Do children care about endangered animals?

Ruckert, J. H. (2016). Justice For All? Children’s Moral Reasoning about the Welfare and Rights of Endangered Species. Anthrozoös, 29(2), 205-217.

The future of conservation relies on the current generation of children possessing a responsibility for the environment around them. In order to help determine the level of concern children show for animal welfare and biodiversity conservation, this study looked into children’s moral concerns for endangered animals.

This study investigated children’s moral concerns for endangered animals, and how this develops with age. Three questions were investigated during the study. Firstly, do young children conceive not harming an endangered animal as a moral obligation? Secondly, do children use biocentric (nature-centred) moral reasoning? Thirdly, does a developmental shift in biocentric reasoning occur between the ages of 7 and 10 years old? To answer the questions, 52 children were individually interviewed. Half of the children were 7 years old and half were 10 years old, with an even ratio of male and female participants. The locally-known gray wolf was used as an example of an endangered animal. The interview focused on four topic areas: environmental understanding (e.g. ‘Do you know what an endangered animal is?’), environmental moral obligation (e.g. ‘Is it alright to kill gray wolves?’), animal rights (e.g. ‘Do gray wolves have the right to be wild and free?’), and justifications (is something ok in certain circumstances?).

Children do show moral concern, which is likely to increase with age

The majority of children understood the term ‘endangered’, and knew the leading factors that could cause extinction or loss of biodiversity. They also greatly supported the notion of feeling morally obliged to not harm the gray wolf, and endorsed animal rights in general. From the responses, a typology of seven rights that all animals possess were suggested by the children. These included the need and right to have food, companionship, a mate and offspring, habitat, play/exercise, good welfare and autonomy. Biocentrism was seen in the children’s reasoning, with higher rates of biocentrism seen here than in any previous research.

The results demonstrated that there were differences of attitudes between the age groups. Older children displayed a deeper understanding of the type of ‘rights’ an animal should have, including acknowledging that animals and humans do not share the same rights, but that they have different needs that should be met. Overall, older children were significantly more likely to endorse autonomy and biocentrism to a higher degree, showing that understanding of issues and concern often increases with age.

World Animal Protection’s view

World Animal Protection believes that understanding people’s attitudes to animals is vital. Only then can we work towards conserving endangered species and improving animal welfare.