Wildlife management and the debate on the ethics of animal use. II. A challenge for the animal protection movement
Office of the Environment and Heritage, Department of Premier and Cabinet, PO Box 1967, Hurstville NSW 2220, and School of Biological Sciences and Biotechnology, Murdoch University, Murdoch, Western Australia 6150.
How people coexist and interact with animals has become an intensely debated issue in recent times, particularly with the rise of the animal protection movement following the publication of Peter Singer’s book Animal Liberation in 1975. This paper discusses some shortcomings of the philosophical positions taken in this complex debate. Singer has helped put animals on a new footing as a group that cannot morally be ignored, but his focus is mainly on individual, familiar animals that are used or abused by humans. The argument of this paper is that the ethics of managing wildlife hinges on a broader view of animals, and their contexts, than is apparent from Singer’s text. Wildlife managers aim to conserve populations of a wide range of species, and their habitats, but some mechanisms for achieving these aims, such as research and the control of invasive animals, are frequently opposed by elements of the animal protection movement. We need to adapt our attitude to animals, particularly wildlife, away from the traditional legacy of a few familiar species to embrace an ethic that is more ecological and relevant to Australian contexts. The case argued here has been to see the critical role of context — geographical, ecological, historical, relational — as a basis for a degree of reconciliation between conservation oriented wildlife managers and the rising interest in the ethics of animal use. There is much to be gained for zoologists, wildlife managers and conservation biologists by framing key elements of their case in ethical arguments. Conversely, the challenge for those in the animal protection movement is to expand their philosophical ideas to include the ethical imperative of the conservation of populations of wildlife.