Beef is bad; Skippy is better

7 08 2008

© AWBC

One for the ‘potential‘ list – George Wilson and Melanie Edwards of Australian Wildlife Services have just published a paper in the Early View section of Conservation Letters entitled Native wildlife on rangelands to minimize methane and produce lower-emission meat: kangaroos versus livestock.I am particularly moved by this one for several reasons: (1) it is one of the first really good policy pieces on why we should be eating more kangaroos and fewer sheep and cattle in Australia, (2) it moves past the ridiculous welfare issues that have prevented people from embracing kangaroo harvest in this country, (3) it provides an excellent model for reducing our reliance on non-native livestock for protein worldwide, (4) I love eating macropods (flavour, nutritional value, tenderness – see basic cooking instructions below), and (4) I was responsible for editing the manuscript for publication in Conservation Letters.

Hard-hoofed livestock pastoralism has been the economic backbone of Australia since Europeans first managed to scratch out a living on this harsh land. It has always been a bit of a battle raising largely European-adapted livestock (cattle, sheep, goats) on the driest inhabited continent in the world, but the innovative and persevering Australian cocky has managed to pull it off. However, such livestock pastoralism has been implicated in the extinction of at least 20 mammal species and threatens around 25 % of the plant species listed as endangered in Australia (Wilson & Edwards 2008). It’s also becoming more difficult to raise water-thirsty livestock as our rainfall dwindles with climate change.

Now as Wilson and Edwards point out, there are many carbon-related benefits for switching our protein dependency to kangaroos. Read the rest of this entry »





Captive breeding for conservation

7 08 2008

My first attempt at this potentially rather controversial section of ConservationBytes.com. Inspired by my latest post (30/07/2008), I must comment on what I believe is one of the biggest wasters of finite conservation (financial) resources – captive breeding for population recovery. The first laureate of the Toothless category goes to 7 authors (Snyder et al.) who I believe deserve at least a round of beers for their bold paper published way back in 1996 in Conservation BiologyLimitations of captive breeding in endangered species recovery.

The paper describes basically that in most situations, captive breeding for population recovery is ill-conceived, badly planned, overly expensive and done without any notion of the particular species’ minimum viable population size (the population size required to provide a high probability of persistence over a long period). Examples of ridiculous cloning experiments done in the name of ‘conservation’ (one example with which I am familiar is the case of the SE Asian banteng cloning experiment – these conservation-challenged scientists actually claimed “We hope that the birth of these animals will open the way for a new strategy to help maintain valuable biodiversity and to respond to the challenge of large-scale extinctions ahead.” after spending amounts that would make Bill Gates blush). Come on! Minimum viable population sizes number in the thousands to tens of thousands (e.g., Brook et al. 2006; Traill et al. 2007), not to mention the genetic diversity necessary for persistence captive populations generally lack (see Frankham et al. 2004).

In the spirit of ecological triage, we must focus on conservation efforts that have a high probability of changing the extinction risk of species. Wasting millions of dollars to save a handful of inbred individuals (insert your favourite example here) WILL NOT, in most cases, make any difference to population viability (with only a few exceptions). Good on Snyder et al. (1996) for their analysis and conclusions, but zoos, laboratories and other captive-rearing organisations around the world continue to throw away millions using the ‘conservation’ rationale to justify their actions. Rubbish. I’m afraid there is little evidence that the Snyder et al. paper changed anything. (post original published in Toothless 31/07/2008).

CJA Bradshaw

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