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Ignoring Nature No More: Compassionate Conservation at Work

A new book introduces the interdisciplinary field of compassionate conservation

Compassionate conservation is a rapidly growing interdisciplinary and international movement. I've written about it in some previous essays including "Compassionate Conservation Finally Comes of Age: Killing in the name of conservation doesn't work". The first and highly successful meeting focusing on compassionate conservation was held in Oxford, England in early September 2010 (see also), the next gathering was held in Chengdu, China in June 2011, a workshop was convened in London, England in November 2012, and in February 2013 Dr. Daniel Ramp and I gave lectures on this topic at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia.

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The gathering in Sydney was called "Compassionate Conservation: Is recreational hunting defensible?" My talk was titled "First do no harm: Would you kill your dog for fun?" and Daniel Ramp's was called "Shooting Our Mouths Off About Conservation". Further information and interviews can be found here, a video of the talks can be seen here, and the uncorrected texts of the talks can be viewed here. Indeed, the topic of compassionate conservation is so important that there will be a symposium on this topic organized by Chris Draper of the Born Free Foundation at the International Congress for Conservation Biology in Baltimore, Maryland on July 24, 2013. 

The original meeting, sponsored by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and the Born Free Foundation, and the others focused on a number of major themes including nonhuman animal (animal) welfare and the conservation of wild animals, captive animal welfare and conservation, conservation consequences of wildlife rescue, rehabilitation and release, and the international trade in live wild animals. It is essential that field workers focus on protecting individual animals during their research. 

The guiding principles for compassionate conservation are a work in progress and include: 

RECOGNISING that wild animals, whether free-ranging or in captivity, may be affected by the intentional or unintentional actions of humans as well as the natural processes within ecosystems and the wider environment

RECOGNISING that many human activities, including those undertaken for a conservation purpose, may directly or indirectly cause harm to individual wild animals, populations, species, or ecosystems

RECOGNISING that both conservation and wild animal welfare should implicitly respect the inherent value of wild animals and the natural world, and that both disciplines should try to mitigate harms caused by humans to other species

BELIEVING that all harms to wild animals should be minimised wherever and to the extent possible, regardless of the human intention and purpose behind them

PROPOSING that the principles and actions that underpin Compassionate Conservation, by combining consideration of animal welfare and conservation, will lead to a reduction in harm and in the suffering of individual wild animals, and will improve conservation outcomes

Those who support compassionate conservation believe that we can accomplish more than could be achieved by applying either animal welfare or conservation practices without consideration of and, where appropriate, application of the other and agree that we shall, in our professional lives, seek to: identify, enhance and promote the commonalities between animal welfare and conservation; pursue, to the extent possible, best practice in these disciplines; and thereby work to achieve shared principles and undertake practical Compassionate Conservation actions.

Compassionate conservation focuses on the lives of individual animals 

Compassionate conservation focuses on the quality of life and well-being of individual animals. Many conservation biologists and environmentalists are willing to trade off individuals' lives for the perceived good or benefit of higher levels of organization such as ecosystems, populations, or their own or other species, and how to reconcile the well-being of individuals with these broader concerns is a topic of great interest for those who support compassionate conservation. The differences in the views and agendas of people who call themselves animal welfarists, animal rightists, and conservationists can be rather large and lead to very different outcomes. For example, some might argue that a specific project(s) needs to be put on hold until animal abuse is eliminated, or that a project(s) needs to be terminated if this is not possible. It's also possible, they argue, that some proposed projects must be shelved if they involve abusive treatment that compromises the lives of individual animals.

It's not surprising that some in the compassionate conservation movement want more rapid and radical changes than others. I discuss these topics in more detail here and they are also considered in great detail in my new book discussed below (see also and and). The important thing is to have people with different agendas talk with, and not at, one another. There's a lot of work to be done and I'm personally hopeful that more and more people will come to value the lives of individuals in their work and that compassionate conservation will lead the way. It's difficult for me to imagine that striving for a more compassionate world wouldn't be high on the agenda of everyone who has the opportunity and privilege of working with other animals. 

Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation

As a result of a long-time interest in compassionate conservation before the field had its name (see also and), I edited a book called Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also) that will appear shortly. The 26 essays, written by colleagues representing numerous disciplines and working in a number of different countries, were penned for a general audience as well as for researchers. They cover many "hot" topics in the general areas of conservation biology, conservation behavior (see also), conservation psychology (see also and), evolutionary biology, anthrozoology, and animal protection (animal welfare and animal rights). The description for the book is as follows:

For far too long humans have been ignoring nature. As the most dominant, overproducing, overconsuming, big-brained, big-footed, arrogant, and invasive species ever known, we are wrecking the planet at an unprecedented rate. And while science is important to our understanding of the impact we have on our environment, it alone does not hold the answers to the current crisis, nor does it get people to act. In Ignoring Nature No More, Marc Bekoff and a host of renowned contributors argue that we need a new mind-set about nature, one that centers on empathy, compassion, and being proactive.

This collection of diverse essays is the first book devoted to compassionate conservation, a growing global movement that translates discussions and concerns about the well-being of individuals, species, populations, and ecosystems into action. Written by leading scholars in a host of disciplines, including biology, psychology, sociology, social work, economics, political science, and philosophy, as well as by locals doing fieldwork in their own countries, the essays combine the most creative aspects of the current science of animal conservation with analyses of important psychological and sociocultural issues that encourage or vex stewardship. The contributors tackle topics including the costs and benefits of conservation, behavioral biology, media coverage of animal welfare, conservation psychology, and scales of conservation from the local to the global. Taken together, the essays make a strong case for why we must replace our habits of domination and exploitation with compassionate conservation if we are to make the world a better place for nonhuman and human animals alike.

Compassionate conservation is a wonderful "meeting place" for everyone concerned with protecting all animals

Compassionate conservation is no longer an oxymoron and lucky for the animals, there are people working hard to make their lives better who give us hope and inspiration so that the world our children inherit will be the best possible in a world that truly is not the best of all possible worlds because of our past activities. We must rewild our hearts and build corridors of compassion and co-existence that include all beings. We’re not the only show in town. We need to treat animals better or leave them alone. That is their manifesto

What animals feel matters to them and it must matter to us. The lives of individual animals must be taken very seriously and researchers must make this a priority (see also). We are responsible for who lives and who dies. We can do anything we want but this power does not give us the license to ruin a spectacularly beautiful planet, its wondrous webs of nature, and its magnificent nonhuman residents.

Those of us who can do something must do something now, not when it's "more convenient". Time is not on our side and the animals need all the help they can get. How exciting it is to work in the field of compassionate conservation with colleagues all over the world who come to the table with different and often competing interests, but with a shared goal of working hard to make the world a better place for all beings. As I wrote above, it's difficult for me to imagine that striving for a more compassionate world wouldn't be high on the agenda of everyone who has the opportunity and privilege of working with other animals. 

Compassionate conservation is a wonderful "meeting place" -- a much-needed paradigm shift and social movement -- for everyone concerned with protecting all animals. When we ignore nature we not only harm other animals but we do so at our own peril.

Note: On April 24th there will be a live discussion about compassionate conservation called "Animal Welfare and Conservation: two sides of the same coin?" sponsored by the Sentience Mosaic. The World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) launched this most welcomed, unique, and interactive platform dedicated to the science of nonhuman animal (animal) sentience. The Sentience Mosaic sits within the Animal Mosaic, a comprehensive and interactive online resource focused on animal welfare issues and their connections to wider social change. 

 

 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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