Last night, I posted the hypothetical question on Twitter:
If cane toads were seriously endangered in Hawaii, how would you feel about people killing them in Australia?
To which the replies suggested:
– the Hawaiians are welcome to ours!
– the Australian ecosystem is no less important than Hawaii’s. Kill them!
But, I wondered, what if transporting cane toads to Hawaii was prohibitively expensive?
People still felt that the cane toads should be eradicated, and never mind, because cane toads were disgusting and ugly and not very conservation-worthy.
OK. The European rabbit has almost become extinct. In Australia, we’re killing them by the thousands.
Shipping them back should be easy, but… the Australian rabbit is not exactly the same creature as the European rabbit. There are probably no detectable differences in DNA, but the Australian rabbit lives in the desert. Oh, there are city rabbits, too, but they tend to be heavily contaminated with genotypes that are white, black or grey and don’t look like the European wild rabbit at all.
The place where you will find wild, non-domestic rabbits is in central Australia. These rabbits have excellent desert surviving skills and they’re tough.
Fortunately, shipping them back to Europe is easy and you might give it a go. That said, the rabbits you re-import may no longer be suited to the mild climes of temperate Europe. They might die, or might become a pest of themselves. You could happily continue eradicating rabbits in Australia, because the species does not belong here.
But now imagine a cute animal in an environment that has no native state, such as an environment that has been terraformed, in which all plants and animals are imported. The cost of transporting the animals back would be hideous. The animals may not be genetically the same. And in their native habitat they’re almost extinct. Would eradicating them still be OK?
Some time far in the future, humans are terraforming Mars. Because bamboo is such a successful and hardy colonising plant that stops erosion, there is lots of it. But some dimwit has decided to bring across giant pandas, and the things have gone berserk.
Since transporting them back to Earth is going to be expensive at the very least, do you think it would be OK for people to *gasp* kill them, tan their sorry black-and-white hides and even eat them?
It’s an ethical question to which I don’t propose giving a clear-cut answer. There probably isn’t a clear-cut answer, but it’s fun to think about.