Introduced/non-native animals are regularly the subject of bad publicity for the perceived damage that they cause. They are often described as “feral”, “pest”, “noxious”, “vermin” or “invasive”. These words unfairly devalue the animals, implying that they are less deserving of compassion and consideration than other animals, even other animals of the same species.
Importantly, public comment connected to these species inevitably fails to acknowledge the obvious — that we are responsible for these animals living in an environment that is not natural to their species. Science tells us that wherever there is an effect, there is a cause. We brought them here, therefore we remain responsible for their welfare. There are now species in Australia that have survived in the wild for a number of generations and have now established stable or expanding populations. Some species were initially introduced as wild species (whether intentionally or accidentally) such as rabbits, foxes, cane toads, rats and mice, but others are domesticated animals which escaped or were abandoned such as cats, dogs, pigs, goats, horses, donkeys, camels, buffalo and carp.
We are lead to believe that some (if not all) of these animals are having a severe impact on the Australian environment — yet there is very little research, and virtually no data supporting this assumption.
Despite the lack of evidence, a variety of methods that often inflict severe and prolonged suffering, such as traps, poisons, gassing, intentional infection with disease and shooting, are used to kill these animals and reduce their populations. What is rarely publicised is how unsuccessful, even futile, these attempts have been.
Where there is a proven case of severe damage due to an overpopulation of introduced animals, Animals Australia advocates humane, non-lethal methods of population control such as fertility control which has the potential to be far more effective in reducing populations of introduced species. However, currently governments are unwilling to prioritise fertility control research on the basis of cost, and land managers generally require the ‘quick fix’ lethal methods rather than longer term and ongoing sound management techniques.
Once again — because the suffering of animals caught in traps, or dying from ‘1080‘ poison is out of view of most of the general community — cruel attempts to kill animals by such inhumane means continue.
Words such as ‘feral’ or ‘pest’ do not reduce the capacity of these animals to suffer horrendous deaths, or reduce our responsibility to apply the same consideration to these species and therefore to find humane solutions.