Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Why wolf hunting is bad, as explained by Playmobil figurines

"Blood Does Not Buy Goodwill" would also be a good title for a horror movie
Listen: the US has had bad policies when it comes to wolves, and a very earnest French man would like to explain why, using what appear to be Playmobil figurines.

The video renders this sequence of events with a Playmobil Uncle SamWhat has the French man — and many other researchers — so upset are wolf culls. In the US, gray wolves used to roam widely, with numbers reaching into the hundreds of thousands, according to the Humane Society of the US. But they were slaughtered, and their numbers declined so sharply in the lower 48 states that wolves were among the first species added to the Endangered Species list in 1974. Starting in 2003, the US Fish and Wildlife Service tried to limit or entirely lift protections on the gray wolf. Wolves are not now treated as a single population — but rather as two districts of populations.

In 2011 and 2012, segments of the wolf population in the Northern Rocky Mountains and the Western Great Lakes were removed from protection. What that means is that in certain states — Minnesota, Michigan and Wisconsin — hunting was allowed. (Or it was, until a federal judge ruled in 2014 that delisting the wolves violated the Endangered Species Act.)

That's admittedly a lot of history and politics for a video that's under 3:30. The animation renders this sequence of events with a Playmobil Uncle Sam ("ze govern-mon") who sometimes pulls out charts or drafts laws with a quill, in full view of the wolves — and at one point oversees a wolf execution, to the boos of conservationists (who brought their own podium). This history, however is not the researchers' main concern. What they wanted to know was: Does wolf culling work?

Culling is more likely to increase poachingThe argument for culling goes something like this: by establishing a way of managing the population legally, culling prevents poaching. (Proponents also say that allowing wolf hunting makes people like cattle ranchers a little more likely to support conservation policies, but this effect wasn't evaluated in today's study.)

The authors, Guillaume Chapron, of the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the video's French narrator, and Adrian Treves, of the University of Wisconsin, point out that this claim has never been empirically tested. So they set out to get data from the wolf populations of Wisconsin and Michigan, set up models, and see if culling actually cuts poaching. According to their modeling, culling is more likely to increase poaching than to halt it. Their results were published today in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

I wouldn't call this the last word in the culling debate — the first study on a subject rarely is. But I can render a verdict on the video: adorable.

Correction: Guillaume Chapron is, in fact, French; he works in Sweden. (An earlier version of the post incorrectly called him Swedish.) We regret the error.