We cannot imagine our daily lives without them, we need cows for dairy and chickens for eggs. We need bees for the sweet gooey syrup that goes on our toast. We need sheep for the wool that keeps us warm and even the little suckerfish that cleans our goldfish tanks at home.
Every animal has a purpose, whether it was here in the first place or not. Yet, we seem to find it acceptable to choose whether an animal belongs in our ecosystem or not.
A few weeks ago, a racing pigeon arrived in an Australian backyard, worn out from its trip all the way across the Pacific. The owner of the backyard, Kevin Celli-bird, was later contacted by the Australian Quarantine and Inspection service and told to catch and hand over the bird, a missing contestant from an Oregon bird race.
They suspected the bird was a ‘threat’ to local bird species, due to its being from the US. They feared it may pass disease from its homeland to the local birds and informed Celli-bird it would be put to death.
Now, perhaps it would be wise to consider, why did the bird arrive here in the first place? Let’s go back in time to the rule of Sulayman (a), who was king of humans, jinn, and birds.
”˹One day he inspected the birds, and wondered, “Why is it that I cannot see the hoopoe? Or could he be absent?
I will surely subject him to severe punishment, or ˹even˺ slaughter him unless he brings me a compelling excuse.”
It was not long before the bird came and said, “I have found out something you do not know. I have just come to you from Sheba with sure news.” (Quran: Surah Naml 20-22).
The Hoopoe bird was burdened with such a weighty responsibility as a messenger that a prophet of Allah threatened to punish the bird for not appearing at the assembly of creatures. His responsibility of relaying news from distant lands is reflective of the immense value Allah has given to the smallest of creatures. Every single animal has a purpose and a job.
Perhaps the racing pigeon was here to provide key information on the migratory patterns of birds. Rather than welcoming it and helping arrange its return, actions were taken to dispose of the creature that arrived on Allah’s will.
On a more serious note, a similar stance has been taken regarding another animal, the European rabbit. Since the introduction of rabbits in Australia, a deadly virus has been used by the government to keep rabbit numbers under control. The Mixomavirus was released in 1950 after rabbits grew in large numbers due to fast breeding rates after being introduced for recreational hunting in the 1800s.
According to the CSIRO website, initially, the idea of using the virus to kill off a large number of the rabbit population was rejected, as rabbits were a source of income for many people and due to their popularity as pets.
However, there were claims of the virus being related to the outbreak of encephalitis in humans in Victoria. These were swiftly dismissed when the head of CSIRO injected himself and was unaffected. The first wave of success for the virus was in January 1951 when a large number of rabbits living in watery areas were infected.
The Myxoma virus was not consistently successful and had to be replaced once rabbits began to grow immune to it through genetic mutation and adaptation, and an even more lethal virus became the next biological weapon.
In the 1980s scientists began to conduct experiments with the Calicivirus or ‘Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease’ on Wardang Island, off the coast of South Australia. This virus had a much higher success rate due to its mortality rate, killing over 70% of infected rabbits. The virus was released in the past decade and is in use today, infecting household pets and wild rabbits indiscriminately.
The symptoms include loss of appetite, difficulty breathing, abnormal bleeding, and sudden death.
Humanity was given responsibility for all other living things to care for them and make the best use of them; when did this ever mean we could decide whether they belong in our environment or not?
The rabbit issue could easily be solved in a humane way by farming them for meat to be transported to famished places around the world. This would help to keep the numbers under control while being more merciful towards the animal we deem as a ‘pest’. It was humans who brought the rabbits in the first place, starting the ‘plague’. It is our God-given duty to clear our mistakes with wisdom.
Allah entrusted us with the planet, it does not mean we decide life and death. It simply means it’s under our care until the appointed time comes.
After all, “There is no man who kills a sparrow or anything beyond that, without its deserving it, but God will ask him about it.” – (Hadith: Ahmad and An-Nasai)