Animal welfare and conservation: conflicting philosophies?

McMahon, C.R.,Harcourt.R.,Bateson,P.,Hindell,M.A. (2012). Animal welfare and decision making in wildlife research. Biological Conservation,153,254-256.


We are currently experiencing a biodiversity crisis, with species being lost at rates 100–1000 times greater than average historical rates. Animal biology and ecology research is vital to enable conservation.

The authors state that wildlife scientists are increasingly facing difficulties in conducting research on wildlife due to opposition from animal welfare scientists and advocates. These difficulties arise because in some cases collecting information for conservation purposes may involve invasive research, which animal welfare advocates may deem as unacceptable. 

Decision making

The Bateson’s cube was first proposed in 1986. It is a three dimensional decision tool used to assess the trade-off of animal suffering, the importance of the research, and the potential benefits of the research. This can then be used to decide if the proposed research should be conducted. To date this tool has been used in medical and behavioural research, however it had not been embraced by conservation biologists or animal welfare scientists. The authors suggest that if used appropriately the cube could be used to assess the trade-offs between animal suffering and conservation benefit, and reduce some of the complexities of the conservation approach.

The authors conclude that by applying the principles of the Bateson’s cube conservationists can assess and highlight the benefits of their work in the same way that medical research has done for many years.

World Animal Protection’s view

We agree with the authors that conservation and animal welfare scientists need to be aware of the trade-offs between animal suffering and conservation benefits. We are currently managing animals for conservation benefits in- situ and ex situ at an extraordinary rate, as a result of the current biodiversity crisis we face. We believe when researching and managing these animals to preserve populations we must remember that these are individual beings entitled to a ‘good life’.