Unnatural selection and survival of the fittest
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Unnatural selection and survival of the fittestG.W. MeadowsPublished online: 23 Feb 2011.
To cite this article: G.W. Meadows (1980) Unnatural selection and survival of the fittest, New Zealand Veterinary Journal,28:4, 57-57, DOI: 10.1080/00480169.1980.34694
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00480169.1980.34694
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1980 NEW ZEALAND VETERINARY JOURNAL 57
LEADING ARTICLE I ,
Unnatural Selection and Survival of the Fittest
It is significant that only 13 of nearly 400 delegates who attended World Conference III on Breeding End:angered Species in Captivity listed themselves as haviag veterinary qualifications. For many people, a representation of just over 3 percent would seem to be par for the course when it comes to veterinary involverJ:)ent with wildlife, for it is well-known that the majority of the profession have been trained to tend domestic a"imals and, whilst expressing a concern for wildlife, freely admit their incompetence to deal with it. Yet it is interesting to find that many of the world's leading zoo ~irectors and curators have a veterinary background, and have been accepted by their zoologist counterparts as being at least their equals, if not their betters. Consequently, whilst veterinarians represent only a s~all proportion of the work force in zoos and wildlife parks, their influence is considerable.
The opport~nity for the profession to become more deeply involved in captive management and breeding of wildlife is greater than ever before. By implication, breeding endangered species in captivity calls for firstc:Iass husbandry, strict attention to management, careful handling and restraint procedures - including the use of chemical restraint, accurate recording and interpretation of recorded data, efficient preventive medicine programmes, and effective medical and surgical treatments. The veterinary profession already c,laims its ability to provide all these services for domestic animals. As more and more wildlife is brought into a semi-domesticated situation, so the profession must adapt and make its ability and knowledge ~vailable. However, it must set out decisively to market its professional wares or it will find itself following in others footsteps, and any initiative will be lost.
One of the main problems discussed at the conference wa~ the rapid and apparently irreversible decimation of many plant and animal species. Shortly, the results of a survey commissioned by President Carter 2 years ago, called Global '2000', will be published. these will project populations, food, economy, environmental changes and wildlife futures in 20 years time. They are expected to show that the human popuI~tion will have increased by two and a half billion, that there will be 30 percent less agricultural land, that today's tropical rainforest will have been reduced by tWo-thirds, and that 600,000 species will have become extinct.
There are already many scientists who say "why b.other?". They maintain that, by the time a species has
reached the critical stage of qualifying as endangered, it no longer has an essential place in its ecosystem and, therefore, has no scientific or economic importance. Such specious argument fails to recognise that scientific or economic factors alone should not determine whether a species should be saved from extinction. There are other values, far more subtle, which must be carefully weighed before deciding (as undoubtedly we shall have to do) which to save and which to allow to vanish.
A cynicist could well argue that our profession has always put economic importance first in its attitude towards animal life. Farm animals have a particular value for the New Zealand economy and, quite rightly, must receive proper veterinary attention. Pet animals, an industry in themselves, support large commercial investments in pet products, foods and pharmaceuticals, and give employment to many thousands including a large number of veterinarians. It could be maintained that Canis familiaris, Felis calus and all the other household pets, in any ecosystem, have no scientific or economic importance - except to provide profit for some and pleasure for others. There, of course, lies the key - profit for some, pleasure for others. Wildlife has suffered enormous depradation whenever it has fallen into those categories. A leopard skin is worth many hundreds of dollars - once it is removed from its owner. Rhinoceros hom fetches ten times its weight in gold - but not on the hoof.
Veterinary interest in deer quickened in response to deer farming, and the realisation that animals could be more valuable alive than dead. It followed in the wake of a profit motive. Do we have to wait until kokako are found to have an anti-leukaemic agent in their blood, or takahe a better feed conversion than chickens, before the profession takes an interest in their welfare? Could not the profession make a small exception, cast profit aside, and make a determined effort to promote captive-breeding programmes for New Zealand's rare and endangered species?
Most veterinarians are familiar with the problems faced by wildlife. Familiarity, it is said, breeds contempt: but as Noel Coward remarked, without a little familiarity you couldn't breed anything. Perhaps such familiarity as exists within the veterinary profession will eventually breed something. Not every conservationist can be a veterinarian, but there is no reason why every veterinarian could not be a conservationist.
G. W. Meadows