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The purpose of conservation and the giant chip on my shoulder

Discussion in 'Wildlife & Nature Conservation' started by Zygodactyl, 1 Dec 2016.

  1. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    So I've recently derailed two threads thanks to a chip I have on my shoulder with regards to wildlife conservation. I figured I should outline my views here (and more importantly how I developed this chip) so I can argue about it without (hopefully) derailing any more threads.

    Like many people of my generation, I was raised on the importance of conservation, which took on almost a religious tone. However to me as a child the purpose was clear: there will be more neat animals to look at in majestic forests. Later, I learned about all of the neat things we're learning even from species we thought were well-known, and added that as a reason. However by the time I was a teenager I was becoming uncomfortable with a lot of conservation organizations, because I felt that they had a holier-than-thou attitude.

    I first encountered this as a kid in the book She's Wearing a Dead Bird on Her Head, where the birdwatchers of the first Audubon Society condemn the hunters for wanting to hunt the birds before forming a reluctant alliance with them. Since my uncle is a member of Ducks Unlimited, I've been well-aware of the value hunters bring to the conservation movement for a long time. Later, I learned about the devastation ecotourism often brings, and found the criticism of hunters particularly hypocritical.

    I encountered it again when I started keeping parrots. In the case of a lot of parrots, the reason they're endangered in the first place is because of the pet trade. However the US bans the trade in wild-caught birds, and breeders began breeding many parrots. The hyacinth macaw, for example, is ubiquituous in captivity. Meanwhile, many of these birds are facing threats both from the trade to third world countries, and habitat destruction back home. Aviculturalists are part of the solution, yet because they breed parrots for fun and profit, they don't match the platonic ideal of the selfless conservationist. I saw conservationists speaking out against the pet trade without any reference to the contributions made by private aviculturalists; I saw animal rights groups conflating aviculture with bird smuggling, and it infuriated me.

    I remember reading about how the Florida alligator was rescued in large part thanks to alligator farms meeting demands for leather and gator meat. And while the threats facing the Florida manatee weren't quite the same thing, I remember looking at them in tanks, thinking "these majestic creatures look delicious," and regretting that it seemed unlikely a similar program for manatees would ever be established.

    In high school, I took an environmental science class, and was stunned when my professor spoke in favor of both GMOs and nuclear power. Yet he presented the evidence, and as I tried to rationalize a lifetime of opposition to these things which I'd based on conservationist literature which mainly appealed to emotions, I realized that the guy who taught environmental science was right. I also realized that a lot of supposed conservationists are just as anti-science as the abstinence-only creationists I'd looked down on in other parts of the country, that for many of them their positions were about signalling morality rather than sound science.

    Later, I learned about how many Hawai'ian honeycreepers and the Kauai o'o had died out after modern conservation efforts were well underway. It seemed so obvious to me that introduced predators were a problem that I could not understand why Hawai'i and/or the FWS would not have tried to take in critically-endangered species for ex situ breeding. (Part of the issue may have been that they don't breed well in captivity, but New Zealand has addressed this admirably via the use of offshore islands.) I had much the same reaction when the last wild Spix's macaws disappeared, likely into the illegal pet trade, and when the reintroduction of captive-bred mynahs to mainland Bali seemed to result in a greater number of mynahs in the Indonesian bird trade rather than in the wild on Bali. Sometimes in situ efforts just seem worse than pointless to me, usually when the underlying cause of endangerment hasn't been addressed.

    And I remember back in the 2000's reading about zoos talking about how they realized they needed to give the people who lived in an area an incentive to preserve it in order for them not to continue the destructive practices they'd been engaged in and thinking "Really? It took you guys until the 21st Century to figure out that telling people 'it's wrong to kill gorillas for bushmeat' and setting up protected areas with a few guards isn't going to save the gorillas?"

    The final straw for me was the story of the scimitar-horned oryx. It wasn't breeding well in zoos and was about to go extinct in its homeland. A rancher in Texas offered some of his land to propagate the species and it exceeded his expectations. He gave surplus to other ranchers on the condition that they donate a certain portion of the herd to conservation efforts, and they're hunted at tens of thousands a bucks a pop. In response to this remarkable success story, the AZA amended its ethics code to prevent a repeat, and conservation organizations got the FWS to add the oryx to the endangered species list.

    That was the point that I decided that for a lot of supposed conservationists, the purpose of conservation isn't actually conservation, but the ability to appear holier-than-thou. Too many of the most prominent conservationists are all-too-happy to let the perfect be the enemy of the good (like opposing nuclear power and cleaner fossil fuels in the hopes that people will magically turn to renewable energy), other times their views of "the perfect" outright conflict with mine. Either way, as someone who cares strongly about conservation, I find the views of many conservation organizations frankly frustrating.

    Sometimes when conservationists take position that seems conservation-unfriendly, their concerns seem plausible, if wrong. Opposition to flooding the market for rhino horn with fake rhino horn falls into that category. Other times, their positions seem utterly idiotic, like New Zealand not allowing zoos to have male snakes, and refusing to allow non-New Zealand zoos to export and breed New Zealand mammals and birds, or Hawai'i adopting the "do what we can in situ and hope for the best" strategy with their remaining honeycreepers.

    And I think about how Europe doesn't allow the import of wild-caught birds even for zoos, meaning that the great bird parks of Europe cannot import and breed species which are critically endangered in their native habitats due to the pet trade and/or habitat loss, and I want to tear my hair out. (Particularly because the paranoia of the farm lobby here in the US means that even zoos can't import birds from hotbeds of species endangerment like Indonesia.)

    I still consider myself a conservationist. But I believe that my desire to conserve thing is essentially selfish, and I have no problem with that. I want to use the earth's biodiversity, whether it's watching it in the wild, keeping it as a pet, eating it, or simply being comforted in knowing it's there. I want to learn from it. But in the long term Earth has survived five extinctions and will survive this one. It's how enjoyable what's left will be for humans which worries me. And so the moralizing tendencies that a lot of conservationists have frustrate me, the frustration slipping over to anger when it starts to impact policies.

    So yeah, that's the story (or most of it) as to why I have a giant chip on my shoulder, and why I'm very skeptical of a lot of supposedly pro-conservation measures.
     
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  2. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    Conservation has a big problem - its not part of school education.
    It's honestly very scary to think that, but study of the wild is generally regarded as pre-school. Thereafter biology classes tend to focus on the science and chemical side (photosynthesis) but actual conservation and study of ecosystems at a more personal and less science level is basically not there at all.

    As a result people do get the preconception of conservation based upon marketing material. And marketing material is very childishly simplistic in how it approaches things. Sadly popular publications and the media etc. all tend to paint a very similar picture of simplistic understanding which undermines the ability to then introduce more complex thinking and alternative approaches.

    Many conversationalists who are working are often aware of this, but are met with a huge wall that they can't always push through those ideas because it would likely result in a backlash against them. Conservation runs on donations and tourism. Thus image is of critical importance. Even something so simple as killing one fox could result in a huge local or even regional backlash and if that impacts your donations and your visitor numbers then you've just sunk your only major income source.


    Pro conservation has to consider multiple aspects and sadly money is a big one. Because without it conservation can't function - it can't progress and if any thing takes more harm. That's why you can tend to see a handful of superrich or land owners or otherwise people who can operate without the public backing who can appear more dedicated and more open minded and wider thinking. It's likely a part reflection of the fact that their image doesn't matter to them within the conservation context. It doesn't matter if people disagree because it won't actually stop them. In fact it takes a vast amount of disagreement to generally form enough opposition to such situations.

    There are also other traps such as best practice and things like government green payment schemes. Such schemes are good in theory, but when they might provide more income for one form of management over another or where they might be generally more viable management wise for a site they can easily become quite dominant.
    The book Feral by George M. was a big eye opener for some as they started to realise that things such as grazing conservation; a good and worth while effort to restoring lost pasture and meadows and grassland; can be detrimental when undertaken at the landscape scale as it takes away potential resources and land from other potentially viable schemes.
    In the UK I blame part of this on the fact that we've dozens of different organisations. Each one has different operating practice; different focuses; different staff; different pay systems etc.... With all that coupled with each one fighting the other (donations - tourism - funding etc...); even though they are all in the same line of work they are not as well connected as they could be.
    Granted much of this is starting to change; also the image is starting to change too. Organisations like the RSPB who were managing large areas with a focus on birds, but with focuses on other species too, are now being "shown" to have those other species as part of their remit through their new advertising and marketing. IT doesn't mean that 30 years ago they were ignoring other species; but more likely that gains in those areas were simply not part of what got promoted. It would go into end of year reports and be internally understood but just wan't something they shouted about unless it was pretty huge.


    I also think there's thinking that comes in generation waves and that conservation is going through a slow generation wave change in thinking and approaches. IT's also starting to network within itself far more so as shockingly, many organisations were very niche in their viewpoints and very focused on their target species or areas of interest. The complexity and lack of appreciation for things like landscape level and international level conservation programs were problems in the early days; but even now hit huge walls of political and social barriers which can make such programs very slow to progress (at the detriment of the ecosystem).
     
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  3. gerenuk

    gerenuk Well-Known Member

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    You are completely right about conservation having a "holier than thou" philosophy. Those are the preservationists - where nature should be left alone to do what it has done for eons. But we live on this planet too. Conservation is about people as much as the plants and animals. Conservationists really need to find compromised in stewardship. We have to take from this planet to survive, but we need to find the balance where we don't take so much that ecosystem process break down. Preservationists have a time and place, but on a larger scale there needs to be a heavy dose of realism.

    Also Conservation is done through science, which can come with a steep learning curve. Those alligators weren't saved by ranches farming them - it was from reviewing the original population studies and finding that alligators were counted wrong and weren't actually endangered. New Zealand let heaps of species die out before they really got their hands dirty. Policy makers let the Dusky Seaside Sparrows disappear at Disney's Discovery Island rather than bred them with a closely related sub-species. Science and academia is also full of egos. Some are too proud to make compromises or quick decisions necessary to continue our biodiversity.

    And as you've mentioned we are in the midst of the next great extinction event. All we can do is try to mitigate what effects we can. It won't be long before we start admitting that there isn't enough resources to conserve species that are an evolutionary dead end. We are also still fighting to have access to clean water and air - decisions that were technically made over 40 years ago.
     
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  4. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    NOTE: To keep the discussion together, I’ve reposted the relevant parts of my response from the other thread here. Whilst I don’t have the time or energy to write another reply, I will say that I think @Zygodactyl underestimates conservationists, @overread should recognize that successful conservation is almost invariably underpinned by science, and I agree with pretty much everything @gerenuk says.

    Example of how it’s a non-starter? And reason we shouldn’t cut our losses and work elsewhere?

    Actually, habitat alteration is the greatest threat to birds (https://www.researchgate.net/profil...ertebrates/links/573d7d6e08ae9f741b2f5f5f.pdf). More importantly, though, your avian focus reflects our “institutional vertebratism”, itself an impediment to conserving biodiversity, which is overwhelmingly invertebrate. Habitat conservation is an imperfect means of shifting the balance, but is the only viable method (at least in more diverse/less wealthy countries).

    Adaptability is not size-dependent. Ex situ conservation would be most effective if it focused on smaller taxa (eg. amphibians) which can be kept in viable numbers at low expense. Sadly, I think most zoos have embraced the conservation narrative more effectively than conservation itself.

    It comes down to values and what you believe in conserving. You’re arguing we should attempt to distil nature into units and maintain those artificially. I contend that the only conservation-based justification for doing so is aesthetic – we want to see certain species – which is a poor use of resources and relies on a static (pattern-based) view of nature.

    I take a process-based approach. I believe your opinion is tantamount to preserving the frame and discarding the film reel. I believe we should take a holistic view, protect ecosystems, their functions, and services, rather than focus on any one component. And I believe that, given limited resources, this is the best way to ensure the most species persist. This is also why I get frustrated with the conservation standpoint of zoos (and ZooChatters), which tends to be single-species.

    As an aside, I recognize this is academic to some degree. Conservation goes where the money is. However, I think it’s important to at least try shifting public perceptions about what’s at stake and what we should value.

    As my previous post indicated, there has been extensive academic debate over traditional biocentric motives for conservation versus the more recent anthropocentric view. Given the length of this post, I’ll direct anyone interested to some lively papers [1,2] and rebuttals [3,4].

    [1] Conservation in the Anthropocene -- Beyond Solitude and Fragility
    [2] What Is Conservation Science?
    [3] The “New Conservation”
    [4] http://klamathconservation.org/docs/blogdocs/doaketal2013.pdf

    The consensus is something of a compromise: human value is a useful justification for conservation action, but we should not disregard intrinsic worth.
     
    Last edited: 1 Dec 2016
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  5. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

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    Panda - agreed science must underpin conservation, without it conservation is simply good intentions with little planning. I'm certainly not advocating removing the science from schools, its simply a frustraition of mine that there is not more focus of bringing conservation into our education system in a more serious way.

    To my mind it underpins a key problem conservation battles against in that it is viewed as a luxury. Or if not that then something not as important as things of a more human focus.

    Of course maybe if it were to come into schools more so it shouldn't be considered as conservation but something else.
     
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  6. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    I was going to try to respond point-by-point to some of the points, but there's too many of them. So instead let me reiterate that I do not believe there is any intrinsic value to conservation. Conservation is about not messing up the planet for ourselves; it is valuable because of the benefit that it brings to us.

    And there are a lot of benefits that it bring us. Ecosystems provide vital ecological services, as people who lived through the Dust Bowl or have dealt with flooding in former wetland areas can tell you. They provide us with a variety of species which may prove useful to us, especially plants and microbes. And there is something enjoyable about being in nature, in an ecosystem which is a functioning whole, watching the birds and bees and bunnies go about their business.

    However preserving species also provides benefits to us. Most people who donate to conservation causes are of the "I just want to know it's there" variety. Some are ecotourists who want to go there, leading to the bulldozing of habitats for resorts, noise pollution and light pollution and garbage pollution from visitors, and interacting with animals which may cause further damage to distressed species. Some are hunters who want to kill animals for trophies, and may go for the healthiest. Some are hobbyists why want to raise the species or related species themselves and may end up devastating native populations and/or killing large numbers of delicate species.

    I don't see any of the uses which go beyond "peace of mind" illegitimate in themselves, though steps should certainly be taken to limit the potential destructiveness of these activities. (And with regards to the trophy hunters, using the meat for something even if they don't eat it themselves is a must.) As someone who is close to a hobbyist (I've never imported and bred endangered birds, but fully intend to if I ever get to a position in my professional life where I have the time and money, starting with Madagascar), and has at least one family member who is both a hunter and an avid conservationist, I resent the attitude that a lot of conservationists have that ecotourism is a noble goal even when it has negative consequences, but other uses are inappropriate exploitation even when the conservation benefits are net positives.

    And I'm aware of the fact that my preference for birds displays a bias towards warm-blooded vertebrates, that I'm just more interested in the warm-blooded vertebrates that get less attention (I'm also obsessed with bat conservation and interested in rodent conservation). I think that my preferences are almost the same as most peoples, except that while most people have a preference for "large and familiar," I have one for "cute and obscure."

    I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with having a bias for life we identify with over life we don't, or even with acting on it to save single species when we lack the resources to save whole habitats. At the same time, I do agree that we should try to save whole ecosystems when we can and use education and charismatic megafauna to do that. The frustrating thing to me isn't our preference for warm-blooded land vertebrates but the preference for the familiar, which tends to favor a few habitats with well-known animals at the expense of all others.

    Fortunately, I think that there's a lot of species which have the potential to become as popular as meerkats and clownfish, and at least as many which have the potential to become as popular as fossa. We don't need an animated children's movie for that; Last Chance to See has definitely helped the kakapo and has probably helped the aye-aye. Books and games could also shift the conversation.
     
  7. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

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    @Zygodactyl : One of the concerns I would have with entrusting hobbyists, the pet trade, game ranches, or any of these other ventures is that the purpose is not conservation, and that matters. Sure, an endangered species of parrot might be popular now, and hobbyists and breeders who breed and keep them responsibly might be what is currently protecting the species from extinction, but all it takes is for the species to fall out of favor. When the species is no longer popular or desired, that industry can no longer be trusted to protect them. Of course, zoos are guilty of following the same trends as well; however, when conservation is one of the purposes for keeping them in the first place, there is justification for keeping that commitment, whereas in the private industry there is not.
     
  8. Coelacanth18

    Coelacanth18 Well-Known Member

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    Also: I disagree with you about intrinsic value. I fervently believe that there is intrinsic value to conservation, even if most people don't agree or will never see it from that perspective. Species and ecosystems should not just exist because they are useful to us; they should exist and be protected because they are here, and they have just as much right to be as we do.
     
  9. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    This is your third scattergun post along similar lines. I’m happy to respond, debate values, and perhaps clear up a few issues, but it does become a little tiresome if you ignore most of what I write.

    I’m not an ethicist*, so again I’ll say read the literature and see if it influences your position. One point I will make, though, is that conservation can have animal welfare benefits important beyond their value to humans.

    Yep, a view that largely emerged from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (MEA).

    I know conservationists and ecologists who are avidly anti-ecotourism. As with any industry, some ventures are more ethical than others. That doesn’t change the fact it has often been the sole or primary impetus for conservation. I therefore think it’s misleading to consider all ecotourism equal, or all ecotourism bad.

    As for hunting, allow me to tweak your own post: “I resent the attitude that a lot of conservationists have that hunting is a noble goal even when it has negative consequences, but other uses are inappropriate exploitation even when the conservation benefits are net positives.” Couldn’t agree more!

    I fail to see how you can disagree with me about avoiding taxonomic bias in the first paragraph, but also disagree with conserving species based on their popularity in the second. Is it just that you want to help your favourites? With respect, I think that’s even less relevant than the preferences of the population at large. Incidentally, I also consider my own mammalian bias irrelevant when determining where conservation effort should be applied.

    As for why we should care, biodiversity has value (through the aforementioned “ecosystem services”) beyond the bits we want to see. To follow the MEA framework, I consider provisioning, regulating, and, by extension, supporting services more important than arbitrary preferences (encompassed by cultural services). If you want to get less abstract, we’ll need to start discussing the biodiversity-ecosystem function relationship in specific cases.

    Since my views on species conservation are now abundantly clear, I’ll refrain from commenting. I will say, however, that the preoccupation of conservation with charismatic species (particularly in the public consciousness) is an ecological, economic, and humanitarian disaster.


    *Does ZooChat have any ethicists? If so, I’d be fascinated to hear your views on zoos/conservation.
     
    Last edited: 1 Dec 2016
  10. Dassie rat

    Dassie rat Well-Known Member

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    It is very difficult to be an ethicist and very easy to be a hypocrite. Basically, many people prioritise what they consider to be important. For example, if you feel it is wrong to steal, then you may not condone hungry people stealing food.

    I feel that many zoos prioritise some species over others. Some species are represented by thousands of captive individuals, while more endangered species are not kept by other zoos. I feel that zoos should differentiate between ex-situ and in-situ conservation. They should keep species that can be bred and returned to the wild, rather than species that will never be returned to the wild. There have been several cases where dangerous animals have escaped from their enclosures and have killed keepers and other animals or have been killed. Do zoos really need to keep dangerous animals and shouldn't money be spent to keep dangerous animals in the wild, where they can behave more naturally, rather than in zoos, where they cost more money and displace many animals that could be saved from extinction?
     
  11. Jurek7

    Jurek7 Well-Known Member

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    Hi Zygodactyl,

    Regarding your first post:
    Involving private bird breeders and commercial institutions into conservation is good. Especially that many hobbyists bring fresh perspectives and contacts which conservationists and zoos lack. I written earlier, that such breakthrough figures like Gerald Durrell or John Aspinall would in the present legislation likely not achieve what they did, because the law would see them as private persons and ban from a lot of things.

    Just some points:
    Zoos which tried to involve private animal breeders experienced problems, like breeders suddenly backing away or selling birds because they lost interest. Zoos need to develop a special legal framework for zoo-private breeder cooperation different than in zoo-zoo cooperation. To ensure that there is a control over animals loaned to breeders, and not to scare breeders from cooperation. Unfortunately, zoo people are not usually good in organization.

    Current breed of conservationists think of zoos from their childhood - from the 1980s. They think that zoos have empty cages. They also think of wilderness from their childhood. They often don't understand how developed and accessible is most of wild places, and don't realize what we know now, for example that no national park will work in a country with political disorder. Conservationists also should be educated.
     
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  12. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    Ethics and morality are human inventions. We likely evolved to have the ability to reason about morality and ethics because it benefits us as humans. I see no reason to believe that we should give animals the same consideration we give humans in our ethical system.

    Do you actually know people who argue this? Because I've only encountered the "all exploitation of animals is bad" and "all exploitation of animals other than ecotourism is bad" variants.

    I'm arguing that it would be nice if zoos tried to promote interest in a wider range of animals. I also know that realistically, some will be easier sells than others. Birds and small mammals are likely to be relatively easy sells if there's something unique about them, as the success of the kakapo and aye-aye have demonstrated. Finding Nemo demonstrates that you need a major motion picture to sell even a really interesting fish. I'd like to see zoos try to sell inverts too: the Lord Howe stick insect, giant weta, butterflies/moths and beetles, praying mantises, and a number of weird-looking leafhoppers might have some success, particularly locally. But even with a major movie I doubt any insect could attain the popularity the kakapo has obtained without it.

    I believe that saving potentially charismatic animals is worth attempting even if requires ex situ conservation. Best case scenario is that in breeding them they attract attention to their habitat, and may even lead to habitat restoration (my impression is the rediscovery of the Lord Howe stick insect and its possible reintroduction played a big role in efforts to remove predators from that island). Worst case scenario is that you save an interesting species, which I'm fine with.

    I believe that trying to save many small species is a better use of time and money, and has more potential benefit long-term, than trying to save one species rhinoceros or subspecies tiger, however I recognize that people want to save the rhinos and tigers and some effort should be put to that end, but I wish that that effort would A. only be applied when actually likely to save the species and B. not go beyond what's needed to save the species. (The Sumatran rhino is likely hopeless, while most of the Begal tigers in zoos are likely unnecessary for conservation.)

    My focus on potentially charismatic ambassador species doesn't line up exactly with the species that I would personally try to save ex situ if I had the money. For example the subdesert mesite and Zapata wren would be high on the list of species I'd want to try to preserve, however I don't believe for a moment that anybody would be persuaded to preserve habitat in Madagascar or Cuba by those particular species (the helmet vanga and blue-headed quail dove seem like slightly better candidates in that regard, but still not as compelling as a komodo dragon or a kakapo, let alone an elephant or a gorilla).

    That said, if I did have the money to build a zoo myself, I'd be doing more than trying to save a few species; I'd be building exhibits focused on entire ecosystems. I certainly wouldn't be preserving the whole ecosystems ex-situ, but I would try to have a wide range of endangered birds and plants (and a few other animals) from selected habitats, in mixed-species enclosures whenever they could breed in such enclosures--rather than selectively breeding the species I thought offered the best overlap between my interests and what visitors might be persuaded to take interest in. In my fantasy zoo education would focus on ecosystems, while ex situ breeding programs would focus on individual species (and these would be either species I found particularly interesting, or species that proved so easy and cheap to breed it would seem stupid not to preserve them).
     
  13. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

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    As I said, I’m not an ethicist. However, I strongly disagree with this assertion. I think the subjective experience of pain, for instance, is inherently bad. Therefore, efforts to alleviate it are inherently good. I don’t consider that in any respect an “invention” and I think it’s equally applicable to non-human animals. Recognition that causing animals pain is bad (a welfare view) is not equivalent to giving them the same ethical consideration as humans (a rights view).

    The evolutionary origins of human morality and reasoning are fascinating but irrelevant.

    Noble was the wrong word, but many conservationists are in favour of sustainable hunting, others consider it a necessary evil, and some want nothing to do with it. A spectrum of opinion exists, even if you haven’t been exposed to it. And, to quote a forthcoming paper on the topic: “opposing views are often poorly supported by empirical evidence.” Well, even scientists aren't perfect ;)
     
  14. Zygodactyl

    Zygodactyl Well-Known Member

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    That's fair, I suppose. For me an essential part of ethics is knowing that what one is doing is wrong. For example I consider white lies to be always wrong, but not unethical, because there's a cultural assumption in the US that one should lie in certain contexts. Likewise, a lot of animal cruelty is wrong and clearly inhumane, but it's committed out of ignorance, so I wouldn't call it unethical.

    Morality is even trickier. While I'm a moral universalist in the sense that I believe some things are right and others are wrong, I believe that the concept of morality is essentially a loaded one, since calling something "immoral" is usually based on an emotional reaction. I believe that something can be moral to me and immoral to another person and vice versa, but there is only one "right" and "wrong," at least as applied to interactions with other humans.

    With interactions with animals, things get trickier. If we start valuing all non-human life the same, should we really value the lives of a few hundred kakapo above the lives of all the predators (likely far greater in number), we need to protect them? So again, I prefer to address non-human life from the perspective of "how does this species impact us?"

    Consider another example: feeding birds. When lived in the countryside I put out seed for birds, That encourages them to congregate in areas that are predictable. I would see at least three different cats roaming around the birdfeeder (if they got too close I'd chase them off just like the squirrels, but I wasn't always around). I never saw them actually kill birds, but I imagine that putting out the birdfeeder made it more likely that several birds were killed. Under your standards, is it unethical for me to put out a birdfeeder, knowing that in my desire to see more birds I'm likely contributing to their deaths?
     
  15. gentle lemur

    gentle lemur Well-Known Member

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    I think we must be careful not to confuse facts with opinions. Zygodactyl can assert that 'ethics and morality are human constructs' but many people are of the opinion that this is not completely true and many others would say that it is false. We can't all be right and as we can change our opinions, no-one can expect to be right all the time.
    Likewise Zygodactyl is entitled to think that there is no intrinsic value in conservation. That might be right or it might be wrong. Unfortunately it may only be disproved by a negative result - if conservation measures are not taken or do not succeed, and the consequences turn out to be dire. It will give conservationists no satisfaction to say 'We told you so' after the event. That is why the precautionary principle does have intrinsic value (in my opinion, of course).
     
  16. Giant Panda

    Giant Panda Well-Known Member

    Joined:
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    612
    Location:
    UK (mostly)
    To bring the discussion full circle, this is the crux of the conflict between animal rights activists and conservationists.
     
  17. Mr. Zootycoon

    Mr. Zootycoon Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    3 Jun 2015
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    237
    Location:
    probably in a zoo
    In my humble opion, we should mostly try to conserve ecosytems and biodiversity, not indivudial species. Having said that, I think there is a place for single species conservation. And that place, for me, is a zoo.

    In conservation, zoos can't be arks, and in-situ conservation is, though important for some zoos, not their main objective. Education is key. But for zoos to educate people, and to exist at all, they need a diverse collection of animals. Why not choose species which are on the brink of extinction? I understand those few species won't make the difference for our planet, especially as most of them will be vertebrates. But they can be used to educate people about the ecosystem they live in, or about biodiversity, while saving a precious few species in the process. That can't be a bad thing.

    Lord Howe stick insects, nene, père davids deer, mauritian kestrel, round-island boa, montserrat oriole, panamanian golden frog and many others are saved or are being saved by zoos. One will have a hard time convincing me that all those species are essential for their ecosystems. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't at least try to save them. The world would be a much poorer place without them. Again, this is nothing but my opinion.

    "To me the extirpation of an animal species is a criminal offence, in the same way as the destruction of anything we can not recreate or replace, such as a Rembrandt or the Acropolis”

    Gerald Durrell - A zoo in my luggage
     
    Coelacanth18 likes this.
  18. overread

    overread Well-Known Member

    Joined:
    9 Dec 2015
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    289
    Location:
    England
    At a practical level preserving ecosystems is often the case of preserving individual species within those ecosystems. Since besides removal of invasive non-native species* there is not a huge amount one can exactly do without some kind of simplification of nature.
    Of course what this tends to mean is three kinds of species get prioritised.

    1) Indicator species which are generally seen to show a healthy ecosystem at the level under management. They are also generally hallmarks that if present mean conditions are good for other species as well.

    2) Rare/Endangered species - those which have identified low or critically low populations and thus are considered worthy of land being dedicated toward their protection. In an ideal world they'd also be indicator species; but this can't always be the case.

    3) Notable species - this doesn't always mean critically endangered; but sometimes might mean species iconic to an area. This can often be when an area is also a tourist site.
    Again in an ideal world notable might well also be endangered and/or indicator species as well.


    Natural systems can manage themselves; however in most modern countries fragmentation of habitats means that most natural systems can't function as they should. They can also show heavy bias (esp when nutrient loads are heavily increased from farming practice and industrial actions**). Thus often as not management can help toward preservation. Even if its just to keep down invasive species and attempting to curtail abnormally high nutrient loads.


    I also see a general pattern of attempting to restore landscapes as they were post WW1 in the more stable and long term farming systems (eg hay meadows and heaths). I suspect this is because there's a good body of data on how to manage such systems and because such systems have been shown in the past to support large populations of many notable and rare species. The danger in this is that one can end up with too many areas focusing on this kind of management with less focus on systems that run on their own or more naturally without alteration.


    *Which can be a can of worms unto itself since non-native can be divided into those which are benign or considered "naturalised" and those which are directly harmful to existing species populations of natural flora and fauna

    **sulphur is added to soils by farmers; however during the days when acid rain was a major problem they didn't have to add any and/or as much because it fell from the skies.