In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion about animal intelligence and the idea of animal consciousness. In the past, the notion that animals have feelings had been relegated to fringe status, but these days, a wealth of scientific findings has made it much more mainstream to entertain such ideas.
One result of this trend has been the development of “compassionate conservation”, which criticizes conventional conservation strategies for focusing on species and populations without much consideration of the well-being of individual animals. The compassionate conservation approach aims to safeguard biological diversity while retaining a commitment to treating individual creatures with respect and concern for their well-being.
In many places, this runs counter to how conservation is actually practiced. For example, in Australia, the government has pledged to kill 2 million feral cats in order to protect native species. In New Zealand, the plan is to exterminate all possums, rats and weasels by 2050 for the same reason. In Scotland, there is a plan to kill ravens to protect shorebirds and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has approved killing over 18,000 cormorants that are decimating Midwestern fisheries.
Some conservationists these days are criticizing the bias against non-native species. They argue that non-natives are legitimate parts of nature and are helping to create novel ecosystems in a changing world.
Conserving the world’s biodiversity is something that most people agree is important, but what species should be protected and how to go about making changes in a compassionate way is not a simple matter. In general, people try the hardest to save the animals they care about the most, but that may not be the best thing to do at all.
Photo, posted August 17, 2007, courtesy of Ryan Snyder via Flickr.