Animal rights and conservation - just incompatible!

By Matthew Godson
Monday, 5th December 2011

The Wildlife Society (TWS), founded in 1937, is a professional international not-for-profit scientific association dedicated to excellence in wildlife stewardship through science and education. Its mission is to enhance the ability of wildlife professionals to conserve diversity, sustain productivity and ensure the responsible use of wildlife resources. It has recently released a position statement titled Animal Rights Philosophy and Wildlife Conservation.

TWS regards science as the necessary foundation to understand the natural world. It supports the use of science to develop effective methods of wildlife and habitat management and conservation, and recognises the intrinsic value of wildlife, as well as the importance of wildlife to people. TWS views both wildlife and people as interrelated components of an ecological-cultural-economic complex. It supports regulated hunting and fishing and the right of people to pursue either consumptive or non-consumptive uses of wildlife.

TWS has publicly expressed concerns that animal rights philosophies are contradicting the principles that have led to successful wildlife management in North America. TWS is extremely concerned with the selective or broad applications of animal rights philosophy to contemporary issues of wildlife management that promote false choices regarding potential human-wildlife relationships and create false expectations regarding wildlife population management. This has eroded the confidence in decades of knowledge gained through scientific exploration of wildlife and their habitats. An example of this can be seen in Australia, where animal rights organisations are trying to erode the confidence in the science behind our kangaroo harvests.

TWS endorses an animal welfare philosophy. This focuses on the quality of life for a population or species of animals. This philosophy does not prevent the management of animal populations or the use of animals for food or other cultural uses, as long as the loss of life is justified, sustainable and achieved through humane methods.

This is a far cry from animal rights philosophies, where it is wrong to kill a sentient animal or cause it to suffer for any reason, including the conservation of other species or ecosystems or to promote human welfare and safety. Animal rights philosophies also promote that animals are given the same moral considerations and legal protection as humans.

TWS knows that the animal rights-focused emphasis on individual animals fails to recognise the interrelatedness of wildlife communities within functioning ecosystems, and holds the protection of individual animals to be more important than conserving populations, species or ecosystems. This fact in itself is good reason why animal rights organisations should be removed from any discussion or process relating to the management or conservation of any species.

The new policy of TWS regarding animal rights philosophy, which was approved in August 2011 and will expire in August 2016, is to:

1. Recognize that the philosophy of animal rights is incompatible with science-based conservation and management of wildlife.

2. Educate organizations and individuals about the need for scientific management of wildlife and habitats and about the practical problems relative to the conservation of wildlife and habitats, and to human society, with the animal rights philosophy.

3. Support an animal welfare philosophy, which holds that animals can be studied and managed through science-based methods and that human use of wildlife, including regulated hunting, trapping and lethal control for the benefit of populations, species and human society is acceptable, provided the practice is sustainable and individual animals are treated ethically and humanely.

I totally support this position statement and hope that wildlife management and conservations organisations in Australia will see that the time is right to stop animal rights philosophies being an impediment to positive conservation outcomes and sustainable wildlife management in our great country.