Killing a species to save another?

If you were given a red button, and told that this button would cause all the mosquitoes in the world to die, under what circumstances would you press it?

I was asked this at one point in time, and I struggled with an answer- I’m still not sure that there would be any scenario in which I would press the button. My answer at the time was something different, though- along the lines of as long as I completely understood the consequences, if the benefits to humanity outweighed them, I would press the button.

When, then, is it ok to destroy a species? What if it is to save another? KQED’s #DoNowSpecies challenges us with a similar question.

Screen Shot 2014-02-24 at 10.57.21 PMThe northern spotted owl, native to northern California, is on the brink of extinction do to deforestation and other factors, but also a large, non-native barred owl has begun arriving and out-competing for resources and space, which are, for the owls, already scarce. Should we be killing this owl off to save the other?

What about other similar situations? Where do we draw the line?

My instinct is to say that we shouldn’t change the ecosystem by killing animals, even non-native ones. But at the same time, we do similar things with weeds- pulling out non-native plants when we went out to the bay to allow native plants to grow. Is killing animals similar to weeding? Changing animals changes the whole environment, but the environment we frantically try to “restore” is an ever changing one anyway. The more we try to influence it, the more lost we may become in a mess we’ve produced. Instead, we should look towards other ways of preserving species- perhaps by producing artificial habitats or safe zones where we do kill, or work to prevent, predators from entering. The biodiversity of life is wonderful, and amazing. But as we have evolved, we have lost many species. Scrambling to find a solution as drastic as killing another animal to save the first one is beyond the effort we should make, as animals may have themselves eventually have been replaced.

A story I was once told concerns a town with a river an a waterfall. The town is upstream, and people would enter the river, unaware of the waterfall. The town fixed this problem by posting a lifeguard to effectively safe people from falling off the waterfall right before they were about to fall. This worked, but the town continued to grow. The townspeople added more and more guards, and for a long time this worked. But after awhile, the problem just got to big. If instead, the townspeople had made an effort to search upstream for why all these people where entering the river in the first place, they may have solved there problem more quickly and easily.

I hope to see upstream approaches: let’s build habitats that can sustain large populations of native species, not tear habitats, and thus the number of native creatures down through human methods, then struggle to find a last attempt type “save” to get these animals back/

What do you think on the matter?

Take a chance to Explore more about Biodiversity, life forms, and steps taken to maintain ecosystems. Examine this problem and those like it, for a chance at new insight and new ideas. Dream of solutions and possibilities – this is our planet, and we have a responsibility for it’s upkeep.

Image Sources:

Owl. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 25 Feb 2014.

Mosquito. Photograph. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 25 Feb 2014.

River. Photography. Encyclopædia Britannica ImageQuest. Web. 25 Feb 2014.


Look upstream!

Screen Shot 2014-02-25 at 12.02.37 PM


3 thoughts on “Killing a species to save another?

  1. I love how you started off with a poll! It made me really think about what I would do. I decided to push the red button… but only because this one time I had over a thousand mosquito bites at once and was miserable 😦

  2. I would really have to consider the factors before deciding to kill off a species. I have to admit though, wiping out mosquitoes would be beneficial and enjoyable for a few minutes at least….

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