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?