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Compassionate conservation

September 30, 2010

Marc Bekoff is professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. His latest book called The Animal Manifesto: Six reasons for expanding our compassion footprint, compiles six compelling rationales for changing our approach to how we treat animals of all species.

Bekoff utilizes anecdotes with statistics and facts drawn from a wide range of sources which brings a balance to both the tone and message of the book. Bekoff encourages the reader towards not just putting more thought into our treatment of animals, but coupling that thought with action, from cutting back on the meat consumed (or considering non-factory farm sources where available and practical) to their use in laboratories and entertainment venues to “management” techniques of our wild neighbors.

Addressing not only how we think of animals but also how we don’t think of animals and our impact on them in our day to day lives, The Animal Manifesto is a though provoking and compelling read.

A symposium on compassionate conservation was also organised at the beginning of the month in Oxford. A lot of interesting articles on the subject that were presented at the symposium can be accessed from here.

Bekoff also wrote an interesting article in New Scientist this month, that can be accessed from here. The article highlights that “The guiding principles of compassionate conservation are: do no intentional harm; respect all life; treat all individuals with respect and dignity; and tread lightly when stepping into the lives of animals” and it concludes with “Compassionate conservation is no longer an oxymoron. Ethics must be firmly implanted in conservation biology, even if doing so moves us outside our comfort zones and causes some projects to be put on hold or abandoned.”

Two more powerful statements that call on your comments! So get in touch and share your thoughts on Bekoff’s idea of compassionate conservation!

One Comment leave one →
  1. October 1, 2010 15:46

    “Ethics must be firmly implanted in conservation biology, even if doing so moves us outside our comfort zones and causes some projects to be put on hold or abandoned.”

    This statement can perhaps be seen as part of a larger shift to expose and articulate the underlying ethics, values and beliefs that guide conservation management. Like Bekoff states, we need to move beyond the situation where: “Many researchers believe allowing subjective feelings for animals to influence their decisions – even if driven by ethics – invariably taints their science”.

    However, (without having read his current book), I am uncertain where he advocates where the line should be drawn between prioritising the health of sentient individuals (c.f. Pete Singer), and preserving the integrity, stability and health of the larger ecosystem (c.f. Aldo Leopold). From a purely personal environmental ethic, I would argue that the latter should often take precedence over the former, whilst preventing undue harm to any individual.

    Bekoff cites the example of wolf reintroductions to Yellowstone causing a reduction in coyote numbers. What he fails to mention is the gradual increase in ecosystem diversity, reduction in overgrazing and increased trophic interactions that the low density of wolves have caused in the park (see for exmaple Ripple et al (2001: or Kauffman et al (2010:

    Perhaps others see that a balance should be struck on a different point on the spectrum between an individual-orientated and ecosystem-orientated approach?

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