Contact with Nature Improves Mental Health and Well-Being

Contact with Nature Improves Mental Health and Well-Being
June 14, 2020
Alan E. Kazdin, PhD
Yale University
With the onset and effort to control the coronavirus, many of us are confined to our homes and isolated from our extended family and social and work contacts that are so central to our lives. For those who have access to the internet and social media, there are new ways to connect by having family chats, meals, and even holiday celebrations by Zoom or the equivalent. Nevertheless, technology can only do so much, and confinement and isolation remain. Having multiple family members in the home and overseeing activities such as the education of children and adolescents can heighten the stress of an already difficult situation and adversely affect one’s mental health. Many of us now are experiencing varying degrees of depression, anxiety, stress, irritability, and loneliness. Maintaining an upbeat mood and feelings of well-being is even more challenging because of the confinement and lack of control over much of our everyday lives. And our situation is heavily influenced by daily, if not moment-to-moment, doses of the news about the progression and disastrous consequences of the virus.
Individuals and families carve out their own ways to manage by searching out and participating in many creative activities. Cooking, exercising, chatting online, playing video games, dressing up, making entertaining family videos, and assorted new activities and variations on old ones, all can help. For some of us in social isolation, exercise, food and rest are among our many options: exercise, a trip to the refrigerator, or a little more rest on the couch. (In my own case, I have been able to integrate these seamlessly by walking briskly to the refrigerator, selecting a little snack, and walking slowly–the cool down phase–back to the couch.)
However, an under-recognized and possibly under-utilized set of options, with far-reaching benefits, are simple contacts with and immersion in nature. Contacts with nature include interacting with living systems in the form of greenery, vegetation, and nonhuman animals in open spaces including parks, gardens, forests, and the wilderness. This can include many activities such as walking through a park where there are trees and vegetation but also viewing surroundings that include nature from one’s home or office windows. The benefits of contact with nature and gardens were widely recognized in many early civilizations (e.g., Persia, China, Greece) and later in many countries in which gardens, parks, and greeneries were incorporated into monasteries and hospitals as explicit efforts to promote tranquility, well-being, and health. What is added to these long historical traditions is scientific research that has elaborated on the scope of the options and their benefits.
That research has repeatedly shown that contact with nature has many beneficial effects including improved mood, happiness, subjective well-being, sleep, and cognitive functioning as reflected in better memory and attention, reduced distress and feelings of isolation and fewer symptoms of mental disorders including depression and anxiety. I hasten to add that several of the benefits of exposure to nature (e.g., improved subjective well-being and lower stress) are closely linked to physical health and susceptibility to disease. Consequently, the psychological benefits of contacts with nature, hugely important in their own right, are not even the whole story.
I would also emphasize the variety of ways in which the benefits of exposure to nature have been studied. First, laboratory studies, showing people photos of nature vs. control scenes (e.g., urban areas) reveal the benefits of exposure to nature. People who view scenes of nature respond better and show more positive mood, less repetitive thinking, and other benefits, even under these highly controlled and artificial laboratory conditions.
Second, there are the naturalistic observational studies that follow individuals who vary in their exposure to nature, either in the past or the present, and then compare them to individuals with little or no such exposure. In such cases, one must control for the many differences between individuals (e.g. income, education, mental health) but these factors can controlled using statistical analysis to separate their influence from the focus of the research, namely, the influence of exposure to the environment.
Finally, and most persuasively, randomized trials that vary the level of nature experiences to which people are assigned are considered the gold standard for testing the impact of specific experimental variables. These studies also confirm the benefits of contact with nature. An example of such a study would involve assigning individuals randomly to walk or exercise in a rural versus urban area and then to compare the impact of these different experiences on a variety of indices of mental health.
The findings from all three types of studies converge: exposure to and contact with nature make a difference and are associated with and lead to improvements in mental health. Moreover, the benefits have been shown for children, adolescents, and adults; for men and women, and across many different countries. Longitudinal findings have also indicated that early experiences with nature can have enduring impact on reducing one’s risk for later mental disorders and substance abuse.
However, it is important to recognize caveats. Contact with nature is not a panacea nor a cure-all for feelings of irritability and stress nor for mental disorders and everything in between. Also, as is true of most, if not all interventions (e.g., aspirin, chemotherapy, plastic surgery, great parenting, the Mediterranean diet, exercise), contact with nature does not guarantee positive outcomes for everyone. Yet, nature contact often does have broad benefits and like the other interventions mentioned above, is not necessarily expensive while being a wise investment in health.
Many basic questions remain. These include:- how and why contact with nature works; what facets (how much exposure, what type of natural setting) are optimal for reaping the benefits of nature exposure; and for whom (ethnic group, geographical location, living conditions) are the benefits most likely to be achieved. Perhaps it is not contact with nature, but rather some other facet such as the increased activity involved in nature exposure (e.g. walks). However, direct tests show that “green exercise” (exercising while in nature) has greater benefits than doing the identical exercises but without any exposure to the natural environment.
We are currently confined and physically (and socially) isolated under the special circumstances of the coronavirus. Yet, even without the virus we have unwittingly become less exposed to nature and have actively sought out confinement of another kind. More than half the world’s population live in urban areas and the percentage increases as many people leave rural life and move to cities for access to employment opportunities, education, health care services, and cultural experiences. Our urban lives are associated with increased time spent indoors (offices, classes), in cars, busses, and trains; and at home or at work in front of computer screens. Exposure to nature in various outdoor activities including camping, visiting parks, or playing outdoors (among children) have decreased and continue to decline. In short, daily life for many, if not most, individuals already involves lower exposure to nature than before, leaving aside the added social isolation and confinement we currently experience.
Among the features of contact with nature is that it can take many forms including access to scenes and scenery from window views, proximity to blue space (e.g., lakes, oceans, and aquatic areas) and access to private gardens in homes or apartments. The task is not just having such opportunities but ensuring one takes advantage of them and takes the time to engage in more nature exposure. Currently, contact with nature is underused and the benefits are under-appreciated. Urban planning and policy often recognize the importance of integrating green space in projects, but at an individual level it would be valuable to do more to promote, foster, and encourage use of natural spaces as part of our everyday lives. Think of contact with nature as a spa for the mind and soul and, as with a spa, not much activity is required—sit there and soak up the ambience.
A familiar expression in English is to say something is, “a walk in the park” and this refers to something that is very easy to do. What a wonderful guide. To help your sanity, to manage stress, to help maintain a positive mood, or to feel less isolated and confined consider just taking “a walk in the park.” It is easy. If a park is not nearby, walk through nearby gardens, rows of trees, or include in your home scenes of nature. While we are trying to understand why these experiences make a difference, cultural traditions, history, and science have pretty much established that they do.
Resources and Further Reading
Bratman, G. N., Anderson, C. B., Berman, M. G., Cochran, B., De Vries, S., Flanders, J., … & Kahn, P. H. (2019). Nature and mental health: An ecosystem service perspective. Science Advances, 5(7), eaax0903.
Frumkin, H., Bratman, G. N., Breslow, S. J., Cochran, B., Kahn Jr, P. H., Lawler, J. J., … & Wood, S. A. (2017). Nature contact and human health: A research agenda. Environmental Health Perspectives, 125(7), 075001.
Hughes, J., Pretty, J., and Macdonald, D. W. (2013). Nature as a source of health and well-being: is this an ecosystem service that could pay for conserving biodiversity?. Key Topics in Conservation Biology 2, 143. doi: 10.1002/9781118520178.ch9
Marselle, M. R., Irvine, K. N., & Warber, S. L. (2014). Examining group walks in nature and multiple aspects of well-being: A large-scale study. Ecopsychology, 6(3), 134-147.

Going Beyond Symptomatic Treatment: Adopting One Health in India

Going Beyond Symptomatic Treatment:
Adopting One Health in India
May 15, 2020
By Dr. Naveen Pandey
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Photo by: Dr. Naveen Pandey
The advent of a mild winter was in the air around Kaziranga National Park, a UNESCO world heritage site nestled in the north-eastern corner of India. The mighty Brahmaputra River was returning to its normal course of flow after a massive episode of annual flooding. The floodwaters in rice fields and villages had receded. The inhabitants of the villages dotting the southern boundary of Kaziranga National Park expected a few months of peace. But it was not to be. My team started receiving numerous calls to attend to livestock that had sustained injuries inflicted by large cats, probably tigers.
It is unusual for a tiger or a leopard to injure domestic animals, even though they would periodically explore some of the villages on the fringe of the park. But in this case, the big cat tended to visit one section of the village more than the rest. We set up 22 camera traps to identify the big cat and determine, if we could, why s/he ventured out of the park so often. Images from the camera trap established that it was a solitary tigress. To our relief, there was only one carnivore – the tigress frequenting the village – out of the nine species of mammals captured by our cameras. We informed the National Park authorities who increased surveillance, and that simple action prevented further livestock deaths and injuries.
As a conservation medicine professional, working at the interface of human-wildlife-livestock interactions, I come across such cases quite often. In a developing country like India, we invest considerable effort in attending to the outward clinical manifestations or symptoms while mostly ignoring the role that traditional human behaviors and practices play in conflicts with wildlife. A snowballing human population, increased competition for resources and a dynamic socio-economic environment have resulted in the rapid alteration of habitats across India. A proportionate rise in the livestock population and the dwindling habitat for wild animals have led to more frequent, more intense and more unpredictable interactions between wild and domestic animals. Every day, infectious diseases affect the health of wild animals, livestock and environment, but addressing such challenges requires a deep and nuanced understanding of human sociology and psychology – something that might be termed landscape epidemiology.
Photo by: Dr. Naveen Pandey
While establishing a cattle immunization protocol for various diseases around the tiger reserves in Kanha and Bandhavagarh in the Central Indian highlands, I had to learn about social customs in rural India. Applying the concepts of landscape epidemiology required a deep understanding of the norms, values and traditions of the rural communities. A relatively simple initiative to immunize cattle must first identify the decision-making processes of the rural community and then engage the appropriate local rural animal health practitioners. Such an interdisciplinary approach, in partnership with the Forest Department employing traditional communication methods, helped my team deliver appropriate immunizations for local livestock.
While we were able to overcome the initial difficulties of village headmen prohibiting immunization administration in the entire village, there were many other areas of concern which needed urgent attention. For example, the traditional weekly cattle market is a major threat to immunization barriers. Large numbers of cattle with unknown immunization status are traded every week. Having mixed with many animals at the market itself, these traded animals are then brought into the villages where we had expended considerable effort to protect local livestock against disease. The arrival of potentially unvaccinated livestock, brought from outside the region to villages adjacent to tiger reserves, could introduce disease in not just domestic animals but also to the wild animals in the reserves.
Hundreds of cattle routinely venture into forests adjoining villages in India. They pick up ticks and tick-borne diseases from the forests. In order to prevent and treat such disease, villagers use vast quantities of drugs like deltamethrin (an insecticide) and ivermectin (an anti-parasitic agent) either in injectable or topical preparations. The cattle treated with these medicines then go back to the forests, where their dung contaminates the soil and streams with drug residues. These residues adversely affect a large number of invertebrates in the forest, especially vital dung beetles. Veterinarians should help address such anthropogenic environmental disturbances and should encourage livestock keepers to stall feed their animals in the villages rather than letting them roam into the reserves. The continued dispensing of acaricides to cattle owners is not a sustainable solution.
After two decades of active engagement with the livestock keepers, park managers and social scientists, I would highlight three issues which require thoughtful deliberations within and outside the veterinary fraternity: The poor understanding of animal suffering in rural India, the inconsistent disease surveillance across states and poor communication between essential stakeholders. All three are risks for ecosystem health.
India has made substantial progress in animal welfare policy in recent decades, but most of the changes are concentrated in urban environments. In rural areas where approximately 65% of Indians live, many social customs, rituals, taboos and old-style farming practices compromise animal welfare. These practices have their roots embedded in rural traditions. In order to increase rural awareness and behavior change, we must develop closer working relations with relevant social groups, social scientists and decision-makers. We will continue treating symptomatic indicators only until we develop a deeper understanding of the reasons for particular social norms and practices.
Poor disease surveillance culture and systems, in both veterinary and human medicine, indicate our lack of focus in getting an in-depth understanding of the underlying causes of such manifestations. An inconsistent effort is seen in different states of India to identify disease in domestic animals; however, the record of disease surveillance in wild animals is even poorer or non-existent. Those of us who are conservation veterinarians need to stand up to the challenges of addressing ecosystem health and reach out to different disciplines for a cross-fertilization of ideas.
A deeper understanding of the interconnectedness of all living things and the environment must be at the core of finding appropriate solutions to protect people, animals and the environment.
Dr. Naveen Pandey currently serves The Corbett Foundation as its Deputy Director and Veterinary Advisor in Kaziranga, northeast India. He is involved in applied Landscape Epidemiology for disease control and human-wildlife conflict mitigation around the tiger reserves in northeast India.

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline

Shifting Baselines: Understanding the True Extent of Wildlife Decline
May 30, 2020
By Andrew Rowan
Over the past few years, news stories describing the decline in global wildlife have generally referenced the Living Planet Index (LPI), which is based on methodology developed by the World Wildlife Fund and the Zoological Society of London. The LPI indicates that wildlife populations have declined by 60% from 1970 through 2014. The LPI does not estimate the extent of the wildlife decline that occurred before 1970.
In 1995, Daniel Pauly, a fisheries scientist in Vancouver, Canada, published a landmark paper, “Anecdotes and the shifting baseline syndrome of fisheries,” in which he notes that fisheries scientists sometimes failed to identify the correct “baseline” population (or how abundant a fish species was before human exploitation), which affected their estimates about a particular fishery’s sustainable harvest. As a result, long-term declines in wildlife populations become difficult to identify, since each generation redefines a new baseline for what is “natural.”
This concept has been widely discussed by marine and fisheries scientists but, as Sumaila and Pauly note in a chapter entitled “The ‘March of Folly’ in Global Fisheries” in a 2011 book on Shifting Baselines, global fishery policies have largely ignored the lessons of shifted baselines. The cod fishery off the eastern seaboard of Canada and New England is a classic example of a policy “folly.” The accompanying chart shows the proportion of cod landed in Labrador and Newfoundland from 1850 through 2010, and the inset shows the recruitment of young cod into the adult population.
From 1850 through to the 1960s, 150-250,000 tonnes of cod were landed every year by the primarily small-scale inshore fishery. The dramatic increase in the 1960s was due to foreign deep-sea trawlers. Canada imposed a 200-mile exclusion zone, but the foreign trawlers were then succeeded by Canadian ships. Recruitment of young fish plummeted and, by the beginning of the 21st century, the cod fishery was no more. It has still not recovered even though Canada has just increased the allowable catch by 30% – to 12,350 tonnes!.
While the “shifting baselines” syndrome is less evident when discussing land animals, each generation still tends to base its understanding of what is “natural” on its experiences when young. The following anecdote is a tiny snapshot of declining populations of yellow-nosed albatross nesting on Nightingale Island in the south Atlantic.
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale is one of four islands that constitute the Tristan archipelago. Tristan, where 250 people live, is the only island in the archipelago that is inhabited and is considered one of the most remote human communities in the world. The nearest city is Cape Town, South Africa, over 1,500 miles and a 6-day boat trip away. Despite its remoteness, two series of photographs taken 66 years apart depicting the nests of the Yellow-nosed Albatross on Nightingale document a decline in albatross populations. The first photograph was taken in early November 1949 by Bertus Rowan on a trip to Nightingale. It shows hundreds of “mollies” (albatross) nesting on the island in what the locals referred to as Molly Pond 2.
The second photograph (taken almost precisely 66 years later, in November 2015 and showing the same nesting area from the same perspective) has very few albatross nests scattered across the “pond.”
Tristan Yellow-Nosed Albatross
Nightingale has never been inhabited by humans and has, so far, not suffered an invasion of rats, mice or other creatures that often travel with humans. Therefore, the decline in nesting albatross must be related to some other factor. Albatross in the southern oceans are particularly affected by long-line fishing, in which a single line of thousands of baited hooks stretching up to 100 kilometers in length is dragged behind fishing vessels to catch tuna and other open-ocean fish. According to Bird Life International, around 100,000 albatross a year are caught on these hooks and drown.
Human activities have contributed to declines in wildlife populations for centuries – not just the past 40 or 50 years. While recent reports of declining wildlife numbers are important to acknowledge these changes, we must constantly guard ourselves against viewing the state of the world 25 or 50 years ago as its “natural” condition. In fact, the history is far longer.

IUCN ‘Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors’

IUCN ‘Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors’
May 30, 2020
By Rachel Caldwell
Conservation Program Officer, Center for Large Landscape Conservation
The Center for Large Landscape Conservation (CLLC) is working to mainstream connectivity conservation solutions around the world that save biodiversity, increase resilience to climate change, and safeguard human health. To this end, CLLC supports the new IUCN Guidelines and the operations of the Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group (CCSG) that was established in 2016 by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA). The current Chair of the CCSG is Dr. Gary Tabor, the founder and President of CLLC.
CCSG will soon release the first-ever IUCN Guidelines for Conserving Connectivity through Ecological Networks and Corridors. The main objective of these Guidelines is to clarify and standardize consistent practices for the effective design, governance, and management of larger conservation networks of protected and conserved areas that are connected by designated ecological corridors.
What Is “Ecological Connectivity”?
As defined by the UN Convention on Migratory Species in February 2020, “ecological connectivity is the unimpeded movement of species and the flow of natural processes that sustain life on Earth”. This definition demonstrates the importance of connectivity conservation solutions, and everything they protect, including invaluable resources like water and nutrient cycling, pollination, seed dispersal, food security, and disease resistance.
About the Guidelines
The Guidelines are the culmination of over two decades of effort by the IUCN, and the result of contributions from more than 100 experts in 30 countries. When complete, they will provide managers, policymakers, and experts across the globe with insights into the science, definitions, and principles for planning and managing for ecological connectivity, as well as 25 case studies illustrating projects around the world.
Why It Matters
Connected ecosystems are more resilient. They support plants, animals, and biological processes and permit them to persist in an increasingly human-dominated world. However, more than half of the planet is now developed and this is threatening human well-being, accelerating species loss, and limiting nature’s ability to withstand the impacts of climate change. Safeguarding ecological connectivity is a proven conservation measure, and the Guidelines bring together the most current knowledge and proven practices to lead a new global effort to combat habitat fragmentation and protect intact ecological networks for conservation.
Key messages

The Guidelines define the spaces meant to maintain, enhance, and restore connectivity; summarize best-available science; and recommend ways to formalize designated ecological corridors and networks with these messages.

  • Science overwhelmingly shows that interconnected systems of protected and conserved areas are necessary for species and natural processes to persist in the face of climate change;
  • Communities and countries around the world are working to protect ecological connectivity, and more consistent global practices can advance legislation, policy, and action;
  • A coherent global approach to connectivity conservation allows for measuring, monitoring, and assessing the effectiveness of efforts to enhance biodiversity conservation.
Example
The Kavango-Zambesi “Peace Park” project (see map below) is an example of the complexity of developing and ensuring ecological connectivity across national borders containing a mosaic of private and public lands. This area contains around one-third of all African elephants on the planet today as well as an extraordinarily rich fauna and flora.
National parks are in dark green and protected areas are in light green. The Kavango-Zambesi area includes sections of Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana and Namibia and is also home to approximately 2 million people!
Sound ecological management requires careful planning aimed at ensuring corridors for wildlife moving throughout these multi-jurisdictional landscapes. Using the guidelines, complex areas like this can access and apply globally-agreed-upon standards and best practices for promoting connectivity within protected areas, increasing ecological health across the world.
Learn More
To learn more about the Guidelines and the WCPA Connectivity Conservation Specialist Group, visit www.conservationcorridor.org/CCSG or contact [email protected].

Outdoor Cats – It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Outdoor Cats – It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way
March 30, 2020
By Bryan Kortis, Esq. – Neighborhood Cats Hawaii
Photo by: Neighborhood Cats Hawaii
As I sit here tapping out this essay, one thing on my mind is how best to respond to the latest proposal on cats being promoted here in Hawaii by the conservation community. Here in Hawaii, on the island of Kauai, conservationists are pushing the county government to launch a cat eradication campaign, using the threat of a major lawsuit if the county refuses. This “solution” has been proposed even though the only shelter on Kauai refuses to participate, there are other policy options that could be more effective, and the only successful cat eradication campaigns have occurred on uninhabited islands at costs ranging into the millions of dollars.
Meanwhile on Maui, wildlife advocates are taking a different tack, perhaps realizing there is little appetite for wholesale killing of outdoor cats. Instead, they are trying to frighten the local government by claiming cats are a significant public health risk which spread toxoplasmosis to residents, especially children. Put them in a sanctuary, they argue, if you do not want to kill them. But a well-managed sanctuary costs about $1,000 per cat per year, and there may be tens of thousands of outdoor cats on the island. Also, significant populations of outdoor cats have lived on Maui for decades, but only 11 reported cases of toxoplasmosis in humans have been reported in the last ten years. The state’s epidemiologist has stated toxoplasmosis is not a serious concern for most people. The conservationists also seek new ordinances on cat licensing, pet limits and feeding bans, laws that have been enacted repeatedly over the years in hundreds of communities but have not been shown to result in fewer outdoor cats. Clearly, Hawaii has much more urgent and serious concerns to deal with right now as the new coronavirus spreads across the world.
As a result of these pressures, I will be dusting off the old playbook which has been deployed in these situations for the past 20 years. We will present evidence to policymakers on the practical and feasible solutions that exist for reducing cat numbers in populated areas. In truth, there is still only one approach that has worked: intensive spay/neuter. The conservationists will argue that there is no proof that trap-neuter-return (TNR) works, although there are numerous studies showing the contrary. They will argue it is only the adoption of trapped cats that has lowered numbers, and we will respond that there are no adoptions without the spay/neuter intervention and that sterilization is an essential component in reducing outdoor cat numbers, as multiple published studies now demonstrate. The wildlife biologists will show graphic photos of cats with dead birds in their mouths and long lists of zoonotic diseases that cats can carry. They will decry how unhealthy the poor felines are outside, as if they really care about the cats’ welfare. We will then address the exaggerations and shift the discussion back to solutions. The wildlife biologists may even argue that PETA is against TNR, but we will then respond that the Humane Society of the United States and ASPCA are for it. On and on the debate will go.
In my experience, the wildlife side usually loses these fights because at the end of the day, whether you love cats or hate them, whether they are responsible for predating on native species or not, whether they are a public health risk or not, one still has to produce an effective intervention if one wants to lower their numbers. The lack of any successful example of a catch-and-eradicate approach (beyond those on small, uninhabited islands) is the conservationists’ Achilles heel. They want the cats gone but have no feasible proposal to make it happen. They seem to believe it is just a matter of willpower and refusing to make any concessions. It is not. This is why the conservationists win the occasional battle but have long since lost the war in this country. TNR is now a common and well-entrenched practice in communities across the United States, and its reach grows daily. Meanwhile, the intake of cats into shelters declines.
It did not have to be this way. When I first dived into the cats versus birds debate, what struck me immediately was that both sides want the same thing: fewer cats on the landscape. The reasons differ, but the goal does not. Surely, I thought, if cat advocates and conservationists could better understand and trust each other, that common goal could be a bond tying the two communities together in a search for the most humane and effective ways to lower free-roaming cat populations. Instead of cats versus birds, it could be cats and birds.
My first collaborative effort took place in New Jersey. A TNR group in Burlington County, headed by a veterinarian, persuaded townships to adopt pro-TNR ordinances in exchange for his group coming in and fixing their outdoor cats. Wildlife agencies grew alarmed because of the presence of threatened species in the area. The issue escalated and the typical fight was about to begin. The head of the local TNR group asked for my advice and I suggested he talk about it over dinner with a representative of New Jersey Audubon Society. They met, quickly realized they shared a common goal, and agreed to try to find a solution that worked for everyone.
Over the next two years, regular meetings were held between local, state and national wildlife and animal welfare groups. It took time to dispel misconceptions on both sides and build trust, but eventually a collaborative effort took hold. It was understood the threat posed by cats to wildlife is very location-specific and that while TNR might be fine behind the supermarket, it might not be suitable for a forest habitat occupied by protected species vulnerable to cat attacks. Identifying those locations where cats are an actual threat was key, as was assessing what approaches were realistically possible to implement. Sometimes it might be better to do TNR in a sensitive area, with proper oversight by relevant wildlife agencies, rather than continuing to do nothing.
The collaboration reached the point where it was about to launch a statewide online database available to anyone working with cats. Users could plug in an address and identify whether they were operating in a wildlife sensitive area where consultation with the state’s endangered species program was necessary. Unfortunately, some voices in the conservation community who had not participated in the trust-building talks took over. They tried to use a little-known state agency to declare “feral cats” an exotic species which could not legally be released into the wild. They lost, but the bitter fight caused the parties in the collaboration to pull back and the cooperation on outdoor cats and wildlife faded away.
Similar attempts at collaboration in which I have been involved have also failed. On Long Island, New York, talks were progressing well but then a new representative from one of the wildlife groups came in and started pushing hardline anti-TNR rhetoric, resulting in the loss of all progress. In Hawaii, animal welfare and wildlife agencies also met for some time and were near an understanding on outdoor cats and wildlife. However, the wildlife interests then expected the animal welfare groups to undertake trapping and euthanizing of cats in sensitive locations, which they refused to do. A subsequent attempt to form a state-level task force on cats and wildlife was shot down by the head of Hawaii’s wildlife agency.
I believe the biggest obstacles to cooperation are currently the attempts by conservationists to produce a cat-free landscape in the immediate or near future without considering any form of trap-and-return program anywhere. The biggest losers, besides the cats who die needlessly, are the wildlife all parties would like to protect. By making this a zero-sum game with one winner and one loser, wildlife groups have abandoned their seat at the table — the table where guidelines on working in or near sensitive habitat would be developed, where research could be launched to improve outdoor cat control approaches, and where both sides could hash out how best to manage a particular problematic location. Instead, we fight on.

The Case for Living Connected to Place in 2020

The Case for Living Connected to Place in 2020
March 13, 2020
By Matt Biggar, Ph.D.
I remember seeing a quote some years ago that distilled the problems we face as a human society down to one fundamental reason – viewing other people and other species as less than ourselves.
Community Sharing – California, Photo by M. Biggar
I’ve continued to think about this as the harm we cause our fellow humans and nature escalate. These views, tendencies and dispositions are deeply ingrained in our cultures and minds, often subconsciously and under the surface. Looking at the other as inferior is fueled by separation and influenced by a host of factors, including politicians who divide us. We are prone to seeing other human groups in a negative light and the non-human web of life as something we can exploit or ignore when we exist in separate places. Changing attitudes and our treatment of others and nature is unlikely when our daily experiences involve little of either.
There are many efforts underway to address climate change, growing inequality and other crises born out of our harmful treatment of nature and other groups of people. Nonprofits, government agencies, businesses and individual changemakers are working on solutions to our growing environmental and social problems. While these efforts are clearly needed, they are not sufficient. A more fundamental shift in our relationships with each other and nature is needed.
In a yoga class this past year, my teacher shared the following wisdom from Thich Nhat Hanh:
People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar….When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.
It is hard to deny the human and animal suffering taking place across our country and the globe these days. Our reaction, often exacerbated by political tribalism and social division, can be to see the person who is suffering as antagonistic, ignorant, lazy, incapable or all of the above. We are susceptible to developing these biases when we experience one another through social media or are otherwise isolated from each other. We struggle to understand another’s perspective, let alone their suffering, from a distance. It is only in reaching out, listening and trying to understand one another in person can we ever hope to address suffering.
Likewise, the natural world on which our existence depends is in a deep state of suffering. Rapidly increasing climate change and biodiversity loss are just some of the most alarming signs. Developing the resolve to protect nature is hard when we are disconnected from it. As with human suffering, by finding nature in whatever state it may be in the places where we live and paying attention to it, we can begin the healing process.
Living connected to place increases daily interaction with each other, our communities and nature. This involves an intentional shift towards spending more time in our communities; walking, biking and using public transit; being stewards of local nature; growing and consuming local food; supporting local businesses and institutions; and as much as possible, living, working and recreating locally. When we travel less, support the local economy more and seek out community and local nature, we are emitting less greenhouse gas, depleting fewer natural resources and strengthening the social fabric of our communities. When we anchor our lives in a place and connect to all it has to offer, we go from being part of the problem to becoming part of the solution.
Building wisdom and intelligence is a collective endeavor. Nature teaches us this every time we pay attention to it. The complex connections among species and matter in any ecosystem embodies such insights. When biodiversity is present in an ecosystem, every species benefits due to the high degree of interconnectedness. Humans benefit when we come together, listen to one another and work towards building strong, inclusive communities anchored in diversity.
Community garden markets in California, Photo by M. Biggar
When our relationships are damaged or broken and the value we hold for others is limited, however, suffering increases and our collective intelligence is diminished. We stop hearing each other. We dismiss those not in our group. We value loyalty to our ‘political tribe’ over finding common ground, diminishing our collective intelligence and wisdom.
The same can be true for our relationship with nature. We forget our dependence on nature and do not pay attention to its decline at our own peril. At the most fundamental level, we are nature. By regularly connecting with community and nature in our daily lives, we also connect to ourselves and increase our ability to survive and thrive on this planet.
Kumu, a network analysis company invested in social change, sends out an annual Valentine’s Day poem. This year, it included the following:
Populism and hate are still on the rise.
While Twitter and Facebook spread blatant lies.
In times like these, it’s easy to lose hope.
But the only answer is to stand firm and say nope.
Nope to the bullies and burning of trees.
The world isn’t yours to do with as you please.
Stop spreading division and cutting others down.
Step away from your screen and engage around town.
Only as a community can we truly be strong.
To push back against what we all know is wrong.
Living connected to place can help us push back against the systems that support our current ways of life and related environmental and social damage. We stand firm by being aware of the impact of our choices and making change in our own lives to be a positive force in our communities. When we step away from our screens and engage with local community and nature, we break down divisions and create hope for a better future.
Original article appeared in Medium.
Matt Biggar received a BS from UC Berkeley and then spent over fifteen years as a teacher and education administrator in schools and school districts in California. In 2015, he received a Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Department of Education and then launched Connected to Place (strategy consulting and research) in 2016.

Australian Bushfires and the Future

Australian Bushfires and the Future
By David Hensher PhD FASSA ([email protected])
The summer fires in Australia mark a cataclysmic reminder that climate change is hurting our planet and that we need to recognise it and plan for a future that minimises the risk to humans and wildlife. As soon as the bushfires in Australia reached an emergency level in January, some relief occurred in the form of rain but not steady rain. Instead, we had storms accompanied by severe winds that resulted in floods and some property damage. We are seeing a growing variation in weather patterns which can, to some significant degree, be attributed to the increase in greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. There have been many warnings over several decades and it is hoped that these recent catastrophic events will finally lead to recognition and action. We can work our way out of this crisis and implement new policies leading to a manageable future.
Photo by Dr. David Hensher. He drove for 45 minutes (40-50 miles) through a burnt landscape in the Blue Mountains, NSW.
However, we will need strategic vision (doing the right things) and a tactical and operations plan (doing things right). Leadership from government at all jurisdictional levels is essential and should include a respect for the scientific expertise. Knee jerk reactions and denial of climate change are not going to enable us to adjust and manage our future. We need a new regulatory framework as well as a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
On an operational and tactical level, there has been a lot of talk about back burning as the dominating management approach to protect property and life. But there is much more that can and should be done to manage fire risk. We need a new regulatory framework centred on saving lives and property that includes both humans and animals. For humans who have lost property, While we should respect the democratic choice of where to live and associated lifestyles, society must develop a view on what is good climatic practice if there is an expectation that others should help out if someone chooses to live in a setting that is at high risk of fire damage and even life. Specifically, rebuilding should require improved standards for buildings in fire-prone areas (one can never totally eliminate the risk, but we can do much better). For example, such standards must include sprinklers on all roofs. A number of houses and a rural fire brigade building in which 4 firefighters were trapped were saved by roof sprinklers. We should require property insurance that reflects the risks and the replacement cost not to mention annual local government inspection to ensure flammable materials do not accumulate in gutters and around properties. Plants that are better at surviving fire should also be planted as green firebreaks.
The other topic of crucial importance is reducing CO2 more generally. My interest is in transportation which has depended historically on fossil-fuels and which is now being challenged by cleaner sources of energy. However, the current debate on carbon reduction in transportation has focussed almost without exception on end use emissions, neglecting the full life-cycle emissions caused by transport. Electric cars, which are growing in popularity, are a case in point. Most of the world’s electricity comes from carbon and this is likely to continue to be the case for decades. Exceptions include the power generated by nuclear plants as in France for example, which emits zero carbon. Energy stored in batteries appears to be the most likely way to fuel electric cars in the future, although other technologies may evolve (e.g. hydrogen, solar and wind). A big concern with battery technology is that key chemical components are sourced from extractive industries often mined in countries in Central Africa in particular where labour regulations are minimal. In addition, in China, the country with the greatest anticipated uptake of electric cars (to reduce end-use emission), a major generation source for electric cars will be coal-burning utilities. We need more imaginative regulation to reduce transport- based green-house gas emissions.
We hope that the current Australian disaster will lead to more energetic calls for action by all countries (not just Australia). The impacts of greenhouse gas emissions are not geographically limited and will certainly get worse if we do not reframe the way we see our environmental future. If the Australian bushfires have changed the global psyche to embrace climate change and an appropriate global response, then we can claim at least one positive outcome from the current catastrophe.

Changing Human-Dog Interactions In Costa Rica

Changing Human-Dog Interactions In Costa Rica
by Andrew Rowan
Human-dog interactions have been changing around the world over the past fifty or more years.  In North America in the 1960s for example, a significant proportion of pet dogs were allowed to roam freely and there were estimates that maybe 25% of the dogs on the street were unowned strays.   Today, most pet dogs in North America are much more closely controlled (via leashes and visible and invisible fences) and roaming street dogs probably constitute less than 1% of the US dog population. However, there are few academic reports of such changing human-dog interactions.  Recently, a colleague and I documented dramatic changes in human -dog interactions by tracking huge changes in dog intake and euthanasia into shelters across the country but we still do not have any reports of the increasing control of dogs in the country.  However, we have some intriguing data on changing human-dog interactions in Costa Rica.
In 1991, Ms.Lilian Schnog took on the responsibility for an animal shelter (the Asociacion Humanitarian Para la Proteccion Animal de Costa Rica – AHPPA or Refugio) with a few small cages, a leaky surgical room, and more than 100 cats and dogs in residence. At the time, Costa Rica’s approach to animal overpopulation was to poison the animals in the streets. Dogs and cats “lucky” enough to have a home was seen as working animals. Some believed that a hungry cat would catch more mice and a chained dog would be a better watchdog. Many were fed leftovers but, if there were none, the animals remained hungry. When the animals were no longer useful or wanted by their owners, they would be thrown out on the street. Since many of the abandoned animals were females, the overpopulation of stray animals was a huge problem.
Ms. Schnog first had to convince officials to take stray dogs and cats to the Refugio (rather than simply killing them) where they could be sterilized and potentially adopted into homes and then set about building Refugio’s infrastructure and impact. The facility has flourished under her leadership. In 1999, the AHPPA annual budget was around $150,000 (80% of which came from veterinary fees). Almost twenty years later, the AHPPA budget had grown to $550,000 annually with about 70% coming from veterinary fees. (Note: even though the shelter charges for veterinary assistance, no animal that needs help is turned away simply because the owner/caregiver cannot afford to pay.)
Today, the AHPPA has a state-of-the-art surgical room served by several veterinarians that is busy seven days a week. Thousands of companion animals are helped and/or sterilized every month and the adoption of animals from the shelter is now commonplace. As the health and status of the animals in the neighborhood of the shelter (in San Rafael, a suburb of Heredia) has improved, an outreach program (thanks to major support from a US Foundation) was established to provide no/low cost spay/neuter and other veterinary services in rural communities outside the San Jose valley and down towards the coasts.
The number of sterilizations of local animals declined from 2006 to 2011 but then began to increase again as more small, local organizations (whose numbers have grown dramatically in the past ten to fifteen years) began bringing animals to AHPPA for sterilization. [The growth in the number of these organizations indicates the growing attention to animal issues in the country.] The decline in the number of local animals sterilized may also be a sign of the success of Refugio’s sterilization activities. As attitudes to pet keeping changed and more of the local pets were sterilized, there may have been fewer companion animals in the vicinity of the shelter that needed to be sterilized.
As animal advocacy grows in the country, the number of requests for animal sterilization and vaccination services outside the San Jose valley have been increasing. The AHPPA has been able to grow its support for outreach sterilization services thanks to the generous support of a US Foundation.
The number of animals received by the Refugio declined from 2006 to 2014, a trend AHPPA attributes to the success of its programs. I can personally attest to a significant change in the number of street dogs. In 1999, when I first visited the shelter, there were many dogs on the streets of Heredia. However, when I visited the shelter in 2015, I did not see one street dog. The only dogs I saw were behind fences. The intake of animals has begun to grow again as SENASA (the government department responsible for animal welfare) has become more energetic in the confiscation of animals from dogfighting rings and from hoarders.
The shelter is very proud of its adoption/re-homing rate for animals brought to the shelter (now over 90% and a rate that would make many shelters in the US envious). When an animal is adopted from the shelter, the AHPPA continues to provide vaccinations and will treat the animal if he or she gets sick. If necessary, this lifetime medical care is provided at no/low cost to the owner. In 2009, Ms. Schnog was awarded the Humane Society International’s Award for Extraordinary Lifetime Commitment and Achievement.
Today, the AHPPA includes the shelter operation, a very busy veterinary clinic, a humane education classroom, a pet store (that generates additional income for the organization) and several onsite houses and apartments for staff and visitors (such as veterinary volunteers).
WAP (WSPA) 2003 and 2011 surveys.
The change in Costa Rica dog ownership has been documented by two surveys carried out by the World Society for Protection of Animals (now World Animal Protection). The two surveys were carried out in the San Jose metro area (which includes Heredia) in 2003 and 2011. The surveys (see Table below) complement the trends documented in the AHPPA shelter.
On average, the WSPA surveys reported that around 50% of Costa Rican households “own” dogs (similar to the results obtained by Carlos Drews in 2001) and that each owning household has an average of 1.67 dogs (for a total estimated dog population in 2011 in the metro area of 583,000). Costa Rica has approximately 20 dogs per 100 people (similar to The USA and Mexico).
The two surveys document substantial changes in human behavior over the eight years from 2003 to 2011. These changes reflect an increase in “responsible” pet owner behavior with the average age of the dogs increasing and twice as many dogs sleeping indoors at night in 2011 compared to 2003. There was also an increase in the proportion of dogs being taken to a veterinarian every year and a halving of the number of dogs being allowed to roam outside without supervision.
Results of 2003 & 2011 Surveys in San Jose Region, Costa Rica
The change in the behavior of human dog owners is also supported by the growth in the number of veterinary clinics in the country. The changing attitudes to dogs, pets, and wildlife in Costa Rica are benefiting not just the animals, but also the veterinary profession. The number of private veterinary clinics has increased substantially this century and the number of new members joining the Colegio de Medicos Veterinarios (the Costa Rican Veterinary Medical Association) has increased dramatically in the last ten years (see chart below).
In just the three years from 2014 to 2016, the number of veterinary clinics in the country increased from 575 to 618 (a 7.5% increase).
Conclusion
The changes in human behavior in the eight years between 2003 and 2011 indicated by the WSPA surveys and by the growth in the membership of the veterinary college are large given the relatively short time involved (societal behavioral changes usually take decades to shift by ten points or more). The changes are all in the direction of increasing control of, and care for, household dogs and indicate that it is possible to evolve from a culture of street dogs to a culture of “controlled” pets relative quickly. These changes (accompanied by increases in the rate of ownership of both pet dogs and cats) occurred in the USA in the twenty-five years (1950 to 1975) following World War II.
The trends observed (and documented) in Costa Rica are very encouraging. It is not possible from the relatively limited data to attribute these changes to the activities of any specific organization or group of organizations but we have seen positive changes in human behavior after the initiation of dog sterilization programs elsewhere in the world and regard the Costa Rican data as bolstering anecdotal reports from Bhutan, the Philippines, and India. These changes benefit:
  • Municipalities (fewer roaming dog problems);
  • People (better relationships with dogs);
  • Veterinary clinics/associations (higher demand for veterinary services); and
  • Animals (better care and treatment).

A Tale of a Street Dog in Mumbai

A Tale of a Street Dog In Mumbai
January 24, 2019
Street Dog – Photo by: Blue Cross of India
Dr. Hemanta Mishra is a Nepalese conservation biologist who has become interested in the plight of street dogs in South Asia. The following blog provides an anecdote from his visit to Mumbai to meet with the Tata Trusts in 2011.   –   One mid-morning in 2011 in Mumbai, I was strolling along a side street off the Marine Drive, a scenic seafront boulevard off the coastline of the Arabian Sea. The street was noisy, crowded and disorderly. Slick Mercedes Benz and Jaguars jostled with rugged taxi cabs painted in their distinctive black and yellow regalia. Big and lively Leyland busses competed with shiny Tata sedans and diminutive Maruti compacts to elbow sweaty vendors pressing on with their pushcarts. All part of the daily life in a sea of huffing and puffing humanity in a city of 18-million people and nearly 100-thousand street dogs. Half of the metropolis’ humanity and their canine companions survive side-by-side in the vibrant streets of Mumbai—India’s largest, tinseled and moneyed city—where prosperity and plenty coexist side-by-side with poverty and paucity of food and shelter.
The automobiles were disorderly and impatient. So were the people. Cars blasted their horns impatiently to ward off rebellious pedestrians casually crossing the wide streets at random. Asserting, as if they had the rights of ways, these unruly human foot-warriors hopped, jigged, and jagged to cross the street; totally ignoring the honking automobiles.
Unconcerned with the pandemonium in the street, a petite woman was squatting on the footpath in a street corner. She was cooking rice over an open fire burning out of a rustic gas-stove. Nearby, a child was fast asleep on top of a bed made out of a heap of rags. Next to the child was a dog. The dog was medium-sized and sported a smooth caramel-colored coat.
The stream of passersby was neither bothered nor threatened by the dog. In fact, the humans seemed not even to notice the existence of the woman, her baby, and the dog. In contrast, the dog was alert. It often eyed the hurrying pedestrians: one-by-one. Clearly, the dog was babysitting the child to allow the child’s mother to concentrate on her chores.
The woman was doe-eyed and about 30-years old. She had shiny jet-black hair and a sharp and triangular olive-colored face. She sported a greenish sari, which had seen better days. She finished cooking and mixed rice with yellow-colored dal in a shiny aluminum plate. She moved on to cuddle her child. Then, she sat in a lotus posture on the footpath and placed the child on her lap. The dog stood up and went to sit next to her. Humming softly the women fed the child with her right hand.
After feeding, the mother placed her baby back on the tattered bed under the watchful eyes of the dog. Then she ate and drank water from a glass and belched with an air of satisfaction. Lastly, she fed and watered the dog, before she rested next to her child. The dog copied her and sat next to her.
I am not sure why, but this particular street scene caught my attention and touched my heart. I had not expected to see an example of compassion and symbiosis between a dog and a woman living on the streets of Mumbai.
Later that evening, I described the scene to Abodh Aras, the CEO of the Welfare of Stray Dogs (WSD), a Mumbai based non-government organization (NGO). Abodh is one of India’s leading street-dog experts. He also has an MBA and has worked for multi-national corporations. Yet, instead of earning fame and fortune in the private business sector, he chose to become an advocate, an ecologist and a crusader for the welfare of street dogs in India.
Abodh told me that he knew the dog (as he did most dogs in Colaba – Mumbai’s downtown district). He explained that the woman treats the dog as a family member and provides it with food and water. In return, the dog returns the favor by watching out for threats to “its” family and ensuring that no hurrying pedestrian harms the child. At night, the dog guards the woman and child.
Abodh’s explanation was inspiring. It also reinforced for me that the bond between humans and dogs is not constrained by prosperity or poverty.
The Indian stray or street dog is also referred as the Pariah dog. Yet, it is neither a pariah nor a recluse outsider. Dogs are an “indigenous,” ever-present animal in India’s lively cities and rural villages. For eons, the dog has been the man’s and the woman’s best friend. Dogs do not behave with any bias or discrimination towards human divisions of caste, creed, class, religion, or wealth.
And yet there are significant differences in this human-dog relationship in India. I have been a consultant to Humane Society International for the past decade or so and was part of the team that persuaded the Tata Trusts to support a human-dog wellbeing project in Jamshedpur (the headquarters of Tata Steel). During my time as a consultant, Humane Society International was slowly building a picture of the human-dog relationship in India through surveys and monitored street dog projects. In the state of Haryana, for example, a survey found that there are approximately 100 dogs per 1,000 people (80 of which live on the streets). In Mumbai, there are less than 5 dogs per 1,000 people. There are large differences in the number of dogs relative to the human population in different parts of India and yet we are only just beginning to identify those differences. We are still a long way from understanding why they occur.
In the meantime, we can continue to marvel at the power of human-animal relations. “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated,” remarked Mahatma Gandhi, the founding father of independent India and a global pioneer of compassion and non-violence. The street scene I observed in Mumbai is consistent with Gandhian ethics and the inherent principles of Ahimsa deeply embedded in Indian culture. It was a small but telling anecdote that again demonstrated the very close symbiotic relationship between humans and their favorite canine partners.

Bridging The Divide Between Animal Protection And Traditional Conservation Biology

Bridging The Divide Between Animal Protection And Traditional Conservation Biology
By Dr. William Lynn and Dr. John Hadidian | February 24, 2019
Dr. William Lynn, Clark University, The George Perkins Marsh Institute, 950 Main Street, Worcester, MA 01610. [email protected]
Dr. John Hadidian, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Center for Leadership in Global Sustainability, 900 N. Glebe Rd., Arlington, VA 22208.  [email protected]
Wildlife conservation had its beginning in the United States in the mid-nineteenth century, largely in response to the widespread destruction of wildlife through market hunting. Notable among its early supporters was our 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt (TR), who was almost solely responsible for setting aside vast swaths of land that would become our first wildlife refuges. Teddy’s passion was for birds, and fittingly his first set asides were aimed at the shore birds, herons and egrets being devastated for the millinery trade where their plumes were used to decorate ladies’ hats.
Of all the bird reserves he created, TR visited only one, this in 1915, well after his presidency was over. He was filmed carefully treading his way through the nesting colony in his stocking feet lest he tramples nests and eggs. Then he stops to dig up a nest of turtle eggs, which became part of the group’s next meal. He later argued that the government should exterminate raccoons on the reserve to help preserve the nests of both birds and turtles. This was conservation as enacted in TR’s time.
It would still be some time before wildlife conservation came to be defined as a science, and then with an almost exclusive focus on the regulation of game species through hunting seasons. There was an ethic to that, of course, but it was not the ethic that came with the rise of Conservation Biology, which took form during the environmental revolution of the 1970s. Inheriting a foundational underpinning from the existing “consumptive use” model, Conservation Biology then and now focused on the preservation of species, with little to no focus placed on individuals. However, a major philosophical debate then formed around concerns about the interests and rights of individual animals as opposed to populations and species. This division created a point of demarcation that led conservationists and animal welfare advocates to regard each other with suspicion and distrust for years, even when there was so much they should have been working on together.
That division is now being challenged with the rise of alternative paradigms of conservation. One of these is called Compassionate Conservation. In a nutshell, this emerging field is an attempt to bridge the gap between conservation and animal protection and bring them closer together, at least to try to define first principles and begin a dialogue. We believe the well-being of people, animals, and the environment can only be advanced through such dialogue.
Accordingly, we have asked a leading environmental ethicist, Dr. William Lynn of Clark University’s George Perkins Marsh Center, to share some thoughts about the ethical constructs involved. Specifically, three questions about Compassionate Conservation were posed to him, and here are his responses.
1.Why did Compassionate Conservation Arise?
Compassionate conservation is relatively new conservation and wildlife management paradigm. It arose as a critique of the traditional paradigm and its customary dismissal of the well-being of wildlife. This dismissal has two forms. The absolute form believes individual animals (as opposed to collectives like populations or species) do not count from a moral point of view. Individual animals are simply not a concern of conservation. The relative form believes that the well-being of individual animals may at times count, but as a distant priority behind resource management for human preferences or the protection of biodiversity.
Unless a species is so rare as to be near the point of extinction or extirpation, traditional conservation does not think the well-being of individual animals is important. Wildlife is considered state property and managed like an agricultural crop. Lethal management in the form of hunting, trapping, and poisoning is an accepted and often unquestioned method of population management. Culling predators and other target species to favor populations of game animals are common, as is habitat management for species used in sportfishing, hunting, and trapping. Management objectives may include biodiversity, ecotourism, wildlife watching, and endangered species protection, but these are subordinate to the main purposes of the traditional paradigm.
Traditional conservation is also undergirded by various cultural beliefs that marginalize the place of animals (and of nature more generally) in our moral vision. Dominionism holds that the earth was especially created for the use of human beings and that animals and nature are simply god-granted resources for our use. This view is reinforced by anthropocentrism, the claim that we are the only morally valuable creatures on earth.
While the social need for resources and preserving biodiversity are both important, neither is enough to justify the dismissal of animals from our moral concerns. Hence, compassionate conservation argues for a theory and practice of conservation that emphasizes the intrinsic moral value of wildlife and ending unthinking lethal management.
The term itself was coined by the cognitive ethologist Marc Bekoff. Bekoff borrows the Hippocratic framing of “first, do no harm” as an underlying principle of compassion. This means that we should allow wildlife to pursue their own lives free of intrusive human interference and reduce human-caused suffering amongst wild animals as much as we can. To the degree that we do interfere, we should only do so to protect the well-being of wildlife and their ecological communities for their own sake or to protect vital human needs of health and safety.
Other principles are “individuals matter,” the necessary inclusion of all wildlife (whether native or non-native), and “peaceful coexistence.” These principles hold that the well-being of individual wild animals should be a core concern of conservation, that animals should not be profiled and targeted for elimination simply because they are not native to an ecosystem, and that non-lethal means of managing human-wildlife conflicts should be emphasized.
The credo that individuals matter challenges the foundations of traditional conservation. The emphasis on inclusivity and coexistence means the compassionate conservationist is generally opposed to lethal management and wary of conservation schemes focused on exterminating non-native species. Compassionate conservation does acknowledge the indispensable importance of conservation science, but it also recognizes that conservation politics are often heavily influenced by human values and politics that traditionally privilege without question the human role and place alongside other (non-human) animals in a more-than-human world.
2.What are the Ethical Underpinnings of Compassionate Conservation?
While there is not a single moral theory that informs compassionate conservation, perhaps its two keystone concepts are intrinsic value and compassion.
The question of moral value raises the question of how and why someone or something is of worth or of value. Intrinsic value means someone has worth in and of themselves, and not for their instrumental value to others (almost always human others). A hammer has no intrinsic value (worth) on its own, but the laborer who wields it does have intrinsic value and we say the hammer has extrinsic value or is instrumentally valued for the function it performs.
The same distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic value can be applied to wildlife and all other human and non-human animals. Wild animals are not simply biological machines, functional units of ecosystems, or resources for our use and abuse. They are not only or mainly of extrinsic value to human beings. They are instead intrinsically valuable in and of themselves. The reasoning behind this is that a great many wild beings are sentient (feeling), sapient (thinking), and social (relating) creatures with whom we share the earth.
Our own ability to feel, think, and be in relationships are touchstones for why we believe we humans, as individuals and communities, are intrinsically valuable and deserving of human rights and justice. To the degree that non-humans share these features, they, too, have a similar intrinsic value and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Another way to say this is that both human and wild lives have the well-being of their own. The consequences of our actions on people, animals, and nature can be helpful or harmful, and these consequences are one reason why conservation is a particular focus of ethical critique.
Compassion emphasizes the central role of empathy in ethics. Compassion literally means to suffer with another. One reason humans and some other animals can act ethically is they can empathize with what happens to others. They can be moved by their grief or angered by their mistreatment. Your dog comforting you during a dark moment or protecting you from harm illustrates the empathetic capacity of some non-human animals. This is not the whole of ethics with its broader emphasis on reasons and evidence for moral judgments and actions. But it does draw our eye to how animal suffering, feeling, and emotion are key elements of wild lives. We generally recognize our obligation not to impose suffering on other human beings. So, too, this carries over to wildlife, especially as it is impacted by the unreflective use of lethal measures (e.g., hunting, trapping, poisoning) in wildlife management.
To be sure, there are real differences in how intrinsic value, compassion, and other moral concepts are understood by individuals espousing compassionate conservation. Some want to primarily emphasize individual animals. Others still see a hierarchy where individual animals come in second place behind the protection of biodiversity. And still, others try to balance both depending on the circumstances. This does not make compassionate conservation a cacophony of contentious voices. Rather the debate is a rich conversation about how we ought to live with wildlife on shared landscapes in a globalizing world.
3.How does Compassionate Conservation think about animal and environmental well-being?
The concept of well-being is rooted in the Greek term eudaimonia meaning “flourishing.” It has been translated in many ways to mean health, wellness, happiness, personal accomplishment, social satisfaction, and the common good. Various academic disciplines (e.g., economics, psychology) have specialized ways of discussing what it might mean to “flourish.”
Still, the meaning of well-being has its source in ethics, a conversation of what is right, good, just, and of value. Well-being is one of the foundational concerns of ethics. It is why Socrates refers to ethics as a dialogue about “how we ought to live,” for in treating ourselves and others in the right ways we bring ourselves and our world closer to the good life – a life of meaning and fulfillment, a life where we and others can thrive, a life characterized by well-being.
From an ethical perspective, well-being involves the ability to thrive physically, psychologically, socially, ecologically, and, some would say, spiritually. Well-being is a characteristic of individuals (both humans and animals) as well as their social and ecological communities. Moreover, the two are often interrelated, as one’s individual well-being is affected by the wider community and vice versa.
The same linkage is true for the interrelationships between people, animals, and nature. All human individuals and communities are completely dependent upon and embedded in the natural world. Moreover, we share both cultural and natural landscapes with many wild and domestic animals. This is what British philosopher Mary Midgley meant when she referred to “mixed communities” of people, animals, and nature.
Well-being is also a dynamic state that can be helped or harmed by natural events, human actions, or both. For example, the outcomes of a natural disaster, such as a hurricane, can be made better or worse by how people prepare for and respond to the emergency. When we take individual precautions and support collective efforts to make our communities resilient, we protect our own and others’ well-being. When we do neither, or do it poorly, we end up magnifying the impact of a natural disaster.
Considering animal and environmental well-being requires us to consider how nature is faring, how our shared world is being harmed or helped by our actions today, and the downstream consequences of our actions tomorrow. Asking after animal and environmental well-being is a path of humility, a way of decentering ourselves, thinking about the flourishing of others, and taking responsibility for how we impact the ability of animals to thrive and the sustainability of the environment. The power of human agency is now such that we have major impacts on other animals and nature – 96% of mammalian biomass is now composed of human beings and our domestic animals. People, animals, and the environment are all in crisis.
Compassionate conservation takes the well-being of wild lives as a core commitment. For the compassionate conservationist, forms of conservation that do not consider the well-being of other animals and their environments as an equal concern to other conservation goals are fundamentally unethical. Compassionate conservation is pressing for a new approach to wildlife, the environment and, indeed, human well-being, based on values that combine attention to individuals equally with attention to species and populations.
Suggested Readings

Bekoff, M. (Ed.). (2013). Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Eichler, L., & Baumeister, D. (2018). Hunting for Justice: An Indigenous Critique of the North American Model of Wildlife Conservation. Environment and Society: Advances in Research, 9, 75-90.

Geist, V. (2006). The North American Model of Wildlife Conservation: A Means of Creating Wealth and Protecting Public Health While Generating Biodiversity. In D. Lavigne (Ed.), Gaining Ground: In Pursuit of Ecological Sustainability (pp. 285-294). Limerick, IRL: University of Limerick Press.

Leopold, A. (1986). Game Management. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Lynn, W. S. (2018). Bringing Ethics to Wild Lives: Public Policy for Barred and Northern Spotted Owl. Society & Animals: Special Issue on Wildlife, 26(2), 217-238.

Midgley, M. (1984). Animals and Why They Matter. Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.

Santiago-Ávila, F. J., Lynn, W. S., & Treves, A. (2018). Inappropriate Consideration of Animal Interests in Predator Management: Towards a Comprehensive Moral Code. In T. Hovardos (Ed.), Large Carnivore Conservation and Management: Human Dimensions and Governance (pp. 227-251). New York, NY: Routledge.

Treves, A., Santiago-Ávila, F. J., & Lynn, W. S. (2019). Just Preservation. Biological Conservation, 229, 134-141.

Wallach, A. D., Bekoff, M., Batavia, C., Nelson, M. P., & Ramp, D. (2018). Summoning Compassion to Address the Challenges of Conservation. Conservation Biology. doi:https://doi.org/10.1111/cobi.13126