An obscure division of the US government had a busy – and ruthless – year in 2021, killing more than 1.75 million animals across the country, at a rate of about 200 creatures every hour.
The latest annual toll of Wildlife Services, a department within the US Department of Agriculture, has further stoked the fury of conservation groups that have decried the killings as cruel and pointless. Wildlife Services maintains the slaughter is necessary to protect agricultural output, threatened species and human health.
The 2021 toll shows the killings span a Noah’s Ark of species, including alligators, armadillos, doves, owls, otters, porcupines, snakes and turtles. European starlings alone accounted for more than 1m of the animals killed. A single moose was shot, along with a solitary antelope and, accidentally, a bald eagle.
Wildlife Services targets certain invasive species that it considers a threat to ecosystems, such as feral hogs and a type of giant swamp rodent called nutria, but it also, controversially, kills vast numbers of America’s native species.