Zombies as an Invasive Species: A Resource Economics Perspective

Excerpt from Chapter 16, by Michael O’Hara

Zombies reproduce themselves by killing and turning human beings, which a single zombie can do theoretically without limit. There is no minimum sustainable breeding population as there is for other species. Only one zombie is needed to sustain a population—sometimes not even that, as long as the original cause of the corpse reanimation remains. Although zombies do not need to eat to survive, they do have a great hunger and compete for food with other species. In effect, zombies eat and reproduce in the same act, since feeding on a victim generally transforms that victim into another zombie.

The closest, though certainly not perfect, known parallel to the zombie invasion can be found in the spread of feral hogs in an increasing number of states in the United States. Like zombies, wild hogs start out as a domesticated and economically productive species. But once exposed to the wild, hogs quickly transform into a different version of themselves, becoming very aggressive and even changing their physical characteristics. They are extremely destructive of the habitats of other species, multiply very quickly, and are effective carriers of disease. Unlike zombies, they are not undead, and their bite cannot change another creature into a wild hog, but they offer the closest comparison available to us for analyzing the effects of policy intervention. Studying efforts to control the costs of feral hogs can inform our economic analysis of zombies.

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Even if total eradication were possible, it is not necessarily clear that it would be desirable. Part of the difficulty of addressing the feral hog issue is that some people, such as farmers, consider the species to be a pest, while others, most notably hunters, see them as a benefit.9 A central component of New York’s feral hog eradication plan is a policy of “killing, but not hunting” the species. This means that if a feral hog is seen on one’s property, it should be killed on sight, but organized hunting efforts should not be directed at the species. The motivation behind this policy is that when hunting efforts are concentrated on feral hog populations, this tends to drive the animals into other areas seeking refuge and so spreads the invasion more quickly than it might have spread without the hunting pressure. But some states have actively recruited hunters to assist in the control of feral hogs by encouraging hunting at any time, without need of a permit, and the state of Texas has even gone as far as to allow hunting from a helicopter.10 This moves policy into the area of adaptation, since the benefits the hogs provide as a recreational hunting species as well as a tasty food source partially offset the costs they impose in ecosystem damage.

While zombies will never be much desired as table fare, they could provide economic benefits as a recreational hunting species. There is no danger of this spreading the invasion, since, by their nature, zombies are drawn toward hunters rather than away. Thus, hunting pressure will tend to concentrate them in an area and keep them from spreading. The demand for the thrill of zombie hunting is well documented by the popularity of games such as Resident Evil and Left 4 Dead. The same characteristics that make zombies an invasive species par excellence also make them a unique sport-hunting species. They require none of the basic needs of most species. They do not need to be fed or provided with shelter, making them very low cost to keep in a maintained hunting-preserve environment. They can withstand a wide variety of environmental conditions, allowing hunting to be conducted in any season or weather. In fact, their popularity as a sport species might in itself lead to their extinction.

But we also have the option of maintaining zombie hunting as a sustainable recreational sport. Zombies have the unique attribute of not dying, so unlike any other hunting species, they could be reused in multiple hunts. This is, of course, subject to the caveat that damage to the brain will deactivate a zombie permanently. But this could be avoided in a sport context by sheltering the head of the zombie with a helmet in order to slow the loss of stock. Perhaps higher-paying clients could purchase a head-shot permit, allowing the true “kill,” while bargain permits would allow shooting at the zombies without a terminal blow. This would allow the sport to be available to a wider range of social classes in the population, so that zombie hunting might be enjoyed by all.

9. “Why Are Feral Pigs So Hard to Control?” The Economist Explains, May 15, 2013, accessed October 14, 2013, http://www.economist.com/blogs/economist-explains/2013/05/economist-explains-why-feral-pigs-hard-control.
10. “Feral Pigs: Pork, Chopped,” The Economist, May 4, 2013, accessed October 14, 2013, http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21577096-pesky-tasty-addition-landscape-porkchopped.

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