MH: What are the main bottlenecks
to having an impact in wild animal welfare at the moment? Is it funding, research, talented people, awareness, perhaps all of the above?
KJ: I think that ‘all of the above’ is a good answer. Even though wild animal welfare is receiving more funding than ever before, and more people are working on it right now than ever before, it’s still extremely neglected relative to its massive scale and to other cause areas in animal advocacy.
Raising awareness is certainly important: most people’s judgments about life in the wild are affected by survivorship bias, and as a result, people tend to think that the lives led by animals who reach maturity (the animals we normally encounter) are representative. Mature animals are not representative, though. Due to r-strategist reproduction, more than 99% of sentient individuals die painfully before they have a chance to develop the competence needed to reach maturity. Presumably there would be more support for wild animal welfare if more people appreciated how poor the life of a representative wild animal really is. Additionally, it would be helpful if more people understood how numerous wild animals are. Wild animals outnumber human beings and domesticated animals by many orders of magnitude, but many people don’t know this. The reason for their lack of awareness, perhaps, is that people tend to focus on biodiversity – specifically native biodiversity – when thinking about wild animals. The level of biodiversity among an area’s native animals is rather different from the number of individual animals living in that area, though. An area with a low level of native biodiversity can nonetheless possess a very large population of wild animals.
Though I do discuss the idea of ‘nature’ in the book, I don’t discuss the idea’s relationship with religion or with critical theory. I suspect that exploring these topics will yield insights into how we might go about building more support for wild animal welfare. For example, with respect to critical theory, it’s common knowledge among feminist theorists that there’s a connection between the concept of nature and the concept of the feminine, and that the association between these concepts has reinforced women’s oppression. Placing a group of individuals under the category ‘nature’ seems to have a pernicious effect on how we relate to them, and the same is true concerning our relationship with wild animals.
With respect to religion, I’m often struck by the inconsistent attitude people have towards interventions carried out for conservation purposes vs. interventions carried out to improve wild animal welfare. Their position seems to be that conservation-related interventions have a reasonable chance of success so long as they’re well-researched and cautiously conducted, whereas welfare-related interventions are doomed to failure no matter how much research is done beforehand. Since there’s nothing to justify this asymmetry, it’s worth wondering why some people unreflectively endorse it. The answer may lie in the fact that monotheistic religions such as Christianity have had a huge impact on our conceptual framework - an impact that outlives belief in the religion itself. Monotheistic religions have trouble reconciling the idea of an all-powerful, all-good, all-knowing God, with the existence of suffering in nature, so they construct theodicies that argue suffering in nature is necessary, i.e., that the world would necessarily be worse if any of that suffering were removed. The idea that suffering in nature is necessary, and that any attempt to mitigate it would therefore inevitably make things worse, impedes efforts to build support for wild animal welfare.