Is the culling of animals, right? What are the pros and cons of culling animals? Well, here’s a detailed list of all the benefits and drawbacks that come with this practice.
Culling is the process of selective elimination of animals based on traits or factors such as health, appearance, and sex. The aim is to reduce that particular species’ population to a specific number or only those with specific traits.
When it is supported by science and done in the right manner, culling offers many benefits to both humans and animals. But there has to be a plan in place to help achieve desired outcomes and mitigate the risks.
However, there are times when the culling of animals is driven by public hysteria and arbitrary reasons. When this happens, it poses great risks to animals, humans, and the entire ecosystem. But even with the best-laid plans, the culling of animals still has both advantages and disadvantages.
Below are the 10 important pros and cons of culling animals.
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Advantages of Culling Animals
So, is culling animals good? The simple answer is yes, but if done right. Culling offers many potential benefits, as highlighted below.
1. Economic Benefits
Top on this list of pros and cons of culling animals are the economic benefits from culling. Before culling is done, it is important to consider the economic benefits of the exercise. These economic considerations of culling animals need to be based on current scientific data.
To begin with, culling generates money through tourism, especially where wildlife is involved. Many tourists are willing to pay thousands of dollars to go on hunting expeditions aimed at culling animals.
In Northern Australia, tourists are offered an opportunity to hunt crocodiles that have been earmarked for culling. The same happens in North America, where tourists pay as much as 500 dollars to hunt White-tail deer.
There also economic benefits of culling domestic animals, especially in commercial farming. For example, in dairy farming, culling is important because it helps determine the cows’ economic performance.
Here, culling is done based on factors affecting cow performance, such as milk production, reproductive status, and diseases. Those with undesirable traits are culled, allowing farmers to drive profitability.
2. Achieving a Sustainable Population
The culling of animals is also beneficial in helping to maintain the sustainability of the ecosystem. This is done to prevent habitat degradation, protect diversity, and reduce human-wildlife conflict. If a particular species’ population becomes too large, that species becomes a threat not just to themselves but also to other animals.
For example, between 1967 and 1994, South Africa culled a total of 14,562 elephants. Without this, it is estimated that the number of elephants would have increased to 80,000 by 2020, leading to mass starvation of both the elephants and other animals.
In 2016, the country also announced a decision to cull hippos in Kruger National Park after a drought. Without culling, all or most of them would have died of starvation.
Culling also helps to manage animals without natural predators. For example, bison are being culled in Yellowstone National Park. The deer population in the UK is also managed through culling. If these animals are left unchecked, they will completely alter or destroy the habitat they live in.
3. Disease Reduction
Disease reduction deserves mention on the pros and cons of culling animals. Both domestic and wild animals can contract diseases when they come into contact with bacteria in soil, plants, or water. These diseases can decimate large animal and human populations if not well handled.
Anthrax, for example, is spread by domestic and wild animals. It causes severe illness in animals and humans. When the disease is discovered, the best option is to cull the infected animals to prevent it from spreading.
Intensively farmed animals like poultry and pigs also play a big role in the growth of virulent diseases like swine flu and avian influenza (H5N1). These diseases are highly infectious and fatal for both animals and humans.
The 1997–98 outbreak of the Nipah virus in Malaysia, for example, claimed the lives of over a hundred pig farmers. It was curtailed by the culling of more than one million pigs.
The emergence of HPAI was also attributed to Asian poultry flocks. In case of an outbreak of HPAI, one way of controlling the spread of the disease is through the culling of infected poultry.
4. Eliminating Animals that Pose a Serious Threat to Human Activities
Some animals pose a serious threat to or interfere with human activities such as farming, recreation, and even human settlement. In New Zealand, for example, after WWI, the emus had multiplied so fast that they were a danger to farmers.
As a result, they were classified as pests, and the government initiated efforts to cull them. Although hard to deal with initially, they were eventually brought under control when over 60,000 emus were culled in 6 months.
In Denver, Colorado, the famed Canadian geese also became a public nuisance at some point. Because of their huge population, they littered the city with thousands of pounds of faeces every day. This took a lot of manpower to clean.
The faeces would also contaminate waterways leading to the risk of diseases. Eventually, the state government decided to cull them, which solved the problem.
The White-tailed deer have become a threat to settlement in many suburbs across the US because they do not have natural predators. This explains why this point could not miss on our list of important pros and cons of culling animals.
5. Culling Keeps Surviving Animals Healthy
Like natural predation, culling also helps to keep the food web healthy. This is done by targeting and eliminating animals that are sick or have an undesirable characteristic. This helps to strengthen the gene pool of animals because only the fittest animals are allowed to survive.
For example, in Texas, scientists discovered that breeding among bucks with superior antler quality improved the antler quality of subsequent generations. As a result, hundreds of professional deer hunters have been employed to help eliminate those with undesirable antlers.
Culling is also done in dairy and beef farming to improve the herd performance and quality of produce. Those cattle that are considered to have defects are usually identified and killed. For example, cattle with health and fertility issues, poor milk or meat quality, or age effects are usually eliminated.
This helps to improve the overall genetic quality of the herd. The culling of animals also prevents the spread of diseases that would destroy a particular species’ gene pool.
Disadvantages of Culling Animals
Because we’re looking at the pros and cons of culling animals, it is important to address the question; is calling animals bad? Below are five reasons why the practice is not 100% fool-proof.
1. Culling Destroys Biodiversity by Harming Unrelated Species
As stated earlier, culling should be based on solid facts and a well-thought-out plan of action. But even then, unintended consequences can arise, which affects biodiversity.
In South America, for example, vampire bats are responsible for the transmission of the deadly rabies virus. Therefore, many governments started culling them.
However, sometimes they do not distinguish between the different types of bats. As a result of many insectivorous bats, which help to reduce crop pests, have been killed in the process.
A similar incident happened in New York in 1999 with the West Nile virus. The state government decided to spray pesticides targeting those mosquitoes that bite humans at night. However, it was later discovered that the major transmitters of the virus were daytime mosquitos, meaning they had been killing the wrong species.
In Australia, white sharks had caused several human fatalities. The government responded by using drum lines to cull great whites, which were responsible for the deaths. Unfortunately, of the 172 sharks that were killed, none were white sharks.
See related: Great Hammerhead Shark.
2. Unintended Ecological Consequences
Apart from harming unrelated species, culling may also have worse ecological consequences that may affect humans. One of the best examples of this took place in China. In 1949, diseases were ravaging and killing hundreds of Chinese.
The government came up with a program to combat the disease. One of the solutions focused on the culling of four pests that were carriers of this disease; rats, sparrows, flies, and mosquitoes. Billions of them were killed.
Although the culling of sparrows helped to eliminate the disease, it had a negative impact on the ecosystem. Sparrows helped to regulate the population of locusts and other insect pests in rural China. Without sparrows, the locusts and pests destroyed a lot of grain, contributing to the Great Famine of China that killed millions of people.
In Mauritius, the Mauritius flying fox had been causing great losses to farmers. As a result, the government started culling them. Unfortunately, instead of the yields increasing, they went down, causing greater losses.
It was later discovered that the flying fox was the chief agent of pollination for more than half of the island’s plant life.
3. Ethical Concerns
The ethics of this practice is a major concern when it comes to the pros and cons of culling animals. Any contact with animals should always be humane. But most of the approaches used when culling, cause pain and suffering to animals.
This is evident in the poultry industry, where almost half of the chickens that hatch are usually male. But males can’t lay eggs, and they also can’t be sold for meat because of their small sizes. This means they have to be culled.
But the methods of culling chicks are inhumane. Some are suffocated in plastic bags, while others are electrocuted. Other farmers resort to crushing the chicks, a totally unethical practice.
Alternative ways of dealing with this problem should be established. For example, breeders can invest in technologies that can establish if an embryo is male or female before the eggs hatch.
The Canadian seal hunt is another example. Every year, thousands of seals are hunted down and killed as a way of controlling their population. However, the brutal way in which they are killed certainly needs to be rechecked.
4. It May Lead to Increase of the Culled Species
There are situations where the culled species continue increasing because of the culling. So instead of becoming the solution, culling compounds the problem.
The feral cats of Tasmania are a case in point. Wildlife biologists in Tasmania wanted to reduce the population of feral cats. They set up traps to catch and kill the cats.
At first, things went well, and the population of feral cats started going down. However, after a while, new cats started appearing. As a result, the population of cats increased significantly.
The same was observed in ferrets on a British island. The culling of ferrets led to a doubling of their population.
Scientists have explained that when the older dominant adults are culled, younger animals move in from the surrounding areas to replace the adults. This leads to an explosion of population because the older ones are not there to chase away or kill the younger ones.
Also, the removal of some animals creates more space and food for those left, leading to a higher rate of survival and reproduction.
See related: Asian Lion.
5. Culling Drives Extinction
Last but not least, on our list of pros and cons of culling animals is the role culling plays in the extinction of endangered animals.
Already, many of the world’s largest animals such as elephants, sharks, whales, rhino, and bears are at risk of extinction. Their population, especially in the wild, is dwindling at a very fast pace. These large species of animals have low reproduction rates and take very long to mature. So culling only hastens the process of extinction.
For example, shark populations may take longer to recover after culls. Environmentalists have proposed the banning of shark culling and the use of drum lines because they are threats to endangered species.
Also, as the culling of elephants continues in South Africa, many East Africa nations are struggling to increase their herds, many of which were killed in the 1980s. This should serve as a warning to those culling elephants. The Mauritius flying fox, another endangered animal, is also being decimated in disproportionate numbers.
If another way of controlling animal populations is not developed, very soon, many species might be wiped off the face of the earth. We should always establish both the pros and cons of culling animals before imposing any culling measures on any species.