Natalie Angier, in the New York Times Science Times on 4/29/08, covered a topic I’ve been thinking about a lot lately.
She discusses the way humans categorize other species and then use these categories, especially if they are negative, to justify eradicating (AKA killing) individuals of these groups in the name of conservation (e.g. cowbirds) or environmental preservation (e.g. pigeons).
This issue has bothered me a great deal because I am currently studying feral cat population dynamics and the utility of the spay neuter release approach to population control. The controversy over this approach vs. eradication (AKA shooting, poisoning, etc.) is heated and vehement and I do not want to go over it right now (do a web search and you’ll find folks on both sides) because the lack of data and the verbal sparring with loaded terms (note my parentheses as an example) gives me a headache.
But, I want to put forward the argument that we need to consider how we approach these other species in a way that explores all aspects of our mutual relationship–how they got where they are (usually we moved them their so the original culpability and responsibility is not theirs but OURS), what their actual present day impact is (not just what happened when they were introduced, as a novel predator, 100 years ago) and ALL of the options open to us now, not just the easiest or most emotionally satisfying (e.g. shooting that damn cat that has been eating the birds; and ignoring the cat that shows up in its wake [see the New York Times Magazine 12/2/07.
Essentially, I believe we have to recognize that the cats are only feasting on the remains of our destructiveness. When we consider what to do with the multitude of feral and free roaming cats that may or may not be threatening bird and other species we need to recognize that we carried them all over the world and we have a responsibility to consider humane approaches to managing their numbers rather than simply label them invasive and shoot them on sight.