De‐domestication and the Wild: the carnivorous wolf and the feral herbivore, by Catherine Seavitt Nordenson

This paper examines the ethical issues of humans acting within a Land Ethic toward animals  considered wild (non‐domesticated) and feral (de‐domesticated), given the return of a potential predator‐prey relationship for the purposes of environmental restoration.

The ethical Parliament of Things is expanding. In his prescient essay The Land Ethic, Aldo Leopold articulated an ethical relationship between humans and the land. “All ethics so far evolved rest upon a single premise: that the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts. The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants and animals, or collectively the land.” The work of Tom Regan (animal rights theory) and Peter Singer (animal liberation theory) fleshes out Leopold’s Land Ethic by extending the idea of moral rights to animals, thereby conceiving a broader realm of ethics in human‐to‐animal relationships. Bruno Latour envisages such a community to be a “parliament of things,” noting that nature herself is part of the complex relationship between humans and non‐humans.

Consider the re‐introduced wolf. Humans have historically domesticated animals, and subsequently attempted to exterminate those predators that threatened domesticated herds. The ongoing attempt in the United States to exterminate the gray wolf, Canis lupus, was formalized in 1914 with a government‐sponsored predator control program. By the 1950s the population of the gray wolf had been brought to near extinction. It was not until 1973 that the gray wolf was given protection status by the Endangered Species Act. In the late 1990s, thirty‐one gray wolves were released back into the wild in Yellowstone National Park; today over one thousand wolves roam the northern Rocky Mountains.

Consider the de‐domesticated herbivore. A similar reversal, de‐domestication, is now occurring within landscape restoration practices. The process of de‐domestication is the return of herd cattle to their feral wanderings in the wild, without the limits of managed pasturing. Many land restoration projects are using the technique of animal impact to revitalize damaged grasslands, particularly wild herds trampling, grazing, and dunging at high impact for a short duration.

What becomes of the Parliament? The process of animal de‐domestication has raised ethical questions. What is the role of human management, particularly concerning feeding and veterinary assistance? But perhaps the greater question is that of the ethics of ecological health and animal welfare in the wild, given the Land Ethic. What are the ethical implications given the natural predation of successfully reintroduced carnivores upon herds of feral herbivores?

Catherine Seavitt Nordenson, The City College of New York, USA

Harvard Citation Guide: Seavitt Nordenson, C. (2012) De-domestication and the Wild: the carnivorous wolf and the feral herbivore, International Society for the Philosophy of Architecture, [blog] 20 May 2012, Available at: [Accessed: 01 June 2012].

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