Controversy in the UK Over Plans to Wipe Out the Ruddy Duck

A debate raged this summer in the United Kingdom over the government’s plan to completely eradicate the UK population of the ruddy duck.

The ruddy duck is an American species of duck that was imported into Europe during the 1940s and established itself in the wild in the early 1950s after an accidental release. Currently there are an estimated 3,000 to 6,000 of the animals in Great Britain, most of them in Scotland.

The ruddy duck’s problem is that it is too successful in breeding with closely related species, most importantly the white headed duck which is endangered. Spanish authorities, for example, blame ruddy ducks that fly from the UK to Spain for causing the collapse of the white headed duck population there.

The British government has conducted a number of trials over the past few years, paying up to 1,000 pounds per ruddy duck killed. In total, 2,651 ruddy ducks were killed in the trial programs.

Criticism has come on two fronts. First, there are those who point out that at 1,000 pounds per duck the government could ship the ducks back to the United States via first class air travel.

Second, of course, are the animal rights activists. Animal Aid’s Andrew Tyler likened the concern over preserving the white headed duck to racism. He told The Herald (UK),

Obsessively targeting one species of duck whose only crime has been to mate with another amounts to speciesism.

He also told the Times (London),

. . . the whole thing is stomach-churning. This is the first attempt at an avian extermination programme.

Talk about genetic impurity is racist. This is simply what happens in nature; it’s a natural survival mechanism. The scheme is hugely unpopular and when wildlife preservation groups and landowners refuse to co-operate you are going to see government killing gangs forcing themselves on to land.

Animal Aid organized protests on August 13th and 14th against the planned cull. In a press release announcing the protests, Animal Aid Campaigns Officer Becky Lilly calls the plan to kill the ducks “ethnic cleansing”,

It is disgraceful that the government is committed to this morally repugnant and scientifically illogical slaughter programme. It is particularly disturbing that top-table conservation groups such as the RSPB and the WWT are the main movers for this scheme. They should be focussing their efforts on saving animals and their habitat rather than promoting ethnic cleansing projects. Since so much of the slaughter has already taken place in Scotland, we want the Scottish public to know what is being done in their name and with their taxes. We are confident of continued widespread support.

It’s no wonder that the front page of Animal Aid’s web site argues that, “When it comes to illuminating the core issues relating to animal cruelty, sometimes imaginative prose can reach the places straightforward factual argument cannot.” I.e., when you don’t have any straightforward factual arguments, ditch that in favor of this sort of nonsense.


Stop killing the ruddy ducks, say wildlife campaigners. Cameron Simpson, The Herald (UK), August 14, 2003.

R.I.P. Ruddy duck. The BBC, March 3, 2003.

Protesters in duck demo. Evening Times (Glasgow), August 14, 2003.

Ruddy Protests Come To Scotland. Press Release, Animal Aid, August 13, 2003.

British Health Minister Says Animal Research Is "Absolutely Essential"

Lord Philip Hunt, Great Britain’s Health Minister, gave a speech this week to the Association of Medical Research Charities in which he outlined the Labor government’s policy on animal research. Hunt said,

Of course, animals should only be used in experiments where there is no alternative. But it is also clear that properly regulated animal research is absolutely essential to the discovery of new treatments, as well as to the assessment of the safety and efficacy of medicines. That is why we have strengthened the law that protects all involved in research — in the private, public and charitable sectors — to ensure that this vital work can continue.

Hunt repeated previous government statements that the sort of situation that occurred with Huntingdon Life Sciences would not happen again. According to Hunt,

The Government endorses the right to democratic protest. Equally, we condemn the violent intimidation that has taken place, and have introduced strong measures against harassment of people involved with animal research.

Predictably, animal rights groups attacked the speech. According to Animal Aid director Andrew Tyler, the speech was “part of a rather sordid and unconvincing propaganda offensive from the Government, because the argument for animal testing is slipping away from them.”

Michelle Thew of the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection complained that, “There is a policy vacuum within the government — no vision, no strategy, no radical agenda for reform and no recognition to reflect the considerable and growing public concern about animal experiments.”

Jan Creamer of the National Anti-vivisection Society chimed in by claiming that “Every time the government has issued licenses to use animal testing, we have been able to find an alternative method.”

Of course, Reuters summed up the reality of the situation noting that,

Currently, most scientists believe that tests in animals are still the best way to study disease or to gauge the effectiveness of treatments before they are tried in humans.

And in most cases they are not just the best way but rather than only realistic way to test.


Animal research essential, UK government says. Manfreda Cavazza, Reuters Health, April 16, 2002.

Minister defends animal experiments. The BBC, April 16, 2002.