The Ethics of Rewilding

3rd September 2009

“Rewilding” is now the name given to the reintroduction of species – such as wolf, beaver and bison – that have been hunted or trapped to near extinction. If there are fashions in conservation, rewilding is now one of them.

But is rewilding in the interests of the individual animals concerned or of ecology more generally? I’m one of those who have yet to be convinced. In the first place, species have usually been wiped out in a particular region because humans wouldn’t tolerate them – frequently by hunting them to death. What then is the point of reintroducing species unless humans are now prepared to tolerate them? It hardly seems ethical to reintroduce a species which one knows is going to be shot, hunted, poisoned or trapped all over again. Secondly, ecology is a living, moving dynamic thing: it is forever changing. By reintroducing species, we can do immense ecological harm. Isn’t it a kind of hubris that makes humans think they always know better than nature, especially when the long term consequences are so uncertain?

Anyhow, if you want to learn more about the debate, you can listen to a recent programme of Radio Netherlands Worldwide, which includes, inter alia, an extended discussion between Marnie Chesterton and myself, here.

Andrew Linzey