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Demography Doesn't Illuminate Wolf's Death; What About Decency?

Letters / Anchorage Daily News / April 26, 2005

Regarding the recent killing of the black alpha male wolf outside Denali National Park, a biologist was quoted as saying, "They get killed by other wolves, they starve to death, they get kicked by moose ... sort of the whole gamut of things. And wolves are built to deal with that" ("Toklat wolf's demise triggers emotional backlash," April 20).

True enough. From the perspective of population dynamics, it makes little difference whether the wolf was killed by a human or by another wolf. Further, it matters not to science whether the wolf was killed quickly with a single bullet or gut-shot and left to die in agony. Still further, from a purely ecological perspective, it wouldn't matter if the wolf was captured and tortured and then burnt alive in front of a paying audience. In any of those cases, the relevant ecological population equations work out the same.

To paraphrase the philosopher David Hume, there is no strictly scientific reason to prefer the scratching of one's nose to the destruction of the world. By its very nature, science can tell us only about the quantifiable features of the sensory world, not about morals and values. It is an important part, but only a part, of how we make ethical decisions about wildlife. Biologists are by no means final authorities in ethical matters relating to wildlife.

Carl Ramm / Anchorage

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