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On “Exterminating” Animals

In the AP’s "Agents Killed 1.6 Million Animals in ’06," Matthew Brown reports that:

Federal wildlife agents killed more than 1.6 million animals last year – including a record number of endangered wolves and more than 1 million birds – because of threats to livestock, crops and air travel.
. . .
Environmental groups seized on the figures to renew their call for the elimination of Wildlife Services, a division of the U.S. Department of Agriculture that removes animals at the request of the livestock industry, government agencies and others.

"We don’t think the government should be in the extermination business," said Jeff Ruch with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.

The extermination business.

Now, there’s already a discussion, composed mostly of ranchers talking about protecting their "interests." Here’s a comment that struck me, by Freedom of Speech:

Over 1-Million birds the federal government has killed in 2006 ……and the environmentalists complain about a few thousand birds killed by Wind Turbines each year around the nation. We need renewable energy, but we must consider the migration of birds when the government is killing over a million of them a year!!

That certainly is an interesting point.

Probably the only serious and as-thorough-as-possible-in-a-comment, is by MyGreenPlanet (and yes, I did catch the speciesist language–give the person a break):

Why is it that people never see people as the problem? We reintroduced wolves to the parks because we had exterminated them in the past–not because we thought it would be a cute idea. It is WE and always WE who upset the natural balance of the environment. The first problem is–and has been for a long time–that there are too many of US. WE encroached and overpopulated. WE have upset the balance by taking survival and making an industry out of it–That is to say we, like all the other living things on the planet–used to take what we needed from the existing "stock." When we created businesses out of agriculture and livestock, we threw everything out of whack. We took over vast spaces, created hyperpopulations of plants and animals that was all out of order with nature’s process. We are no longer participating in the cycle, that is trying to continue around us. Now, what are we to do? There is no way humans are going to go back to the land and live communally in small manageable bands. We would be wise, however, to recognize that nature has no concern with our economic system. That has been manufactured by us, and nature–in the end–will triumph. Long after humans have perished from the earth, nature will restore itself with a new hierarchy. In the meantime, we ought to think about how to live with and understand the balance of nature. A coyote isn’t a pest–he has been making his living on these lands long before we arrived. We’ve left him little room to operate, and he is adapting. That is all any living thing can do. With our big brains, we ought to be able to come up with workable adaptations too, that recognize we need to live in harmony with the natural world around us.

If you watched Anderson Cooper’s, "Planet in Peril" on CNN, there was a nicely done, basic explanation of the near extermination and subsequent reintroduction of gray wolves into Yellowstone and the important role they play (particularly as a predator) for the animals, insects, and bushes, shrubs, flowers and berries. The list of factors they affect is huge and in their absence those factors are negatively altered. You all probably know all of this, but on CNN’s site there are lots of resources and free materials you can point others to. (If you didn’t watch the two-parter, I recommend checking out the site as the bulk of it had to do with nonhuman animals, and because CNN is so mainstream, directing your friends and family there won’t be perceived as radical in any way. Know that the real questions, from an animal rights perspective, are never even raised, but other questions are.)

My original point was going to be why we don’t use "exterminating" when referring to what we do to cats and dogs that is otherwise known as "euthanasia." It is unclear from the dictionaries I referred to whether exterminate is supposed to mean the complete destruction of the individual or the complete destruction of a species or either, depending on the situation. It would seem that in terms of the way we phrase what we talk about, "exterminate" would be a powerful word, perhaps more powerful than "kill," which many of us currently use.

I’ve already defined euthanasia in my pamphlet, and I’m wondering whether I might want to work exterminate in there, as it gets the brain moving in a different direction and might have greater or a different impact.

What do you think?

5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ellie #

    Mary, I'm positive our behavior is affected by the language we use to frame it. Exterminate is a more powerful word than killing but as you said, it's a word with an unclear meaning, and that might be a problem.

    There's been an effort to kill/exterminate ALL pit bulls and wolf hybrids, but I think in general, surplus cats and dogs, particularly those deemed "unfit" for adoption, are the victims.

    I don't know how you've defined it in your booklet, but I was struck by what I read in the The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995), page 252:

    "Euthanasia occurs if and only if:…..the person killed is either acutely suffering or irreversibly comatose (or soon will be), and this alone is the primary reason for intending the person's death."

    This refers to humans, but why should the definition of euthanasia be different for non-humans?

    October 28, 2007
  2. Hi Ellie.

    Here's what I wrote in the first section of the pamphlet:

    Note that nonviolence includes both the way activism is conducted (i.e., intimidation, force and physical harm are not acceptable) as well as the way animals are treated (i.e., healthy animals, such as cats, dogs, geese, alligators, raccoons, and who are either experiencing an overpopulation crisis or deemed a nuisance for whatever reason, are not to be killed, even if that killing. “Euthanasia” is providing a good death for someone who is terminally ill or has an incurable disease.).

    I could hammer it home with "Ending the lives of healthy animals, no matter how it's done, is called "killing." And that's where I could also work in extermination. Or not.

    Thanks for your input.

    October 28, 2007
  3. Ellie #

    Hi Mary, thanks for posting part of your booklet. It sounds good. I think you've covered the most essential points in explaining killing– rather than euthanasia–and the importance of non-violence toward humans and other animals. (Did you leave out part of the second to the last sentence?)

    Re: using "killing" or "exterminate", I think I'd use "killing"; yet "exterminate" might be appropriate in relation to the number of animals killed– more than five million a year.

    October 28, 2007
  4. Hello again, Mary.

    Coming from a non-abolitionist viewpoint, "exterminate" strikes me as a very accurate way to describe some of the actions you're referring to. For example, many folks call an exterminator to rid their homes of pests. So the killing of coyotes, for instance, when they threaten pets or livestock, would seem to match just about everyone's definition of "exterminate."

    So I don't think you'd be going over the top if you used the term, but I also don't think it will sway anyone who already regards the animals in question as pests.

    October 29, 2007
  5. Ellie #

    In that sense, I can understand it too.

    October 30, 2007

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