How we treat wild animals in Australia doesn’t make sense

This post was submitted to the Sydney Morning Herald as an opinion piece, but was not accepted.

I’ve been contacting UNSW Sydney, where I am a PhD student, to try and stop them from killing a fox who has been living on campus. They seem to have ‘moved in’ because of the reduced numbers of staff and students on site. Thankfully, it looks like they won’t be going through with it. But the university’s responses have me irked.

They make the point that we need to be protecting native species. I don’t deny that the fox may kill native animals, but what I do disagree with is the prevalent idea that we should put the lives of native animals above and beyond the lives of introduced animals. I want to reduce the suffering of all animals, not just native animals.

Foxes and other introduced species didn’t ask to be introduced. They were brought to Australia by humans. Why should the foxes have to suffer for this error of human judgement? Surely we bear some responsibility for introduced species. It shouldn’t just be the introduced animals themselves that have to suffer for this.

Currently, it’s illegal in NSW to move a fox once it has been captured, even to a rescue shelter. Legally speaking, they must be killed. This limits our options. We can leave the fox alone and hope it will move away when staff and students return to campus, or we can use other non-harmful means of moving them away, like removing their food sources and installing fox lights.

Rather than jump to killing as the solution, we should be considering other things, like immunocontraceptives to make some of the animals infertile. This is a more long-term solution than culling attempts, since after culling the population will typically rise again to fill the gap. Immunocontraceptives and trap, neuter and release (for those animals where we are legally allowed to do so) will mean we don’t have to perform a slaughter every few years.

Given that we kill kangaroos, a native animal, en masse, I’m suspicious as to whether the true motivation is for the benefit of the animals. Is it just for us? We kill kangaroos because they are competing for the food that farmed animals, such as cows and sheep, who both introduced animals, are eating – grass.

Further, if we really cared about native animals, maybe we’d stop cutting down forests to make way for farms and housing development. From 2015-16, the NSW Government allowed the clearing of over 7,000 hectares of native vegetation. It is unknown how much of this was to clear land for grazing, however from 1988 to 2009, 93% of land clearance in Queensland was to make room for livestock grazing.

NSW land clearing laws introduced in 2017 expose 99% of identified koala habitat on private land to clearing. 92% of land degradation in Australia is caused by animal agriculture. Globally, animal agriculture is the leading cause of species loss.

So I hope you will forgive me if I’m suspicious as to whether the laws we have in place around wild animal management are actually in place for the benefit of the animals themselves. If they’re solely for the benefit of humans, we really ought to reconsider our laws. Humans and non-humans are all animals, and we can all suffer. Perhaps it’s time we learned how to share this planet with our fellow earthlings.

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