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Wildlife Welfare

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Front. Vet. Sci. | doi: 10.3389/fvets.2018.00296

‘Feelings and Fitness’ not ‘Feelings or Fitness’ – the raison d’être of Conservation Welfare, which aligns conservation and animal welfare objectives

 Ngaio J. Beausoleil1*, David J. Mellor1,  Liv Baker2,  Sandra E. Baker3, Mariagrazia Bellio4,  Alison S. Clarke5, Arnja Dale6,  Steve Garlick2, Bidda Jones7, Andrea Harvey2,  Benjamin J. Pitcher8,  Sally Sherwen9, Karen Stockin1 and Sarah Zito6
  • 1Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, School of Veterinary Science, College of Sciences, Massey University, New Zealand
  • 2Centre for Compassionate Conservation, University of Technology Sydney, Australia
  • 3Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, Department of Zoology, University of Oxford, United Kingdom
  • 4Institute of Land Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, Australia
  • 5Veterinary Emergency Centre and Hospital, James Cook University, Australia
  • 6Royal New Zealand Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, New Zealand
  • 7Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Australia, Australia
  • 8Taronga Conservation Society Australia, Australia
  • 9Zoos Victoria, Australia

Increasingly, human activities, including those aimed at conserving species and ecosystems (conservation activities) influence not only the survival and fitness but also the welfare of wild animals. Animal welfare relates to how an animal is experiencing its life and encompasses both its physical and mental states. While conservation biology and animal welfare science are both multi-disciplinary fields that use scientific methods to address concerns about animals, their focus and objectives sometimes appear to conflict. However, activities impacting detrimentally on the welfare of individual animals also hamper achievement of some conservation goals, and societal acceptance is imperative to the continuation of conservation activities. Thus, the best outcomes for both disciplines will be achieved through collaboration and knowledge-sharing. Despite this recognition, cross-disciplinary information-sharing and collaborative research and practice in conservation are still rare, with the exception of the zoo context. This paper summarizes key points developed by a group of conservation and animal welfare scientists discussing scientific assessment of wild animal welfare and barriers to progress. The dominant theme emerging was the need for a common language to facilitate cross-disciplinary progress in understanding and safeguarding the welfare of animals of wild species. Current conceptions of welfare implicit in conservation science, based mainly on ‘fitness’ (physical states), need to be aligned with contemporary animal welfare science concepts which emphasize the dynamic integration of ‘fitness’ and ‘feelings’ (mental experiences) to holistically understand animals’ welfare states. The way in which animal welfare is characterized influences the way it is evaluated and the emphasis put on different features of welfare as well as the importance placed on the outcomes of such evaluations and how that information is used, for example in policy development and decision-making. Salient examples from the New Zealand and Australian context are presented to illustrate. To genuinely progress our understanding and evaluation of wild animal welfare and optimize the aims of both scientific disciplines, conservation and animal welfare scientists should work together to evolve and apply a common understanding of welfare. To facilitate this, we propose the formal development of a new discipline, Conservation Welfare, integrating the expertise of scientists from both fields.

Keywords: Conservation Welfare, Animal welfare assessment, wildlife conservation, environmental ethics, Wild animal welfare

Received: 10 Aug 2018; Accepted: 05 Nov 2018.

Edited by:

Charlotte L. Berg, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Sweden

Reviewed by:

Jason V. Watters, San Francisco Zoo, United States
Elisabetta Canali, Università degli Studi di Verona, Italy
Jill D. Mellen, Portland State University, United States  

Copyright: © 2018 Beausoleil, Mellor, Baker, Baker, Bellio, Clarke, Dale, Garlick, Jones, Harvey, Pitcher, Sherwen, Stockin and Zito. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

* Correspondence: Dr. Ngaio J. Beausoleil, College of Sciences, Massey University, Animal Welfare Science and Bioethics Centre, School of Veterinary Science, Palmerston North, New Zealand, N.J.Beausoleil@massey.ac.nz