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A Scientific Approach to Saving Wild Animals
2013-10-22 By ZHANG WEI  审核人:

THE sustainable utilization of nature and wildlife resources is critical to the subsistence and wellbeing of humankind. China conscientiously fulfills its obligation to safeguard global ecological health, and strives to achieve harmony between humans and wildlife. Its approach is pragmatic and science-based.

Chinais dedicated to protecting wild animals and their natural habitats. It also raises the populations of many species through a standardized and developed breeding network to meet the human demand for certain animal products.

A staff member of the Luoyang Zoo and an Amur tiger cub.

Misunderstandings aboutAnimal Welfare

Wildlife protection is now recognized by the Chinese public as vital. In some cases lobbying for protection has even become glamorous. For instance, many celebrities, out of goodwill and a caring heart, commit themselves to NGOs that seek to end the economic exploitation of wild fauna.

Celebrities and other activists play a positive role in pricking the social conscience, and prevent or discourage the consumption of wildlife products obtained from illegal sources. They help break long-rooted traditions of wildlife product consumption, and promote conservation as“cool.”

While these efforts are admirable, efforts to emphasize the importance of wildlife, urge protection and highlight the consequences of extinction do not go far enough. We need comprehensive controls to protect whole ecosystems, and targeted, systematic controls to breed endangered species. Absolute protection, under which every single animal should have the right to live totally free from human influence, is unrealistic and would do nothing but tip the mankind-wildlife relationship to the other extreme.

“No buying, no killing”echoes people’s wish that no animal should ever be slaughtered again. But is it true that all animals can be spared from human consumption? Killing happens every second in nature; if it didn’t, the ecological balance would be upset. Predators would not survive, nor would their former prey expand their populations in a healthy, sustainable way. It is the constant competition between hunter and hunted that ensures balance in nature. Only through this balance are we guaranteed ecological stability.

To reconcile the varying opinions on wildlife protection, we need to consider two questions: Are herbivores allowed to die naturally in the current ecosystem? And when man-animal conflicts worsen, do man’s interests come first?

The basic principles of animal welfare concern several aspects. Animal husbandry practioners should have the following professional traits: a compassionate heart, well-laid production plans, good management, professional knowledge and a strong sense of responsibility. They need to ensure adequate living conditions for animals, pay full consideration to transport management and ensure slaughter is carried out in the most“humane”way possible. It should be obvious that supporting animal welfare does not necessarily mean not breeding or killing animals. Humans eat meat. Rather, utmost efforts should be made to reduce animal suffering.

The sensible and legitimate utilization of animals in a scientific way coincides with the laws of nature, and does not contradict the precepts of animal welfare.

Volunteers feed chiru (Tibetan antelope) fawns at Soinam Targyai National Conservation Station in Hoh Xil, Tibet.

Beware Extreme Environmentalists

The protection and utilization of wildlife stand in contradictory unity, and their relationship should be handled accordingly. The following should be made clear: the opposite of protection is the destruction of ecological balance. It is not the measured and sustainable utilization of animals for human needs. The essence of wildlife conservation lies in two negative imperatives: not to destroy the ecological balance, and not to waste renewable wildlife resources.

The development of production, the wellbeing of the people, and the preservation of ecological environment constitute the basis of a harmonious society. The promotion of a conservation culture and ecological safety must be in tune with economic growth and the people’s needs. Humankind got this far by utilizing wildlife and protecting it as well. There has never been a time during which a country or a nationality refrained entirely from using animal products. It is unrealistic–and impossible from the point of view of the food supply–to abstain from all animal products. It’s a cold reality that humans are omnivores.

All animals perish in the end, and hunting, since long before modern humans spread across the earth, has been an integral part of evolution. The appropriate use of a small percentage of animals and the control of certain animal populations are also necessary for ensuring ecological balance.

“Hunting”evokes negative connotations, but it also has a positive and necessary side if we approach the issue with a scientific mindset. In some areas, the lack of predators has led to runaway herbivore populations and eventual population crashes. Overprotection, it would seem, is detrimental to species’long-term development. Here enters controlled regulation. Hunting practices in many countries have proven the positive effects of the activity as a regulatory tool. In Europe and America, hunting is a popular sport. More than 12 million people go hunting in the United States each year. Europe has 750,000 red deer, and 220,000 are hunted annually. It also has 800,000 wild boars, and 520,000 are killed during the open season. This guarantees the species’numbers remain stable.

People who care about wildlife should know this: even former“extreme”environmentalists are coming on board to the idea of hunting as a regulatory tool.

Patrick Moore, a founding member of Greenpeace, published the book Confessions of a Greenpeace Dropout: The Making of a Sensible Environmentalist, in 2011. Moore joined Greenpeace with passionate ideals.

Why did he quit 15 years later?“Greenpeace and I underwent divergent evolutions. I became a sensible environmentalist; Greenpeace became increasingly senseless as it adopted an agenda that is antiscience, antibusiness, and downright antihuman.”

That’s his answer. He recalled how he fully realized there was another, more rational step beyond pure environmental activism, and admitted that the real challenge was to“figure out how to take the environmental values we had helped create and weave them into the social and economic fabric of our culture. This had to be done in ways that didn’t undermine the economy and were socially acceptable.”

As extreme environmentalism grows increasingly confrontational and environmental nihilism begins to rise, books like Moore’s propose a sensible path forward.

A display of fur coats at an international garment industry exhibition in Beijing in March, 2013.

Achieving Genuine Harmony Between Man and Nature

Despite the goodwill, non-science-based approaches to wildlife protection that disregard reality can do more harm than good.

Any drastic environmentalist action brings unforeseen consequences that may even undermine the original intention of the action. For instance, the well-intentioned practice of buying wild animals and then freeing them at random places outside urbanized areas not only fuels the illegal trade of animals, but may also damage the natural environment by introducing alien species into local ecosystems.

Clearly, goodwill and good wishes alone cannot effectively protect wildlife resources. We need to be sensible and employ a well-considered and painstakingly devised approach to promote effective conservation of endangered species, and at the same time respect man’s needs for animals and animal products. In China, per capita levels of natural resources are very low. We should learn from successful cases of wildlife protection and utilization in other countries if we want holistic, balanced and sustainable development in China.

To forge a nature-loving country and a healthy environment, we must use science to create a harmonious relationship between man and wildlife. We must realize the urgency of protecting endangered wild animal resources, and not destroy their natural habitats at will or by hunting excessively. Animal welfare is obviously important, and discontinuing backward practices in the taming and breeding business is a necessary step.

Animal husbandry provides us with a vital food source. Wild animals are not for human consumption, though we should control their numbers to ensure ecological balance. Blindly advocating the absolute protection of all animals is a road to nowhere.

Furthermore, we must realize the needs of people in wildlife-heavy areas and allow them to develop production and seek a better life by utilizing the resources they have at their disposal.

Only through a science-based approach can we achieve balance between man and nature, and realize our dream of an ecologically friendly culture and a harmonious society in which humankind and its animal brethren coexist peacefully.

ZHANG WEI is dean of the College of Wildlife Resources, Northeast Forestry University.

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