Gotta admire those Kiwis. They know what they want and they’re doing whatever it takes. And, its Politically Correct, too!
Indeed, on a per-capita basis, New Zealand may be the most nature-loving nation on the planet. With a population of just four and a half million, the country has some four thousand conservation groups. But theirs is, to borrow E. O. Wilson’s term, a bloody, bloody biophilia. The sort of amateur naturalist who in Oregon or Oklahoma might track butterflies or band birds will, in Otorohanga, poison possums and crush the heads of hedgehogs. As the coördinator of one volunteer group put it to me, “We always say that, for us, conservation is all about killing things.”
The reasons for this are in one sense complicated—the result of a peculiar set of geological and historical accidents—and in another quite simple. In New Zealand, anything with fur and beady little eyes is an invader, brought to the country by people—either Maori or European settlers. The invaders are eating their way through the native fauna, producing what is, even in an age of generalized extinction, a major crisis. So dire has the situation become that schoolchildren are regularly enlisted as little exterminators. (A recent blog post aimed at hardening hearts against cute little fuzzy things ran under the headline “Mrs. Tiggy-Winkle, Serial Killer.”)
“I would be inclined to say rats are our biggest problem,” Russell told me. “But I have colleagues who spend their career on stoats, and colleagues who spend their career on cats. And they open all their talks with ‘Stoats are the biggest problem,’ or ‘Cats are the biggest problem.’ ”
Talk about a feel-good story! The bird-loving Kiwis are going after all non-native, invasive mammals, including rodents and feral cats. What’s not to like?
Not long ago, New Zealand’s most prominent scientist issued an emotional appeal to his countrymen to wipe out all mammalian predators, a project that would entail eliminating hundreds of millions, maybe billions, of marsupials, mustelids, and rodents. To pursue this goal—perhaps visionary, perhaps quixotic—a new conservation group was formed this past fall. The logo of the group, Predator Free New Zealand, shows a kiwi with a surprised expression standing on the body of a dead rat.
I’m sure various fussbudgets will bemoan the loss of biological “diversity” that comes with vermin (the excellent story’s author, Elizabert Kolbert, seems a bit distressed by the obvious delight the New Zealanders take in their extermination mission), but as Stalin or some Soviet thug once said, you can’t make a rat omelet without breaking a few eggs.