Animal welfare and ecology in the contested ethics of rodent control in Cape Town

Type Journal Article - Journal of Urban Ecology
Title Animal welfare and ecology in the contested ethics of rodent control in Cape Town
Volume 5
Issue 1
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2019
There is growing concern globally about the inhumane treatment of ‘pest’ animals, including rodents, and about the ecological consequences of rodenticides, notably the poisoning of non-target wildlife like raptors and scavengers. Recent contestation between Environmental Health (EH) officials in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s largest African township, and the National Council for Societies for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (NSPCA) illustrates the tension that can arise between innovative ecologically-focused strategies and existing legislation and animal protection practices. In 2013/14 EH officials introduced a job-creation project to trap and drown rats, describing it as ‘humane’ because it avoided poison thereby posing no danger to wildlife such as owls. The NSPCA, however, halted the project, arguing that drowning was both inhumane and illegal. Death by poison is also inhumane but the South Africa’s Animals Protection Act (1962) allows it (and trapping and hunting) to be used against ‘pests’/‘vermin’. The NSPCA, which has never challenged the Act for allowing the inhumane treatment of these animals, used it to trump local preferences. A representative survey from Khayelitsha showed that there was some support for an NSPCA-like position (14 percent thought that drowning was cruel and that workers should not be allowed to trap and drown rats) but that the majority (70 percent) indicated that they were both concerned about the poisoning of non-target animals and supported the continuation of the trapping and drowning project. This was not a contestation over whether animals should be protected, but over how to do this, and which animals to include.

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