ROSZAN HOLMEN: Animal rights priorities skewed

A few weeks ago I was hoofing my way to work when, through the window of a restaurant, I spotted a friend eating breakfast.

It wasn’t yet 8 a.m., so I popped in to join him for a coffee. As we caught up, an employee (I assume the chef) came over to check on the food and ended up chatting with us briefly. Somehow, though not surprisingly, conversation turned to the University of Victoria’s problematic rabbits – a seemingly endless source of cud for Victorians to chew.

Turns out, this chef had recently been approached by a woman selling rabbit meat from the critters she caught locally. Of course, the chef declined the sales pitch, but I wondered if other restaurateurs of the less reputable variety would accept.

Now, I’m not squeamish about food. I’ve earned my badge of culinary courage in a Laotian market stall, where my only clue about the type of meat in my bowl was the colour and texture of the hairs implanted in it. While I admit to pushing the hairy morsels to the side, the noodle soup was delicious and my experience was enhanced by nearby shoppers haggling over the price of lizards.

So, when I heard about the rabbit lady I couldn’t help but be impressed by her entrepreneurial spirit – misguided as it is.

The reasons against underground commercial meat butchered from neighbourhood animals are obvious. But I do feel there are legitimate arguments to making good use of the urban wildlife we can’t seem to live alongside. The key is adequate regulations and oversight, to ensure any culling program is done safely and humanely.

This week, the Capital Regional District launched a discussion about deer control, in response to mounting pressure from gardeners and drivers. Recently, the provincial government floated the idea of reducing the population of non native geese. These types of discussions inevitably stir up hysteria among some animal lovers. The fever pitch of their mantra seems disproportional to the few hundred critters typically involved.

It doesn’t make sense in a culture where much of our meat comes from factory farms that systematically enslave millions of animals in horrendous conditions. If we’re going to pour our energies into animal welfare, this is a much better place to focus.

The fact is, urban pests in Victoria are already being hunted. Years ago, university staff caught a student in residence trapping rabbits for food.

More recently, several deer were spotted running loose with arrows in their necks. These incidents only strengthen the argument for regulations rather than just condemnation. It’s an idea already tested in the U.S.

In Helena, Mon., a “deer reduction” program ran from Nov. 23, 2009, to March 8, 2010.

Interested land owners were given baited traps, and officers were assigned to check them before sunrise. “Any captured deer were shot in the head with a bolt gun and taken to Tizer Meat, which ground the venison into 6,363 pounds of burger,” according to reporter Eve Byron, in an article published in the Independent Record. The meat was then “picked up and distributed by Helena Food Share,” she wrote.

Many people argue that animals shouldn’t be killed just because they pose a nuisance to us. I agree. But when these populations grow to the point where they pose dangers to the health of people, native ecosystems or local food supply, it’s reasonable to trap and kill them – as long as they aren’t left to waste.

The line between nuisance and danger is a hard one to draw and I’m inclined to set the bar quite high. It’s a debate, however, that’s often derailed by the emotions of people who feel the lives of deer, geese and rabbits outweigh those of cows, pigs and chickens.

Roszan Holmen is a reporter for the Victoria News.

rholmen@vicnews.com

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