The proposed eradication of an unknown number of fallow deer on Sidney Island to help restore its ecology has renewed attention on the ethics of deer culling.
The case for the proposed eradication appears strong: the animals were not part of the island’s historic ecology; their presence has crowded out the black tail deer, which have historically lived on the island; and they have done considerable damage to the vegetation, hurting the ability of local First Nations to use that vegetation for traditional purposes. Officials with Parks Canada have looked into other ways of eradicating the animals from the island, such as sterilisation and removal, but have ruled them out.
Moving the invasive animals to another location would merely shift the problem and sterilisation requires the capture of the animals, in some cases, multiple times, an unrealistic and inhumane prospect, as one Parks Canada official put it.
So eradication appears to offer many advantages, including the possibility that the meat from the animals could end up in local freezers, including those of local First Nations (they already hunt fallow deer during certain months in the northern part of the island in the Gulf Islands National Park Reserve).
On the other hand, it is easy to see how the prospect of killing and processing an unknown number of animals could give the public pause, if not trigger outright opposition.
No one has made any decisions yet as Parks Canada continues to invite public feedback on the eradication, itself just one part of a larger proposal. Private property owners must also still consider said proposal and the BC SPCA has yet to see the final eradication plan.
Sara Dubois, director of science and policy division and chief scientific officer for the BC SPCA, said the question of why anyone should care for these animals can be answered in two ways.
“First, it’s not their fault,” she said. “Those particular animals didn’t ask to be placed there,” said Dubois, pointing to the events that led to the introduction of the deer to the island at the hands of European settlers who wanted to hunt them for sport.
The second centres on the larger question of whether animals deserve moral status, and if so, to what extent.
“If you care about the livelihood of animals and (you want) to ensure that we don’t cause more pain and suffering, we have to take them into moral consideration,” she said. “So that is why it doesn’t matter what their status is. They are here and we have to solve this problem as ethically as possible.”
The process so far suggests it has been, as Parks Canada has been consulting with BC SPCA as well as international guidelines, in addition to its own experts, promising the safest and most humane approach.
BC SPCA does not support any eradication, unless the animals themselves were suffering from disease or injury or starving on the island among other circumstances, said Dubois.
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