Letting nature take its course.

I’ve heard varying arguments for and against human interventions in wildlife populations.
Some people appear to feel that life must be preserved at all costs. Whilst in practice as a veterinary surgeon I have been presented with many injured or diseased wild animals for which I have felt that rehabilitation was unlikely to be successful, but which a visibly upset member of the public really wanted me to “save”.
On the other side of the coin, there are arguments made against any kind of intervention, by people who feel that nature must be allowed to take its course.
While I have sympathy with both sides of this argument, as is the case with so many things in life, there is no one rule to fit all situations. From a veterinary perspective, where the welfare of the animal in question is paramount, wildlife rehabilitation should only be undertaken if the chances of successful rerelease are high. If this is not the case, then attempts at rehabilitation may result in unnecessary suffering for an animal. In some cases, therefore, the only humane action to be taken is euthanasia.
From a wider, ecological perspective, some species are so rare that attempts at rehabilitation may be made, even with lower chances of success, because the consequences of the loss of that animal to the ecosystem as a whole could be catastrophic. In such cases, potential suffering by the rehabilitated animal is thought to be outweighed by the potential benefit to the wider ecosystem, should the rehabilitation prove successful. Even so, all possible measures must be taken to limit any suffering by the animal, and there should at least be some chance of overall success.
Also from the wider perspective, some species are felt to be detrimental to their environment (for example, invasive exotic species like the grey squirrel in the UK). It is in fact against the law to rerelease such species. Therefore, rehabilitation should not be attempted, since the animal is unlikely to adapt well enough to life in captivity for it to be afforded a reasonable standard of welfare. Euthanasia is generally considered to be the best option in these cases.
The argument for not getting involved at all, leaving nature to take its course is quite a powerful one. However, in my opinion it is flawed. We human beings are not apart from nature. We are involved in it. When a wild creature is injured in a road traffic collision it is clear to see that human activity was the cause of the injury. Don’t we then have a responsibility to relieve the suffering that we have caused? Not all injured or diseased animals will have such clear cut human involvement, but in many cases if we were to look at the reasons why an animal has become diseased, then environmental stressors such as pollution and habitat degradation will have played a part.
Ethics aside, human beings rely on nature every bit as much as it relies on us. We need plants for food and oxygen, insects for pollination, and a variety of predators to maintain healthy ecosystems. If we wish to survive and prosper as a species, perhaps we need worry less about the ethics of interfering in nature, and more about the necessity of managing our environment effectively, in order that we continue to have access to the natural resources we require.


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