Harvard Researcher Kills Rare Spider "In the Name of Education:" When Will the Killing Finally Stop?

Recently I wrote an essay called "Researchers Kill 890 Wolves to Learn About Them: There's Something Very Wrong" about the intentional and inexcusable "experimental" massacre of 890 wolves in Canada using incredibly inhumane methods. The killing did not work, and there also was substanital "collateral damage" in that numerous non-target animals were killed. I remain incredulous that the scientists who partook in this slaughter didn't protest and refuse to engage in this mass killing. I surely would not have been involved in such egregious and inhumane "research" as I strongly support the rapidly growing field called "compassionate conservation" (see also) in which individual animals are the focus of concern and for which the guiding principle is "first do not harm."

As I was writing this piece I learned of an essay by Amaroq Weiss, a biologist for the Center for Biological Diversity, called "Killing wolves will come back to haunt farmers and ranchers," the last paragraph of which reads: "And, as our knowledge of how human activities impact wildlife continues to evolve, Washington's wolf-management policies must evolve toward serving not just hunters and ranchers opposed to wolves but the interests of a broader range of taxpaying constituents, who demand that wildlife be managed not as a problem but as a treasured public trust." Amen.

I also wrote an essay titled "Killing Barred Owls to Save Spotted Owls? Let's Stop Bloody Conservation Practices" that dealt with plans to "experimentally" kill barred owls to see if slaughtering them would help to save endangered spotted owls. Likewise, I would strongly vote "no" on killing the barred owls. However, ethicist Bill Lynn, who was hired by the Fish and Wildlife Service and who was initially skeptical about the above killing experiments, changed his mind. He concluded that it was all right to kill the barred owls as an experiment if it was done as humanely as possible, and called it a "sad good." For me, a "sad good" is a very slippery slope that sets a lamentable precedent for opening the door for the more widespread "experimental killing" of barred owls and other species. Dr. Lynn balked on supporting a region-wide war on barred owls.

From time to time I've wondered if Dr. Lynn and others who supported killing the barred owls would have supported killing the wolves (I had some emails about this possibility). I also began thinking about just how bloody conservation has been (see, for example, "There Will Be Blood," an excellent essay by Warren Cornwall) and how speciesism might fit into the paradigm of killing animals "in the name of science" or "in the name of conservation."

Along came a spider, a most unfortunate meeting for her

As I was pondering a variety of questions about all of the killing that goes on I learned of another case, this time involving a giant spider. In an essay by Tanya Lewis called "Goliath Encounter: Puppy-Sized Spider Surprises Scientist in Rainforest" I learned that Harvard researcher Piotr Naskrecki had the great fortune of meeting a puppy-size female spider called the South American Goliath birdeater (Theraphosa blondi), in a rainforest in Guyana. Of course, this spider doesn't eat birds nor is it harmful. And, she certainly didn't do anything to Dr. Naskrecki other than to cross his path to his self-confessed wonderment. Nonetheless, she paid a heavy price for this rare encounter. She was killed.

The spider is "now deposited in a museum:" She was not euthanized

At the end of Ms. Lewis' essay we read, most unfortunately for the spider who just happens to meet Dr. Naskrecki, "After catching the specimen he found in Guyana, which was female, Naskrecki took her back to his lab to study. She's now deposited in a museum." In his own blog Dr. Naskrecki writes, "Once the animal was properly euthanized and preserved, something that is never done lightly, it was carefully labelled and deposited in the collection in Guyana where to this day it (sic) serves as an important teaching tool." So, she was killed "in the name of education."

Of course, she was not euthanized, which is mercy killing. Rather, she was downright killed, lightly or not, as if she were an object who was then "deposited" somewhere or other. Likewise, I've stressed that when otherwise healthy animals are killed in zoos because they aren't of any use to a breeding program, they are not euthanized, but rather they are "zoothanized." Let's be clear about what was done; words count.

When will the killing stop?

When will the killing of other animals stop? We need to give this question serious consideration because far too much research and conservation biology is far too bloody and does not need to be. I hope this question will be discussed openly in all courses and at all meetings that deal with the wide variety of human-animal interactions (anthrozoology) that occur in many different venues.

Killing other animals is all too easy and quite often does not achieve its intended goals. And, even if certain goals are accomplished, the killing simply needs to stop. It is wrong and can set a horrific precedent for future research and for children. Imagine what a youngster would think if he or she heard something like, "I met a rare and wonderful spider today and I killed her."

Students, established scientists, educators, and others who are against killing other animals "in the name of science" or "in the name of conservation" or "in the name of education" or "in the name of ____" must speak out and be heard and take a strong stand against killing once and for all. Enough is enough. These sorts of killing are unacceptable on so many different levels. And, they surely are not a way to "rewild" and to reconnect with nature.

Many researchers are extremely intelligent and clever and have dealt with numerous challenging questions. I'm sure a moratorium on killing would result in the development and implementation of a host of non-lethal and humane ways to learn about and to peacefully coexist with the fascinating animals with whom we share our magnificent planet. What a wonderful precedent this would set for future researchers and others who work closely with other animals.