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The fatal flaws of compassionate conservation

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Climate change, overconsumption, land‐use intensification, widespread pollution, and other environmentally damaging factors are threatening Earth's biodiversity and its ability to provide ecosystem services essential for human survival. Article impact statement: Wallach et al.’s framing of compassionate conservation is flawed and impractical and could be dangerous for people, wildlife, and ecosystems. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved
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The fatal flaws of compassionate conservation
Meera Anna Oommen,1Rosie Cooney,2,3 Madhuri Ramesh,1Michael Archer,4Daniel Brockington,5
Bram Buscher,6,7, 8 Robert Fletcher,6Daniel J.D. Natusch,9Abi T. Vanak,10,11, 12
Grahame Webb,13,14, 15 and Kartik Shanker 1,16
1Dakshin Foundation, 1818, 5th Main, 9th Cross, Sahakar Nagar C Block, Bengaluru 560092, India
2IUCN CEESP/SSC Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Specialist Group, c/ Rue Mauverney 28, 1196, Gland, Switzerland
3Fenner School of Environment and Society, Australian National University, 0200 ACT, Australia
4PANGEA Research Center, School of Biological, Earth & Environmental Sciences, University of New South Wales Sydney, NSW,
2052, Australia
5Sheffield Institute for International Development, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, South Yorkshire S10 2TN, U.K.
6Sociology of Development and Change, Wageningen University, De Leeuwenborch, Hollandseweg 1, 6707 Wageningen, KN, The
Netherlands
7Department of Geography, Environmental Management and Energy Studies, University of Johannesburg, South Africa
8Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Stellenbosch University, Stellenbosch, South Africa
9Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, North Ryde, NSW 2109, Australia
10Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation, ATREE Royal Enclave, Sriramapura, Jakkur Post, Bengaluru 560064, India
11School of Life Sciences, University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban, South Africa
12DBT/Wellcome Trust India Alliance Fellow, Hyderabad, India
13Wildlife Management International Pty. Limited, P.O. Box 530 Karama, NT, 0813 Australia
14Research Institute for the Environment and Livelihoods, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, NT, 0909, Australia
15IUCN-SSC Crocodile Specialist Group, c/ Rue Mauverney 28, 1196, Gland, Switzerland
16Centre for Ecological Sciences Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, 560012, India
Introduction
Climate change, overconsumption, land-use intensifica-
tion, widespread pollution, and other environmentally
damaging factors are threatening Earth’s biodiversity and
its ability to provide ecosystem services essential for hu-
man survival. Efforts to address this systemic degradation
require a species- and ecosystem-based focus and an equal
focus on the well-being of people depending on wild
resources.
Instead, Wallach et al. (2018) champion the cause of
wildlife individuals as the primary focus for action under
the framework of compassionate conservation. Accord-
ing to them, compassionate conservation “aims to safe-
guard Earth’s biological diversity while retaining a com-
mitment to treating individuals with respect and concern
for their well-being.” The 4 key tenets of this approach
include: “do no harm; individuals matter; inclusivity; and
peaceful coexistence” (Wallach et al. 2018:1258). They
email kshanker@gmail.com
Article impact statement: Wallach et al.’s framing of compassionate conservation is flawed and impractical and could be dangerous for people,
wildlife, and ecosystems.
Paper submitted November 29, 2018; revised manuscript accepted February 6, 2019.
attempt to argue that compassionate conservation is the
ethically most defensible approach to conservation. We
agree that compassion is a laudable attribute, and sup-
port efforts to ensure ethical treatment of animals and
to reduce unnecessary suffering. But, Wallach et al. pro-
pose an alarmingly simplistic approach based on concern
for the welfare of individual wild animals irrespective of
whether the focus on individuals threatens the survival
of other life forms, including human beings, or actually
delivers on conservation goals.
Our view is that compassionate conservation as con-
ceptualized by Wallach et al. is seriously flawed. Com-
passion need not preclude humanely killing an animal if
that reduces the animal’s suffering, enhances the survival
of the species or its habitat, or safeguards human life or
other more threatened species. But Wallach et al. argue
that to be compassionate, one should not kill animals
for any reason. Furthermore, it is deeply problematic
that proponents of compassionate conservation claim the
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Conservation Biology,Volume0,No.0,14
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2019 Society for Conservation Biology
DOI: 10.1111/cobi.13329
2Compassionate Conservation Flaws
concept is ethically expansive when it focuses on the
well-being of individual wild animals without adequately
considering the well-being or worldviews of the many
humans who live in proximity to wildlife. Better conser-
vation practice requires that conservation professionals
recognize the outcomes and consequences of their rec-
ommendations and actions (Saberwal & Kothari 1996;
Jacobson & McDuff 1998).
Taken as a whole, Wallach et al.’s assertions: ignore or
misrepresent a range of multidisciplinary insights that
augment long-term conservation, including from ecol-
ogy, anthropology, psychology, and history; ignore and
potentially threaten the lives, livelihoods, and world-
views of indigenous peoples and local communities, es-
pecially resource-dependent communities in the devel-
oping world; and are simplistic in that they expect that
one moral code can be applied globally without compro-
mising ethical and moral obligations to humans.
Moreover, the evidence Wallach et al. assembled to
support compassionate conservation is far from convinc-
ing. To highlight their erroneous assertions, we examine
the limitations of their proposed universal moral code
based on sentience. We also question their portrayal of In-
dia, a country that opposes the killing and use of wildlife,
as a model for compassionate conservation. Through this,
we seek to reveal the links between conservation ideals,
practice, and outcomes in order to advocate for a conse-
quentialist approach.
Sentience and Morality
The practical human costs of overplaying the moral
salience of sentience and sapience in nonhuman animals
are non-trivial. Neumann (2004) cautions against conser-
vationists indulging in moral extensionism or humaniza-
tion of wild animals and the artificial attribution of moral
standing to nonhuman agents. He points to the influence
of these new moral and discursive geographies in African
parks, where violence has become normalized through
the execution of suspected human villains (poachers),
effectively imposing capital punishment without due pro-
cess. This radical reordering of the moral standing of
African poachers (and resource users) in relation to wild
animals does not recognize the fact that the former are of-
ten the product of difficult social, economic, and political
circumstances well beyond their control or are assuming
traditional roles relative to wildlife that have suddenly
been deemed unacceptable by conservationists.
Although Wallach et al. arrive at compassionate conser-
vation from the perspective of virtue ethics, their ideas
contribute to a distinct culture of personalizing and an-
thropomorphizing animals. Jepson et al. (2011) point out
that transposing such concepts (e.g., elephants as com-
panion species) to species involved in human-wildlife
conflict trivializes the devastating violence people living
in shared spaces have to contend with. They call for the
inclusion of more subaltern and local views and specif-
ically for the incorporation of “non-European ways of
speaking for the elephant” (p. 172).
Local views can be remarkably compassionate. In many
rural and traditional societies, wildlife—even that in-
volved in significant conflict—is located within networks
of reciprocal relations. Compassion and reverence for an-
imals often go hand in hand with a multifaceted range of
relationships that include eliminating problem animals,
hunting for meat and sport, and deriving benefits from
them, including religious and spiritual succor and com-
panionship. Even dangerous species are incorporated
into such frameworks, and individual animals involved in
conflict are treated differently but in accordance with lo-
cal worldviews (e.g., crocodiles [Pooley 2016]; elephants
[Bird-David 1999]; leopards [Ghosal & Kjosavik 2015]).
The problem with simplifying these relationships is (as,
ironically, Wallach et al. themselves say) that it ends up
“estranging conservation from prevailing social values”
(p. 1261).
The Poor Man’s India
Wallach et al. frame India as a model country through
assertions that are at best uninformed. Stringing together
arguments based on constitutional animal protection ju-
risprudence (the origins of which are highly antisec-
ular), supposed low meat consumption, assumed gen-
eral opposition to hunting, and poor characterization
of conservation performance, the authors present India
as an example that brings together the best principles
of compassion to animals and conservation. Not only is
this representation of India based on fallacious assertions
about meat eating, its model of conservation can be de-
scribed as compassionate and successful only if endur-
ing and widespread brutality, impoverishment, coercion,
and exclusion of marginalized communities by elites are
ignored.
Wallach et al. portray India as a country with low
meat consumption and production. But both historical
and contemporary work on food habits in India reveal
otherwise. An overwhelming majority of the population
are not vegetarians, including nearly 80% of Indians over
15 years old (Census of India 2014). India is the second
largest bovine meat exporter globally (FAO 2018). Many
traditional societies in India also have long histories of
hunting and harvesting animals. It is correct that per
capita meat consumption is relatively low in compari-
son with Western levels. But this reflects the fact that
India has the largest number of food-insecure people
(FAO 2015); their limited access to animal protein is often
linked to poverty and malnutrition.
The authors also overlook the critical fact that the food
hierarchy in India is a function of an oppressive social
Conservation Biology
Volume 0, No. 0, 2019
Oommenetal. 3
structure and heavily tied to power differentials between
groups. The meat-eating habits of poor and marginalized
sections of society, such as dalit groups, are often con-
sidered polluting by the dominant (typically vegetarian)
castes and are subject to public criticism. While the re-
cent ban on cow slaughter is couched by its proponents
in terms of agricultural efficiency, ahimsa (nonviolence),
and compassion, it has resulted in a spate of beef lynch-
ings, in which people from minority groups have been
killed for allegedly killing cows. Escalating communal vio-
lence across the country demonstrates the not-so-benign
(and highly uncompassionate) consequences of pursuing
compassion for animals but not people (Ramdas 2018).
The compassionate conservation Wallach et al. advocate
is in fact aligned with fundamentalist, divisive ideologies
that perpetrate violence. Can conservation that is so so-
cially oppressive truly be considered compassionate?
Wallach et al. also fail to acknowledge that a primary
orientation toward a preservationist agenda combined
with the so-called compassionate animal rights laws in
India can be deeply problematic in the context of increas-
ing human–wildlife conflict. Each year, several hundred
human and many elephant deaths are reported due to
encounters with each other. More dramatically, there
are an estimated 20,000 deaths caused annually by ra-
bies (Hampson et al. 2015) and 40,000 human fatalities
from snakebite (Mohapatra et al. 2011). However, animal
rights agendas and general prohibitions on culling and
lethal control prevent targeted control or the elimination
of problematic groups, such as stray dogs, even when the
victims of attacks are often small children. Wallach et al.
do not address the fact that, in such situations, failure
to eliminate dangerous animals due to misguided and
excessively narrow ethics can have lethal consequences
for people and other animals.
Conclusion
There are fundamental flaws with compassionate conser-
vation. It is the product of blinkered thinking—a failure to
understand the interconnected nature of living creatures
and a heedless disregard for the current scale of environ-
mental and social problems. Human dimensions apart,
this philosophical agenda is counterproductive in the
long run because it is predicated on the presumption that
the welfare of individual animals should be inviolate, re-
gardless of practical conservation outcomes. Within this
framework, programs that manage entire populations,
species, or habitats based on consumptive sustainable
use (e.g., Fukuda et al. 2011; Naidoo et al. 2016) cannot
be supported, regardless of conservation success.
Ignoring the consequences of conservation action on
human well-being, especially if the goal is to be “ethically
expansive,” is problematic. As Guha (1989) argues in his
critique of deep ecology, the social consequences of uni-
versalizing ideas such as compassionate conservation in
places with different sociocultural moorings can result in
significant problems, typically with the worst outcomes
for already marginalized humans. As practicing conser-
vationists, biologists, and social scientists, we argue that
conservation needs to be responsive to the complexity
of real-world situations. Theoretical platforms for conser-
vation that ignore empirical practice and political contes-
tation are unlikely to be just, effective, or sustainable.
The ethical and moral foundations of all societies are
strongly context dependent. Conservationists should not
presume that one set of anthropomorphized, culturally
specific values is universally applicable to all and inde-
pendent of regional factors or local politics (Gavin et al.
2018). We therefore argue for a broader, culturally in-
formed approach to conservation that fully considers and
utilizes the diversity of values and uses of nature.
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Wildlife conservation and management (WCM) practices have been historically drawn from a wide variety of academic fields, yet practitioners have been slow to engage with emerging conversations about animals as complex beings, whose individuality and sociality influence their relationships with humans. We propose an explicit acknowledgement of wild, nonhuman animals as active participants in WCM. We examined 190 studies of WCM interventions and outcomes to highlight 3 common assumptions that underpin many present approaches to WCM: animal behaviors are rigid and homogeneous; wildlife exhibit idealized wild behavior and prefer pristine habitats; and human–wildlife relationships are of marginal or secondary importance relative to nonhuman interactions. We found that these management interventions insufficiently considered animal learning, decision‐making, individuality, sociality, and relationships with humans and led to unanticipated detrimental outcomes. To address these shortcomings, we synthesized theoretical advances in animal behavioral sciences, animal geographies, and animal legal theory that may help conservation professionals reconceptualize animals and their relationships with humans. Based on advances in these fields, we constructed the concept of animal agency, which we define as the ability of animals to actively influence conservation and management outcomes through their adaptive, context‐specific, and complex behaviors that are predicated on their sentience, individuality, lived experiences, cognition, sociality, and cultures in ways that shape and reshape shared human–wildlife cultures, spaces, and histories. Conservation practices, such as compassionate conservation, convivial conservation, and ecological justice, incorporate facets of animal agency. Animal agency can be incorporated in conservation problem‐solving by assessing the ways in which agency contributes to species’ survival and by encouraging more adaptive and collaborative decision‐making among human and nonhuman stakeholders. Article impact statement: Incorporating animal agency into wildlife conservation and management can lead to more effective, nuanced, and just outcomes. Aunque las prácticas de gestión y conservación de fauna (GCF) han partido históricamente de una gama amplia de áreas académicas, los practicantes se han visto lentos para participar en las conversaciones emergentes sobre los animales como seres complejos, cuya individualidad y sociabilidad influyen sobre sus relaciones con los humanos. Proponemos un reconocimiento explícito de los animales no humanos silvestres como participantes activos en la GCF. Para esto, examinamos 190 estudios sobre las intervenciones y los resultados de GCF para resaltar tres supuestos comunes que respaldan a muchas estrategias actuales de GCF: el comportamiento animal es rígido y homogéneo, la fauna exhibe un comportamiento silvestre idealizado y prefiere hábitats prístinos, y las relaciones humano‐fauna son de importancia marginal o secundaria en relación con las interacciones no humanas. Descubrimos que estas intervenciones de gestión no consideran lo suficientemente el aprendizaje, toma de decisiones, individualidad, sociabilidad y relaciones con los humanos de los animales, por lo que llevan a resultados imprevistos y perjudiciales. Para lidiar con estas limitaciones, sintetizamos los avances teóricos que han tenido las ciencias dedicadas al comportamiento animal, la geografía animal y la teoría legal animal que pueden ayudar a los profesionales de la conservación a reformular el concepto de animal y sus relaciones con los humanos. Con base en los avances en estas áreas construimos el concepto de agencia animal, el cual definimos como la habilidad que tienen los animales para influir activamente sobre la conservación y los resultados de manejo por medio de su comportamiento adaptativo, complejo y específico al contexto, los cuales están basados en su sensibilidad, individualidad, experiencias vividas, conocimiento, sociabilidad y culturas, de manera que construyen y reconstruyen las culturas, espacios e historias humano‐fauna. Las prácticas de conservación, como la conservación compasiva, la conservación acogedora y la justicia ecológica, incorporan facetas de la agencia animal. La agencia animal puede incorporarse en la solución de los problemas de conservación al evaluar las formas en las que la agencia contribuye a la supervivencia de la especie y al alentar una toma de decisiones más adaptativa y colaborativa entre los actores humanos y los no humanos. 【摘要】野生动物保护和管理的实践历来来自于各种学术领域, 但动物作为复杂生命体, 其个性和社会性影响着它们与人类的关系, 因此实践者很难跟上关于动物不断涌现的讨论。我们建议应明确承认野生非人类动物是野生动物保护和管理的积极参与者。我们调查了关于野生动物保护和管理的干预和结果的190项研究, 并指出目前许多野生动物保护和管理方法的三个常见假设:动物行为是刻板和同质的;野生动物表现出理想化的野生行为, 喜欢原始的栖息地;相比于动物与非人类的互动, 人类与野生动物的关系是边缘或次要的。我们发现这些管理干预措施没有充分考虑到动物的学习、决策、个性、社会性以及与人类的关系, 引起了意想不到的有害结果。为了解决这些缺陷, 我们综合了动物行为科学、动物地理学和动物法律理论方面的理论进展, 这些知识有助于保护专家重新认识动物及其与人类的关系。这些学科深入研究了动物的知觉、适应性、个性、集体决策以及对人类共享环境的参与。基于这些领域的进展, 我们构建了动物能动性的概念, 定义为动物通过其适应性、特定环境和复杂的行为积极影响保护和管理结果的能力, 这些行为是建立在它们的知觉、个性、生活经验、认知、社会性和文化之上的, 其方式塑造和重塑了人类与野生动物共有的文化、空间和历史。保护实践, 如同情心保护、和谐性保护和生态正义, 都包含了动物能动性的各个层面。通过评估动物能动性对物种生存的贡献, 以及鼓励人类和非人类利益相关者之间更多的适应性和合作性决策, 可以将动物能动性纳入到保护问题的解决方案之中。【翻译: 胡怡思; 审校 : 聂永刚】
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