Nature Policy, Large Ecosystems
von H. Kampf, Wageningen / Niederlande
8. Diseases and animal welfare
Before discussing animal health, we need to distinguish between agricultural animals and animals living in wilderness. Agricultural policy is powerful and somewhat narrow-minded since it focuses on improving the situation for agriculture as well as for exports and trade. EU legislation is a guideline but is difficult to put into practice and national legislation is dependent on EU legislation.
There is zoonosis that has to be considered, an animal disease, that can affect people. Research has shown that the large herbivores in the Netherlands are healthy and carry no dangerous diseases. There is only IBR, which is more of a risk for agricultural trade than for animals themselves.
The European bison in Bialowieza seems to suffer from a strange disease; the foreskin or prepuce of the bulls is infected. Whether this is genetic and caused by inbreeding or not, is not clear yet.
Avoiding inbreeding is an important task for a manager. The question however is at what point inbreeding is a danger to the herd.
A Dutch NGO, the owner of the Lelystad Nature park (het Flevolandschap) has already exported two groups of European bison to Russian (Okski International Breeding Centre, 400 km east of Moscow). In the Nature Park (more a 400 ha zoo) breeding of large herbivore, like bison is so successful that there is a surplus every year. In Russian breeding centres, as well as in nature, there is a lack of genetic variety. Thats why our Russian colleagues are keen to receive cattle, especially bulls, from a different line.
In our country we have already had vigorous arguments about the risks to farms from nature reserves which harbour large herbivores. Recent veterinary desk studies showed that farms may be a bigger risk to the nature areas than the other way round. There will always be risks. Therefore it is essential to develop a good veterinary research programme in nature areas, to avoid problems later on. We have made a start within the Institute for Animal Science and Health (at ID Lelystad), now a part of Wageningen University.
8.2 Animal welfare
A number of questions will always recur in discussing animal health and welfare, such as:
In the Netherlands (and certainly in other countries) animal welfarists and population managers often clash. This slide is meant to reconciliate the two. A distinction should be made between so-called natural nature and semi-natural nature, or, ethically speaking, between animal ethics and eco-ethics.
The situation of semi-natural areas is above the red dotted line, where animals should be seen on the individual level. Below this line animals are part of the ecosystem. Management should focus on the population; the individual animals are of less importance than the population itself. To survive, a population must be as genetically strong as possible. The negative general influence of weaker animals should be minimised.
This means that such issues as which animals mate with which and which animals can survive in the harsh conditions will be left to nature. Stressful events like birth, hard winters and dry periods are factors of life or death. In our country we have had heated arguments about peoples responsibilities. Dutch law states that anyone encountering a suffering animal must help that animal.
But taking the legal text literally means that this applies to earthworms and mice as well. It is hard to believe that this was the aim of the legislation. We have now started working on an animal welfare policy specific to nature areas. It distinguishes between natural and unnatural suffering, for instance. Animals do have the right to be born, grow up, live, be ill and die. An example is the foal abandoned by its mother. Such a foal is doomed.
What is to be done, and what are a managers obligations. When abandoned it is left to die under a shrub. Should it accept a researcher as guardian (you may recall the picture of Professor Lorenz with a row of goose chicks swimming behind him). we should have to look for this picture and ask for the publicity rights; I haven't it in my collection.
Another interesting point is the acceptability of leaving dead animals in the field for carrion eaters. The arguments over leaving dead trees in the forest are over. Most foresters today know about the importance of holes in trees and dying trees for insects, birds and fungi.
A dying tree has more life in it than a healthy tree, I recently heard a Polish forester say.
8.3 Large herbivores directive
Policy regarding cattle and horses in nature areas has been worked out in two recent memoranda from the State Secretary for Agriculture, Nature Management and Fisheries to Parliament. These policy memoranda are known as the Large Herbivores Directive. It provides a policy framework for matters involving cattle, horses and sheep in nature areas. This policy does not take into account red and roe deer, since these are wild animals under the Flora and Fauna Act. Land managers are expected to follow this directive. (for links to these letters: www.hans.kampf.org)
The directive addresses
The directive addresses: