Compassionate versus consequentialist conservation

Publication Type:
Journal Article
Year of Publication:
Jordan O. Hampton, Bruce Warburton, Peter Sandoe
Conservation Biology
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Ethical treatment of wildlife and consideration of animal welfare have become important themes in conservation, but ethical perspectives on how best to protect wild animals and promote their welfare are diverse. There are advantages to the consequentialist harms ethical framework applied in managing wild herbivores for conservation purposes. To minimize harms while achieving conservation goals, we argue that overabundant wild herbivores should in many cases be managed through consumptive in situ killing. Advantages of this policy are that the negative welfare states imposed on animals last only a short time; remaining animals are not deprived of positive welfare states (e.g., linked to rearing offspring); poor welfare states of animals in overabundant populations are avoided (e.g., starvation); negative welfare impacts on heterospecifics through resource depletion (i.e., competition) are prevented; harvesting meat reduces the number of (agricultural) animals raised to supply meat; and minimal costs maximize funding for other wildlife management and conservation priorities. Alternative ethical approaches to our consequentialist framework include deontology (containing animal rights) and virtue ethics, some of which underpin compassionate conservation. These alternative ethical approaches emphasize the importance of avoiding intentional killing of animals but, if no population reduction occurs, are likely to impose considerable unintentional harms on overabundant wildlife and indirectly harm heterospecifics through ineffective population reduction. If nonlethal control is used, it is likely that overabundant animals would be deprived of positive welfare states and economic costs would be prohibitive. We encourage conservation stakeholders to consider animal-welfare consequentialism as an ethical approach to minimize harms to the animals under their care as well as other animals that policies may affect while at the same time pursuing conservation goals.


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