by Tim Bonner

Yesterday, The Times newspaper published a story about the use of thermal imaging drones being used to help stalkers locate deer in young woodland vulnerable to deer grazing in which a quote from Animal Rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) particularly caught my eye. A PETA spokesman said: “If deer numbers are to be reduced, humane methods must be employed — the key being to target their food sources by trimming back low-hanging branches, keeping grass cut short, and shrouding saplings”.

It is difficult to know quite where to start with this statement and given that the drones are being trialled in a 1,000ha acre conservation area with newly-planted trees it would be equally difficult to know where to start trimming branches, cutting grass or shrouding saplings. As idiotic and impractical as this advice is, however, it is not as bad as the consequences that would occur if someone actually managed to carry it out. What these great promoters of ethical treatment of animals are actually asking Scottish landowners to do is to starve deer to death. Not just a few but thousands and thousands of deer dying of hunger as ‘their food sources are targeted’ as apparently responsible landowners follow PETA’s advice on ‘humane methods’ of control.

Of course, we should not be surprised about animal rights extremists saying insane things, but it is quite extraordinary how simply claiming to be nice to animals seems to give groups like PETA immunity from criticism however ridiculous their position. If the Alliance promoted the use of mortars and land mines in deer management our reputation would be shredded yet PETA can say something even more ridiculous and cruel and the only response is: ‘oh, they mean well’.

This immunity also seems to extend to PETA’s status as a charity. Its first charitable objective is ‘to prevent or relieve suffering of animals’ yet here PETA is happily promoting a policy that would cause untold suffering. Is there any chance the Charity Commission will intervene or ask whether some of the extraordinary claims it makes are supported by “well-founded evidence” as required by its guidance? Of course not, presumably because ‘they mean well’.

You may take the view that these are just extremists, that their words have little influence and have little practical effect. You do not have to look too far, however, to see exactly how this sort of lunacy can create suffering on a vast scale. Just across the North Sea at Oostvaardersplassen, east of Amsterdam, exactly the sort of policy promoted by PETA was put in place on a 5,000ha reserve. PETA claims that “nature equipped deer to control their own numbers” and that was exactly the approach managers at Oostvaardersplassen took to the red deer, wild ponies and heck cattle on the reserve. In one particularly harsh winter five years ago the total number of deer, ponies and cattle dropped from 5,230 to 1,850. In a few months 3,380 large herbivores starved to death or were shot at the point of starvation. This vast suffering is the “evidence base” for PETA’s policy and if we do not challenge such madness then it will only cause more of the same.


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