The need for more compassionate conservation

Ramp, D., & Bekoff, M. (2015). Compassion as a Practical and Evolved Ethic for Conservation. BioScience, 65 (3), 323-327. 

In recent years, it has come to light that ethical considerations of individual animals should have a larger precedence in the field of conservation. This article discusses the relatively new concept of ‘compassionate conservation’ as a method of tackling this issue.

Despite conservation being a field which largely aims to protect animals as well as their environment, conservation scientists have often had a contradiction in values. In the past, it has commonly been thought that animal welfare acts as an impediment to conservation, and as such species and ecosystem welfare have frequently taken precedence over individual welfare. However, recently there has been a growing concern that conservation efforts which benefit some animals comes at cost to others, often resulting in stress, injury or death. Although this is often justified on a utilitarian basis (acceptable for the greater good), with the human and conservation benefits outweighing individual animal concerns, the trade-off is now being questioned and re-evaluated. This issue affects wild animals in particular as their individual welfare is not as well protected by legislation as domesticated or captive animals.  Additionally, there is inequality between the protection of certain species, with a positive bias for flagship species.

Bringing compassion into conservation

Compassionate conservation, a relatively recently-coined term, states that we need a conservation ethic that incorporates the protection of other animals as individuals, not just as members of a population of species.

“Although species welfare, with its focus on the prevention of extinction, is a vital and admirable conservation objective, the welfare of individuals and their social groups should also be considered as important.”

This would allow empathy and ethics to be brought into conservation effort decision-making. It also acknowledges the importance of recognising that animals are sentient beings and possess individual intrinsic values, and so they should be protected from harm. One example of an implementation of compassionate conservation is the successful management of predators using fencing, fladry or guard animals as deterrents rather than resorting to shooting, trapping, or poisoning programmes.

The practical implementations of conservation that provide good welfare outcomes for individuals, and not just for the species on the whole, are no longer unattainable ideas, but are becoming a reality.

World Animal Protection’s view

World Animal Protection believes that the welfare of individual animals should be considered in any conservation programme. We welcome the principles of compassionate conservation, and encourage this important area of work to continue to grow. 

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