Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Putting Mosquitoes Before People

Whenever I've said in the past that many environmental activists are actually pleased at the ubiquity of trypanosomiasis and malaria on the African continent, seeing it as a good thing for wildlife conservation, I've been accused of either lying or engaging in exaggeration. Now here's a New York Times article in which just this sort of reasoning is laid out for all to see:

Step outside the anthropocentric view of life and one possible value of mosquitoes is population control. Mosquitoes have historically kept human populations down worldwide, and still do in much of the third world. The problem is that they do this by facilitating pestilence and death, so this is not going to enhance their status, among human beings at least.

Mosquitoes may also keep some other animal populations down by spreading disease - something we might be able to see the value of. And other creatures - some fish, frogs birds and bats - eat them. It's possible that if we were able to wipe out mosquitoes, some other species might either suffer from lack of food, or explode in numbers because the burden of disease was lifted.

Another value of mosquitoes, perverse to some, obvious to others, is that they "keep out the riffraff," meaning human beings. Concentrations of pests offer protection to wilderness areas. The tsetse fly, which causes livestock disease as well as human sleeping sickness, has kept humans away from some wildlife refuges and has been called "Africa's best conservationist." Of course, this view has been described by others as ecological imperialism.
It's nice to see that NYT reporters can take such a detached, neutral approach to evaluating the pluses and minuses of mosquito eradication, seeing as it does serve as such an effective means of keeping the numbers of the Third World "riffraff" in check. How anthropocentric of all those swarthy types to put their lives above those of other organisms just because they don't belong to the same species! As we all know, "a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy", and this is no more obviously true than when it's a poor black boy slowly dying of cerebral malaria because there's a colobus monkey colony close by in need of protection.