All options needed for managing wildlife

SUPPORTERS of the culling of stray dogs, wild pigs and monkeys appear to be smaller in number than people who favour a ban on the selective killing of such animals to manage their population. This emerged from a survey commissioned by an animal welfare group here that is opposed to culling. If the pro-animal group is combined with those sitting on the fence, proponents of culling would form only a small minority.

How valid is it, however, to frame a survey as a for-or-against proposition, when only a small proportion of people are likely to be sufficiently affected by animal intrusions to take a strong stand on the issue? For example, monkeys in Bukit Timah have chased only some people with groceries and got into a small proportion of homes. Besides, how many respondents would want to be seen as heartlessly advocating the killing of animals when questioned by pollsters? The Animal Concerns Research and Education Society would have made a more useful contribution if it had probed public awareness of ways of creating balance in an ecosystem that allows all species to co-exist. Culling is one of the means to that end. To rule it out on principle would be a self-limiting exercise.

It is laudable that the natural instinct of those polled was for the protection of wildlife, and not only for the aesthetic charm of the species and its habitat. But ecology advocates would consider the needs of and interrelationships between all species. Such a broad view of conservation would not exclude ethical methods of controlling populations to ensure the survival of all and to protect their shared habitat.

However, culling detractors dismiss all methods and have prevented government agencies elsewhere from doing their job. For example, New York's environmental conservation officials could not proceed with culling mute swans, although the population of this invasive species had grown spectacularly and impacted the ecosystem. The huge birds ate a lot of aquatic vegetation and deterred native, endangered birds from feeding in the same area. In Britain, such debates have echoed over controlling the numbers of badgers, which can transmit bovine tuberculosis.

Singaporeans faced with much less biodiversity might want to save all that is found naturally here. But that impulse needs to be checked by practical concerns such as land scarcity, health risks and the safety of those who encounter wildlife routinely in various places.

Ordinary people will not be able to see the culling debate in the right perspective if activists argue for bans in narrow terms, rather than within the context of balancing mechanisms for ecosystems.