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The Hunt to Cull; Killing wildlife to ensure it thrives?

"The bitter sweet irony in killing a species to save it."


The hunting of any animal is a sensitive subject. Not a lot of people like the idea of animals being killed myself included, however, has it become necessary in today’s society? To many people’s surprise; I’d argue yes… This has caused my love and desire to conserve animals to be questioned, which at face value I can understand. A girl who loves animals, wants to protect animals, but also thinks there’s a necessity for them to be hunted? I get it, it doesn’t really make sense when you put it like that… But give me a chance to explain myself.

As I live in the UK I’m going to use deer hunting as an example. There is an abundance of deer on a local pasture not far from where I live so we’ll focus on that spot in particular, but this applies to areas across the country. I only know this through a contact whose job is to cull the deer on the site. This may raise an eyebrow or two, but his job plays a vital role towards the sustainability and future of the species, their habitat, and other neighbouring species in the area.

We as humans wiped out the UK’s natural predators (shock) through hunting. My passive aggressive tone probably seems a little contradictory at the moment given the statement I made earlier, but there’s more beneath the surface to what I’m saying so bare with me.

That’s a huge chunk of an ecosystem completely removed. A complete alteration in the food chain. Of course its lovely for the deer who no longer have to worry about a wolf or lynx lurking nearby, but what about the bigger picture, the wide scale impact on the area? Let’s talk deer.

Deer are herbivores. This mean they graze, A LOT. Throughout the day they need to eat huge amounts of vegetation in order to survive. I’m talking plants, fruits, acorns, nuts, grass and evergreen plants, fallen leaves, twigs, bushes, and other woody plants when the former becomes scarce during winter.

Not only are trees destroyed through persistent nibbling at the bark and succulent saplings, they also have to face the brunt of rutting. Rutting is a practice that occurs during mating season between stags. You can read more about rutting here, but in short, it is the process of males competing for females. During the run up to rutting season, males will practice their antler locking with tree branches…which results in a lot of fallen or broken trees. This also sees the bucks shedding the velvet off their antlers. An uncontrolled stag population can decimate tree’s by the shed load.. Pardon the pun.

Without a natural predator to keep the population under control, their habitat quickly reaches carrying capacity. This means that the area physically cannot support any more deer….like a night club that reaches maximum capacity. Add in the factor of tree and vegetation destruction and the carrying capacity slowly starts to decrease. So then what happens? Food sources become scarcer, interspecific competition increases, individuals go hungry and are forced to fight for space. And that’s just between the deer alone. What about other species in the area? They too face a loss of habitat and resources. As a result the overall biodiversity in the area decreases, further throwing out the balance in the ecosystem. Other species suffer at the hands of another that is over populated, because we removed the natural control.

Densely populated areas also increase the risk of disease within the populations in the area. Paired with starvation and any wounds that may occur through competition, and you’ve got yourself a very unwell and unhealthy deer population. In natural circumstances, injured or unwell deer wouldn’t stand a chance against nearby predators, which is exactly the point of allowing survival of the fittest to naturally occur. Only those ‘fit enough’ and possessing the ‘good genes’ survive to breed and create off spring, therefore promising a strong future generation.

There is a huge need for BALANCE, something the natural world had pretty well figured until we began meddling, but what’s new there. The controlled hunting of deer puts this balance back into place, and levels out the scales. You may say what is meant by ‘controlled hunting’ and what’s the difference between that and people who illegally hunt at their merry leisure? Well. Before I go any further I want to make it clear that in no way, shape or form do i support the latter. Irrational hunting for sport, firing shots here there and everywhere, with no consideration for the population or management is not what I deem to be okay. Lets just say I'm not one for getting my thrills from killing animals....especially without cause.

Controlled hunting is exactly what it says on the tin. The populations are monitored to ensure the area doesn’t reach carrying capacity and it maintains its diversity. Injured or unwell deer unable to move, are killed and taken away from the area to prevent suffering and the spread of disease. Stag numbers are controlled to prevent the over destruction of tree’s and fellow species habitats who co inhabit the area. And no, there are no Bambi remakes going on here. Mothers and young are left well alone; well they should be if done correctly. You see, it’s not about a blood thirsty sport meant to create fear among the deer or wipe out their populations for the sake of someones ego. It’s about conserving their populations, the biodiversity in the area and the habitat in which they live. Although it may still seem horrific to some of you, I hope this post had made you think a little differently and enlightened you to the other side of the story. Of course it would be lovely if no animals had to die at the hands of man, but we messed up a LONG time ago. Until more of the world's population wakes up and starts to realise the need for restoring and respecting the natural circle of life (in this instance predator reintroduction), we have to try to right our wrongs by attempting to recreate the balance ourselves. Predator reintroduction however, is a whole other, very complex topic that again, isn't as simple as it sounds.

The bitter sweet irony in killing a species to save it.

We ourselves are already pushing the boundaries of carrying capacity (evident as we see continuous destruction and encroachment in to our wildlife’s habitats, and world-wide poverty)…so I wonder how long we have until this principle is applied to humans…food for thought.

I find this a super interesting topic and I hope it’s given some of you a new outlook to mull over. As I've previously said in a post addressing 'How My Degree Changed My Perception of Conservation', conservation is far more complex than the surface may show.

Until next time…

Meg x



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