Human Intervention, Hold The Judgement

A burrowing bettong, also known as the boodie, in the Australian Outback. COURTESY OF AWC

I have not acquired the book yet, but I have heard her discuss it and read an interview with her about it; the author has moved from reporting on extinction and climate phenomena to reporting on human intervention schemes that respond to those phenomena. The stories as told in the article below adhere to a claim Kolbert makes in her discussion with Ezra Klein, that as a journalist she is not in the judgement business:

Assisting Evolution: How Far Should We Go to Help Species Adapt?

An Australian project to help threatened marsupial species adapt to avoid predatory cats is among a host of ‘assisted evolution’ efforts based on the premise that it is no longer enough to protect species from change: Humans are going to have intervene to help them change.

“I spent 15 years removing cats from fenced reserves and national parks,” Katherine Moseby was saying. “And then, all of a sudden, I was putting them back in. It felt very strange to be doing that.”

It was a hot, intensely blue day in the Australian Outback, about 350 miles north of Adelaide. I was tagging along with Moseby as she checked the batteries on the motion-sensitive cameras that dot Arid Recovery, an ecosystem restoration project she and her husband launched in 1997. The project sprawls over 47 square miles of red earth and scrub. It’s entirely surrounded by a six-foot-tall fence, which is designed to keep out feral cats and foxes.

Inside the main fence is a series of smaller fenced-in paddocks. Several years ago, Moseby decided to start adding cats into some of these. Her reasoning was simple and, in its own way, radical. The outback ecosystem had been so fundamentally changed, that, if the native animals were to survive, they would have to change, too. Perhaps they could be trained to avoid cats, which were introduced to the country by the British colonists and now can be found virtually everywhere in Australia, including most islands.

“A lot of the focus has been on trying to come up with methods of killing cats better,” Moseby, who holds a PhD in reintroduction biology, said. “And we sort of started looking at it from the prey perspective, like, what about if we make prey better? Will that help? Because ultimately coexistence is where we’re trying to get to. We’re not going to ever get rid of every cat in the whole of Australia.” It’s estimated that there are as many as 6 million feral cats in the country, and that they kill some 800 million native animals annually. (Foxes, also introduced by the British, are very nearly as widespread; they are somewhat easier to control, though, because they will more readily eat poison bait.)…

Read the whole story here.

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