Wildlife policy must move towards “do no harm” compassionate conservation ethics

I attended my first Winter Wolf Monitoring Meeting Thursday, June 8th in Wausau where the results were announced. Wisconsin’s wolf population is up 6.8 percent from last year, 866 to 953. Most of the available seats were filled, with both pro-wolf and pro-hunting interests in attendance. The DNR biologist, David MacFarland, answered people’s questions thoroughly, and explained the current status of wolves in Wisconsin; the laws regarding protected versus delisted statuses. The DNR biologist described the methods used to monitor the wolves to get population counts. It was obvious to me, that the DNR biologists were very knowledgeable, engaged, and passionate about their work.

However, one thing I find missing in our current science and politics, not just here in Wisconsin, but also in Yellowstone and elsewhere; is the inclusion of the emotions and intellect of the wildlife. In the case of wolves, in  “management” decisions;  I realize the importance of objectivity in science. Nonetheless, shouldn’t that objectivity take into consideration the emotional aspects of these animals? Emotions are just as crucial to anmals lives as they are to ours.  The notion that animals have emotions and feelings is accepted science; from Charles Darwin, to Jane Goodall, to Marc Bekoff, great strides have been made showing that animals, just as we do, experience a wide range of emotions, empathy, cognitive reasoning, and self-awareness.

The wolf is neither man’s competitor nor his enemy. He is a fellow creature with whom the earth must be shared.  – David Mech

When I look into my (Abbey) dog’s eyes there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that she is a thinking and feeling sentient being. The evidence is seen; in how Abbey greets me when I get home from work, and how she displays her fear during thunderstorms.

If we know other animals think and feel-and I certainly know my dog does-why would we not take that into consideration in dealing with wolves (our domestic dog’s closest cousin), considering we make decisions concerning their fate?

Our politicians and scientists talk about them, and treat them almost as if they are inanimate objects – by using vocabulary such as: harvesting, hunting, trapping. We certainly wouldn’t treat our fellow humans, or our pets by shooting or trapping them; so why do we do so with wolves?  Why don’t we take into account their feelings and emotions, their social structure, and their intellect when we intrude on their territory while removing their source of food (deer and elk) for our own (cattle)?

Wildlife policy must move towards “do no harm” compassionate conservation ethics.

“Although other animals may be different from us, this does not make them LESS than us.” –Marc Bekoff

 Our current management policy when wolves are delisted only dictates killing them. We need to understand this; that wolves are sentient beings with just as much right to be on this planet as us. Our science along with politics need to incorporate the concepts involving compassionate conservation.  In the words of Pope Francis, “We must forcefully reject the notion that our being created in God’s image and given dominion over the earth justifies absolute domination over other creatures.”


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