On the “Eradication” of the European Mute Swan
NPR’s John Nielsen’s Scientists Prowl to Destroy Mute Swan Eggs raises a Gray Matter for me, and I’m probably going to get a mailbox full of negative comments, but here goes . . .
European mute swans (Cygnus olor) were brought here 50 years or so ago by a family living on the eastern shore of Maryland who thought they were pretty. Five escaped in 1962 and started breeding in the wild.
By 2000, there were 4,000, and the population doubles every 4 years.
The birds are allegedly hostile to native birds (such as the wintering tundra swans), and have caused some unspeakable damage to the submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV). Citizens complaints vary from the all-time favorite–poop–to disturbance of crabbing and fishing, to disruption of recreation on the water. Maryland’s solution? The state authorized shooting them and addling their eggs in the hope of "eradicating" them.
- Clearly, shooting anyone is not humane, so I won’t even address that.
- We (human animals) created this "crisis" by unleashing (yet another) non-native species on our surrounds. Now, I’m not even sure it’s a legitimate crisis, but in order to get community buy-in for any kind of nonhuman animal management program, the state (usually) has to convince the people that there is significant danger or inconvenience to warrant intervention of the killing kind.
- Assuming it’s a legitimate crisis, I wonder about whether addling is inhumane. From a rights perspective, I’m not supposed to endorse human intervention in wildlife matters. But how is the mute swan situation that different from the cat and dog situation? I know it’s not identical, as cats and dogs were domesticated by people. But the original swans were brought here sort of as toys, or pretty things to look at, and then because of the irresponsibility and lack of forethought of those people, we have the current situation. How is trapping, neutering, and releasing different (in outcome) than addling? The population naturally dwindles (assuming addling is done correctly), and that’s the goal.
I know that some rights people are against contraception (of elephants, kangaroos, and whatever other species have become a "nuisance") and I’m sure they’d be against addling. But an addled egg does not house a sentient being and I don’t understand how that’s inhumane. Is it the addling and the sterilization or contraception that’s the problem across the board, or is this a case-by-case issue?
Finally, so many animals and plants (oh, and people) are here that are non-native. It’s a tad suspicious that we choose to "eradicate" certain species and not others. Being non-native doesn’t seem to be the real issue, but it’s a great scapegoat. The real issue is: if it gets in our way, we can use the non-native card and do what we want.