Should we kill some animals to save others?

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The Australian Government plans to eradicate two million feral cats.
Credit: K. Miller Photographs/Getty Images

Is killing a viable wildlife conservation strategy and, if so, will the public support it?

Those two critical questions are set to be examined this weekend at the Annual Forum of the Royal Zoological Society of NSW.

With speakers from several universities, government departments and research organisations, the forum will discuss several scenarios in which exterminating animals is considered necessary to achieve conservation outcomes.

These include the Federal Government’s plan to eradicate two million feral cats in a bid to safeguard more than 100 native species.

Among other experts examining the government’s scheme – which aims to fund community groups to lead the cull – will be Western Sydney University ecology professor Ricky Spencer.

In a paper published last year, Spencer and a team of researchers found that removing exotic predators did not guarantee the health of native prey species. As well as reducing the total population of predators, his team suggested, it was also important to find strategies to make individual predators less efficient.

The killing of feral animals, while sometimes visually confronting, has a broad level of community support. Much more contentious, in contrast, is the idea of killing one native species in order to bolster the population of another.

This vexed subject will be addressed by Charles Darwin University’s John Woinarski, and Catherine Herbert from the University of Sydney. Dr Herbert, who has studied genetic defects in isolated populations of threatened wallabies, will explore what she calls the “paradox of conservation islands”, on which it sometimes necessary to eradicate one threatened species in order to protect another.

The forum has been convened by RZS NSW president Martin Predavec.

“Reducing populations of invasive species, adjusting population levels of native species to ensure sustainability or collecting animal specimens for research are all important conservation tools – and all may involve killing,” he says.

“So how do we decide when and where killing for conservation is truly necessary?”

The event will be held at the Australian Museum in Sydney, and kicks off at 8.30am.

Predavec said papers written by the 25 conservation experts speaking at the forum will be compiled into a theme edition of the journal Australian Zoologist, set to be published mid next year.

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