A new collaborative research centre based at UTS will investigate alternative and humane ways to manage wildlife populations that play a vital role in fragile ecosystems yet are also often considered serious pests.
Believed to be the first of its kind, the Centre will lead international, multi-disciplinary peer-reviewed research, including the University of British Columbia, Oxford University and the University of Colorado, Boulder.
Research outcomes will look for ways to manage important wild animal species in effective yet humane ways that also deliver benefits to natural and human settings, slash management costs and safeguard agricultural productivity.
Across the world, growing communities are coming into conflict with wild animals, often considered pests when they interfere with human activities. The typical result has been many species such as wolves, dingos, badgers and bears have been culled. However, wholesale incursion into these animal populations may be causing breakdown in complex food webs.
UTS environmental scientist Dr Daniel Ramp, who will direct the new Centre for Compassionate Conservation, said for decades strategies to control wild animal populations had largely centred on shooting, poisoning or other techniques causing the death or injury of animals, many of which are top predators in the food chain.
He said conflict between these species is growing as human populations sprawl into wild areas putting pressure on animals to find food, shelter and habitat.
“Despite our reliance on culling techniques with animals that become designated as pests, evidence is mounting that such techniques not only fail to produce effective results, but can lead to long-term damage to the balance of important food webs,” Dr Ramp said.
“Such imbalances can see the rise of more harmful pests in plague proportions, species becoming endangered and impact farm productivity with serious implications for the wider community and agricultural sector.
“Ineffective culling techniques also pose serious ethical considerations, particularly where higher life forms that have sentience and an advanced central nervous system suffer terribly due to wounding or separation from offspring or parents.
“This global research collaboration will for the first time draw on many disciplines to develop models of animal management that safeguard habitats, protect animal welfare, and educate the wider community in new techniques that lessen the need for more brutal alternatives.”
The Centre will lead and direct research and development of alternative wildlife management methods, while measuring the costs both environmentally and financially of poor practices. It will also provide evidence based research that can guide industry and government in formulating new strategies and guidelines in the management of animals.
Dr Ramp said the choice of name for the new Centre was intended to convey a reminder that we share the world with animals that have been around often a lot longer than ourselves and that we have a responsibility to help preserve their wellbeing as much as we seek to ensure our own.
“I believe there must be a shift away from the entrenched practice of killing which in many cases does not produce ideal results and discover a range of solutions that minimise harm and distress to animals, the people who must manage them and the ecosystems they are an essential part of,” Dr Ramp said.
“The Centre will focus likeminded researchers from law, environmental science, and humanities and be a hub for sharing ideas and research findings. We also want to inform the wider community of the outcomes of our research and of others from overseas through events and lectures at UTS.”
This month the Centre hosted the first of such events with a focus on the importance of top predators in food webs. Suzanna Asha Stone from Defenders of Wildlife spoke on the successful reintroduction of grey wolves in several American National Parks. Dr Brad Purcell from the University of Western Sydney shared observations on the conservation of dingoes and how lessons can be learned from grey wolf management in the US.
The Centre receives funding from a range of sources including the Born Free Foundation, World Society for the Protection of Animals, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and Voiceless.