Do we have a moral responsibility has humans to return wild animals that we have pushed to extinction back into former habitats

In most cases I would say that the answer to this is relatively simple. If we were the cause of an animal going locally extinct we should bring it back. Obviously if there is none of that species left this is impossible. In a number of species at the moment, we might not have reached complete extinction, we might have simply reached no more members of that species in the wild.

There are some places where we might feel a legal or moral responsibility to return animals, but through habitat destruction there is nowhere for them to live anymore.

I regularly hear the argument that the UK has changed too much since predators such as wolves lynxs or bear roamed the wilds, and that therefore, we no longer have this responsibility or even that it would be unfair on the animal to try. I’m never sure whether people really believe this, because as not argument it is absurd. The UK ecosystem is totally out of balance, and by rebalencing it by returning predators, it will benefit the human population.

Hunters will argue that, by killing a certain number of deer they can balance out the problem. This ignores one of the most important impacts predators “the climate of fear*, a simple explanation of which is that the very fact that herbivores fear the predators force them to change their behavior (for instance by moving around rather than grazing one area until the plants are dead).

As for the argument that the the UK’s ecosystem has changed too much to support big predators, again this argument as far as I’m concerned is foolish. Ecosystems evolve over tens of millennia, the few hundred years that these predators have been missing are an evolutionary blink of the eye. If the argument is that humans now take up too much of the environment, it should be noted that large parts of Scotland have lower densities than almost any other part of Europe. Furthermore virtually the entire UK minus city centers, has lower densities than places in Europe that still have these animals.

In Romania bears and wolves regularly enter the city of Brasov, wolves are known to be living on the edge of Paris and Berlin.

Those who argue against these release, from economic points of view should bear in mind, the cost of losing thousands of sheep a year to predation, pales into insignificance alongside the £750 million that is paid out by insurance companies to car owners that of hit deer (a circumstance that would become extremely rare were wolves to be reintroduced, making deer fear open spaces such as roads).

Certainly there is space, certainly these animals would benefit the British ecosystem and certainly while there would be financial costs, these are likely to be vastly out-weighed by the financial benefits (though of course financial reasoning shouldn’t come into a moral argument).

What do you think? do we have the moral standing to demand countries in Africa look after their lion population when we refuse to have a far less dangerous animal in our own backyard.

Do join a conversation in the comments below. I’m hoping just set up some forums in the future.

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