Research

Intervention Report: Wildlife Contraception

Abstract Although wildlife contraception is under-researched and many specific details are highly uncertain, wildlife contraception has the potential to robustly improve animal welfare in a cost-effective way. Two forms of wildlife contraception, immunocontraception and ContraPest, are discussed. The use of ContraPest by individuals is not recommended at this time, pending further study. Immunocontraception is ready…

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Wildlife Contraception

Abstract Although wildlife contraception is under-researched and many specific details are highly uncertain, wildlife contraception has the potential to robustly improve animal welfare in a cost-effective way. Two forms of wildlife contraception, immunocontraception and ContraPest, are discussed. The use of ContraPest by individuals is not recommended at this time, pending further study. Immunocontraception is ready to be deployed by wildlife managers, but due to regulatory and other issues few populations are currently managed using wildlife contraception. The creation of an advocacy movement to support the use of wildlife contraception is briefly discussed. How It Works There are two primary forms of contraception that are both effective in wildlife and acceptable from a welfare perspective: immunocontraception and ContraPest. Immunocontraception Immunocontraception uses […]

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Intervention Report: Feeding Wildlife As A Means of Promoting Welfare

Abstract Wildlife contraception prevents wild animals– mostly mammals, although sometimes birds– from having offspring. In addition to preventing human-wildlife conflict and ecological damage with less suffering than lethal control does, wildlife contraception may improve survival and increase longevity. Several forms of contraception, including hormonal contraception, surgical sterilization, and immunocontraception, have been developed. Expanding research into contraception may be one of the most effective ways to help wild mammals and perhaps birds. Why Use Contraception On Animals? There are two primary uses of wildlife contraception to promote wild-animal welfare. First, people may wish to limit populations for some reason, and contraception may be the most welfare-promoting means of achieving that goal. Most obviously, wildlife contraception is used in zoos and aquariums […]

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Feeding Wildlife As a Means of Promoting Animal Welfare

Introduction This intervention report reviews the evidence on supplemental feeding of wild animals. You can read a detailed literature review of the evidence in the paper “Feeding Wildlife As A Means of Promoting Welfare” This paper uses the Five Domains/Five Freedoms framework, which is commonly used to assess the welfare of both domestic and wild animals. The Five Domains are as follows: Nutrition (e.g. food, water, dietary quality) Environment (e.g. temperature, odors, noises, light, level of environmental variety) Health (e.g. disease, injury, functional impairment) Behavior (e.g. sleep, sex, exploration, foraging, novel challenges, play, rearing young) Affective state (e.g. pleasure/pain, comfort/discomfort, anger/calmness, boredom/engagement, loneliness/sociality, exhaustion/energy). Some species are far more likely to be studied than other species. Nearly all studies were […]

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An Introduction to Human Appropriation of Net Primary Productivity

Abstract Many people propose providing supplemental food to wildlife in order to promote their welfare. However, it is likely that providing supplemental food actually causes wild-animal suffering. While supplemental food has some positive effects, such as improved body condition and nutritional status and lower adult mortality, it also has many negative effects. Some food makes animals sick because it is contaminated or inappropriate for their species. Animals tend to aggregate around sources of food, which makes them vulnerable to disease, predation, and aggression from conspecifics. In the long run, supplemental feeding may also increase population size. At the new, larger population size, animals would no longer benefit from supplemental food; they would need it to prevent a population crash and […]

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Invertebrate Sentience: Urgent But Understudied

Summary This paper introduces human appropriation of net primary productivity (HANPP), a metric which tracks the percentage of global net primary production that humans use for their own purposes such as food, livestock production, fuel extraction and use, as well as the loss of potential NPP as a result of land use by humans. Analysing the results of HANPP data allows us to understand where humanity has the largest impact in terrestrial environments. We can use HANPP to understand the effect of human activities on ecosystems and how this impacts the quality of life of wild animals. This paper summarises available evidence on HANPP with the goal of defining opportunities for further research. Introduction One of the obstacles in understanding […]

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Parasite Load and Disease in Wild Animals

There is not, and may never be, an unambiguous and universally-accepted metric for whether an organism can suffer or not. Nonetheless, our perceptions of animal behavior and cognition are related to our decisions about using animals (Bilewicz, Imhoff, & Drogosz, 2011), and we are likely to describe animals we plan to use as less sentient, independent of actual differences (Bastian, Loughnan, Haslam, & Radke, 2012; Loughnan, Haslam, & Bastian, 2010). An accurate understanding of animal sentience and their ability to suffer, especially for extremely common animals like invertebrates, needs to be rooted in an accurate understanding of their behavior. However, our overall understanding of invertebrate cognitive capacity is severely limited from lack of data and reliable studies. Why invertebrates? Every […]

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"Fit and Happy": How Do We Measure Wild-Animal Suffering?

Introduction Parasites are organisms that live on or in another host organism and redirect its resources for themselves. They are nearly as old as life itself, having existed since before the days of the last universal common ancestor of all life (Forterre & Prangishvili, 2009). Parasites’ effects on their host range from miniscule to lethal, and they are a huge driving force in shaping host populations (Minchella & Scott, 1991). Their impact on the biosphere is enormous: 50% of known species are parasites, parasitism is the most common consumer strategy on the planet, and parasitism has independently evolved dozens of times in different clades (R. Poulin & Morand, 2000). All known animal species carry parasites. Commonly, ‘disease’ or ‘microparasite’ refer […]

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Euthanizing Elderly Elephants: An Impact Analysis

Last updated: 23 May 2018 Introduction In order to understand wild-animal welfare, we must be able to measure it. To target the most important causes of wild-animal suffering, it is important to understand which animals suffer the most and what causes their suffering. In this paper, I begin by reviewing theoretical arguments about wild-animal suffering, then move to discussing various empirical strategies for assessing the welfare of wild animals. I conclude with a brief discussion of how to reduce the time and expense of assessing wild-animal welfare. Defining Animal Welfare Defining what animal welfare is is philosophically fraught. Fraser (1995) distinguishes between three types of concepts. A type 1 concept is a single attribute which can be measured, such as […]

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An Analysis of Lethal Methods of Wild Animal Population Control: Invertebrates

Summary When elephants reach their sixties, they lose their last set of molars and starve to death. Euthanizing elderly elephants might seem like a good way to prevent their suffering from starvation. Unfortunately, while there’s little good evidence about how many elephants die of molar loss, the research on causes of death suggests that it’s relatively rare, and the research on elephant longevity suggests that few elephants live to be old enough for molar loss to be an issue. Thus, euthanasia of elderly elephants is unlikely to be a high-impact intervention for people interested in wild-animal suffering. Why Elephant Euthanasia Might Seem Like A Good Idea Elephants are among the most intelligent of animal species. They are capable of recognizing […]

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An Analysis of Lethal Methods of Wild Animal Population Control: Vertebrates

Summary If invertebrates have the capacity to feel pain they should be treated so that they do not suffer unnecessarily. Very rarely is the potential suffering of insects considered in agricultural population control. It is possible, then, that some of the current methods being used inflict unnecessary suffering on target and nontarget insects. This paper tentatively suggests that fast-acting, broad-spectrum insecticides paired with artificial population regulation present an interim solution that may minimize insect suffering in agriculture. Introduction Population control is the policy or practice of limiting growth in numbers of a population. The most common method to removing invertebrate populations is to cull them. However, depending on the method, this may cause a significant amount of unnecessary suffering. If […]

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Writing by Others

How Good or Bad Is the Life of an Insect?

Summary Many vertebrates are believed to be capable of experiencing pain and as such should be treated so that they do not suffer unnecessarily.  My conservative estimate suggests that the human control of wild animal populations affects at least 25 million vertebrates annually. Unfortunately, popular lethal methods of population control also inflict significant suffering on target animals. Rather than lethally reducing existing populations, an alternative is to artificially manipulate population growth such that target species reproduce at slower rates. Introduction Population control is the policy or practice of limiting growth in numbers of a population. The growth of animal populations may be managed in a wide variety of lesser-known ways. The most controversial method, culling, is considered by detractors as […]

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Reducing Suffering Amongst Invertebrates Such As Insects

Cross-posted from Simon Knutsson’s personal website  First written: Sep. 2015; last update: Oct. 27, 2016 Summary If I died and was offered to be born again as an insect or cease to exist, I would definitely choose not to exist. This essay focuses on the quality of life of honey bees because they are well-studied, and on what have been suggested to be the most numerous insects: springtails, ants, termites, and aquatic insects such as mayflies and midges (although some sources no longer classify springtails as insects). There is enormous inequality among the fates of insects. Some die very young, either as larvae, pupae, or just after having emerged from the pupa stage as adults, and it is difficult to see how most such lives […]

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Legal Personhood and the Positive Rights of Wild Animals

First written: May 2016 Summary “I am sure that insects can feel pain” said Vincent Wigglesworth, an entomologist and professor of biology (Wigglesworth & Others, 1980, p. 9). Several scientists and philosophers argue that because invertebrates such as insects, spiders, worms and snails may very well be able to feel pain or suffering, our moral concern should be extended to such beings. Different kinds of evidence have been used to infer whether they can feel pain, including facts about their nervous systems, observations of behavior that indicate learning to avoid harm, and evolutionary arguments about whether feelings of pain would give a fitness advantage. Despite a growing number of studies on invertebrate pain, the evidence is not conclusive, which raises […]

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Which Invertebrate Species Feel Pain?

“Why did I feed these animals against all advice? Because we live in the same place, because they were individuals, because they had relatives, experience, a past, and desires, because they were cold and hungry, because they hadn’t found enough to eat in the fall, because each had just one life.” – Elizabeth Marshall Thomas (Kymlicka & Donaldson, 2011) Introduction When you ask most ecologists about helping wild animals, they’ll tell you the same thing: it seems like a nice thing to do, but in the end, you’ll likely end up doing more harm than good. According to this narrative, wild animals exist within a delicate ecosystem, and human intervention inevitably leads to harmful unintended consequences…so don’t do it. Like any […]

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How Many Wild Animals Are There?

Introduction Invertebrates are the most common animals on earth, composing 97% of known species (“Articles 16 September 1988,” n.d.), and have complex behavior and nervous systems. While it may be impossible to tell conclusively whether a non-human species can feel pain or not, there are concrete factors that may increase the chance that a given species feels something analogous to pain in humans. There are six such factors  that are experimentally verifiable, and can be studied in species both related and distant from humans: identified pain-related neurons and brain structures, the presence of natural opioids, behavioral responses to damaging stimuli (either general responses or altered response to the damaged body part), evolutionary similarity to humans, and a wide repertoire of […]

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