Collecting specimens and killing bears

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A report this morning on NPR asks, “Is collecting animals for science a noble mission or a threat?” The question is left unanswered, but the reporter notes that collecting specimens from small, isolated, and endangered species can be counterproductive, at best. Ben Minteer, an author of the Science article that inspired the NPR report (not to mention a rebuttal by around 120 other scientists), recommends photographs and DNA samples in lieu of specimens, but other researchers challenge that approach as impractical.

Also this morning, Mark Bekoff, a professor emeritus of evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, takes the Boulder Daily Camera to task for using the term “euthanasia” when black bears or cougars are killed for venturing into an urban environment. The animals are not euthanized, says Bekoff; they are killed. I might add that laboratory rats, for example, are not sacrificed; they are killed.

All of which raises the question: Are we too ready to kill nonhuman animals?

7 Comments

Too ready as compared against what?

…using the term “euthanasia” when black bears or cougars are killed for venturing into an urban environment. The animals are not euthanized, says Bekoff; they are killed. I might add that laboratory rats, for example, are not sacrificed; they are killed.

I, too, object to and avoid terms to ‘pretty up’ or take the sting out of death. People don’t “pass away” (or worse, just “pass”). They DIE. My parents didn’t “pass away” a few years ago: they died. They haven’t “passed”: they’re dead. Even if you believe they have ‘moved on’ to some different plane of existence, they had to DIE to do that. Trying to euphemize away the pain of death is just hiding from reality, which, to paraphrase George Carlin, is bullshit and it’s bad for you.

“Euthanasia” should be reserved for killing relatively painlessly something (or someone) that would otherwise suffer a much more painful or prolonged dying. It is extending mercy by causing a “good” death when the only alternative is death with great suffering. “Sacrificing” means giving up something that you would normally want to keep. You don’t want to keep lab rats in medical experiments: you want to, and always intended to, kill them.

I don’t have much use for the term “pass away”, and it makes me think of undertakers and paid newspaper obituaries. I respect everyone’s right to talk about death the way they see fit, particularly when it affects them personally, but I do feel that “die” is usually the right word, and it can be used with tact and dignity.

My other peeve specifically about “pass away” is when it is used in connection to a horrific accident or brutal killing. (No I don’t have an example handy, and I think most people get that is inappropriate). If someone dies in their sleep after an appropriately pain-managed illness, I can accept “passed away” as an idiomatic expression if not a religious assertion. But if they died in flaming car crash, it doesn’t fit, and if they were killed intentionally, you should say they were murdered (and again, this is showing tact and dignity, because it is disrespectful not to acknowledge this fact).

I find it a little bit disturbing that the magnificent dioramas of the American Museum of Natural History are filled with dead animals. They were “collected” in a different age, and the museum preaches conservation now, but still, whole family groups including babies were slaughtered.

Speaking as someone who has spent quite a bit of time in museums – the working parts, not just the public exhibits – I have to say that photos and DNA samples are no substitute for collecting whole specimens. Obviously, you shouldn’t collect the last members of an endangered species, but that just means collectors should consider the health of the population before collecting. But science does need large numbers of dead animals (and plants, etc.) in museum collections. Anyway, if the animal is small, like most birds, an adequate DNA sample for future research is likely to be fatal; heart tissue is often favored.

Anyway, I’m with the “120 other scientists” on this.

“All of which raises the question: Are we too ready to kill nonhuman animals?”

It raises another question, at least for me: Should we stop listening quite so carefully to professors emeriti? Seems like 8/10 of them say some pretty kooky things.

My lab days are long past, but every effort was made to sacrifice animals carefully. And I’m sure this is nearly universally true. Scientists tend to be a very ethical lot.

If the emeritus wants to equate all animal death as killing, then perhaps we should put impacts into perspective. How many animals have been “killed” in the name of science, and how does that compare to the 50 billion chickens alone killed for food every year? I daresay the Pope saved orders of magnitude more animals by ending the directive to eat fish on Fridays than have ever been sacrificed in the good name of science.

I poison mice.

Cat’s pretty much exist as domesticated animals due to their usefulness in killing rodents. Internet cats are a side product.

I’m hoping that food processors have kept up with killing rodents, as well as insects. We kill to live.

Glen Davidson

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This page contains a single entry by Matt Young published on June 18, 2014 10:47 AM.

Discovery Institute Attack on Cosmos Provides a Teaching Moment of Its Own was the previous entry in this blog.

Understanding creationism, IV:An insider’s guide by a former young-Earth creationist is the next entry in this blog.

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