Bad birds

To: Hugo Phillipps <>
Subject: Bad birds
From: Peter Woodall <>
Date: Wed, 12 Apr 2000 12:46:58 +1000
At 11:30 12/04/2000 +1000, you wrote:
>Hi everybody -
>I am afraid that the argument for purist non-interventionism in
>environmental management is, in most cases, well and truly lost.  That is,
>if what you are trying to conserve is global biodiversity.  (Forget local
>biodiversity; when ship rats were accidentally introduced to Lord Howe
>Island early this century they - very briefly - increased local biodiversity).
>I am not in favour of approaches to the problem that see particular species
>as being 'good' or 'bad'.  Ad hoc persecution of Mynas, stray cats or Cane
>Toads will accomplish nothing beyond a vicarious feeling of virtue through
>a suspension of respect towards some organisms by making them environmental
>villains.  However, many introduced species do threaten global
>biodiversity, the Common Myna in Australia being one of them, and we can
>either sit back and document the effects in despair or aesthetic aloofness,
>or we can try and do something about it.  I am on the side of the
>interventionists.  I commend Chris Tidemann's website (URL posted to
>Birding-Aus by Martin O'Brien today) as an attempt to deal with the problem
>The division between 'good' natives and 'bad' introductions is also too
>simplistic.  What about the Silver Gulls which have virtually wiped out the
>Banded Stilt breeding colony on Lake Eyre?  If Silver Gull population has
>grown enormously with human changes to the environment, do you say that,
>because it is a native species, you should not intervene, even if it
>threatens another native species?  Again, I am with the interventionists.
>What is important is that you have, or plan to acquire, enough knowledge
>about the biology of the organisms in question and their effects on the
>environment to draw up an effective management strategy.
>So what does one do with regard to management / control / elimination of
>species which, because of human culture / technology / population growth
>pose some threat (which may be local or restricted) to global biodiversity?
> Do you:
>Do nothing at all?  I think this is morally unsound and an abnegation of
>Run over Cane Toads on the road and think "take that, you evil bastard!"?
>Maybe personally satisfying but otherwise completely pointless.
>Or -
>Support, lobby for and work towards the conservation of our biological
>heritage (including ultrataxa and ecosystems) through a program of
>acquiring knowledge, planning strategies, arousing public and political
>awareness, and implementation of active conservation management?
>My rave for the day.

I appreciate your thoughful postings, including this one, but here
I'd like to take this a little further.

You offered 3 options:

1. Do nothing
2. Take immediate action
3. Support, lobby, etc etc

and implicitly supported 3. 

But what about the case of the Silver Gulls vs. Banded Stilts?

When I saw the programme on ABC last night my immediate feeling was
that the answer was to catch/remove/kill as many of the gulls as possible.
A silenced .22 would do the job humanely and precisely, with no other species
harmed. This is not as an all out war on Silver Gulls but  an immediate
response in a
localised area to this particular problem.

Then I came back to reality. Before this could happen there would have to 
be applications for permits, animal ethics committees would examine the 
proposal, the use of a silenced weapon would raise further difficulties, 
decisions would slowly be made and after several weeks wait a
minister might (!!) sign a permit,..... or more likely set up a widely 
representative committee to investigate the problem.

By then,  Lake Eyre would be dry again and the problem would have gone.
{Pity about the silts, but they still seem to be OK, don't they???}.

[For those who didn't see the programme, Banded Stilts breed very 
infrequently, in situations like the flooding of Lake Eyre. On this occasion
their breeding success is being greatly reduced by large numbers of Silver Gulls
which are taking their eggs and young. This threatens the long term survival
of the stilts.]

So while your option 3. sounds very scientific and considered (and keeps a lot
of biologists employed) I submit that there are occasions when you need to take
direct and immediate action, option 2, using, of course, the best biological 
knowledge that has been gathered previously.  

This takes some political courage (guts) because once the media get hold of 
it there is undoubtedly going to be a  public outcry (killing the poor, 
pretty gulls, blood on the silver-grey plumage would give maximum effect). 

So its unlikely to happen, unless the targetted animal is a
noisy, smelly fruit-bat in Melbourne's Botanical Gardens!

MY rave for the day :-))

Dr Peter Woodall                          email = 
Division of Vet Pathology & Anatomy             
School of Veterinary Science.             Phone = +61 7 3365 2300
The University of Queensland              Fax   = +61 7 3365 1355
Brisbane, Qld, Australia 4072             WWW  =
"hamba phezulu" (= "go higher" in isiZulu)


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