foundation, Alley Cat Allies, and Voiceless that will be held in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area west of Sydney in November 2017.
It's time for the killing of other animals "in the name of conservation" or in other venues that boil down to killing "in the name of humans" to stop. Killing other animals "humanely" remains incredibly inhumane no matter how it is sanitized to make it seem okay (for more discussion please see "Rather Than Kill Animals 'Softly,' Don't Kill Them at All" and numerous links therein). There doesn't have to be blood and we must do all we can to stop the blood flow and the routine use of practices that cause deep and enduring pain, suffering, and death.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson); Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation; Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation; Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence; The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson); and The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce). Canine Confidential will be published in early 2018. Learn more at marcbekoff.com.