Saturday, February 11, 2012

How furry and relatable does an invasive animal have to be to get the "awww" factor?

When Wisconsin proposed an ordinance in 2005 to allow for killing feral cats (an introduced, non-native species) that were decimating song bird populations, people were horrified:

I think that it should stay illegal for the people to hunt house cats. That is an act of animal cruelty, like they said. and there are so many songbirds in the USA and other countries. So the birds can take care of themselves, the cats need help. DON'T SHOOT THEM! AND DON'T MAKE IT LEGAL!

When New Zealand continued its yearly Easter hunt for invasive and non-native rabbits, people were aghast: "The poor rabbits! How cruel!"

When river managers in the US try to figure out ways to increase the interest in carp meat to cull the invasive and non-native Asian carp species, people weren't too fussed with the idea of fishing for carp, instead pointing out the flaws of the author as well as offering commentary about the quality of the fish as "game":
wow, the author has no clue about asian carp and wrote an article, then gave a recipe that not only requires 2 days to cook the fish, but a smoker as well, something most people wont have. did you even bother watching the link you sent people to about cooking the fish? they dont feed on the bottom, they are mid/top feeders and are known to be cleaner than the rest of the fish in the water. if the dnr gives ANY fish in your water a clean bill of health, the asian carp is cleaner. oh yeah, and comparing pcb contents to the common carp filets is a bad idea, the fish arent even remotely similar biologically, they only share a name.
The carps we call "Asian carps" here in the USA are not that particularly great (for their size) on rod and reel. Common carp is a pretty good fighter. Grass carp are wimps, for their size (but because they can be large, they can be exciting on light tackle). It is pretty hard to hook and line grass carp because of their vegetarian habits, and very, very hard to hook and line silver or bighead carp, being filter feeders, although some people snag them or shoot them with a bow and arrow. I have done both. If you hook them just right, they can be big fighters. But often like bringing in a big wet towl. Good to eat though, if they are not losing weight. Asian carps are losing weight from lack of food over large parts of their invaded range and those fish are not good eating.

My conclusion up to now: charismatic invasive mammals will elicit an "awww" factor that clouds many environmentalists' determinations about looking at protecting <i>the environment</i>, whereas uncharismatic invasive animals (such as most ichythofauna) are merely looked at as nuisances in the environment with few problems of culling (so long as that method doesn't affect native species or desired species). In my opinion, when a species is protected by the "awww" factor, it's deleterious role in the environment is superseded by the personal attachment that we hold for the animal. I would say that - in general - species that we have come to think of as "pet species" tend to have the greatest "awww" factor (witness the shock and horror that people have when faced with the realization that cats, dogs, and rabbits - mammals all - might have a huge negative impact on native ecosystems) whereas "non-pet species" tend to have the lowest "awww" factor. Note: this is (in my opinion) different from "characteristic megafauna" (such as pandas, mountain gorillas, elephants, etc) in that "characteristic megafauna" are almost all under ecological duress, and exist in far fewer numbers - are at the opposite end of the proliferation scale.

Now we are presented with a quadruped that many people have as pets that is a non-native species causing ecological havoc and also happens to be a food source: iguanas in Puerto Rico. It will be interesting to note whether people outside of Puerto Rico will tend toward the "awww" factor (iguanas are a relatively popular "pet species") or tend toward the nuisance perspective (although a "pet species" they aren't mammalian).

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