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Would you want a world with more tigers?

October 20, 2011

Recently eighteen escaped Bengal tigers were shot to death because they posed a severe threat to human life. On the face of it this is a necessary tragedy; you can’t have 18 Bengal tigers roaming around Ohio. Sooner or later someone’s going to get eaten, and it won’t be pretty.

There are less than 4,000 Bengal tigers alive today. Those eighteen tigers would have had to kill 27 million humans to even the score, percentage-wise. Which makes me think that most of us wouldn’t want to return to a world where the ratio of tigers to humans was closer to even. Who’s willing to admit it?

The earth is suffering from an excess of humans, but that’s what’s going on. We’re never going to voluntarily decrease our population. It’s also a fact that as our population increases, we crowd out other species. Fully 40% of the known species of life on this planet today are endangered.

It reminds me of the elephant thought experiment: Unchecked, African elephants will over-breed to a point where their population exceeds the food supply and a large percentage will starve to death. So is it wrong for humans to cull their ranks, even though African elephants are a vulnerable (almost endangered) species?

I realize now that the wrong question is being asked. The thought experiment assumes that this cycle is a natural one, an inherent dysfunction in the elephant’s genetic makeup. But before the human folk began crowding out the elephants from their natural habitat, the same rate of breeding could very well have been sustainable. So the elephants are only guilty of not adapting to a changing environment, while we humans have already interfered. Therefore, further interference could be seen as an attempt to rectify our own wrongdoing. Or it could be seen as a sugar coated attempt to salvage as much ivory as possible before it becomes unavailable for the rest of eternity.

But back to tigers. Would you want a world with more tigers? And lions, and bears, and… timber wolves? Frankly the idea scares me, and I’m willing to bet I’m not alone. It’s been a long time since humans (the domesticated version) have had predators to fear other than themselves. We’re so removed from the ‘natural’ ecosystem that biocide is seen as a necessary tragedy. Necessary for what? Our lifestyle.

On a side note, I think the reason the police gave for using bullets instead of tranquilizer darts is a cop-out (No pun intended, though I may have just discovered the root of the term). Sure it was night by the time the tranks arrived. Sure the tigers could have escaped the immediate vicinity. They might’ve even killed a few people. But if enough resources were dedicated to the task, those 18 Bengal tigers could have been brought to ‘justice’ peacefully. That they were killed is a clear example of our value system. Calling it a necessary tragedy is sheer hypocrisy.

We are the elephant. We have over-bred beyond the natural sustainability of the earth, and though technology has found a way to feed (most of) us, the crash is looming. A lack of biodiversity has historically proven to be fatal. Life on earth is symbiotic – who knows which species will break the link in mankind’s chain? Where would we be without the earthworm?

The question as I see it isn’t ‘Is it wrong for humans to tinker in the elephant’s life cycle?’ but ‘Can we survive without them?’

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From → Rants

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  1. No Pet Doors on the Frontier | callmethoreau

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