The Eurasian (Lynx) Invasion

Beware, citizens of Great Britain … an invasion of Eurasians may be imminent! And if you don’t prevent it, you may be slaughtered like lambs.

That sounds like an argument in support of Brexit, doesn’t it? And yet it’s far more bloody than the debate over the European Union. In fact, the marauding Eurasians will actually behave like predators if they descend upon the British Isles. And their prey may indeed include lambs.

You see, environmentalists have mourned the loss of the British lynx species for a very long time. A close relative of the bobcat, the lynx helped to manage the spread of deer populations, and effectively maintained an important ecological balance in the Scottish woods.

Around the year 700, though, the British lynx was hunted into extinction because of the beauty of their fur coats. Today, 1,300 years later, naturalists propose to restore the species to the Isles by importing and releasing several of their Eurasian relatives.

Sheep farmers in the region, of course, are not pleased by the plan. Although they’ve been assured that their losses will be minimal, they don’t trust the authorities. And, to be sure, the restoration plan does raise a number of troubling moral questions.

For instance, is there ever a moral justification for threatening the current residents of a region by forcing them to confront a new predator? Don’t the deer and sheep have as much of a right to life as the lynx?

Furthermore, does the introduction of a Eurasian species really make up for the earlier extinction of its British counterpart? And does the interim passage of 1,300 years affect the moral clarity of any such act?

There are pragmatic questions to consider as well. Are the experts truly certain that they can control the spread of the lynx? Are there other animal species, as well as plant species, that may be harmed by the big cats?

Indeed, this is not a situation where environmentalists are proposing the preservation of a beloved endangered species with a long and continuous history. Instead, they are proposing the introduction of a distant relative of a species that has been extinct for more than a millennium.

That’s an entirely different story, isn’t it? For that reason, environmentalists may wish to take a deep breath and consider the implications of their plan before they take action. After all, once they let the cats out of the proverbial bag, they may not be able to capture them again.

Playing God With Animals

Have you heard the great news about the California Channel Island Fox? Due to the conservation efforts of the National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, and other groups, the species with the “naive, adorable little personality” was removed from the endangered list last week.

That success represents the fastest ever recovery of an endangered species, as measured by the time that elapses from the day of its inclusion on the protected list to the day of its removal. So to what cause can we attribute this impressive success?

Regrettably, the species’ path to sustainability has been a bit brutal. The foxes were being hunted by golden eagles, carnivorous birds that were initially attracted to their habitat by tasty wild pigs. So wildlife officials slaughtered thousands of pigs, depriving the eagles of a significant food source and compelling the birds to search for prey elsewhere. The foxes then thrived once more.

But the environmental trail of death didn’t end there. The federal government also killed more than one hundred wild turkeys that bred freely on island turf, after their porcine land competitors were eliminated. And the elimination process occurred in a spectacular manner, with hunters hired “to track down the (animals) using helicopters with snipers, traps, dogs, and electronic collars.”

It all makes you wonder why we chose to support the foxes instead of the pigs and the turkeys, doesn’t it? And instead of the majestic eagles too, given that the elimination of their porcine diet staple undoubtedly led to the diminishment of their population. Perhaps the conservationists decided that the foxes deserve the land more because they inhabited it first, though their “adorable little personalities” surely didn’t hurt their cause.

Indeed, the entire affair raises a troubling ethical question about whether we have the right to play God with any animal species. After all, if we’re not about to eliminate the descendants of the European settlers of the American continents in order to return their lands to the Native American peoples who preceded them, why should we slaughter the innocent pigs and turkeys of California in order to return their territories to the island foxes?