Lee Hall on Egg Addling
I asked Lee Hall, Legal Director for Friends of Animals and author of Capers in the Churchyard: Animal Rights Advocacy in the Age of Terror, to respond to On the "Eradication" of the European Mute Swan, and to specifically speak to animal rights and egg addling, and whether addling is inhumane. (After having read Capers, I knew Hall would be the go-to person regarding this issue.) Here is Hall’s response, in its entirety . . .
The view of Friends of Animals, and one to which I personally subscribe, is straightforward: If animal rights means anything, it means their freedom from our intrusions. As Tom Regan put the point in The Case for Animal Rights : “With regard to wild animals, the general policy recommended by the rights view is: let them be!”
That fundamental idea needs to be taken seriously. To date, it hasn’ t been, and of course things get more complex after someone has already interfered, introducing a certain community of animals into a new range, say, to satisfy the human desire for entertainment.
But then modern domesticated cows are also descended from a European community of animals, the now-extinct aurochs. Isn’t that interesting: We don’t hear of the cows or the pigs or the chickens being phased out of Maryland at the behest of environmental agencies, yet it’ s a good bet the sites of animal agribusiness pose the single biggest threat to the biocommunity. The industry that sells blue crabs apparently also threatens the precious aquatic grasses. (Crabs eat the snails who in turn will eat the bay grasses.) We’re always being made to argue over some swans while the staffers at the environmental agencies go home to their chicken or crab dinners. There are bigger issues at stake than what the swans are doing, and I think we have to constantly shift both argument and action in to a more reasonable (i.e., vegan) direction.
And let’s recall, while we’re on the topic, that the staffers at the environmental agencies all descended from a group whose habitat was in equatorial Africa. The human population of Maryland is about 5,600,000; the state’s swans number just several thousand. There is both arrogance and irony in the human urge to dictate other animals’ populations when we seem quite unable to manage our own.
Talk of the exploding population of Mute swans and estimates made of the swans’ future population are also questionable. Swan populations have increased, but to extrapolate these numbers into the future as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife does might be missing the point that natural population dynamics, including disease, severe winters, predation, and natural factors do limit birds in a given habitat.
Even where a persuasive case is made that an answer is needed for the protection of the broader biocommunity in the area of an introduced group, that answer ought to respect the reality that the animals being discussed are individuals with life experiences. Addling — destroying eggs of geese, swans, or other birds by shaking, piercing, or coating the eggs with oil or otherwise rendering eggs unable to hatch — is invasive and traumatic for nesting birds. (Both agencies and humane advocacy groups have promoted the use of border collies to overpower geese; and believe it or not , at least one company raises Mute swans and uses them and Border collies to chase geese.) And incorrectly piercing or shaking and egg can leave an embryo alive but deformed.
Not only is addling a form of harassment; it is also a short-term response, which becomes a cycle of harassment. When it doesn’t work, hunting is demanded.
Advocates have come to view reproductive control as a practical, non-lethal way to manage free-living animals and possibly avoid hunting or other forms of outright killing. When hunting is proposed, or where great numbers of animals are being hit by cars, advocates may request, or even insist, that officials consider reproductive control as a solution. Immunocontraception is now very big. It’s being tested on birds and numerous other free-living animals – and, by extension (because hormones and chemicals move through connected populations), on the entire biocommunity linked with the tested groups. There are also chemical c ontragestatives , such as OvoControl-G, used on Canada geese. These chemical s prevent gestation after conception has already taken place.
If the subjects of reproductive control projects were from particular human populations (whether deemed “native,” “invasive,” or "naturalized”), questions would be asked about the rights of th at human community being invasively controlled. On placing free nonhumans under reproductive control, however, the debate has barely emerged. Reproductive control is usually considered a benign intervention. This does take for granted the need to control animals as it allows for testing various forms of birth control on free animals. A consistent animal-rights position would and does challenge that paradigm.
One more thing, and it’s going to become increasingly significant. Global warming is occurring. With it, we are looking at the movement of numerous animals into areas that are not in their traditional geography. One could describe all of this movement, and all of the movement to come, as human-caused introduction. The idea that the “invasive” ones can or must be chased or killed off is becoming more of a Pandora’s box than it ever was.