• Michael McClellon

The Animal That Deserves Extinction

We now live in a world that is desperately concerned with saving endangered species from extinction. A world where conservation scientists are utilizing new methods every year to help at risk and endangered animals increase their numbers. A world where everyone is so passionate about saving the Earth's beloved creatures, that some of us would even ram whaling ships with boats of our own. This ideology has now become a part of our lives, and it is our duty to protect these endangered species and give back to our planet.

But solely relying on this ideology to combat environmental and humanitarian problems is surprisingly not useful in all instances. Sometimes, these issues involve a species that is devastatingly harmful and provides little environmental value. Therefore, the practice of species eradication must be employed. Although much of the public will associate this term with the unfortunate death of innocent animals caused by deforestation, climate change, and many other factors, we must shed light on where this process is actually considered a very viable and often life-saving solution. This may seem radical, having just described the conservationist ideology that has rightfully spread through most of our population, but once we identify possible candidates for species eradication, the process becomes much more convincing.

Species eradication has been attempted before, and it has also been successful. Namely, with the dreaded Tsetse fly in parts of Africa, saving countless lives from dying at the hands, or rather flagella, of microscopic parasites. It has also been used in more developed areas such as the United States and Mexico to eradicate the screwworm. This was because once the female adult screwworms (which are now flies) lay their eggs, they find an open wound on a warm-blooded animal, often cattle, to feast on, causing the animal to bleed more and attract even more adult female flies. This grueling positive feedback loop lasts for about five to ten days before the animal eventually dies. In order to combat this, sterilization methods were performed on males to massively increase offspring mortality rates, which was successful in effectively eradicating the screwworm population in North and Central America, saving tens of millions of dollars for the U.S. cattle industry. This tactic is still being used to control the screwworm population in Central America and was dubbed the greatest entomological achievement of the 20th century.

Seeing that species or animal eradication can actually be wildly successful despite the mainstream focus on conservation, we must now see if the most dangerous animal on earth must be subjected to this process or not. That’s right, the mosquito. This vile creature is responsible for an estimated 1 million deaths per year! This is because mosquitoes are vectors for diseases such as malaria, dengue fever, and zika. In addition to the blatant massacre of humans these pests are committing, we are all familiar with the terrible itch we get from them that worsens every time we try to subdue it.

Despite this ingrained hatred in each of us after receiving our first mosquito bite, it is important to note that not all mosquitoes are bad. Most of the 3,500 species are not harmful to humans and only rely on fruits and nectar for survival. According to the BBC News, only about 6% of mosquito species bite humans, and it is only done by females as a food source to develop their eggs. However, this small percentage has contributed to the dreadful statistics that we see today, and it is these particular species that we need to focus on in efforts of eradication. Many methods have been used to eradicate disease causing mosquitoes in certain areas. Scientists at Oxford University have created a genetically modified mosquito that prevents offspring from developing properly, causing them to die before spreading any viruses. This method saw a 96% reduction in mosquito population in tested areas (Bates). Additionally, reengineering the genome of mosquitoes to prevent them from spreading diseases also seems promising and can be another method used with eradication to limit deaths caused by mosquitoes. Scientists in the US have also created a genetically modified mosquito that is resistant to the malaria parasite, and therefore cannot spread it (Bates). Although this does seem promising, I still believe eradication should be used in addition to this method, as significantly lowering the population of mosquitoes prevents any unwanted genetic mutations from being more dangerous. Essentially, dealing with a much smaller amount of mosquitoes is easier than dealing with them at much higher numbers when certain genetic or other environmental problems may arise. The steps towards preventing mosquitoes from spreading disease must encompass many different methods. Only relying on one or two will not be effective in ridding entire countries of a certain mosquito species. Scientists are still looking for promising ways to deal with this species eradication, and although it is extremely difficult to combat a species so numerous and widespread, scientists hope to gain much control over this battle within the next 10 to 15 years, says Frances Hawkes from the Natural Resources Institute at the University of Greenwich.

But despite efforts already in place to help eradicate certain mosquito populations or at least control their biology to prevent disease transfer, the debate concerning mosquito eradication has been raging on for many years now. Personally though, I feel as though many of those on the anti-eradication side need to critically reconsider their position.

Some scientists say that flat-out eradication of a species is never a real solution. They bring up the point that eliminating mosquitoes would create a gap in the food chain and leave birds, frogs, and other mosquito-eaters without a sustainable food source. However, although these animals do often eat mosquitos, and we applaud them for doing so, they will probably be able to find another food source. Eradicating mosquito species also will not have major effects on ecosystems. Most animals will be able to adjust, and according to entomologist Joe Conlon, of the American Mosquito Control Association in Jacksonville, Florida "If we eradicated them (mosquitoes) tomorrow, the ecosystems where they are active will hiccup and then get on with life. Something better or worse would take over." Proponents of this anti-eradication argument also fail to realize that eradication would only focus on the small percentage of mosquitoes that are a great harm to humans and animals. This means that there would still be thousands of mosquito species available as a food source and as pollinators, and we can easily introduce them to the few parts of the planet that may lack mosquitoes after eradication occurs. According to biologist Olivia Judson, who has personally advocated for the eradication of at least 30 mosquito species, getting rid of the most harmful mosquitoes will cause a loss of genetic diversity of only about 1%, a negligible amount. Correctly identifying the mosquito eradication movement’s motives is the first step to understanding why eradication is necessary, as its supporters only wish to eradicate the small percentage of mosquitoes that contribute to human death by disease.

Apart from scientific and ecological opponents, there have also been philosophical arguments against the eradication of some mosquito species. Some say that it would be morally wrong to eradicate a species, including Jonathan Pugh, from Oxford University's Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics. But are they really prepared to hide from the millions of deaths that mosquitoes have caused to humanity as well as the prevention of many poor nations from becoming more developed? My guess is no. The focus on ethics in this debate should not be considerate of the lives of mosquitoes. It should be heavily centered around the lives of humans and animals that are affected, in whatever way, by these mindless drones who can’t even feel pain or suffer. It seems as though the sympathy towards animals with respect to being endangered or extinct has clouded the minds of people to the point where they place the “moral value” of a small insect over the lives of human beings. Advocating for species conservation is often the right way to go, as many at-risk or endangered animals are innocent and even significantly help the environment. But applying this lens to a species that is irrefutably much more harmful than helpful to our environment and to humanity itself must not be tolerated.

Ultimately, supporting the eradication of disease spreading mosquitoes is a path that we should all work towards with as much emotional intensity as we do when working to save other species from extinction. Keeping mosquitoes from devastating poor nations and spreading diseases worldwide will not only save lives, but it will lead to more economic development in these poorer nations. More resources will be available for other purposes, besides devoting most of it to disease treatment. Countries who report massive reductions in diseases will make them more likely to be visited by outsiders. The tourism industry for many African and South American countries is often hindered by the risk of being infected by parasites and getting diseases. I’m sure one of the top reasons you refuse to go to Africa is because of the health risks that can be associated with the trip. This would, in turn, create a positive feedback loop, as more economic development increases the likelihood of foreign investment from more economically developed nations. Eradicating certain mosquito species will help propel many developing nations into economic growth through the ability of resource allocation towards more economically sustainable sectors, an increase in tourism, more international trust and foreign investment, and the ability for more families to afford basic needs such as food, water, and education, without being financially ruined by disease.

I feel as though the evidence and the reasons supporting the eradication of certain mosquito species is overwhelming. Therefore, we must make this movement as popular as the one concerning species conservation, as this will allow many others, including scientists and common people alike, to unite against mosquitoes, and end the terror that their species have caused against us for all these years.

The next time you see a mosquito trying to bite you, kill it. You’ll be happy knowing that through this, you’re not just avoiding skin irritation, but supporting a movement that will inspire massive change in our world and save lives.


To read more articles from Michael McClellon click here.

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