The compassionate conservation con

Animal rights activists are starting to get sneaky to normalise their ideologies through relationships with research institutions. A few years ago I noticed that people with connections to Voiceless formed a group within the University of Technology Sydney called THINKK (Think Tank for Kangaroos). From the outside they appeared to undertake research with the aim of destroying the science behind Australia’s sustainable kangaroo industry. From all accounts so far, it looks like they’ve been unsuccessful.

Take two and the University of Technology Sydney yet again has another group similar in nature set up under its banner. This time we have a Centre for Compassionate Conservation. It all sounds pretty legitimate when reading the ‘who we are’ section on their website. It “is an innovative research, education and advisory centre at the forefront of an emerging international movement to create practical and compassionate solutions to protect wild and captive animals”. The centre has been “founded to support the research efforts of Australian and international conservation experts and educators developing and applying a compassionate approach . . . compassionate conservation seeks to build the welfare of individual animals into conservation practice to improve outcomes for people, the environment and all wild animals”.

This compassionate conservation thing all sounds very nice. Unfortunately, I’m sceptical due to past experiences and the fact there are some familiar names connected to both groups discussed above. One thing for certain is I’m not alone in feeling uncomfortable about so-called compassionate conservation. Over the past couple of years while attending conservation and wildlife management-based conferences, I have heard concerns raised by a few people with many years of experience and practice in those fields.

One such person is adjunct professor Peter Fleming from the University of New England. He works as a Principal Research Scientist with the NSW Department of Primary Industries dealing with the biology, ecology and management of invasive species. He has thought long and hard about whether compassionate conservation is in fact something that’s applicable in the Australian context of managing harmful invasive species or whether it’s just another misguided attempt to push animal liberation ideology.

In a recent article, Peter took exception to statements made by compassionate conservation advocates that wild rabbits in Australia should be left alone for compassion’s sake. As a result, he implored that other conservation biologists and the wider community need to take a stand against such environmentally damaging ideology. Rabbits are the perfect example of why compassionate conservation will never be a practical tool in the conservation toolbox.

Being compassionate to an individual animal (rabbit) will generate individual and population consequences to a whole range of small mammals and plant regeneration. As Peter puts it, this leads to homogenisation and degradation of Australian ecosystems. If we do nothing about rabbits or rely on their introduced predators to do the job for us as compassionate conservation advocates, it will be impossible to diminish rabbit growth rates or reduce their population density below thresholds that cause damage to the environment.

The humble rabbit is a prime example of why compassionate conservation is con. We can all be compassionate in the way we cull rabbits through humane means. Leaving them alone is not the answer – it is a dangerous and misguided approach that would provide no environmental or real conservation benefit.

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