As is becoming a bit of a thing in this section of the blog, invasive and alien species can be used as examples of wider issues in conservation – ethical and moral issues, operational issues, logistical issues, political issues – This time it’s Chinese Water Deer.
The main reason I’ve chosen to discuss Chinese Water Deer here, apart from the fact they look like weird, tusked teddy bears, is to address a moral and ethical conundrum; Chinese Water Deer in the UK now account for an estimated 10% of the whole population. In it’s natural range, (in China, obviously) it is listed as near threatened. As seems to be a common theme with invasives in this country, its origin can be traced to those pesky Victorians and their insatiable curiosity and desire to pilfer things from other countries and cultures (see the British Museum). There’s more, better, discussion and information to be found out there than you will in this post, which is mainly just a jumping off point for some wild speculation. Namely, what happens if that ‘near threatened’ listing deteriorates – say to critically endangered? And imagine that, concurrently, here in the UK Chinese Water Deer become a real threat to, oh I don’t know, Water Voles. Or Hen Harriers (Admittedly, I have no concept of how they could possibly be a threat – even with the tusks.) Do we have a duty to remove them or conserve them? It’s enough to give one a headache, but there are situations where this has occurred with other species.
This is a long way from being the case with Chinese Water Deer, who, on an entirely subjective note I would love to see preserved in this country – I have a peculiar fondness for the truly out of place and odd-looking mammals that call the British countryside home, the more bumbling the better. They add character; at least that’s my argument. As ever – and because I seem to have spent an inordinate amount of time behind a desk than in the field recently – I’m dealing in hypotheticals. Chinese Water Deer present no pressing danger to our native fauna and flora, there aren’t battalions of tusked, furry faced invaders out there hunting down every last Natterjack Toad. Although it’s an arresting image. But should they one day turn on a protected species in a fit of pique, we need to know whether to reach for the gun or to corral them all and ship them back to their homeland – I think that’s important. Probably. Don’t you?