Promoting Welfare Biology as the Study of Wild Animal Suffering

Promoting Welfare Biology as the Study of Wild Animal Suffering


We’re going to start first with a little experiment. I want you to think, just for a second, of
a wild animal, the first one that comes to mind. Okay? You got it? That’s good. We’ll come back later to that. The idea of this presentation was to present
firstly, what is wild animal suffering in general, and then see what we are doing right
now to tackle it. We have this aim now, which is the creation
of a new field of research, a new scientific field called Welfare Biology to address it,
but before that, we need to see what is the reason why we should be worried about that. So what I’ll do is, first explain why wild
animal suffering is important. Then I’ll present some ways in which we are
already helping wild animals, and then I’ll come back to the reasons to create this new
field of research. So, yeah, wild animal suffering is important. Many people have this idyllic view of nature,
they think that nature is a paradise for animals. It’s not that they think that during the evening
they join together and sing songs and all that, but on the other, it’s they think that,
yeah, animals are leading good lives there. Unfortunately, this is not really what happens. So there are many reasons why animals have
a pretty bad life, many of them have very bad lives, in fact, due to natural causes
such as extreme weather conditions, hunger and malnutrition, parasites, injuries. Like for instance, this animal with an injury
such as this one, that can mean for this animal death. He or she can’t go to a health center and
get some antibiotics or something. And then we see this, also extremely common. Many animals die due to horrible diseases
that cause them suffering throughout long periods of time. We think of them as used to that, but that’s
not the case. They suffer just as humans would in their
case. Right? And on top of this, there are reasons to believe
that this is not something that happens just to a tiny minority of animals. It’s just the other way around. And now I want to come back to this experiment. So I want to ask you, how many of you thought
of a mammal when I asked you to think of a wild animal? Wow, a lot of people. How many of you thought of a bird? Just a couple of persons. Reptile? One. Amphibian? One. A fish? One. An invertebrate? Okay, the tide is changing, so some people
are thinking an invertebrate. This is good, this shows that we are making
progress in this. Now, the most relevant question now, how many
of you thought of juvenile, baby animals, very young animals? Only one. So the rest of you basically thought of adult
animals. But what happens is that in nature, most animals
reproduce by having huge offsprings. Right? This happens in the case of mammals. Rodents can have like hundreds of offspring,
other animals can have like thousands of offsprings during their life. Some may have like millions of them. Right? On average, how many of these animals would
you guess survive, make it to maturity? It’s very simple. On average, for a stable population, only
one animal per parent makes it. What happens to the other animals? They die, most of them shortly after coming
into existence. The thing is that their deaths aren’t really
nice deaths. They often die due to hunger. Many animals never eat. They come into existence, look for food, never
find any food, and they just die. Others may be, I don’t know, frozen or killed
by, as I said, by the cold maybe. Others are eaten alive. And this happens to the overwhelming majority
of animals. So this shows that this issue really is serious
and really deserves more attention than what it has received so far. What are we doing right now to tackle this? Most of the things that are done deal with
very few numbers of animals, or with just one animal. So every now and then, you can see in the
media cases of people helping animals in distress like, for instance, in this case this fawn
who was there trapped in a frozen lake and was rescued. Or, in some cases, there are efforts that
try to help more animals, like there are centers for injured animals or sick animals or orphaned
animals, such as this baby rhino. There you have more examples of animals treated
in centers such as this one and getting adequate medical care, and so on. So when we see these pictures, we think, “Well,
it’s great that we are helping these animals.” But after all, when we consider how many animals
really are facing these terrible situations, it seems that we need to go further than that. There are some efforts that try to help more
animals. These are animal feeders as you can see. They dosify the amount of food that animals
can get. And this place, in some cases, where certain
animal populations are threatened. I don’t know, it may be because they are facing
a particularly harsh winter or something. You can see this night picture of this animal
going there to feed. This is mainly done for conservation as a
reason, which is different from caring for the animals themselves. They want to keep a certain population there
for scientific reasons or because they want tourists to see these animals, but that’s
different from caring for the animals themselves. But still, this helps, and the knowledge we
have about how to deal with these situations of hunger could be applied in other cases
as well. More ambitious efforts can be considered too. As you can see, this is a picture of a scientific
paper, which is about vaccination against tuberculosis of wild animals. And there are several of other diseases which
have been researched in order to learn how to best eradicate certain diseases from certain
populations. Again, another paper, this tackling swine
fever virus. And another one, this is against rabies. I want you to notice the date of this paper,
it’s 1988. So this has been some research that has been
going on for a while already. It’s been decades since scientists started
to work on this and much progress has been done. Rabies has been eradicated in many countries,
in northern Europe and wide areas in North America. And again, the reason why this measure is
carried out, it’s not because people are concerned about animals, we don’t want them to suffer
this horrible death, rather than that, we don’t want those animals to pass these diseases
to human beings or to the animals human beings live with. But it’s still, even if it’s not the purpose
we are trying to achieve, we are getting somewhere there because we are helping a lot of animals. Even though, as I said, there’s been some
research on this already, much more work could be carried out. Just to explain you how this is done, those
biscuits or stuff that this person has there. There are some kind of biscuit with nice smells
for the animals and a nice taste and they introduce the vaccine there. Then they distribute them in the wild, so
there are different ways to do this. One is with this dosifiers, so they go there
and, as I say, they just throw one at a time, so it’s not that they’re going to get a lot
of them. And this sounds a bit crazy, but this is exactly
how this is done. You see? They go with helicopters and they have these
boxes there with the vaccine, with the doses of it, and they just distribute them like
candy for the animals. Yeah. It’s amazing how we can do things that actually
can help, not just one animal, not just ten animals, thousands of animals. And, as I said, this is only because we are
concerned with humans. So imagine to what extent we could go in our
efforts to help these animals, if we were concerned for the animals themselves. Okay? So this is where the need for this new field
of research comes out. There are several cost efficient courses of
action today to address wild animal suffering. And of course one is to spread the idea that
animals in the wild matter. Right? This implies first, speaking out against the
discrimination of animals, against speciesism, spreading concern for animals in general. But then, spreading concern for wild animals
in particular because there are many people who, while concerned about animal welfare,
animal rights, they never thought that animals may need our help, because they are suffering
due to natural reasons. Some organizations are doing this. I’m working in animal ethics, and we are distributing
materials to educate the general public with a focus especially on people who are involved
in academia. We want to reach also animal advocates to
give them information about this, so they themselves can go on working and spreading
the word about that. This is another picture of our website. It’s in Chinese because it’s so cool that
we have our website in eight different languages. I could have put it in English, but you know,
I’m putting it in Chinese. Yeah, why not? But still, this is only a part of it. There are more things that are necessary here. One of them is supporting the interventions
that are already being carried out, such as the ones that I presented before. And then helping to create new ways of helping
animals in nature, helping to develop new ways. And it’s here where raising interest among
life scientists is key. Okay? The reason for this is that when you consider
the work that life sciences carry out that is related to either directly or indirectly
to wild animal suffering, what you find out is that there is no idea of wild animal suffering
as such, or even wild animal welfare that is around. For instance, when you consider the work of
animal welfare scientists, they may work with animals that are exploited by humans. In fact, there is a field that is called Wild
Animal Welfare. What they do is, they focus on wild animals
that are in captivity or, in some cases, wild animals are being affected in the wild by
humans, by say, hunting or fishing or similar activities. Right? There is also another field, which is Compassionate
Conservation, and where they focus is in trying to achieve conservations in ways that don’t
harm individual animals. So all these are fields that are related to
what we need here, but aren’t quite the same thing. Right? And then we have the field of ecology, and
the field of ecology now has many subfields. Ecology works on the study of ecosystemic
relations, so there is community ecology, population ecology, behavior ecology, all
them are fields of ecology. But what we don’t have yet is this, welfare
biology, or welfare ecology. What is welfare biology? Well, it’s been defined as the study of living
beings with respect to their positive and negative well being. But basically, another way of understanding
this, it’s just a study of how animals deal in all kinds of situations, including the
wild. So the welfare biology would include animal
welfare science as we understand it today. It would go further than that because it would
address as well the situations that animals are undergoing in the wild. Okay? This is a new field that we have to create. And it’s amazing that in ecology and that
in animal welfare science, there is no work on this. Right? Clearly, even if only from a scientific, from
an epistemic viewpoint, if we want to know how is the reality of animals or what is the
reality of ecosystems out there, the wellbeing of animals, positive or negative wellbeing,
clearly seems to be something very relevant that should be a part of that. If on top of that, we are not only curious
about how things are, but we are also concerned about how those things are for particular
individuals, then it seems clear that we have most reason to try to develop these new fields. There is some work carrying out in these fields
already. This is a list of publications that we publish,
and you can see it’s a long list. I put it there not so you can read them, but
only for you to look at how long the list is. But even if it’s a long list, it’s not long
enough. And in addition to that, you can’t read it,
but I can explain it to you. A significant part of this literature is by
people who are working like in philosophy or ethics or other related fields, but not
actual biology. And that’s what we need. We need biologists who are involved in this. This is what’s necessary now. Actually, I want to express it in red because
this is really something we need. Right? And fortunately, there are already some people
who are getting involved in this. We are now creating a small network of ecologists
and other biologists. Some animal welfare scientists are starting
to be interested in this. Yet the prospect of having this new field
created is actually feasible now. Some years ago, this could seem like a crazy
idea, but now, it’s not going to be immediate, it’s going to take a while, but we are on
our way there. What are we doing now? By us, I mean the people who are working in
this field in general. There are several organizations working on
this, Animal Ethics is one of them. Then there is Wild Animal Suffering Research,
Utility Farm, and other groups are working on this too. In particular, in the case of animal ethics,
we are now examining, we are carrying out research on how new scientific fields have
been created in the recent past. We have now interviewed already around 15
scientists in different countries. Mainly biologists, but also animal welfare
scientists, to see what ideas they have regarding this, what kind of interventions they think
it would be more promising to research. People from different countries, like in the
UK, in the US, some around Europe too, Germany, Switzerland, but also like in Latin America,
in Brazil, in Mexico. So we tried to cover a wide range. And we are also working on designing drafts
of what could be research projects, which welfare biologists could work on to make as
easy as possible the work of these people who are being interested in this. We are also working in designing how subjects,
subjects that you could teach at the university, if you are a biology scholar. So they are focused on animal welfare, wild
animal welfare, or they include wild animal welfare, welfare biology among other concerns. So, yes, there is much work to be done, but
as I said, what’s more important to this is getting life scientists involved. So I would have liked to have more time to
speak about welfare biology as such and the new developments, but I thought that it would
be useful to first tell you a bit about wild animal suffering. But, yeah, we’ll have time now to discuss
or if you have any questions, we still have like 10 minutes or so to speak. On behalf of all these animals, again, I want
to thank you for your interest in this topic. Thanks. Thank you. I really appreciated your talk and obviously,
so did this audience. Unfortunately, we have way more questions
than we do have time to answer questions, but you can find him for office hours after
this as well. I think at noon, if I’m right, maybe during
lunch. I can tell you at the end of the talk. One of the questions asked if we should care
about animal extinction along the same lines that we care about human extinction and asks
if there’s a non speciesist difference between the two cases. Actually, if you are concerned about animals
themselves, you aren’t really concerned by what happens to the species as such. Also, in the case of humans, like for instance,
suppose that humans were somehow replaced by other beings who would be more caring individuals,
more intelligent and with better aims than we have, would that be bad? Many people, at least among effective altruists
would say, “Well, that would probably be a good thing.” So this would be something that would have
to do somehow with instrumental reasons, but it also shows that we aren’t concerned with
species as such. We are concerned with individuals as such. And the same would happen in the case of animals,
I would say. Right. Great. Someone else asked, especially regarding the
vaccination efforts that you mentioned in your talk, in general, won’t wild animals
just die of something else, even if they are, say, treated for a vaccine? Does this pose some problem for the field
of wild animal suffering? Yeah, that’s a good question. The thing is, in fact, there are different
ways of dying and it’s not just the harm of death, because there are some people who don’t
believe in the harm of that. Most people think that when you die, you lose
everything so you can’t have more moral positives in your life, so dying is a harm. But in addition to this, there is the harm
of suffering, and some diseases really are terrible and cause terrible amounts of suffering. So if we could avoid that, that’d be worth
it. But in addition to this type of question,
it allows us to present really what would be the best way to address this issue, which
would be on a larger scale. So what welfare biologists could do is, they
could research the amount of suffering the different ecosystemic relations create in
comparison to others. For instance, when you consider the conservation
of elephants, well, killing elephants may be bad for the elephants, but there is something
else to take into account there, which is elephants are eaters of huge amounts of biomass. So if they aren’t there, that biomass is going
to be eaten by these tiny invertebrates who will have lots of offspring, and they will
be eaten by these tiny invertebrates, but a bit larger and so on, so we will have very
long trophic chains, in which there is much suffering. So it’s not just about creating particular
interventions that reduce suffering, it’s about studying the big picture and taking
a look at what is the direction in which we want ecosystems to go for there to be less
suffering. Right. Our final question, is there a risk that welfare
biology will focus almost entirely on mammals and birds and, if so, does that change the
cost benefit analysis of welfare biology generally? Yeah, that’s another good question. I think that it will focus definitely on vertebrates
at the beginning for several reasons. Not necessarily in the case of all the research
that is going to be carried out, but surely, the focus is going to be on those animals
at first. But that may be like the foot in the door,
the way to get more work in general done and to establish the name of welfare biology as
something that is respected in academia and that will allow us to then afterwards go on
and do research on other animals as well. Just as happens also in the case of animal
advocates in general who mainly work on vertebrates, but who are now starting to consider invertebrates
as well. Right. That’s great to hear. With that, please join me in thanking him. Thank you.

Daniel Yohans

2 thoughts on “Promoting Welfare Biology as the Study of Wild Animal Suffering

  1. Centre for Effective Altruism says:

    Also watch 'Crucial Considerations in Wild Animal Suffering' by Persis Eskander, from EA Global 2018 San Francisco: https://youtu.be/qK-VNh1AKy0.

  2. Soner Cem Gür says:

    This doesn’t say why we should or must eradicate the suffering in wild at all? The existence of suffering and people already intervening do not explain WHY we should intervene.

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