Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Haley Reading Group: Elizabeth Kolbert’s “The Big Kill”


[The Best American Science and Nature Writing (2015)]

Elizabeth Kolbert’s article “The Big Kill” concentrates on New Zealand’s troubles with invasive mammals diminishing native fauna, which endangers native birds and kiwi. Kolbert raises the issue of exterminating some mammals for the purposes of conserving native wildlife, and how human migratory patterns throughout history have led to some mammals being brought to different parts of the world. She explores the large task of eliminating invasive species, since humans will continue traveling and shipping goods from country to country, thus leading to invasions from various mammals.

Kolbert’s focus on humans hunting and killing invasive mammals to protect native wildlife and New Zealand’s national identity was fascinating or alarming, depending on your point of view. What did you think? How did the article enhance or reshape how you thought about what it means to protect wildlife? Please provide a page number citation, where necessary.

Responses from other students:
"I feel that it is nature's decision to extinct a species or not. If a country wants to save native wildlife, then they should block that wildlife off from the predators, rather than killing the predator off all together." --Samantha A.

"The article was fascinating in a way because it surprised me as to how much New Zealanders valued their land and wildlife." --LaTrina B
"The article definitely reshaped my understanding of what it means to protect wildlife. While I personally do not believe in the slaughtering of living beings, I was able to under the perspective of the New Zealanders. While the techniques used to protect the New Zealander wildlife seem cruel,such as possums being dosed with cyanide (Kolbert, 163), such matters have had to be done in order to prevent the extinction of such wildlife." Kami D.

"The most intriguing part of this article were the animals. I thought it was amazing that a Rhynchocephalia was found in New Zealand. Until now, I have not heard of a species from the early Mesozoic surviving. The fact that frogs there have developed an extra vertebra instead of ear drums also baffles me. I did not know that animals in different places have actually evolved differently." --Rachael G

33 comments:

Isaiah J. said...

At first, it was discomforting to know that people were deliberately killing large amounts of certain species of animals to save others. However, after giving it some thought, I realized that it was for the greater good. Humans decide what species and how many of these species should live where all the time.
What makes this interesting is the general enthusiasm toward participating in the extermination. Normally, if there was a small-scale infestation of rats, someone would leave and wait for an exterminator to handle it. In this situation, extermination became a community event, with people even being oddly disappointed if they didn't see dead rats in their traps (Kolbert, 78).

Unknown said...

The beginning of the story was very descriptive because of the word choice that the author used. Because of this, I was able to get a very good idea that the story was going to be about unwanted animals taking over and the efforts of the people trying to get rid of them to preserve the New Zealand environment. Personally, while I know how important it is to protect wild life, I do not have a passion for protecting it. I think that this story was very interesting because it showed how another region keeps an overpopulation under control. In the St. Louis area we are exposed to hunting deer and using exterminators to fix any of the pest problems. Even though we use exterminators which use chemicals to kill bugs, I think that the way the people in New Zealand get rid of pests is somewhat harsh because of the use of all the harsh chemicals.
With that being said, I think this was a very informational and interesting story to read because it teaches about how other "cultures" handle the same problems that we have.

Cecelia S.

Unknown said...

At first I was very sad to hear about how the people were killing certain types of animals to maintain their rates, however that the humans were doing it for the future. The interesting part is when they were talking about how people were mad if they didn't find the dead rats in their tarps .

Unknown said...

First it was very horrifying to see how they were killing large amounts of animals just to save other animals, however it was interesting to see how the humans were doing it just to see what animals they were going to live around them. Another interesting fact was when the people was becoming the community exterminators but they were getting mad when they didn't see dead rats in their traps. Louis S.

Anonymous said...

Marina T.

When I first began reading about Kevin Adshead's traps, I believed that he was mentally unstable. He talked about having 400 traps set out to catch animals including cats (Kolbert, 164), and it sounded like he really enjoyed it. His attempts to exterminate animals was unsettling.

However, after hearing how abundant some of these non-native species had become and how they were hurting the native animals and flora, I began to understand. It reminded me of many in our country's argument for deer and coyote hunting. Although it goes against my natural instincts, I believe they are doing the right thing as we need to protect the wildlife that is being harmed by these non-native species.

Fontez M. said...

I thought that the reading was very interesting, I never heard of most of the species mentioned in the text. The fact that there are no native mammals in New Zealand was very shocking to me. I just assumed that mammals were every where.

New Zealand sounds like a much safer Australia and I can totally understand why they are basically mass murdering the invasive species.It's unfortunate that the Moa species is extinct because I would've liked to see them one day.
-Fontez M.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes the more tragic option has to be the answer which is death to the invasive species to try to bring back the old environment. I still see this as positive but I wonder if we are still causing more harm in the end as the damage has already been done.

Trying to predict the future has always been hard for humans as even with inventions. Things have gone wrong which we have had to get rid of (ex. CFC use in refrigerators). With what I have seen that more human interaction usually leads to more problems in the environment. I am hopeful that this destruction of invasive species will bring back the old days to the environment but I still have doubts that it will occur.

Alexis S. said...

I thought that the reading was very interesting and found it to be kind of disturbing that many people were killing a lot of animals. I also found the reading to be ironic since the people doing the killing called it an act of conservation, even though they were getting rid of a certain species of animals. After reading the rest of Kolbert's story, I began to understand why the people were doing this in order to get New Zealand back to its original state and found it to be a little less disturbing since they explained their reasoning.

Unknown said...

It was quite horrific to read how the conservation of native wildlife is sought out in New Zealand. I disagree with their methods and find it a bit pointless because over time, as humans continue to travel from place to place, new wildlife will be brought with them. Therefore it would be somewhat of a ceaseless cycle.

It would also be quite interesting to see how they would dictate what a true native species is. If an alien species breeds with a native species, and this population were to increase, it would be interesting to see how they would classify this new animal. Especially if it interfered with a pure native species.

Anonymous said...

This article made me think about one topic from my anthropology class. Ethocentriscm which is the belief that one culture is superior or better than others. One example of the extreme reaction of ethnocentrism is Genocide: massive killing of people. When genocide happens, a whole civilization shuts down. The superior race exterminates what they consider inferior so the world can look and be better.

I believe that all animals and species present on earth are here on purpose . One day while watching a documentary, I was awe by the fact that even ants play an important role for the irrigation system. It is not up to us to decide what to take away from earth (except for diseases and every bad thing we developed on earth). I believe that earth has ways to repare itself from natural catastrophy. There are several ways to be protected by wildlife. A whole specie’s extinction will never be a good idea.

-Geonel M.




Justin Jubert said...

This article is interesting because it puts into perspective the endangerment of wildlife due to natural selection. This article reshaped my view of how to protect wildlife because I was not aware that these techniques were being used. I agree with the hunters because I feel it is better to hunt animals in the wild than to place animals into captivity to "protect" them and profit from animal suffering. Conservationist Nick Smith stated, "People don't like poisons, but they like rats even less" (167-168). I agree with Nick because if it is for the greater good, then it must be done.

-Justin J

Anonymous said...

This article is interesting because it puts into perspective the endangerment of wildlife due to natural selection. This article reshaped my view of how to protect wildlife because I was not aware that these techniques were being used. I agree with the hunters because I feel it is better to hunt animals in the wild than to place animals into captivity to "protect" them and profit from animal suffering. Conservationist Nick Smith stated, "People don't like poisons, but they like rats even less" (167-168). I agree with Nick because if it is for the greater good, then it must be done.

-Justin J

Deja Thornton said...

Reading this really expanded my knowledge about wildlife in New Zealand. I did not know that people deliberately endanger species and that they can really disturb a mass community in that way. I feel like doing this is causing more harm than helping. When the story talked about New Zealand clearing mammalian predators form 117 offshore islands (p177), it seemed very excessive and ineffective. Theres always going to be another animal that will cause problems, and then the process is repeated. I feel as if they should find another solution.

Dasmin W. said...

First off, I want to say that I love how the author used different stories in her life to express the different views of the invasive animals and of New Zealand. I was kind of shocked to hear that there were groups and organization dedicated to killing animals. Even though I get why they feel like these animals should die, I don't condone the killing of those animals. All countries have gotten animals that came from other countries , but you don't see them making conferences and lectures on the death on them.

Phoenix Johnson said...

At first I did not quite understand the main point of the essay, but after reading a second I found it fascinating that a country could become one through protecting wildlife species from predators. The narrator in "The Big Kill" even states, "The connection with species that are unique to New Zealand is increasingly part of our national identity" (Kolbert 167). It was different to see all these people purchase all types of traps that were advance to kill rodents.

Personally, I love wildlife but only when it comes to humans destorying wildlife. For example, when companies tear down parts of rain forest and do not replant the trees. I think animals are as important as wildlife because they help with moving pollen, killing bugs, and they are fertilizing the soil for plants.

Anonymous said...

I first thought it was odd how excited the characters were described to be about “the lastest breakthrough in extermination technology”(pg 177 Kolbert), but when comparing it to how people today get excited when deer hunting season comes, it became understandable. The hunting of certain species was necessary because they were predators which was becoming a problem. “Let’s get rid of all the predators-all the damned mustelids, all the rats, all the possums-from the mainland”(pg 176 Kohlbert). Although I personally don’t like to hunt animals, I understand that it is a necessary part of life, and this is highlighted in this article as they describe the hunt of invasive species.
-Gianna T.

Whitney Kriener said...

At first I was a little shocked at the way these people protected nature. But then I realized these people are protecting their homes and their environment, from what they thought of as invaders.

I don’t think I ever realized how big and serious, people were about preserving nature. So much so, that people are coming together, after stretches of land, to proctect their properties, environment, and nature in general. And that it is so well documented and in order. This something so fascinating and real, that I wouldn’t usually read upon. These people are protecting their homes, land, and environment. In a way that seems a little crass these people have made a huge difference to the world.

Sable M. said...

I found that New Zealand's definition on page 164 of conservation goes against the actual definition of conservation in some ways, as they seek to preserve their idea of nature by killing the things that naturally reside within the ecosystem. The animals may be foreign to some destinations, but by all accounts in most writings animals predated people. The excerpt really helped to solidify that though some ways are similar, different solution work for the same problem.




Jovahna W. said...

It was very interesting to see the contrast between the methods of wildlife protection between America and New Zealand. I did not necessarily agree with these methods of killing invasive species to protect the native species however because over time, as people continue to travel to New Zealand, animals will probably travel with them as well.
This also brings up a point as to how New Zealand would handle a situation of a new population of a mixture between a pure native species and an invasive species emerging.

Jovahna W.

Breann W said...

I feel it is ironic that we are looking to destroy another species since they are invasive when we ourselves are an invasive species. We bring so many dieases and other things that tend to destory the environment around us. Yet we do not seek to get rid of the humans that brings the downfall of natural environments like the rain forest or the poles.

Breann W.

Kyle Mabwa said...

A large issue that the human race tends to find ourselves in is our desire to control every aspect of our surroundings around us. We move mountains and hills to save a species that may have not evolved enough, or at all to survive. This in returns hurts the ecosystem, disrupting the flow of life.
What the community is doing is in good heart, but harming one side of a ecosystem will not better it in the long run. If really needed they should of protected the wildlife rather than kill their predators off. There must be a balance and life for the world to survive and thrive.

Kyle M

Jasmine Strong said...

When I was reading the article I was shocked at how different New Zealand deals with the protection of their native species. When they deal with outside species invading their land or in the first case, a farm, it became their mission to exterminate. It became a community effort to get rid of the invading species.
Also the difference in the definition on conservation in New Zealand compared to the U.S is very shocking. For example on page 167 the author writes," The country's Department of Conservation was conducting a massive aerial drop of a toxin known as 1080." This toxin was used to make a whole invasive species extinct. But in the U.S conservation means to save a species.

Jasmine S.

Alexis Richardson said...

I thought the methods mentioned were incredibly alarming. I understand the people are trying to preserve the natural fauna in New Zealand but there are plenty of other ways that significantly less cruel and also that do not involve killing off the entire species. One such example would be greatly reducing the population of the desired animal by relocation and euthanize some. I think killing off entire species would have the opposite effect that the local people are trying to achieve because it is often shown in biology that each species living there plays some key role in the economy even if it is not immediately obvious. This can be true for invasive species as well in the beginning they often alter the ecosystem but they eventually find their place in the food chain and for the most part things go back to "normal"

Lillien W. said...

Humans hunting and killing invasive mammals to protect native wildlife and New Zealand’s national identity was alarming to read about. I had no idea that means to protect wildlife went hand and hand with exterminating wildlife. I understood the want to protect native species from extinction but to take the life of any living thing in such mass is just disturbing. Rats or not. I think they should put their resources into finding a different type of solution, and put the poison and the traps that aren't even proven to be one hundred percent humane away.
--Lillien W.

Anonymous said...

Humans hunting and killing invasive mammals to protect native wildlife and New Zealand’s national identity was alarming to read about. I had no idea that the efforts to protect wildlife went hand and hand with exterminating wildlife. I understood the want to protect native species from extinction but to hunt and kill any living thing in such mass is just disturbing. Rats or not. I think they should put their resources into finding a different type of solution,put the poison and the traps which haven't been proven to be one hundred percent humane away.
--Lillien W.

Anonymous said...

The article was interesting because it really shows how people were killing the animals in the wildlife to protect the other animals. Also, in a way, I think that SOME animals should be killed because of the food that they can be to humans. However, for other animals I personally believe that they should'nt be killed, but if New Zealand needs to do what they need to do to protect nature, then they will kill the animals.

Kennedy M.

Unknown said...

I dont like this article becasue you should disturb natural selection. The law of nature is survival of the fittest. Killing predators will lead to the disturbance of the food chain and
herbivores will eat all the plants or ppests will ruin crops

Anonymous said...

The article was pretty interesting as it showed how a country was presented with a crisis and developed several different proposed solutions to the problem. It is easy to see how one may feel empathetic towards the creatures being slaughtered by the thousands, however looking objectively at the situation I think it is crucial to take somewhat drastic measures in ridding New Zealand of invasive creatures. The only other option would be to let more native creatures be out competed and risk extinction.

Courteney Wilson

Thomas Siganga said...

Sometimes the more tragic option has to be the answer which is death to the invasive species to try to bring back the old environment. I still see this as positive but I wonder if we are still causing more harm in the end as the damage has already been done.

Trying to predict the future has always been hard for humans as even with inventions. Things have gone wrong which we have had to get rid of (ex. CFC use in refrigerators). With what I have seen that more human interaction usually leads to more problems in the environment. I am hopeful that this destruction of invasive species will bring back the old days to the environment but I still have doubts that it will occur. -Thomas Siganga

Miles W. said...

Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on the unique wildlife protection methods employed in New Zealand was eye opening to say the least. I found it interesting how protecting wildlife has vastly different definitions depending on where you live. In Illinois, protecting wildlife means using less fossil fuels, recycling, and avoiding the deer on your drive home. According to Kolbert it is normal to set traps for rats and stoats by the hundreds in order to protect the natural plant life of New Zealand (Kolbert, 164). In addition to the traps, their government uses air dropped chemicals to kill off unwanted predators (Kolbert, 167). It is humbling to learn that what you thought of as wrong is not always so wrong.

Miles W. said...

Elizabeth Kolbert’s piece on the unique wildlife protection methods employed in New Zealand was eye opening to say the least. I found it interesting how protecting wildlife has vastly different definitions depending on where you live. In Illinois, protecting wildlife means using less fossil fuels, recycling, and avoiding the deer on your drive home. According to Kolbert it is normal to set traps for rats and stoats by the hundreds in order to protect the natural plant life of New Zealand (Kolbert, 164). In addition to the traps, their government uses air dropped chemicals to kill off unwanted predators (Kolbert, 167). It is humbling to learn that what you thought of as wrong is not always so wrong.

Unknown said...

After reading this article I first had the thought of why humans were the species who decides what gets to live and die. However, after I thought about how wildlife animals also kill other animals to survive and that it is all about survival. I don't understand why on page 168 why animals considered pest have to be poisoned instead of removed and set into a place where they too have to either survive or be eaten. I do understand now from the reading that protecting wildlife is important and some times it has its right and wrong ends of the deal.
Khalia K.

Anonymous said...


This article was more ironic than alarming to me because it talks about New Zealanders destroying animals who they consider to be invaders, but humans Technically invaded their territories and homes. We find pleasure and reason in killing and torturing other species for our own personal gain whether it be preserving the natural habitat and animals that live there or how we mass produce milk from cows. I don’t agree with this article because in my opinion the people are just killing. It may be for a good reason, but they are still coming together as a whole to exterminate unwanted animals. The “pest” could’ve easily been removed from the region without extermination.
Orah K.