We host regular public events to create discussion among academics and the public.
Thank you all for coming. It's a great honour to see so many people here, and so many people interested in this particular topic. This has been a while coming, and I know that both Marc and I are really keen to talk to you about compassionate conservation. We hope that you'll take away from this evening, having learned about compassionate conservation, and also a lot of - in terms of the question that's relevant to everybody here, and that is to do with recreational hunting.
So the first thing that we're talking about is why do we conserve and protect nature? It's a really important question. It's the fundamental reason that we like to - we seek to protect the ecosystems, communities and a range of different - all the way down to individuals.
It's important to recognise that the landscape, from an animal point of view, is comprised of both human animals and non-human animals. We have to try and find a balance between those. So why is nature important - even from a purely anthropocentric viewpoint, we know that the services that nature provides are very key to human wellbeing. This is a diagram that was produced by the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment back in 2000, and you can see that biodiversity has an intrinsic link to providing services that are vital for humans. So it's important that we protect it.
So how is nature faring? Well if we look at extinction rates, which is the decline of and the loss of species, we know that at the moment we're in the Earth's sixth major extinction - biodiversity extinction event in its history. We know that extinction rates are currently over 1000 times higher than what's in the fossil record. It's predicted to be even higher than that. So why - how is nature threatened? Obviously all this is fairly obvious to many of you, who have been working in it. But obviously, there's a range of different processes that affect nature. They can be very large landscape scale things to introduce species and - working on very fine scales.
We know that, for example, that resource extraction - there's a lot of debate and talk about mining at the moment. We've also got cities expanding globally, and they have a large impact on nature. There's also climate change. We know that - even though these effects are subtle, we know that when you look back over periods of time, we can see patterns of change. So we can look at change in trends in rainfall, and we can look at change in trends in temperature. We can see that all these kinds of things are having an impact on the persistence of nature.
So the primary method in which we engage in conservation practice is to protect it. We do so by establishing national parks and conservation reserves. There's many different classes of conservation reserves and protection that occur, and there's different categories of ownership. So this is a map of Australia, showing you the current National Reserve system. You can see that there's a range of - these are the different kinds of protection status that are there. They all have different kinds of regulations and restrictions, and they occur in different parts of the country. In terms of governance, we know that only some of them are government reserves. Many of them are in - there are some large indigenous land areas that are - and there's also co-managed areas.
So how much do we protect? From a continental point of view, we protect about 13.4 per cent. In New South Wales, we only protect about 8.4, so that's the total amount of the landscape that's currently protected within - from that point of view. That might seem okay, but let's look at it from an ecosystem point of view - so from a nature's point of view. This is a map - you probably can't read it because it's come out a bit blurry. But - so all of these different colours represent different bioregions across Australia. Bioregions are meant to reflect different kinds of ecosystems and different habitats for species.
So given this knowledge and given this variation across the continent, we can then look at well how well are these different kinds of bioregions protected by the conservation network, the reserve system? Unfortunately, what we find is that there are some types of bioregions that are well conserved. So if we look on this list, we can see that - this is a percentage. Any area that's coloured in this particular colour - which is all this - there's only between 0.1 and five per cent protection. These darker ones are obviously the heavily protected bioregions. So we can see that at the continental scale even, we can see that different ecosystems are protected to different levels.
So protection, whilst it's the pivotal and most important thing we can do in protecting biodiversity, they're not the only answer because they don't prevent threats from entering their borders. So just as an example, some recent work that a PhD student of mine and myself, working on common wombats, we looked at the impact of road kill within National Parks, and we recently published some work on that. So how do we protect nature? Given that, other than setting aside protected areas, we do a range of things. We do a lot of rescue. We do - we have breeding programs. We do translocations. We do - we create barriers to prevent - to lock something out or lock something in. Or we do ecosystem management.
We also address imbalances. So with weed species, we might do plant removal. We also do animal removal where we perceive there to be some kind of imbalance. We can also trial non-lethal methods to address those kinds of issues in certain circumstances using fertility control. So why do we do these and how do they help? The idea is that they protect and conserve habitats and populations of the plants and animals that live within them. We might have some endangered ecological communities that we might be particularly interested in. We can conserve - either put these in protected areas, or we can do some kind of intervention to ensure that they're doing okay.
These kinds of activities help because (a) they can prevent extinctions. So we know that we've had extinctions - Australia has a very high extinction rate, one of the highest in the world. We know that we need to prevent that from happening in the future. We currently have many threatened species that a lot of conservation effort goes into. So that's all good work, looking at these species that are on the brink of extinction and trying to bring them back from the edge. We also do these kinds of activities, as I was saying earlier, to drive - address human driven imbalances.
So rabbits, for example, or Eastern Grey Kangaroos in certain circumstances - what we currently do in terms of conservation or wildlife management, is we end up removing them, eradicating them, reducing their numbers. That's what we currently do as a conservation practice. How do you make a decision about when you're going to intervene? How do you decide that there's a situation that you need to act upon? Well, one of the legends in ecology, in Australia and internationally, was Graeme Caughley - the late Graeme Caughley. He talked about this idea of when there's too many species, and he called it over abundance.
It's quite useful - he created four categories of this. They're quite interesting to go through. The first is threats to human life and livelihood. Then there's - so that's obviously the impact of these species on people and their going about making money and all of that kind of - producing food and so forth. There might be the depression of a favoured species, so you might have a threatened species that's being impacted upon by another one. So you might want to intervene to prevent that.
It may be that for some reason there's some kind of decline in body condition. If Eastern Grey Kangaroos, for example, are housed in a fenced area and they can't escape, then for some reasons, they can become in poor health. People might want to then put them down because of that. There can also be this loss of equilibrium. But how - when you decide to intervene, there's a conflict of motivations. There's interests that are human, as I just explained, but there's also from the animal's perspective or the plant's perspective. What are their needs, and how well are they being met? So for example, on the pictures that I've got here is some damage that pigs running free have caused. Here they are. This is obviously agricultural land, and the interest in removing them is to prevent a loss to impact on production.
So it's really important, from a conservation point of view, that our interest and our intentions are transparent, because otherwise they don't stand up. It's important that environmental decision-making is robust, and that we use an - those kinds of frameworks that are available to make good decisions that the public can engage in. The problem is that the focus is not always conservation, as I've just shown you. Sometimes it's about impacting or reducing impacts on human life and livelihood. That's where things start to get a little bit complex. So the reality of the management and conservation activities that currently occur, is that there tends to be a lot of killing.
Killing and eradication is one of the main ways in which we go about conserving biodiversity, whether you like that or not. Unfortunately Australasia and Australia has had a fairly poor reputation of trying to solve ecological - environmental problems with biological solutions that have gone awry. So for example, in New Zealand, we've introduced stoats and weasels to get rid of rabbits. In Australia, we've introduced the cane toad to get rid of greyback cane beetle. Then, what the implications of that are - that what happens is that we end up having to then kill all these animals, so that it just perpetuates this killing process.
Caughley and Tony Sinclair made the point that once you declare something a pest, all notion of humaneness goes out the window. There are a range of - despite the fact, there are a range of positive strategies that one can use. However we don't seem to have adopted that very much in Australia. We also have this problem that we bring in species because we want to use them in some way, and then we abandon them. So these are utilitarian species that we've brought in, and then we abandon then. Then we have to deal with the impacts or the problems that are associated within.
Likewise with pigs that are roaming free, they cause a lot of damage. We then have activities that respond to the abundance of these animals. That doesn't necessarily result in goodwill for outcomes or good environmental outcomes. Australia has also introduced many species for sport. So red foxes are here, because they were introduced for sport and pleasure. So for carnivores, that's quite complex because they have trophic interactions. There's competitive release. We know that if we fence off an area and remove all foxes and cats, that's great. But often there's killing involved in unfenced areas.
There's not a lot of thought that goes into whether or not the taking of that life is going to benefit or reduce impacts on biodiversity. For herbivores, often they've been released because they provide good recreational utility. The incentive to eradicate them is often quite poor, because they do provide that kind of sport. What happens is that this can lead to quite poor welfare outcomes for many animals and across a wide range of species.
So that brings it back to the individual. So how are individuals faring in the kind of conservation practices that we engage in, in Australia and around the world?
We know that environmental problems have ethical - there's ethical dimensions to it. We know that there are some moral issues. We know that there are dilemmas that are not necessarily easy to pull apart. Traditionally, both conservation biology, science, and animal welfare science have been fragmented. Conservation biology tends to focus on populations and ecological systems and genetic types, whereas animal welfare has typically focused on captive animals or domesticated animals. They focus on individuals or social groups, and so forth. Most of the time, these two fields have been quite separate.
Thankfully the winds of change are here. There are many people around the world now, who are standing up and writing about the blending of these two fields. At UTS, we're hoping to be a part of this movement. We're very lucky that one of the people, who has pioneered this more than anybody else in the world, is here with us tonight. That's Marc Bekoff. Marc has put together this book, which comes out very soon, called Ignoring Nature No More. It has essays from academics from around the world, talking about a range of different issues. Building a case for the way in which compassionate conservation can provide positive examples for how we move forwards into this century.
So now I'd like to hand it over to Marc. Marc's going to talk to you about just what is compassionate conservation and why it's so important.
Good evening. It's lovely to be here, and I hope you're as happy that I'm here as I'm happy to be here. I really appreciate the hospitality of UTS. I usually don't use notes. I usually do a PowerPoint, but I wanted to see what Dan was going to say. So I'll go back and forth to some notes. But one thing I do want to mention is that this event is a satellite event of what's called the Minding Animals Conferences that was on one of the earlier PowerPoint slides. Rod Bennison is here. If you're interested in the Minding Animals Conference, you can see him to get on their mailing list.
The first meeting was held in Newcastle in 2009. The last meeting was in Utrecht in The Netherlands in July of 2012. The next meeting is in January of 2015, in New Delhi. They're really good meetings. I'm not just saying that because Rod's here.
I really thought hard about what I should be talking about tonight. I'm glad that we can talk about issues that are really contentious. It seems that there's a direct correlation between how contentious issues are, and how passionate people are, about the different views. So my attitude is - and I do have a point of view on this, that some of you - many of you might know.
But I think it's really important to have these discussions, and that if we get into a discussion, that we consider the position and not the person. That if we want to defend or attack ideas, that's fine, but not do any name-calling. It doesn't really get us anywhere at all. So that's one - that's the ground rules that I like for debates, is that you attack the position, not the person. I respect how passionate people can get about certain issues on hand here. So one of the big questions of the title is - excuse me - is recreational hunting defensible. I don't think it is. I'll give you some reasons why I don't.
One general reason is the data don't seem to support the claim that it works, so it doesn't achieve its goals. The other is that there are some very serious ethical issues at hand for what, for some people, amounts to killing for fun. Recreation should be fun. If it's not, then why go out and do something? That's the way we use the term in general. So maybe there's something wrong with the term. It's also called sport hunting. People generally do sport because they enjoy sport, not because it's arduous or something they don't want to do.
So compassionate conservation is basically - centres on the idea that individual animals matter. We should do all we can to protect them, and not cause unnecessary pain, suffering and death. That their lives really matter to them, and their lives should matter to us. So one of the phrases that I use, or one of the questions that I pose - I mean I do it a bit to get attention to the question. Not attention to me, but attention to the question at hand - is would you kill your dog or another dog for fun? I'll get back to that in the second part of my talk, simply because dogs are mammals.
The animals, many of whom we kill, are mammals. We all share the same structures in the brain, in the limbic system, concerning our emotional lives. We all have the same physiological mechanisms for pain and suffering- the same anatomy. So I think it's a fair question to ask would you do something to animals, who we supposedly love, that you do to animals who we, as humans, label pests?
I'm also glad to be here because UTS has really become the leader in compassionate conservation in the Southern hemisphere. Also because compassionate conservation is not an oxymoron. I realised that I was teaching courses on this a long time ago, before the first meeting on compassionate conservation was held in Oxford, England in September of 2010. Then we had a meeting in [Chengdu], China in 2011. Think about that - I do a lot of work in China, but they were open at a meeting there to have a special session on compassionate conservation. There was a workshop in the UK in - when was it? Just a couple of months ago. So it's a growing and a global project that I think really is going to have a lot more growth in the future, as people face up to what we do.
There are some general principles I'd like to lay out here. They're not in any particular order, although I think we might be able to [cash] them out.
The first general principle that I think characterises compassionate conservation is first do no harm. So that would be the groundwork from which we begin, is you just decide that you're going to do what you need to do. Or you have a certain end that you want to meet, but the way we get to that end and achieve that goal is first do no harm. The second would be, like I said, individuals count. An individual's life matters. The third would be that we are really making decisions about who lives, who dies and why? I know that just sounds so stark, especially the day after Valentine's Day. It's a Friday night; you all want to just do something else. But we're making those decisions - who lives, who dies and why?
Who, meaning which species - which individuals - who lives and who dies and why? The why question is a really big one. We're not very good at coming up with answers to why we choose to do what we do? Why we choose to harm or kill or cause unnecessary pain and suffering to certain individuals? So I'll lay that out. Now the way I look at ourselves is we often talk about invasive species, or what Rod has called out of place species. We are really the master invasive species. Let's face it, we're all over the place. Like The Beatles said we're here, there and everywhere. We're big brained, we're big footed, we're invasive. We make too many of ourselves. We consume too much. But we also do and have the potential for doing wonderful things.
So I want to just really emphasise that. Because we do do a lot of things. We make unbelievable messes. I mean we really, really do. Oftentimes - and what we're hoping to reduce of course, in compassionate conservation and other movements is we don't want the animals to pay for our mistakes. So we bring animals in. We decide we don't like them, so we toss them out or we kill them. I think at some point, that cycle has to stop. Once again, I think that's where compassionate conservation can come in.
Let me pose a few questions that I'd like to consider. The first thing is I like to talk about animal protection, not animal welfare or animal rights. The reason I like that phrase is animal welfare is pretty vanilla. I'll give you some of the basics about animal welfare in a few minutes. But in the United States, and most countries I know, animal welfarists can do anything they want to other animals as long as the costs to the animals are less than the benefits to humans. That's kind of the utilitarian calculus that people use. Animal rights pisses people off. In some ways, I can understand why, although if I had to pick a side, I might be more of an animal rightist.
But I like the phrase animal protection, because it opens up a lot of areas for discussion of how we're going to protect other beings? Then of course, we also know that the subject of human rights is also a very difficult one, because we have so many groups of subjugated humans.
So here are some questions I'd like to throw out, and we'll see how far we get in the rest of my discussion right now. But the first question I see is do we need to interfere? If we choose to interfere in an individual's life or the lives of certain individuals, or into the integrity or the health of an ecosystem, we should be humane and compassionate and care about individual lives. I think we need to ask ourselves what are we doing - why are we doing what we're doing?
I know they seem really simple. But as a scientist, I know sometimes you get real wrapped up in paradigm science. You don't step back and ask these very basic questions. So why are we doing what we're doing? A really big question is should we kill for conservation? I remember thinking about this 20 years ago, and just - I just couldn't even believe that we were asking this question. Should we kill for conservation? I'm still really not sure I like asking it now, but we need to. Can we really recreate and restore ecosystems, because that's the reason that's given for a lot of very inhumane treatment of certain animals. No, we can't recreate and restore ecosystems to what they were.
I love the Wolf Project in Yellowstone National Park. I've worked in it; I've been there. But we're not recreating the ecosystem that was there in the early 1920s, when the last wolf was killed up there. We can't. It's changed in the last 75 years, and we're not going to recreate it and we're not going to restore it. Can we do good science and save individuals, species, populations and ecosystems? That's another area, where compassionate conservation really, if you will, it brings - or tries to bring together people who are interested in animal protection, and interested in questions about conservation and larger entities.
What role does sentience play in our decisions? Animal emotions, animal feelings - I'll talk about that in my next talk. What tradeoffs, if any, are permissible? So one question I want to know, should we be trading off individuals for the good of their own or the good of other species? Example, once again, the Wolf Project. Wolves were kidnapped in Canada, brought down to the Yellowstone Park. Some died, and some people thought it was heinous that they died. Others said well, it's okay. Some wolves will die for the good of their species.
What people never did figure out was when wolves were taken from Canada - at a meeting I was at, I asked a very simple question. What happened to the wolf packs in Canada from which the wolves were taken? No one knew. The reason I raised that question is because it's like we're robbing Peter to pay Paul. So now we might have decimated wolf packs in one area, to have wolf packs in another area. So these are the sorts of questions that I think are very important.
Let me finish off by just saying a few words about animal welfare versus animal - or in light of animal rights, and then be done.
So basically - and I want to do this because compassionate conservation is still in its early stages, is very much a Welfarist Movement. So welfarists basically say that if the benefits to humans outweigh the cost to the animals, then a certain action is permissible. But we're the ones doing the calculus, so it's really easy to decide that the benefits we gain are going to be greater than the costs of the animals. How do measure these costs anyway? So you kill a wolf. But what happens if by killing a wolf, you destroy the pack and other individuals suffer?
So one of the things that I don't like about this wanton killing and recreational hunting, is that we destroy social groups and webs of nature without knowing what we're doing. We just don't know. We might as well be honest with the fact that we don't know what happens when animals are killed as individuals. We don't know what happens to their groups. People who say we do, I think they're not quite telling the truth, I think. The welfarist position says that we don't want animals to suffer from any unnecessary pain. But it's okay, and something that was unnecessary becomes necessary once again, if we are giving the animals the best life we can before we harm them.
The animal rights' position is one that says basically that animals have inherent or intrinsic value. They don't have - we don't need to value them in terms of their instrumental value i.e. what they can do for us. So it's not a utilitarian position. The rights' position doesn't look at value on a hierarchy. We don't say humans are better than or higher than or more valuable than other animals. Because in some ways, we're not. I like human beings, but as a biologist, I recognise that the terms higher and lower don't really capture what we want to say about animals. Because animals do what they need to do, to be [card] carrying members of their species.
There's many things that non-human animals can do that we can't do, and vice versa. So when a mouse does something that a chimpanzee can't do, we don't say the mouse is smarter than the chimpanzee. But when a chimpanzee or a human does something that they can't do, we don't hesitate to say that we're smarter. That translates very easily into being better, more valuable, worth protecting more. So rightists are more concerned with the animal's quality of life. Now what about conservation biologist and environmentalist? Typically they are welfarists. I'm not saying that it's good or bad, but that's where they're at.
That's why I think - why I would like to see conservation - compassionate conservation expand if you will. It's a good starting point. Some people say no, it's not strong enough. But we all have to start somewhere. So some general conclusions that I'm going to draw from this would simply be that what you call an individual - a welfarist or a rightist - really connotes very important messages about their views on animal exploitation. Recreational hunting is exploitation, it just simply is. It's a very good word for cashing it out. Animals really, truly care if they're interacting with a welfarist or a rightist or a conservationist or an environmentalist.
So I end right here to simply saying that we need to stop ignoring nature. We don't need to be apologist for caring about the lives and the wellbeing of individual animals. I don't think the people who take this sort of view are the radicals. People say oh, you're just a radical. I don't - why would you be a radical for caring about the life of individuals and the integrity of ecosystems, and how the animals are part of the environment? We shouldn't be redecorating nature by killing individuals. I will just say, once again - because I think it's a very important point. I am a scientist and I look for the data - that when we go out and we tinker with nature, we simply usually, almost - I don't want to say always - don't know what we're doing.
So we go out and we do something. We kill animals. We change this. We move animals from here or there. We change the integrity of a wolf pack or a pack of coyotes or a flock of birds. Then five years later, we have that oh blank phenomenon. We go oh my God, I can't believe we did this. So I think that we really need to step back and admit that we don't really know very much about what we're doing to the magnificent and the complex webs of nature.
Thanks, Marc. So now we're going to move onto the second part of tonight's proceedings, and that is to talk about recreational hunting. I'm going to start by just talking about what - the role that UTS has been playing in this sphere of compassionate conservation though first. Since 2009, the establishment of THINKK was a think tank to work solely on the issue of kangaroos. This has been very vocal in reports and publications and so forth, and media engagement. As of this year, THINKK has morphed into a larger body of collective of academics and thinkers called THINK Wildlife.
The idea is to bring people together focusing on compassionate conservation practice at UTS and other places. Working across a very multidisciplinary - working with philosophers and lawyers in business and sustainability experts, as well as environmental and ecology people. It's also very key in that it's aiming to target a range of government and non-government organisations to give them capacity to engage in this space. Just another plug, in that the lead body for conservation biology in the world - the Society for Conservation Biology - is having its International Congress in Baltimore in July. We have a symposium at that conference called - on compassionate conservation. So it's a very big win for us to be able to get compassionate conservation onto that stage.
Out of the December meeting, we came up with a range of questions that you might want to ask. Actually Marc's gone through some of these. So I'm just going to present them, that we're actually not - this is not just about being negative about the kinds of practices that are currently engaged in. But about trying to create a way forward and positive endeavours. So we've created these kinds of questions that you might ask, to really say well, what is it that we're doing? Just as Marc said, what is it we're doing? What are the implications, and how can we do things better?
Okay, so recreational hunting. Obviously recreational hunting targets introduced species, so let's look at them. A fantastic ethical framework for engaging in the management of introduced species was established in 2007. It really focuses on looking at the necessity, the effectiveness and the humaneness of that task. That really parallels the kinds of questions that we've put into compassionate conservation. Government's take the management of introduced species very seriously. They spend a lot of resources in - that are - and taking very scientific, strategic approaches, and they normally focus on measurable targets. So they look at well, what are the impacts? How have the impacts been reduced from the actions that we've taken?
It's - we shouldn't hide from this fact, that currently eradication, and hence killing, is a major part of management practices. So in that sense, recreational hunting is not different from that. It's still the taking of a life. This is something that we'll explore now, this idea of conservation hunting. So my job, as the conservation biologist, is here to tell you about the conservation side, and Marc will talk to you about the animal side. But by calling it conservation hunting, the argument is that the public can assist with meeting targets. That's really what it is. So let's look at that. Where is recreational hunting allowed in New South Wales? Currently, it's allowed in State Forests and Crown Lands for - the hunters must be a member of the Game Council of New South Wales - a taxpayer funded organisation. No licence is required - well, no R Licence is required to hunt on private land. An R Licence enables you to hunt with firearms, bows, dogs or black powder.
So what I thought I'd do is just show you how much land we protect in New South Wales. Then look at this from a landscape perspective, because I am landscape ecologist. So this is New South Wales. As you can see, most of New South Wales is grazing with a large band of cropping. These green areas that are protected areas that we have - remember that's about 8.8 per cent of New South Wales. These blue areas are the State Forests that are - yeah, State Forest areas.
Currently these are the State Forests where hunting is currently allowed. So this doesn't include private land, where it is legal to have hunting conducted on. So the State Forests are these blue areas. Now the 79 - as part of the trial that's meant to kick up - get off in March, 79 National Parks and Reserves, which is about 40 per cent of all National New South Wales Parks and Reserves. So these red areas are the areas which have been - where it's going to be able to occur.
However there's also - of the near 800 National Parks and Reserves within New South Wales, there's only - I can't remember the exact number - something about 80, where it isn't allowed. So all these ones that I've put in pink here, that's where it's potentially able to be conducted, if the trial is successful. There are some areas that have been targeted for - where no hunting can occur. These are mostly the wilderness areas and world heritage areas, so they're the areas in green. I think it's just very important - so there's 48. It's very important that we're aware contextually about the kind of areas that we're talking about. So the question is can hunting reduce impacts on biodiversity?
There are currently 28 dedicated Conservation Hunting Groups in New South Wales that all come under the auspices of the Game Council. They state that they contribute to the management of game and feral animals in New South Wales. If we look at the Sporting Shooters' Association claims, they say that there's an abundance of scientific evidence that hunting is effective for control, and beneficial to conservation. They say it's free or low cost. They say that the motivations of hunters are aligned with conservation. So what I thought I'd do - it's quite a complex issue. What I thought I'd do is just go through one particular example, and I thought I'd focus on pigs.
There are many different animals that can be targeted under those two categories, and pigs are just one of them. So what do we know about where pigs occur in Australia? This is a map put out by the Invasive Animals CRC that looks at the distribution - occurrence and distribution. Gives you a sense of where we know - so the colours - the yellow colours and red colours are where they occur. The - if it's red, that means that they're occurring in abundant and widespread. All the other colours are where they're occasional or localised.
How good is our information though? Well it's quite poor, to be honest. We don't actually have that much information on - we don't have a really good handle on how their distribution - what their densities are within that range. So there's only some areas where we have good assessment. If we look at New South Wales, then we see that their range is quite extensive. They cover probably - I don't know. Sixty, 70 per cent of New South Wales they might occur in. But there's only a few areas where you would consider them to be abundant and widespread, although this was done a few years ago. I couldn't find anything more recent.
So why are they a problem? Why would we even target it from a conservation point of view? Well we know that they can cause localised impacts on the ground and so forth. They can impact quite substantially on agriculture. They can prey on newborn lambs. They can reduce crop yields. They can damage fences, and they can provide - and they can actually compete for feed. It's hard to get a handle on exactly how this is quantified, but certainly these impacts occur. But what about biodiversity? So we know that they turn over the soil. We know that they can foul water systems. They can spread weeds and so forth. It's been acknowledged by the Federal Government that that could have an impact on about 18 national listed threatened species.
However it's very important to recognise that we don't do a lot of monitoring of the impacts of pigs, and that most of this comes from anecdotal or very sparse information. So we don't actually really have a good handle on their impacts on biodiversity to start with. So what do governments do about this? Well they have threat abatement plans. So at different levels of government hierarchies, they might work on different kinds of strategies. Now these kinds of strategies all include - all focus on lethal strategies. So they're either using poisons, trapping and shooting. There is some kind of fencing and habitat manipulation stuff that's done - that's obviously non-lethal. But most of it's focusing on lethal techniques.
So how large an area do you have to target to actually have any kind of reduction on pig numbers? This is really crucial. So Cowled et al in 2006 showed that you really need to focus on a very large area in order to reduce the numbers of pigs. They found that if - they did a study where they focused on a 4000 square kilometre area, up near Kununurra. Through aerial shooting, they were unable to reduce the population of pigs in that area. They followed that up with a study that they published in [Conservation Genetics]. They showed that actually in fact, they needed to focus on a much larger area than that 4000 square kilometres in order to achieve any kind of impact of lowering of that population.
So if we focus on the kinds of - the current kind of management strategies that we then might employ, we can see that they're not focused on very localised areas. They're all about large-scale strategic plans for reducing pig numbers across a broad area. They're about education. They're about we still need to quantify the impacts, and we need to become more humane in our techniques. So it's clear that only through systematic, collaborative and extensive programs can we have any effect on pig numbers.
We can look at that by focusing on this research that was done by the Invasive Species Council in 2012, where they showed that in reality, you need to reduce pigs - in a given management area, you need to reduce pigs by over 70 per cent every year, in order to have some impact on reducing their numbers overall. So we're talking about substantial effort. If we look at the numbers that have been killed in State Forests in 2010 and 2011, researched by the Invasive Species Council, the reported number of feral pigs killed was only 2296, out of an estimated population of between four and 24 million.
If we look at whether it's free, so is it just an additional free service that recreational hunting does provide? Well because the Game Council is taxpayer funded, they worked out that it isn't free. That for every animal killed, there is a cost to the taxpayer. So do the few that are killed have any impact on conservation? Well it's likely that hunting has negative conservation outcomes. One animal killed does not reduce - [save prey] individuals, unless it coincides with a population reduction. Lots of people say well, if I'm pulling out this cat or if I'm pulling out this pig, then it's going to save the life of the animal that it might have eaten, or the impact that it might have had. Well that's just not the case.
So there's currently no authority or regulatory body that supports the premise that recreational hunting reduces introduced species numbers, or that benefits the environment in any way. It also has poor welfare outcomes. We know that there are many animals that shouldn't be shot, that are. We know that many animals suffer. Not only do the animals that are being targeted, but also the animals that might be used as part of the hunting practice i.e. dogs. There's also the social costs. Is it okay for our children to be running around, and shooting and killing animals?
So how do we bring compassion to this particular debate? We currently don't meet world standards in protected area allocation. We're talking about introducing a new threatening process that is Hunters International parks, and yet we're still lagging behind. The convention on biological diversity that set targets for 2020 in China, set a target of at least 17 per cent. In New South Wales, we're only at 8.8 per cent. We have a long way to go in protecting and meeting our obligations - global obligations. Adding threatening processes to that environment is not something that we should be contemplating.
A way forward is with compassion. We need to adopt the precautionary principle to animal wellbeing. We need to include ethics in the decision making process that we engage in. We need to move away from exploitative-based sustainability to equity-based sustainability. We need to encourage wildlife research that addresses welfare and builds compassion into it. From my point of view, as Marc said, compassion is not an undesirable state. It is nothing to be - to apologise for. It's a human thing. It's an animal thing. Let's do it. Thank you.
So the animal side of things. All of what I'm going to be talking to you about now is really scientifically based. Some people pooh-pooh it, but the fact is that the scientific database for animal emotions, animal sentience, is really growing rapidly. Almost daily, we hear about new studies that are being published in highly respected peer reviewed professional journals about animal emotions and animal sentience. I'll just give you a couple of examples, just because it's - this is really a field in which I've worked for a really long time. What surprises me - I'll say it upfront - is how humans are able to deny things that are just right in front of them. I like to call us homo-denialist.
Because - so for this book I'm writing, I looked at the same arguments that are put forth for denying climate change, for example. It's the same kind of strategy that people use for denying climate change in denying that animals have feelings. Once again, I could start off by saying would you do something to your dog? Would you put your dog on a factory farm? Would you treat your dog the way you treat another animal? People go oh no, I never would do that. It just grounds the discussion.
So here's just some really recent findings. It's really exciting I think. We know that mice, rats and chickens display empathy. People go oh God, that is just so fluffy and all that. Well the fact of the matter is there's a lot of good research that shows that a lot of mammals display empathy. People just hadn't done the research before. One of the criticisms that people make is that well, this isn't really hard science. Well the article on rat empathy was published in the journal Science, where most of my colleagues would like to publish one paper in their 50 year career. So there was also an interesting paper published on joy in rats. People go oh my goodness, how could that be the case? That paper was also published in Science magazine. So people are doing the really good research.
There's been some research showing - people are interested, do animals understand what other animals know or what they feel, or what humans know or what they feel? There was just a really good study. I call it stealth dogs. That dogs can assess a situation and when they go in to steal food that they're not allowed to have, they do it quietly and prefer to do it in the dark. You can do a lot of different experiments to show that the dogs are really assessing the social and the physical environment. Then deciding should they go in and take the food that they know they're not supposed to have? Or should they leave it? Well, like I said, they'll only do it in certain situations.
We know that New Caledonian crows are amazing tool users. In fact, they do better than chimpanzees in manufacturing and using tools. These are really based on natural observations, and also on some really keen field experiments. I think that a topic - I was just thinking while Dan was talking - I was listening to you Dan but I was making notes. That one topic that I think is really important is do animals grieve? So is there a harm being done by killing a particular individual, other than say killing a mother who has young, who will then die? Because there is a lot of collateral damage there.
So yeah, we know that animals grieve. We know that the loss of certain animals in a group really has a remarkable effect on the integrity of the group, on the integrity of the social dynamics and the social organisation. So we read about grieving in elephants. We read about grieving in chimpanzees. Every country to which I've been, all the SPCAs or the groups that are concerned with the behaviour of domestic animals have booklets for how to deal with a grieving dog or a cat. So we know that occurs.
When I was in Samburu in northern Kenya, I was with Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who's a world renowned elephant expert. When we went into the field, there was a huge herd of elephants that just looked like they had wanderlust. Their heads were down, their tails were down, their ears were down. It turned out the matriarch had just died the week before. Many of you know that the matriarch in an elephant group - it's always a female - they could be up to 60 or 65 years old. They're the repository of social knowledge, and they also are the social glue.
So the point I'm trying to make here is not only are the animals feeling the loss, but they're also feeling - in a grieving sense - that they're suffering the damage from the loss of a particular individual. We now know in wolf packs - but other social carnivores as well - that the loss of certain individuals can really lead to the dissemination of the group.
So once again, just killing or removing one animal has a lot of collateral damage potentially, and can have much more major consequences. So what do we know? Well just this past July at a meeting held at the University of Cambridge in England, there was a Declaration On Consciousness that was published. A bunch of prestigious scientists - now I think they reinvented the wheel, but these were scientists, who are legends in their own minds in many ways. Stephen Hawking was also there. So it became a Channel 6 BBC news fair, but they passed the declaration - The Cambridge Declaration On Consciousness. This - I want to read this to you. We knew this all the time. I'm sure most of you knew it all the time.
But rather than belittle them for reinventing the wheel? It was really important, because these were people who people were looking to for credibility. They said convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the anatomical neurochemical and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states, along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviours. They go on and basically say that non-human animals - including all mammals and birds and many other creatures, including octopuses - possess these neurological substrates. In fact, they could have added fish.
There was a recent book published called Do Fish Feel Pain? by a woman who has no vested interest, if you will, in their welfare. She doesn't want to just go out and wantonly kill them. But she presented the summary of available data that showed that fish are fully sentient and conscious. They respond to morphine in the same way that humans respond to morphine. So we've got The Cambridge Declaration on Conscious.
We also have The Treaty of Lisbon that was passed by member states of the European Union. It went into force December 1 2009, that recognised in formulating and implementing the Union's agriculture, fisheries, transport, internal market research and technological development and space policies - blah, blah, blah - sentience is important to factor in. So we have major policies and major declarations coming out.
So the real question that I look at as a biologist - I'm interested in the evolution of different behaviours. I'm interested in behavioural ecology - would be not if animal emotions have evolved, but why they have evolved? What function they serve? So who can we look to for making a very strong database for concluding that other animals are emotional beings? We can go to Charles Darwin. Darwin put forth ideas about evolutionary continuity. Evolutionary continuity basically argues that the differences amongst species are differences in degree, rather than differences in kind. So the differences amongst species are shades of grey, rather than black and white.
The bumper sticker - because I know people all over the world like bumper stickers - is basically if we have something, they, other animals, have it too. What's really interesting about continuity is biologists have always applied the principles of continuity to anatomy and physiology, for example. Continuity really underlies biomedical research. If we weren't like them, if you will, why would we do the research? But there's been a lot of resistance to applying continuity to emotions, mental states, cognitive capacities. There's no reason not to apply it. So really, it's bad biology to rob other animals of their emotional lives. Once again, we can go back to Charles Darwin on that.
Now, with respect once again to what happens when animals are being stalked and hunted, we have Patrick Bateson's work in England that shows that animals suffer greatly when they are being stalked and hunted. Just like humans suffer greatly, when they are being stalked and hunted. Once again, we share with other animals the same neural structures. So there's no reason to think that my feeling of pain and suffering when I'm being stalked and hunted or when I'm grieving, may not be the same as a dog's or a cat's. But it may not also be the same as yours. So it would be wrong to say that I have it and you don't, or vice versa.
So the argument that animal emotions or animal feelings are not the same as ours, is really a silly argument because there's no reason to think that they would be the same. But once again, we know that we share the same neural structures and the same neurochemicals, so there must be some overlap in those feelings. We also know now that many animals suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder. There's been incredibly detailed work on elephants, chimpanzees, dogs and other animals.
Once again, it's not a mind blower. Hope Ferdowsian, who's a physician in Washington, who also does a lot of research - if you do a differential diagnosis on a chimpanzee who has been subjected to highly invasive research, and kept in a little refrigerator size cage. You just look at the diagnosis; you can't differentiate that from a human being suffering from what we call post-traumatic stress disorder.
So once again we see this continuity across the board. Another really interesting finding I'll tell you about before I conclude, because I find it really fascinating, is that animals respond very deeply to being treated unfairly. Here's two experiments that were done - I've had grade school kids go out and do these at dog parks afterwards.
One study was done on female capuchin monkeys. So you put them together so they can see one another. You train them to do a certain task, and you give them both monkey chow. Monkey chow is just like eating clay, but that's what they're fed in laboratories. Then you reward one capuchin monkey with a date or a grape, and the animal getting the monkey chow refuses to work. Basically saying I'm not going to do this if they're getting this - a favourite food.
The other study was done on dogs, and the dogs didn't respond to necessarily the quality of the food, but rather to the quantity of the food. If you started giving more - if you've lived with a dog, you know this. But if you do this - really, I've had six year old kids just put two dogs together. Teach them to shake and then change the amount of food. The dog getting the lesser amount of food refuses to work. We call this inequity aversion. Scientists like really fancy terms. It really just means you don't like being treated unfairly.
I've seen this in wild wolf packs and wild coyotes packs. The reason I'm saying that is that once again, it's not surprising that these animals respond to being treated unfairly. They spend a lot of days together, just watching one another. They can make predictions about what a particular individual is going to do. So this inequity aversion, once again, shows that they have a really good idea of what's going on around them and they're, if you will, smart.
I'll end off now with one caveat, because people always say to me well when I talk about stuff like this, people say oh, you're just being anthropomorphic, as if you're suffering from some disease. Well you're not really suffering from a disease. Being anthropomorphic means you're attributing humanlike characteristics to non-human entities. We talk about angry thunderstorms, for example. That would be being anthropomorphic.
So here's my take on that. I really mean this very seriously, because it's something that's used to tell people that they're wrong, when in fact, I believe they're not.
I was at a meeting, and we were talking about the welfare of animals in zoos and we were talking about elephants. There was this elephant named Maggie, who some of you may have heard about. She's alone in Fairbanks, Alaska, in a cage not - I mean a tenth the size of this room. She's pretty miserable. Elephants, to the best of my knowledge, haven't lived up in Fairbanks. So I said well, Maggie is really unhappy. She's just not doing well. The guy who was making a lot of money by keeping Maggie up there said well, you're just being anthropomorphic. She's happy. Good, you got it. It got quiet really fast. I said well, why are you permitted to say that Maggie's happy and you're not being anthropomorphic, but when I say Maggie's not happy, I'm being anthropomorphic?
So I really mean this seriously, because it's really not a very strong counterargument to animal emotions. So I'll sum this up by saying that we have an amazing amount of data accumulating. Some are in this book that I just edited called Ignoring Nature No More. Some you can read about in almost every popular newspaper every weekend. So the database shows very clearly that non-human beings - non-human animal beings are emotional, sentient and conscious. They may not be emotional, sentient and conscious, if you will, in the same way we are, but that doesn't mean they don't have it and we do. So we shouldn't say that because something isn't the same as ours, they simply don't have it. This just gets me back to where I concluded the last session. I think it's really important just to throw it out.
That individual animals count. Individual feelings count. That we are really ignoring nature when we rob other animals of their emotional lives. One thing I'm just going to throw out again, because I really think it's an incredibly important thing to remember, is that so much of the time, we really have no idea what we're doing. Dan was presenting some data about this. I went out to the web, and I looked up things. I'm not the kind of person who says believe me, I read it on the web. But I really think that's really important.
So I look at a gathering like this, where we're going to have people with a lot of different opinions sitting down and talking about what is the best way to move forward?
Because I'm a realist, and I know that there's a real world out there. I think we are going to have to make compromises and tradeoffs. I hate to say that, because I am an idealist in another sense. But I think the tradeoffs and the compromises we make have to be really well based on solid science, and also have to be well based using the precautionary principle. That there are so many things for which we have enough knowledge to make policy decisions. We're never going to be able to do all the work that needs to be done. So thank you for your attention.
3rd International Compassionate Conservation Conference
Expanding Conservation Horizons, Sydney, 2017
The 3rd International Compassionate Conservation Conference, hosted by the Centre for Compassionate Conservation in November 2017, provided an opportunity to hear progress from experts from around the world and for participants to take part in setting the agenda for compassionate conservation into the future. The theme of the conference was Expanding Conservation Horizons and featured a mix of symposia, workshops, and field trips.
In the newly recognised age of anthropogenic influence, now labelled the Anthropocene, the conference focussed on one of the biggest questions of our time: how should we engage with nature? Wildlife are experiencing unprecedented extinction rates and population decline, driven both by intentional harms and as by-products of human activities. At the same time, some wildlife are flourishing in rapidly changing habitats and places, challenging our fundamental concepts of nature.
The protection of nature has historically prioritised the conserving of collectives (populations, species, and ecosystems) in their pre-Anthropocene state. As a consequence, conservation has often been indifferent to the plight of individuals and averse to emerging ecological configurations. The societal norms that shape the context of these underlying positions remain murky, entrenched, and often not transparent to the wider community.
Rather than finding conservation solutions that deliver benefits across all levels of biodiversity, the lives of individuals are frequently traded-off for the greater good of species or ecosystems, without considering the ethical challenges this presents.
Compassionate conservation offers the paradigm shift required to address the ethical challenges of engaging with nature in the 21st Century.
Download the conference program and abstracts, describing the 61 talks given!
Novel ecosystems: promoting native-non-native coexistence
Human mediated biotic migration is a hallmark of the Anthropocene. Populations of recently arrived species (‘invasive species’) elicit alarm, in part because some eat or compete with valued local species, but also because they exemplify anthropogenic change. Conservationists traditionally apply lethal suppression and attempt eradication. But such approaches are costly, risky, indifferent to animal welfare, and often ineffective. This session discussed the emergence of novel ecosystems from a compassionate conservation perspective. Presentations included those promoting native-non-native coexistence; critical analysis of invasion biology; conservation values of introduced species; and fundamental ideas on nature, wildlife, and our own ecological roles.
- Scott Carroll, University of California, Davis, USA
- Matthew Chew, Arizona State University, USA
Welfare in the wild: Challenges of putting animal welfare science theory into practice
Scientific evaluation of animal welfare is a key component of compassionate conservation; such evaluations contribute critical information to ethical, legal and political debates about the ways in which we interact with wild animals and their habitats. In keeping with the overarching vision, Expanding Horizons, the welfare theme expanded on the theoretical considerations presented at the previous conference and began to tackle the practical application of scientific principles to assess wild animal welfare. As a growing number of researchers attempt to undertake real-life welfare assessments on free-living populations, a range of scientific and practical challenges have become evident. Exploring these challenges and discussing potential solutions facilitated and expedited valid scientific assessments of wild animal welfare to support the goals of compassionate conservation.
- Sandra Baker, University of Oxford, UK
- Karen Stockin, Massey University, New Zealand
Transitioning to predator-friendly ranching
In many parts of the world, imperilled predators are killed to protect livestock from predation. For predator conservation to be effective in these areas, conflicts must be proactively prevented and cooperatively by stakeholders, policy makers, and practitioners. There are a growing range of tools and management methods designed to accomplish coexistence of wild predators and livestock. This theme focussed on nonlethal and humane solutions to proactively preventing or minimizing wild predator and livestock conflicts. Topics included specific types of deterrents, livestock husbandry methods, or community based projects to collaboratively address protection of wildlife and domestic animals.
- Suzanne Stone, Defenders for Wildlife, USA
- Bool Smuts, Landmark Foundation, South Africa
Developing compassionate laws and policies
Law and policy applying to “invasive alien”, “invasive”, or “pest” species emphasises lethal methods of control with insufficient attention to animal welfare; in addition, it is often driven by agricultural concerns rather than conservation ones. This theme focussed on how could policymakers and legislators respond to these issues?
- Sophie Riley, UTS, Australia
- David Cassuto, Pace University, USA
Conservation ethics in the Anthropocene
In the newly recognised age of anthropogenic influence, now labelled the Anthropocene, questions of how we should engage with nature and how we ought to rectify our global impacts are increasingly important. There is considerable urgency needed in addressing these questions as wildlife are experiencing both unprecedented extinction rates and decline in numbers. Conflicts between people and nature are increasing in frequency as space becomes limited, while frameworks for encouraging mutualistic coexistence are lacking. Symptomatic of this, attempts to design and implement projects to address conservation concerns have been subject to considerable backlash worldwide because of a perceived failure to be ethically robust and transparent. This has given rise to major tensions around aims, methods, and values in conservation. In this symposium, speakers addressed these tensions by exploring how compassionate conservation might provide a scientifically-robust, practical, and inclusive model for future-proofing conservation in the Anthropocene.
- Deborah Bird-Rose, UNSW, Australia
- Michael Nelson, Oregon State University, USA
Sharing agricultural lands with wildlife in Asia and Australia
The expansion and intensification of agricultural activities in Asia and Australia affect the survival and welfare of wildlife and their efficiency in providing essential ecosystem services. Large scale intensification projects including peatland conversion in Kalimantan, Palm oil production in Indonesia and Malaysia, and land-chaining in Queensland, have received considerable recent scientific and media attention. However, intensification practices on established agricultural lands have generated less concern, despite the habitat value of agricultural lands and the negative effects of agricultural intensification on wildlife. This theme examined agricultural policy in Asia and Australia and examined how pressures to increase agricultural productivity for food security and economic growth are balanced against incentives for wildlife protection and biodiversity conservation. The theme brought together experts from the two regions to present case studies and to build a framework for a greater inclusion of wildlife conservation in agricultural development. The theme was supported with a dynamic workshop that reflects on lessons learned and develops recommendations for gainful dialog with stakeholders including farmers and policy makers.
- Ahimsa Campos Arceiz, Nottingham University, Malaysia