Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Please stop the ruddy bickering - important conservation issues need thoughtful debate.

I was listening to the radio first thing yesterday morning while have a bath, when the sad news that Angalifu, a 44 year old Northern White Rhino had died of old age in San Diego Zoo Safari Park, California. The presenter lowered his voice and seemed genuinely shocked by this sad news, as he interviewed various people about the desperate plight of these last remaining Rhinos.
The Northern white rhinoceros is a species on the brink of extinction. Following this death, there are now just five northern white rhinos left worldwide, all in captivity. What is more, only one of them is a female.

I lay back in the bath thinking about what I had just listened to. “Experts” had talked about how hard they had been trying to get these Rhino’s to breed in captivity, so that one day they could be put back into the wild. They had lost the battle to save them in their natural environment largely due to poaching and of course to an extent, habitat loss as well.

Everyone seemed genuinely upset that we have allowed such magnificent creatures to get to this pathetic situation, where surely they must now go extinct.

My thoughts then turned to the recent correspondence that I have been following on a “Birding Website” about Ruddy ducks and the White-headed duck. Let me firstly explain the situation.
Ruddy ducks are native to North America and, like White-headed ducks, are a member of the “Stifftail” family. They were brought to the UK in the 1930s and 1940s for captive wildfowl collections. Escapees first bred in the wild in 1952, and by 2000 the UK population numbered 6,000 birds. They would not have made it here, however, without the help of humans.

Meanwhile, in Spain a recovery programme to protect and manage breeding sites for the native White-headed duck and a ban on hunting, has enabled the Spanish population to recover from just 22 birds in 1977 to 2,500 birds currently. The White-headed duck is a symbol of successful conservation in Spain.

Now, here is the problem. Ruddy ducks interbreed with White-headed ducks, producing fertile hybrids. This is happening in Spain, and there is a real danger that if the number of Ruddy ducks arriving in Spain were allowed to increase, they would inundate the White-headed duck population. As Ruddy ducks are more promiscuous in their mating behaviour, the likely result would be a population comprising increasing numbers of hybrids showing fewer characteristics of the White-headed duck, until the species eventually disappears.

So, the European Commission has decided to support the efforts to eradicate the non-native Ruddy ducks from both Spain and the UK.

Even our own RSPB commends the high priority for action that the UK Government is giving this issue, and are facilitating the eradication project where possible.

The RSPB goes on to say “Difficult as it is, our position is based on lengthy and careful consideration of the detailed scientific research carried out into this issue. We are faced with a stark choice: either we act to stop Ruddy ducks spreading from the UK, or we stand by and watch as the White-headed duck is pushed ever closer to extinction. Taking this action will help secure the future of the White-headed duck, while the Ruddy duck will continue to thrive in its native North America.

So it was with interest that I read some “Birders” thoughts on this dilemma. One wrote “Personally I don't mind if the White-Headed Duck's (which I think are ugly) interbreed with the Ruddy Ducks”.
So the conservation decision here seemed to be based on the attractiveness of the species – perhaps this particular bird enthusiast would not have bothered much about the Rhino’s plight either then, because let’s face it, Rhinos are not that “pretty” are they.

Another correspondent wrote “If the Ruddy Ducks do proliferate here, which I hope they do as I think they are great little ducks …” So, now a vote to save the Ruddy ducks because they are “great little ducks”.

There were those correspondents from the birding community who were trying to quietly put a reasoned side to the argument, stating some facts and encouraging purposeful discussion. But it appears that for some, facts just get in the way.

The comment which finally put pay to any further conversation on the subject, described the DEFRA officials who carry out the culling of Ruddy ducks as “Disgusting perverts. Nearly as bad as Ray Teret and co”.  (For those of you who do not know this man - he was recently convicted of rape and indecent assault against children, and sentenced to 25 years in jail).

I have always said that “Jaw, Jaw not War, War” is the way ahead. So, please – whatever walk of life you come from, can we all try to debate important conservation issues with integrity and thoughtfulness, always placing the issue in question to the fore – not just thinking about our own selfish little preferences. Bickering and pathetic point scoring has no place.

The plight of the world’s habitats and species are so much more important than that.   

Ruddy Duck - could drive the White-headed duck to extinction

The White-headed duck

1 comment:

  1. Spot on. I am afraid it is the same with the current debate about the conflict between grouse shooting and birds of prey. Some from both sides are guilty of what you describe. The argument is lost for those that resort to insults, stereotyping the opposing view and politicising the debate.