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Compassionate conservation focuses on 4 tenets: first, do no harm; individuals matter; inclusivity of individual animals; and peaceful coexistence between humans and animals. Recently, compassionate conservation has been promoted as an alternative to conventional conservation philosophy. We believe examples presented by compassionate conservationists are deliberately or arbitrarily chosen to focus on mammals; inherently not compassionate; and offer ineffective conservation solutions. Compassionate conservation arbitrarily focuses on charismatic species, notably large predators and megaherbivores. The philosophy is not compassionate when it leaves invasive predators in the environment to cause harm to vastly more individuals of native species or uses the fear of harm by apex predators to terrorize mesopredators. Hindering the control of exotic species (megafauna, predators) in situ will not improve the conservation condition of the majority of biodiversity. The positions taken by so-called compassionate conservationists on particular species and on conservation actions could be extended to hinder other forms of conservation, including translocations, conservation fencing, and fertility control. Animal welfare is incredibly important to conservation, but ironically compassionate conservation does not offer the best welfare outcomes to animals and is often ineffective in achieving conservation goals. Consequently, compassionate conservation may threaten public and governmental support for conservation because of the limited understanding of conservation problems by the general public. © 2019 Society for Conservation Biology.
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Deconstructing compassionate conservation
Matt W. Hayward 1, 2, 3, Alex Callen1, Benjamin L. Allen 4, Guy Ballard 5, Femke
Broekhuis 6, Cassandra Bugir 1, Rohan. H. Clarke 7, John Clulow 1, Simon Clulow1, 8, Jennifer
C. Daltry 9, Harriet T. Davies-Mostert 3, 10, Peter J. S. Fleming 5, Andrea S. Griffin 11,
Lachlan G. Howell 1, Graham I. H. Kerley 2, Kaya Klop-Toker1, Sarah Legge 12, Tom Major
13, Ninon Meyer 14, Robert A. Montgomery 15, Katherine Moseby 16,17, Daniel M. Parker 18,
Stéphanie Périquet 19, John Read 20, Robert Scanlon 1, Rebecca Seeto 1, Craig Shuttleworth 21,
Michael J. Somers 3, 22, Cottrell T. Tamessar 1, Katherine Tuft 17, Rose Upton1, Marcia
Valenzuela-Molina 23, Adrian Wayne 24, Ryan R. Witt 1 , Wolfgang Wüster 13
1 School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle,
Callaghan, New South Wales 2308, Australia, email
2 Centre for African Conservation Ecology, Nelson Mandela University,
University Way, Summerstrand, Port Elizabeth 6019, South Africa
3 Mammal Research Institute, University of Pretoria, Lynwood Road, Hatfield
0028, Pretoria, South Africa
4 University of Southern Queensland, Institute for Life Sciences and the
Environment, West Street, Toowoomba, Queensland 4350, Australia
5 School of Environmental and Rural Science, University of New England,
Northern Ring Road, Armidale, New South Wales 2351, Australia and Vertebrate Pest
Research Unit, NSW Department of Primary Industries, Orange, New South Wales 2800,
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6 WildCRU, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, Tubney House,
Abington Road, Oxford OX135QL, U.K.
7 School of Biological Sciences, Monash University, Wellington Road, Clayton,
Victoria 3168, Australia
8 Department of Biological Sciences, Macquarie University, Balclava Road,
Sydney, New South Wales 2019, Australia
9 Fauna & Flora International, The David Attenborough Building, Pembroke
Street, Cambridge CB23QZ, U.K.
10 Endangered Wildlife Trust, Pinelands Office Park, Building K2, Ardeer Road,
Modderfontein 1609, Johannesburg , South Africa.
11 School of Psychology, University of Newcastle, University Drive, Callaghan,
New South Wales 2308, Australia
12 Centre for Biodiversity Conservation Science, University of Queensland,
University Drive, St Lucia, QLD 4072, Australia and Fenner School of Environment and
Society, The Australian National University, Linnaeus Way, Acton, Canberra, Australian
Capital Territory 2601, Australia.
13 College of Natural Sciences, Bangor University, College Road, Gwynedd
LL572DG, U.K.
14 Fondation Yaguara Panama, Ciudad del Saber, calle Luis Bonilla, Panama
City 0843 03081, Panama
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15 Research on the Ecology of Carnivores and their Prey (RECaP) Laboratory,
Department of Fisheries and Wildlife, Michigan State University, 220 Trowbridge Road, East
Lansing, Michigan 48824, U.S.A.
16 The University of New South Wales, School of Biological, Earth and
Environmental Sciences, ANZAC Parade, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia
17 Arid Recovery, Roxby Downs, South Australia 5725, Australia
18 Wildlife and Reserve Management Research Group, Department of Zoology
and Entomology, Rhodes University, Drosty Road, Grahamstown 6139 South Africa and
School of Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Mpumalanga, D725,
Mbombela 1200 South Africa
19 Ongava Research Centre, P.O. Box 640 Outjo, 21005 Namibia
20 University of Adelaide, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences,
Kintore Avenue, South Australia 5005, Australia
21 College of Natural Sciences, College Road, Bangor University, Gwynedd,
LL572DG Wales, U.K.
22 Centre for Invasion Biology, University of Pretoria, Lynwood Road, Hatfield
0028 , Pretoria, South Africa
23 Instituto Politécnico Nacional, Centro Interdisciplinario de Ciencias Marinas,
Av. Instituto Politécnico Nacional s/n Col. Playa Palo de Santa Rita, C.P. 23096 La Paz,
B.C.S., México
24 Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions, Brain Street,
Manjimup, Western Australia 6258, Australia
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Running head: Compassionate Conservation
Keywords: evidence-based conservation, animal welfare, animal rights, effective
conservation, invasives, invasive species, lethal control, translocation
Article Impact Statement: Compassionate conservation has an arbitrary focus on mammals,
lacks compassion, and offers ineffective conservation solutions
Compassionate conservation focuses on 4 tenets: first, do no harm; individuals matter;
inclusivity of individual animals; and peaceful coexistence between humans and animals.
Recently, compassionate conservation has been promoted as an alternative to conventional
conservation philosophy. We believe examples presented by compassionate conservationists
are deliberately or arbitrarily chosen to focus on mammals; inherently not compassionate;
and offer ineffective conservation solutions. Compassionate conservation arbitrarily focuses
on charismatic species, notably large predators and megaherbivores. The philosophy is not
compassionate when it leaves invasive predators in the environment to cause harm to vastly
more individuals of native species or uses the fear of harm by apex predators to terrorize
mesopredators. Hindering the control of exotic species (megafauna, predators) in situ will not
improve the conservation condition of the majority of biodiversity even if compassionate
conservationists do no harm to individuals of the exotic species. The positions taken by so-
called compassionate conservationists on particular species and on conservation actions could
be extended to hinder other forms of conservation, including translocations, conservation
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fencing, and fertility control. Animal welfare is incredibly important to conservation, but
ironically compassionate conservation does not offer the best welfare outcomes to animals
and is often ineffective in achieving conservation goals. Consequently, compassionate
conservation may threaten public and governmental support for conservation because of the
general publics‘ limited understanding of conservation problems.
The relationship between the welfare of individual animals and a holistic ecosystem
perspective has evolved since the inception of conservation as a science. In his initial
definition of conservation biology, Soulé (1985) adopted Aldo Leopold‘s land ethic, whereby
the individual is a member of a community of interdependent parts that include the
environment (Leopold 1949). This perspective conflicted with the individualism philosophies
promoting animal welfare at the time (Regan 1983; Singer 1990). Thereafter, due concern for
individual animal welfare was slowly introduced into conservation theory and practice (Web
of Science search of ―conservation‖ AND ―animal welfareon 9 May 2019 returned <30
publications/year from 1995 to 2004 and over 1100 records in 2018), but only as an ancillary
individualistic ethic to the principal holistic conservation ethic that culminated in
―International Consensus Principles for Ethical Wildlife Control‖ (Dubois et al. 2017). But
beginning with Bekoff (2010) and later Wallach and Ramp and their coauthors (Ramp 2013;
Ramp et al. 2013; Ramp & Bekoff 2015; Wallach & Ramp 2015; Wallach et al. 2015;
Wallach et al. 2018a; Wallach et al. 2018b), a new philosophy compassionate conservation-
-emerged that aims to make the welfare of individual animals the primary tenet of
conservation, thereby attempting to make the compassionate tail wag the conservation dog.
Compassion (or, less specifically, concern for individual animal welfare) has already become
an important aspect of best practices in conservation. However, the conflict is increasing
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between those who believe individual animal welfare is paramount and those who believe
conservation of entire populations at the landscape level is the primary goal. Bekoff, Ramp,
and Wallach‘s perspective of compassionate conservation advocates subordinating
traditional conservation concern for biodiversity to concern for the welfare of individual
animals. This may be considered radical compassionate conservation, but published
perspectives from less extreme compassionate conservationists to confidently conclude this
are lacking.
Mainstream conservationists are only beginning to recognize the risks of elements of
the compassionate conservation philosophy (Fleming & Ballard 2018; Oommen et al. 2019;
Rohwer & Marris 2019; Driscoll & Watson 2019). At a time when resources for conservation
are stretched and urgent action is required conservationists must focus on maximizing
conservation success or they risk losing critical funding and support in favour of inefficient
and ineffective strategies. We examined compassionate conservation to determine how this
philosophy could hinder the conservation of biodiversity. We acknowledge that concern for
the welfare of individual animals has an important place in conservation ethics. Debate on
this matter is timely because most mainstream conservationists are keen to embrace ethical
concern for individual animals as an important element in conservation best practices, but
only to the extent that it is consistent with landscape-level methods of protecting native
biodiversity that are measurably successful.
Examples of compassionate conservation
Proponents of compassionate conservation have identified several conservation
actions they deem compassionate. Wallach et al. (2015) promote the cessation of killing in
the name of conservation by arguing that it often has unintended consequences. They go on
to identify culling programmes aimed at reducing the impact of introduced cane toads
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(Rhinella marina ) on Australian native fauna, gray wolves (Canis lupus ) on woodland
caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou), and introduced European red foxes (Vulpes vulpes ) on
Australian native fauna. Killing for conservation is therefore considered unjustified because
the costs to individuals are certain and the benefits to populations and ecosystems are not
(Vucetich & Nelson 2007), despite clear evidence of benefits, in Australia at least. Wallach et
al. (2015) provide examples of animal control where the benefits were questionable;
however, these examples can be countered equally by others illustrating clear benefits. In
Australia controlling red foxes vastly improves survival and persistence of native marsupials
(e.g., Kinnear et al. 2010); in Europe controlling introduced eastern grey squirrels (Sciurus
carolinensis ) has allowed the native red squirrel (S. vulgaris ) to persist and expand its range
(Shuttleworth et al. 2015); and in South Africa controlling introduced Himalayan tahr
(Hemitragus jemlahicus ) has improved the plight of the endemic fynbos biodiversity hotspot
(Rebelo et al. 2011).
Key members of the Centre for Compassionate Conservation
conservation) promote the idea of leaving non-native megafauna in situ and unchecked to
increase the number of megafauna species present in various countries (Lundgren et al.
2018). This proposition would leave exotic species, such as camels (Camelus dromedarius),
horses (Equus callabus), and donkeys (E. asinus), unchecked in Australia despite the clear
evidence of the damage they do to human, bird, amphibian, mammal, and plant communities
(Nimmo & Miller 2007; Beever et al. 2018). Despite cats (Felis catus ) being present in
Australia since only 1788 (Abbott 2002) and the ecological devastation this species has
caused there (Woinarski et al. 2015), compassionate conservationists advocate for the
reclassification of feral cats to a native species in Australia (Wallach & Ramp 2015). Others
promote leaving drug-lord Pablo Escobar‘s introduced African hippopotamus population
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(Hippopotamus amphibius ) in Colombia (Dembitzer 2017). The general understanding of
conservation is premised on nativism that native species are of more value to their
ecosystems than non-native species. Nativism and what constitutes a native species is debated
in the literature (Peretti 1998; Simberloff 2012; Wallach et al. 2018a), but there is ample
evidence of the ecological damage caused by non-native species, and they remain a key threat
to biodiversity (Salo et al. 2007).
Another implicit assumption in compassionate conservation recommendations for
invasive animal management is that predation by nonhuman animals on other animals is more
desirable, on ethical grounds, than predation by humans. From the killed animal‘s viewpoint,
however, it is irrelevant who or what the predator is, and only humans show any compassion
for their prey or concern for their welfare (Lewis et al. 2017). The methods used by
professionals to kill animals for conservation purposes will almost always be more humane
and compassionate than the methods used by animals to kill each other (Allen et al. 2019).
Defining conservation
Conservation is the protection of biodiversity from factors that threaten it or the
amelioration of those threats (Soulé 1985). These threats are almost invariably caused by
humans (Hayward 2019). The point of view from which we critique compassionate
conservation is that of scientists and managers devoted to conserving populations of diverse
kinds of animals and plants in the ecosystems to which they have naturally adapted. This
point of view is not shared by advocates of compassionate conservation, and therein lies the
first tension associated with its ethos.
Among the 12 categories of threats to biodiversity of the International Union for
Conservation of Nature are habitat loss or degradation, use, invasive species, human
disturbance, pollution, and persecution (Maxwell et al. 2016). The abatement of these threats
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is the essence of conservation science and involves a range of practices, such as the creation
of protected areas to ameliorate habitat loss and degradation; legislation to stop pollution,
overuse, and persecution; translocations to establish new populations of threatened species
within their historic range; landscape manipulations to facilitate coexistence of susceptible
species and their threats; control and eradication of invasive species; and ex situ practices,
such as captive insurance colonies and genome storage for mitigating permanent species and
genetic loss when threats cannot be abated immediately. Conservationists generally support
these actions because, at times, intervention is required. In the last 30 years, the evolution of
large-scale conservation programs, embedded in a robust scientific framework, has allowed
the development of effective decision-making practices that consider efficacy, animal
welfare, logistics, and cost (Sutherland et al. 2004; Pullin et al. 2013) and have yielded
significant conservation successes (Hoffmann et al. 2010). This is nowhere more obvious
than in invasive species management, given that invasive species have caused vast numbers
of native animal extinctions around the world (Butchart et al. 2010).
Critiquing Compassionate Conservation
Compassionate conservation has been defined as ―a rapidly growing international and
cross-disciplinary movement that promotes the protection of wild animals as individuals
within conservation practice and policy‖ via ―…a conservation ethic that prioritizes the
protection of other animals as individuals: not just as members of populations of species but
valued in their own right(University of Technology Sydney n.d. & Supporting Information).
It is an ethic that combines a number of well explored philosophies, including virtue ethics
(undertaking an action because it is ennobling to do so [MacIntyre 2013]), deontology
(undertaking an action because it is morally correct to do so [Regan 1983]), and
consequentialism or utilitarianism (equal regard for the interests of all individuals irrespective
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of race, creed, sex, and species [Driver 2011]), and takes the view that individual animals are
as valuable as populations or species from a conservation perspective (Singer 1990). This
ethic holds to 4 tenets: first, do no harm; individuals matter; inclusivity of all individuals; and
peaceful coexistence between humans and animals. We considered the implications of these
tenets for conservation practice.
First, Do No Harm
The do-no-harm principle (Supporting Information) is a traditional tenet of medicine
(Hippocratic Oath) that implies medical treatment should be performed only when benefits
outweigh the risk of harm (Shmerling 2015). However, unlike human medicine that focuses
on the health and well-being of an individual patient, conservation is a complex arrangement
of interconnected components in which a decision directed at one portion of an ecosystem
can have large direct and indirect consequences for numerous other parts of the system.
The choices made by conservationists have repercussions throughout biotic
communities, not just for targeted species. For example, doing no harm to introduced feral
cats and European red foxes leads to vast numbers of native Australian fauna suffering and
dying daily, and will ultimately lead to the extinction of many speciesnegative
consequences at both the individual and group levels (Kinnear et al. 2010; Frank et al. 2014).
Doing no harm to eastern grey squirrels, an invasive species in Europe from the United States
and Canada, will increase suffering of red squirrels and likely lead to extirpation of red
squirrels in the United Kingdom and possibly throughout Europe (Shuttleworth et al. 2016).
Doing no harm to feral dogs in the Neotropics will lead to the harm of countless Brazilian
animals (Lessa et al. 2016). Doing no harm to cane toads, which have invaded more than 50
countries around the globe, will lead to continued mortality of numerous predators with
rippling effects through ecosystems on mesopredators and prey via trophic cascades (Doody
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et al. 2017). In these and many other cases, doing no harm results in more harm being done to
more individual animals. Yet stopping the lethal control of invasive mammals, despite the
inordinate amount of suffering they inflict on other animals, is a cardinal concern of
compassionate conservationists (Wallach et al. 2015).
The do-no-harm principle may encourage more apathy than empathy and lead to a do-
nothing approach to conservation (Bercovitch 2018). Therefore, it is important to
acknowledge that the do-nothing option may do greater harm to a larger number of
individuals than doing something that harms a few individuals (e.g., controlling introduced
predators in Australia to reduce the harm to the millions of native animals they kill every day
[Doherty et al. 2017]). These decisions fall into a broader paradigm in which the costs to
individual animals are compared with the likely benefits to populations or species (Vucetich
& Nelson 2007), but this trade-off is not possible under compassionate conservation despite
its being accepted as appropriate by other ethicists (Shermer 2015).
Compassionate conservationists propose alternatives to lethal control, such as fencing
(Fox & Bekoff 2011), yet this introduces further contradictions. Conservation fencing is
designed to separate areas important for biodiversity from factors that threaten the
biodiversity therein (Hayward et al. 2014). However, restricting the free movement of
animals with conservation fences could be construed as harming individuals because they
cannot move wherever they choose to access specific resources or flee predators and
competitors (Fraser & MacRae 2011).
Harm was, is, and always will be, an inescapable part of life on Earth. Food webs
inextricably involve harm - harm by one species to another, directly or indirectly, as all living
things compete for the planet‘s finite resources (Wackernagel et al. 2002). Whether
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conservationists let nature take its course (do nothing) or actively manage nature for
biodiversity conservation, harm cannot be avoided given nature‘s interdependencies.
Individuals matter
Compassionate conservationists often refer to individual animals as wildlife
individuals, entire species or populations of species as wildlife collectives, and individual
animals belonging to wildlife collectives as members of collectives (Wallach et al. 2018a).
Yet to characterize transorganismic levels of biological organization, such as species, as
wildlife collectives rhetorically suggests that species (and other levels of biological
organization, such as biotic communities and ecosystems) are merely aggregates of
individuals. That, however, is not how biologists understand the concepts of species,
communities, and ecosystems. Rather a biological species is a gene pool (expressed by
organisms capable of interbreeding and spawning fertile offspring) and is thus a historic line
of descent evolving through natural selection. Thus, there are clear evolutionary arguments
for species conservation, and more generally biodiversity conservation, because a species
extinction is the termination of a line of descent (Rolston 2012) and the value of communities
and ecosystems is greater than the sum of their parts (Golley 1993; Allen & Hoekstra 2015).
Inclusivity in compassionate conservation recognizes the intrinsic value of animal
individuals. That is to say, it respects individuals irrespective of their clan (species), status
(population size, conservation status), native or alien heritage, or usefulness (Wallach et al.
2018a). There is a contradiction here in that advocates for compassionate conservation
concede a hierarchy of animal protection by prioritizing a reduction of the suffering of
sentient individuals, their definition of which appears not to include nonmammalian species
(Wallach et al. 2018a). This is a seemingly Orwellian approach, suggesting all animals are
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equal, but some are more equal than others (Orwell 1945). Their current focus on mammalian
taxa exemplifies this contradiction of inclusivity, which is further contradicted by
generalisations that sentience and sapience are prevalent across the animal kingdom
(Wallach et al., 2018, but see Low 2017). The removal of ectoparasites that cause life-
threatening wounds on reintroduced lions (Panthera leo ) by veterinarians (Hayward et al.
2007) seems likely to be acceptable on compassionate grounds because the individual lions
survived. However, the ticks were killed with little compassion, and the lions were harmed
by darting and sedation for tick removal to happen. Conservation has long recognized the
need to avoid prioritizing efforts aimed at large, charismatic species (Amori & Gippoliti
2000), but, to date, the compassion of compassionate conservation appears to prioritize large,
charismatic mammals.
Peaceful coexistence
The tenet peaceful coexistence focuses on the relationship of humans with nonhuman wild
and feral animals and emphasizes the need to reflect on human actions and people‘s ability to
modify these actions, rather than defaulting to interventions that have impacts on wildlife
(Wallach et al. 2018a). Partisans of compassionate conservation advocate for conservation
actions that eliminate or minimize trade-offs between the welfare of the individual animal
and effective conservation of populations and ecosystems. Yet, most conservationists
recognize their actions often require compromises with stakeholders. Traditionally,
stakeholders have often been humans and wildlife. For example, the creation of protected
areas to conserve wildlife may force people out of their homelands, and the strict
enforcement of these protected area boundaries and rules may limit the ability of people to
feed themselves (West et al. 2006; Oommen et al. 2019). Compassionate conservationists
advocate translocating dingoes (Canis lupus dingo ) to control cats and foxes (Wallach et al.
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2015). This is a valid option for some parts of Australia, but it is inconsistent with
compassionate conservations principle of first, do no harm (Bekoff 2010) (Supporting
Information) because dingoes are predators and will inevitably harm both the introduced
predators they are promoted to control and native species (Allen & Fleming 2012; Fleming et
al. 2012), and the translocation of dingoes involves human moral agency and makes actors
responsible for the welfare outcomes of these interventions. It also disregards 2 other
compassionate conservation tenets because it suggests individual cats and foxes do not
matter, and this is not inclusive of those species. So restoring dingoes to an area (Newsome et
al. 2015) will initiate a new level of harm to animals living there and that harm is essential for
the objective of mesopredator suppression to be achieved (Allen et al. 2019).
This position was starkly illustrated in an interview with Arian Wallach from the
Centre for Compassionate Conservation (Marris 2018) in which the case of the Tristan
Albatross (Diomedea dabbenena ) on Gough Island was considered. There, the invasive
house mouse (Mus musculus ) preys on chicks of several critically endangered albatross
species (, causing immense suffering and
death and driving entire species to extinction (Caravaggi et al. 2019). For Wallach the
principles of compassionate conservation mean the mice may not be poisoned to save the
albatross. Wallach asks, ―What gives us the right to be the gods of Gough Island, to say who
lives and who dies?‖ (quote taken from Marris [2018]). This position (extended in the
interview as a general principle) could lead many conservationists to the conclusion that
whatever compassionate conservation is really about, it is not about conservation (Driscoll &
Watson 2019). Furthermore, this position is not realistically about peaceful coexistence.
Coexistence, peaceful or otherwise, is not possible if one of the species goes extinct. In this
scenario, a peaceful coexistence between the Tristan Albatross and mice would be to support
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albatross survival on Gough Island and let mice continue to occupy the rest of its enormous,
global range.
Potential perverse outcomes
Little in conservation is simple. Prescriptive rules, such as those promoted by compassionate
conservationists may well create perverse outcomes. The marooning of koalas (Phascolarctos
cinereus) on French Island (near Melbourne, Australia) for conservation purposes was
initially a great success; however, they rapidly became overabundant, causing severe
defoliation of food plants (Menkhorst 2008). In the absence of management to control this
overabundance (thereby harming individuals), a greater number of individuals were
inadvertently harmed as they starved to death. Similarly, mass mortality events during
droughts affect kangaroo populations that lack control, such as the 14,500 individuals that
starved to death in Kinchega National Park (Australia) in 1982-1983 (Robertson 1986) and
the multitude that are dying during the current drought in Australia. These animals experience
worse welfare outcomes than those managed by human interventions (Wilson & Edwards
2019). Reinstating natural predation patterns may help (Wallach et al. 2015), but predation
inherently causes harm and will also cause perverse impacts in pastoral zones by harming
livestock (Wilson & Edwards 2019). Conservation that is adaptive and flexible under each
unique situation is likely to deliver greater animal welfare gains than hard and fast rules
driven by emotion or ideology. In response to such concerns, advocates of compassionate
conservation may resort to virtue ethics claiming it is sufficient to manifest the virtue of
compassion by letting the animals interact without human intervention. However, this
dialectic in reasoning ignores the fact that more individuals will be harmed without lethal
control (i.e., fewer individuals die a less painful death if one follows mainstream conservation
practice). Hence, compassionate conservation vacillates between animal-ethic paradigms
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(e.g., Wallach et al. 2018a) and retains vestiges of the more familiar and popular utilitarian
paradigm (notably articulated by Singer [1990]) (e.g., Wallach et al. 2018a). Mainstream
conservation practice already acknowledges individuals matter by recognising that
controlling introduced predators minimizes harm to the greatest number of individuals.
The Centre for Compassionate Conservation is an animal rights group posing as a
scientific conservation organisation (Fleming 2018). Evidence of this is that the primary
members of the centre are key participants in the animal welfare group Voiceless - The
Animal Protection Institute ( Although there are
important exceptions within animal-protection groups for mainstream conservation actions
(Dubois et al. 2017; RSPCA 2018), these are more of a response to the recognition that many
animal-welfare agencies have historically failed to show the leadership necessary to solve
conservation problems, and in many cases, these agencies have only fuelled conflict (Banks
2005; Vanak & Home 2018) and caused conservation disasters (Brown 1998; Bryce et al.
2011). While the broader principles of compassionate conservation certainly have merit (e.g.,
consideration for animal welfare and the individual), the practical challenges are often
particularly problematic, notably, the concept of the collective or greater good is ignored.
Although compassionate conservationists have begun to target the direct mortality
aspects of conservation, this is an arbitrary position they have selected that could initiate a
slippery slope and challenge other conservation practices, such as inhibiting free animal
movement, forced relocations, forced mating or genetic management, forced contraception or
medication, and introducing one species to disrupt or kill another. It is imperative that
conservation scientists provide information about the impact the compassionate conservation
philosophy could have on biodiversity conservation globally. Without this, society could
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easily embrace the philosophy of compassionate conservation, whereas tried and tested
conservation practices that have allowed threatened species to persist (Hoffmann et al. 2010;
Hoffmann et al. 2011) could lose political and financial support through uninformed and ill-
directed emotion and subsequent public pressure. The compassionate conservation arguments
could sway public opinion by appearing as a viable alternative to existing conservation
methods, yet science shows this is not the case. While mainstream conservationists must
always give animal welfare due consideration, they also need to continue to educate the
public and identify the problems that compassionate conservation will cause to ensure that
this ineffective and ironically inhumane strategy does not eclipse a true philosophy of
conservation in the popular imaginary. A compassionate tail should not wag the conservation
We thank B. Callicott, M. Drew, T. Newsome, A. Cox, G. Baxter, D. Lunney, and D.
Sutherland for their valuable contributions to the ideas and writing of this paper.
Supporting Information
The definition of compassionate conservation from the University of Technology
Sydney‘s Centre for Compassionate Conservation (Appendix S1) is available online. The
authors are solely responsible for the content and functionality of these materials. Queries (other than
absence of the material) should be directed to the corresponding author.
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... Humans do not need to kill or exclude invasive or overabundant invasive animals like they need to eat or protect themselves (see Sections 2.1-2.3), but past experience indicates that allowing invasive and overabundant native animal populations to grow unchecked usually results in ecosystem degradation, including widespread harm and death to many other animals (Hayward et al. 2019;Wilson and Edwards 2019;Callen et al. 2020;Diagne et al. 2021) and to the agricultural products that humans rely on for food (Paini et al. 2016; Section 2.3). ...
... Many examples of this form of killing involve killing predators to alleviate their impacts on prey. Additional examples include killing common herbivores to alleviate competition with threatened herbivores (Sharp et al. 1999) or killing herbivores to reduce their impacts on This type of animal killing may be a necessary (Fleming and Ballard 2019), temporary solution when abundant vertebrates pose an immediate threat to the survival of a rare species (Goodrich and Buskirk 1995) given that killing relatively few animals in the short term can reduce the overall numbers of animals killed in the long term (Warburton et al. 2012; Allen and Hampton 2020). However, the repeated killing of common animals to save endangered ones may produce several adverse outcomes, including the high cost of population control, ecosystem changes that favour increases of other harmful species, or increases of diseases harmful to the endangered species (Goodrich and Buskirk 1995). ...
... These ecological realities further imply that the admonition to "do no harm" as a means of obtaining "peaceful coexistence" with animals (Wallach et al. 2018) is demonstrably impossible (e.g. Hayward et al. 2019;Johnson et al. 2019;Callen et al. 2020;Hampton et al. 2021 Podani et al. 2018). In the words of D.P. Roberts (1987), "life is pain [and] anyone who says differently is selling something". ...
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Killing animals has been a ubiquitous human behaviour throughout history, yet it is becoming increasingly controversial and criticised in some parts of contemporary human society. Here we review 10 primary reasons why humans kill animals, discuss the necessity (or not) of these forms of killing, and describe the global ecological context for human killing of animals. Humans historically and currently kill animals either directly or indirectly for the following reasons: (1) wild harvest or food acquisition, (2) human health and safety, (3) agriculture and aquaculture, (4) urbanisation and industrialisation, (5) invasive, overabundant or nuisance wildlife control, (6) threatened species conservation, (7) recreation, sport or entertainment, (8) mercy or compassion, (9) cultural and religious practice, and (10) research, education and testing. While the necessity of some forms of animal killing is debatable and further depends on individual values, we emphasise that several of these forms of animal killing are a necessary component of our inescapable involvement in a single, functioning, finite, global food web. We conclude that humans (and all other animals) cannot live in a way that does not require animal killing either directly or indirectly, but humans can modify some of these killing behaviours in ways that improve the welfare of animals while they are alive, or to reduce animal suffering whenever they must be killed. We encourage a constructive dialogue that (1) accepts and permits human participation in one enormous global food web dependent on animal killing and (2) focuses on animal welfare and environmental sustainability. Doing so will improve the lives of both wild and domestic animals to a greater extent than efforts to avoid, prohibit or vilify human animal-killing behaviour.
... The philosophy of compassionate conservation emphasises four tenets: do no harm, individuals matter, inclusivity of individual animals, and peaceful coexistence between humans and animals. However, critics argue that the examples presented by compassionate conservationists focus too much on mammals, arbitrarily favour charismatic species such as large predators and megaherbivores, and offer ineffective conservation solutions [35] . Critics also argue that compassionate conservation may hinder other forms of conservation, such as translocations and fertility control. ...
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Human activities negatively impact the welfare of wild vertebrates in many different contexts globally, and countless individual animals are affected. Growing concern for wild animal welfare, especially in relation to conservation, is evident. While research on wild animal welfare lags behind that focused on captive animals, minimising human-induced harm to wild animals is a key principle. This study examines examples of negative anthropogenic impacts on wild animal welfare, how these may be mitigated and what further research is required, including examples from wildlife management, biodiversity conservation, wildlife tourism and wildlife trade. Further, it discusses the relationship between animal welfare and biodiversity conservation, and synergies that may be achieved between these. Ultimately, it is discussed how the welfare of wild animals may be balanced with other priorities to ensure that welfare is afforded due consideration in interactions between people and wildlife.
... In the context of the ecological restoration/conservation sciences, the various contestations outlined earlier are reflected across a range of academic literature, blogs, vlogs and websites, often resulting in robust exchanges between those who emphasise the need to account for animal welfare and emotions in conservation/restoration efforts and those who see emotions like compassion and empathy as holding up the work of scientifically-robust ecosystem restoration (Coghlan & Cardilini, 2022;Hayward et al., 2019;Wallach et al., 2020). In daily conservation or restoration work practices, 'how widely one steers clear of the Animal Question' (Mason, 2007, p. 203) has often been regarded as an essential indicator of one's dedication and objectivity towards the tasks at hand of 'managing' (removing, culling, curtailing, etc.) animal kin. ...
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I draw attention to the context of ecosystem restoration where a wide number of contestations impact how animal kin are included or excluded from restorative efforts. In part 1, I explore why the Animal Question is an important one for ecosystem restoration and identify the issues of habitus, deep harm and contested spaces. Following in part 2, I discuss why I think ERJ is relevant for engaging with the Animal Question in ecosystem restoration and situate ERJ’s conceptualisation of harm. Part 3 delves deeper into some of the pathways I consider ERJ ethos and practices might engage the Animal Question in the context of ecosystem restoration. My consideration starts by discussing the values of relationality, care and connectedness. I then examine the need for reflection before examining the contestations through examples of expert-to-expert, expert-to-volunteer, and giving animal kin voice. I finish this part by suggesting that taking the long view, what I term ‘ongoing attentiveness’, must underlie ERJ’s direction. In conclusion, I advocate that having a restorative imagination will encourage far-reaching, transformative engagement with the Animal Question.
... Quello che è forse il tentativo più articolato di tenere assieme le due proposte è oggi fornito dalla cosiddetta conservazione compassionevole [compassionate conservation] (Bekoff 2010). Sulle ragioni per cui questo approccio è comunque problematico dal punto di vista della conservazione della biodiversità si rimanda a Hayward et al. 2019. tipo dipenderà dalla importanza che decidiamo di assegnare all'esigenza di compensare gli animali per le vulnerabilità che abbiamo causato loro. ...
Philosophers have often insisted on the full adaptation of nonhuman animals to their conditions of existence. This adaptation, however, fails when we establish relationships with them or intervene in their environment. Domestication, for example, shapes animals according to our needs. Reduction to captivity makes them dependent on our management and results in their loss of the ability to survive independently from us. Finally, the anthropization of environments threatens their survival as a species. Recognizing and addressing these anthropogenically induced vulnerabilities is an increasingly ethically urgent task. In particular, it allows us to: a) build a new approach to deal with animal ethics issues; b) provide justifications for specific obligations to different categories of animals; and c) mitigate the tension that exists between care for the individual and care for the species.
... Not all conservation measures that can be applied are necessarily acceptable to the broader public which, either through taxes or donations, pays for them. Scientists have debated, for example, the ethics of managing feral animals harmful to threatened species by either killing them (Wallach et al. 2018, Hayward et al. 2019 or containing the threatened species within protective fencing (Mallon & Price 2013, Child et al. 2019. Other ethical debates have been around taking threatened species into captivity, such as wildlife parks or zoos (Keulartz 2015), and relocating them somewhere safer (referred to as assisted migration; Albrecht et al. 2013, Ahteensuu & Lehvävirta 2014. ...
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Government conservation measures will always depend on public support. While more has been learnt about which species the public values and which conservation measures are socially acceptable, less is known about the criteria that the public thinks government should consider when making conservation investment decisions. This study uses a stated preference best–worst scaling method to gauge the views of a sample of the Australian public on what they think government should consider when allocating funding to threatened species conservation. We found that the three most important factors were the risk that a species might become extinct, the likelihood that a conservation intervention might be effective and the risk of unintended consequences for other species that could potentially arise if the measure was implemented. Costs of conservation measures and the degree to which the society accepts these costs were considered much less important. The latter aspect was consistent with the high level of trust that respondents placed in the judgement of experts and scientists concerning threatened species conservation. We conclude that the Australian Government has a societal mandate to spend more money on threatened species conservation, provided that there is little risk and that it is backed up by science.
... The 'humanised zoo' needs to be transparent about human victims of conflicts with wildlife, including conflicts be tween individuals and charismatic species such as chimpanzees that are totally ignored by Western media (Garland 2008). The 'humanised zoo' promotes a sustainable utilization of wildlife, both marine and terrestrial, while this concept had become taboo in some neo-colonized re gions of Africa (Schwartz 2015) adopting de facto the 'compassionate conservation' paradigm, whose negative consequences have been already discussed (Hayward et al. 2019). On the contrary, the 'humanised zoo' should emphasize and promote conservation/management projects that utilize traditional ecological knowledge (Ramos 2018, Molnár & Babai 2021) not as an alternative to Western science, but as recognition that ecosystems were successfully managed by humans long before colonial times. ...
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ABSTRACT: Wildlife conservation seems unaffected by decolonization movements that recently led to removing or vandalizing several statues of geographers and colonizers worldwide. Instead, we observe an increased emphasis on total protection of species and habitats that, although strategic in a period of environmental crisis, may have grossly negative impacts on living standards of local Indigenous communities. In this regard, we should decolonize society, and specifically conservation, by adding new metaphoric statues to the old ones, preferably of those living side by side with wildlife. In this essay, we suggest that zoos, as popular places where urbanized people meet biodiversity, should change their messages, too often reinforcing the subtle colonial ideology that pervades international environmentalism often driven by increasing animal rights activism. For example, a new storytelling in zoos should communicate that, in some sensitive contexts (e.g., most tropical countries), the current over-emphasis on protected areas and military law enforcement is also causing serious human rights violations. We need ‘Humanised zoos’, i.e., places where conservation of biodiversity is put in a broader socio-ecological context and a central role for the future of ecosystems is given to local communities, ethnic minorities and ‘wise people’ (i.e., people having local traditional knowledge). Zoos should direct more resources toward community-based conservation but foremost they should shape urban and ‘western’ attitudes toward wildlife with a less colonized perspective including spreading the importance of TEK (Traditional Ecological Knowledge) in ecosystem management.
... This situation has arisen in at least two conservation programs -the culling of wolves to protect caribou (Hervieux et al., 2014) and the release of dingoes to eradicated goats on Pelorus Island (Yanco et al., 2019). Conservation scientists, practitioners, managers and biologists argue that the well-established science of animal welfare is already incorporated into conservation science Hayward et al., 2019;Fleming, 2018). This is not to deny the important process of continual improvement of animal welfare practices in conservation. ...
The 'Compassionate Conservation' movement is gaining momentum through its promotion of 'ethical' conservation practices based on self-proclaimed principles of 'first-do-no-harm' and 'individuals matter'. We argue that the tenets of 'Compassionate Conservation' are ideological-that is, they are not scientifically proven to improve conservation outcomes, yet are critical of the current methods that do. In this paper we envision a future with 'Compassionate Conservation' and predict how this might affect global biodiversity conservation. Taken
Since 1970, there has been an overall decline in wildlife populations in the order of 52%. Freshwater species populations have declined by 76%; species populations in Central and South America have declined by 83%; and in the Indo-Pacific by 67%. These are often not complete extinctions, but large declines in the numbers of animals in each species, as well as habitat loss. This presents us with a tremendous opportunity, before it is too late to rescue many species. This book documents the present state of wildlife on a global scale, using a taxonomic approach, and serving as a one stop place for people involved in conservation to be able to find out what is in decline, and the success stories that have occurred to bring back species from the brink of extinction - primarily due to conservation management techniques - as models for what we might achieve in the future.
Recent debates regarding conservation's proper objectives have been underlain by the more fundamental question of what conservation is and what it is not. In this essay, I elaborate and justify the following definition: the promotion (or the intended promotion) of the continued existence of valuable things in the living world in extended human time. I then use this definition to ask whether two recent proposals, so-called new conservation and compassionate conservation, are truly conservation. In asking these questions, I explore how conservation relates to ecological change and to the welfare of nonhuman animals. I end by situating conservation within the broader array of societal relations with the living world.
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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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Article impact statement: A halt to lethal control of invasive species would lead to increased land degradation, species extinctions, and biotic homogenization.
Introducing consumptive and non-consumptive effects into food webs can have profound effects on individuals, populations and communities. This knowledge has led to the deliberate use of predation and/or fear of predation as an emerging technique for controlling wildlife. Many now advocate for the intentional use of large carnivores and livestock guardian dogs as more desirable alternatives to traditional wildlife control approaches like fencing, shooting, trapping, or poisoning. However, there has been very little consideration of the animal welfare implications of deliberately using predation as a wildlife management tool. We assess the animal welfare impacts of using dingoes, leopards and guardian dogs as biocontrol tools against wildlife in Australia and South Africa following the 'Five Domains' model commonly used to assess other wildlife management tools. Application of this model indicates that large carnivores and guardian dogs cause considerable lethal and non-lethal animal welfare impacts to the individual animals they are intended to control. These impacts are likely similar across different predator-prey systems, but are dependent on specific predator-prey combinations; combinations that result in short chases and quick kills will be rated as less harmful than those that result in long chases and protracted kills. Moreover, these impacts are typically rated greater than those caused by traditional wildlife control techniques. The intentional lethal and non-lethal harms caused by large carnivores and guardian dogs should not be ignored or dismissively assumed to be negligible. A greater understanding of the impacts they impose would benefit from empirical studies of the animal welfare outcomes arising from their use in different contexts.