Animal Welfare and Conservation in Conflict


(Originally published in the September 2008 edition of Animal People News)

While in Indonesia for the August 2008 Asia for Animals conference,  the fifth in a series co-sponsored by ANIMAL PEOPLE since 2001,  ANIMAL PEOPLE president Kim Bartlett joined several other conference attendees in a visit to the International Animal Rescue facilities in West Java,  near Bogor,  two hours by car south of Jakarta.

The visit provided an unexpectedly stark illustration of some of the sharpest edges and conflicts in the three-cornered relationship among animal welfare,  wildlife species conservation,  and habitat protection.

In theory,  ensuring the well-being of individual animals sounds as if it should be both the starting point and the ultimate outcome of protecting entire endangered or threatened species,  and protecting the animals’ habitat would seem to be implicit in protecting either individual animals or their species as a whole.

In practice,  distinctions among the goals and philosophies of animal welfare, wildlife conservation,  and habitat protection emerge almost immediately,  beginning with the question of how and when humans should intervene in the life cycles and feeding habits of wild animals:

  • What if preserving a species requires trapping some of the last individual members of the species – even if they are only those animals who are debilitated and unlikely to survive in the wild – and putting them into a captive breeding program,  at perhaps significant detriment to their quality of life?
  • What if these animals are predators, whose offspring must be taught how to catch live prey?
  • What if there is no longer enough wild habitat to sustain a breeding pool of a species that will be large enough to ensure species recovery?


Such questions are vexing enough by themselves,  but are frequently compounded by human economic interests.

Logging,  mining,  and real estate development companies,  for example–and their executives and shareholders–often contribute generously to animal rescue and rehabilitation, and to species conservation in captive situations such as zoos.  The unspoken basis of the relationship is that the companies’ destruction of habitat must remain unimpeded,  since logging, mining,  and development generate the revenue that makes the donations possible,  including donations of land to conservation purposes after much of the land has already been economically exploited.

Primatologist Dale Peterson and nature photographer Karl Amman devoted much of their 320-page opus Eating Apes (2003) to detailing many such relationships in Africa, linking private timber and mining companies,  major international conservation societies,  and some of the world’s most prominent zoos.
Many of those same corporations, conservation societies,  and zoos are involved in similar dealings in Southeast Asia,  along with others of comparable modus operandi.

Should animal rescuers,  rehabilitators, and conservationists refuse money from resource-based industries,  knowing that countless animals might then suffer from lack of help  and that whole species might disappear, while habitat-destroying projects proceed anyway?

Habitat preservationists,  conversely, often have little or no interest in protecting the lives of individual animals they deem to be problematic or “non-native.”  Historically, habitat preservationists have been most interested in preserving species when the presence of an endangered species provides a legal pretext for protecting broad swaths of “critical habitat” that include scenic vistas.

Some habitat preservationists,  the Nature Conservancy in particular,  have killed tens of thousands of “non-native” animals to “cleanse” nominally protected habitats,  even when the massacres have put endangered species at risk.  The effect on endangered island foxes of the Nature Conservancy-driven effort to purge the Channel Islands off California of non-native hooved species is among the best-known examples. First the fox population rose while feeding on abundant carrion–which also attracted golden eagles.  Then,  as the carrion was exhausted, the golden eagles ate foxes instead.

Island species and habitat are especially sensitive to any sort of environmental change. Indonesia consists of 13,677 islands,  many of them the habitat of unique species or subspecies. Because Indonesia is the fourth most populous nation in the world,  after China,  India,  and the U.S.,   with a rapidly developing economy, almost every part of the country could potentially become a battleground over conservation issues.

Worse,  in Indonesia “battleground” might be more than a metaphor. A nation only since 1950,   Indonesia has seldom been free of civil strife,  and environmental conflicts might easily become mixed with some of the regional and ethnic issues that have often erupted in violence. Between suppressing insurrections,  Indonesian military officers have frequently exploited their positions for economic advantage,  including in facilitating rainforest logging and wildlife trafficking.  The well-placed perpetrators appear to have been undeterred by decades of exposés published in both western and domestic media.

As the Brussels-based International Crisis Group reported in December 2001,  and The New York Times summarized,  “Illegal activities are protected and in some cases organized by bureaucrats and the security forces, with the military and police organizations deeply involved in illegal logging,”  which leaves displaced wildlife vulnerable to hunting or capture.

Sidney Jones,  the primary author of the International Crisis Group study,  was expelled from Indonesia in June 2004,  essentially for knowing too much.  Jones’  expulsion produced yet another round of exposés,  adding some linkage of military and police involvement in illegal logging and wildlife trafficking to militant Islamicism.  Again government pledges to stop log piracy in national parks and to stop trafficking in endangered species brought spasms of well-publicized enforcement,  but scarcely stopped the pattern of abuses.

ProFauna Indonesia chair Rosek Nurshid, for example,  in February 2005 identified military officers as major participants in exporting as many as 100,000 illegally captured cockatoos per year.  His allegation was confirmed in early August 2008 when a Malaysian smuggler named E Kong Seng began talking after police caught him and 10 others in possession of 8.25 tons of frozen anteater meat,  200 tons of dried anteater hide,  and 85 anteater gall bladders, all packaged for export.

“He confessed to having bribed high-ranking police and military officials,” wrote Khairul Saleh of the Jakarta Post.

Animal welfare concerns have relatively little organized voice in Indonesia,  especially compared to the U.S.,  India,  and much of Europe,  but are emerging as a factor,  including in the efforts of conflicting economic interests to put a friendly face on their activity.

Loggers,  palm oil plantation developers, and promoters of tourism are often linked through family and business relationships to wildlife exporters and exhibitors,  as well as to their facilitators in the police and military.

As tourism gradually supplants resource-based development,  first on Bali,  now in parts of Java and Lombok,  some of the most ambitious developers have learned to put a more ecologicaly friendly face on their work.   Some claim to endorse,  promote,  and teach both conservation and animal welfare.  Rhetoric about educating the public is a prominent part of the facade. Some of the education seems credible and sincere,  though some is not;  but even at best, it tends to stop short of promoting habitat preservation,  and certainly falls well short of promoting activism against economic development.

At the Bali Safari & Marine Park in Gianyar,  for example,  a captive bird act similar to those offered at many U.S. zoos demonstrates avian intelligence.  An elephant act offers some sympathetic discussion of animal welfare.  An elephant wields an ankus,  or elephant hook,  while handlers explain why the park doesn’t use ankuses.

There are significant animal welfare issues at the Bali Safari & Marine Park, such as heavily sedating animals to give visitors the opportunity to pose for photographs with them (see page 1).  There are also significant economic issues.  A newly completed indoor marine mammal stadium resembling an exceptionally tall aircraft hangar stands idle,  reputedly because of the potential effects on nearby beach-front habitat if it is allowed to begin pumping in and discharging vast amounts of sea water.  The dispute pits developers against developers.

On the whole,  however,  the Bali Safari & Marine Park appears to promote both animal welfare and species conservation via captive breeding,  with scarcely a mention that wild habitat for the species bred there no longer exists on Bali,  and is rapidly disappearing from the other Indonesian islands.  The likelihood of any captive-bred animal from the Bali Safari & Marine Park ever returning to the wild would appear to be slim,  even if returning animals to the wild was actually among the park goals.

Animal Rescue Centers

In recognition of the limitations and problematic alliances of many Indonesian zoos, representatives of the species conservation and animal welfare communities rallied by the Gibbon Foundation met at Bogor in July 2000,  producing 11 recommendations for reform.  The recommendations were framed in the context of enabling Indonesia to meet the terms of the United Nations-brokered Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

The Cikananga Animal Rescue Center was among seven officially designated rescue centers that were opened within the next year through partnerships among the Indonesian government, the Gibbon Foundation,  and several indigenous Indonesian wildlife charities which had until then enjoyed little official support or recognition.

Initially the Gibbon Foundation pledged only start-up funding for the Animal Rescue Center Network.  By 2006 the network members were supposed to have developed the fundraising capacity to operate independently.

In actuality,  as often occurs with externally funded mission-driven start-ups,  the Animal Rescue Centers were directed by scientists,  activists,  and volunteers who had little if any experience in nonprofit capacity-building,  and tended to focus on their animal-related programs to the near-exclusion of developing their own donor bases.

Almost nothing appears to have been done to generate support from the fast-growing educated and affluent sectors of Indonesian society.  What fundraising was done appears to have consisted mainly of writing grant applications to other foreign foundations.

Predictably,  the animal rescue centers fell on hard times,  even after the Gibbon Foundation continued helping some of them beyond the initial five-year cut-off dates.   And then the Gibbon Foundation itself faltered.

Recalled International Primate Protection League founder Shirley McGreal in September 2007, “Cikananga and the other centers used to have secure and generous funding from the Gibbon Foundation,  run by Willie Smits,  a Dutch resident of Indonesia.  The foundation’s funds came mainly from the estate of the late multi-millionairess Puck Schmutzer,”  who died in 2006.  “Besides funding the rescue centers,” McGreal noted,  “large sums were expended to build the luxurious Schmutzer Primate Center inside the appalling Ragunan Zoo in Jakarta,” where resident orangutan rehabilitator Ulrike Freifrau von Mengden had worked since 1952,  with the support of Smits and Schmutzer.

“The foundation was incorporated in Liechtenstein and held its money in a Swiss bank account,  so IPPL was never able to locate financial reports,”  McGreal continued.  “Now its funds have mysteriously dried up,  and the sanctuary animals are suffering.”

No one appears to blame Smits for the fiasco.  As founder of the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation,  Smits and colleagues have rescued and rehabilitated more than 1,200 orangutans since 1991.  Smits has also founded and directed conservation projects on behalf of many other species,   and has long been perhaps the most prominently outspoken critic worldwide of the habitat destruction by timber and palm oil interests,  especially,  that threatens to drive wild orangutans,  gibbons,  and many other Indonesian species to extinction.

But the collapse of the Gibbon Foundation meant the loss of the resources to continue subsidizing the Animal Rescue Centers,  and gave the Indonesian government the opportunity to withdraw support as well.

“On June 2,  2008 the Government of Indonesia announced an early termination of cooperation with the Gibbon Foundation in the development and management of animal protection centers in Indonesia,”  stated the official announcement.

Smits has been on tour outside of Indonesia for much of 2008,  promoting a new book,  Thinkers of the Jungle,  produced with journalist Gerd Schuster and photographer Jay Ullal.  Smits’ speaking appearances and interviews have drawn more global attention than ever before to the dismal future of wild orangutans.  Global demand for biofuels has accelerated deforestation of orangutan habitat to create palm oil plantations,  as Smits mentions and documents at every opportunity.

But while Smits was abroad,  the Animal Rescue Center network collapsed,  in a pattern both paralleling and contrasting with the destruction a decade ago of much of the orangutan rescue and conservation work conducted since 1971 by Orangutan Foundation International founder Birute Galdikas.

Galdikas,  61,  was the third,  youngest, and last of “Leakey’s Angels,”  following Jane Goodall,  whom the late anthropologist Louis Leakey sent to study chimpanzees in Tanzania, and Dian Fossey,  sent to study gorillas in Rwanda.

Galdikas’ approach soon expanded from scientific observation to hands-on care of orphaned orangutans.  This work is continued by the Orangutan Care Centre that Galdkikas established at Kalimantan Tengah,  Borneo.  The center houses about 200 rescued orangutans at a time,  releasing about 30 per year back into the diminishing rainforest.

As Galdikas came to recognize that the individual cases she handled were representative of threats to the entire orangutan species,  she became increasingly involved in habitat conservation.  From March 1996 through March 1998,  Galdikas served as senior advisor to the Indonesian minister of forestry on orangutan issues,  under the former Suharto government, which had ruled Indonesia since a year before her arrival.  In that capacity,  Galdikas was able to designate 76,000 hectares as an orangutan preserve.  But the Suharto regime was toppled in May 1998.

Wrote Galdikas a year later in the Orangutan Foundation International newsletter Pongo Quest,  “Many people realised very quickly that they could now do whatever they liked. Tanjung Puting National Park,”  home of about 6,000 orangutans,  “is a case in point.  The 50 square kilometer forest area with Camp Leakey at its center has not been touched.  But every other part of the national park has been invaded by illegal loggers.  Unfortunately, the situation reflects what is happening across Indonesia.  All national parks with stands of timber are being logged and the situation is so bad that illegal logging now outstrips legal timber production.”

Former Tanjung Puting orangutan conservation volunteer Lone Droscher-Nielsen and Willie Smits in 1998 founded the Nyaru Menteng Orangutan Reintroduction Project to rescue and rehabilitate as many displaced orangutans as possible.   The Nyaru Meteng center reportedly now houses 630 orangutans,  with little hope of soon finding habitat suitable for any of them to be released.

Galdikas campaigned worldwide to expose the devastation in Tanjung Puting and elsewhere, but ran afoul of conservation politics.  In a 1999 biography entitled A Dark Place in the Jungle:  Following Leakey’s Last Angel into Borneo,  Canadian author Linda Spalding questioned whether Galdikas’ emphasis on individual animal rescue was an effective approach on behalf of orangutans as a species. Spalding’s arguments have been amplified ever since by habitat conservationists who contend that Galdikas’ concern for individual animal well-being is a distraction from preserving orangutan habitat.

“There are concerns that freed orangutans spread diseases to the wild populations,” summarized Greenwire senior reporter Darren Samuelsohn in April 2008.  “At Camp Leakey, there are daily feedings for the wild and former captive orangutans that often also draw tourists. Some of the orangutans have attacked guests and staff.”

Borneo-based Nature Conservancy scientist Erik Meijaard told Samuelsohn that Galdikas is “playing around with symbolism without getting to the core of the issue.”

The gist of the conflict may be a difference in perception of the future of orangutans,  and indeed of most Indonesian wildlife.  Galdikas believes that if Indonesians sufficiently take to heart the needs and nature of wild orangutans,  plantation developers can be persuaded to leave buffer strips of natural vegetation along watercourses and in places where windbreaks are needed,  enabling orangutans and other species to learn to live among humans much as most surviving wildlife does in India, Europe,  and North America.

While protecting large expanses of habitat is ideal,  Galdikas learned from her experience at Tanjung Puting National Park that protected habitat in a developing nation may be viewed by many as an irresistible economic opportunity,  which one faction will exploit if another does not.  Galdikas remains committed to protecting as much habitat as possible,  but appears to see raising public concern about animal welfare as the most viable approach to species conservation.  As U.S.-based fundraisers learned more than 50 years ago from the success of the first “Smokey the Bear” campaign against forest fires,  the most successful appeals on behalf of habitat begin with appeals on behalf of individual animals’ needs.

The closure of most of the Animal Rescue Centers,  one by one,  has not been nearly as dramatic as the invasion of Tanjung Puting National Park by log poachers,  and unlike the destruction of many Indonesian parks,  it has not been visible from space.  Yet the closures have amounted to dismantling much and perhaps most of the fledgling animal welfare infrastructure of Indonesia,  and have resulted in wholesale transfers of animals and influence away from independent nonprofit agencies to privately operated zoos.
The message is that wildlife will be rescued and protected in Indonesia only if the effort pays for itself.  Since donor-funded nonprofit rescue centers are deemed to have failed,  the political path is cleared for proponents of zoological conservation,  meaning captive breeding without particular concern for individual animals,  and “sustainable development,”  meaning the exploitation of wildlife in any manner which does not lead directly to the destruction of a species.

The Animal Rescue Centers on Bali,  on the Jakarta outskirts,  at Gadong,  at Jogja,  at Kulonprogo,  and on North Sulawesi all closed during the summer of 2008.  The Pentungsewu Animal Rescue Center in Malang,  founded and partially supported by Pro Fauna Indonesia, lasted a little longer than the rest,  but closed at the end of August 2008.

“Our rare and endangered species have been handed over to Indonesia Safari Park II, the Jatim Recreational Park,  and the Malang Municipal Recreational Park,”  PARC project manager Iwan Kurniwan told Wahyoe Boediwardhana of the Jakarta Post.

“The center was home to 100 rare and endangered species of primates and birds seized from illegal owners,”  wrote Boediwardhana.

“With the closure,”  Iwan Kurniwan said, “the government put all the rare species rescued from illegal trade and smuggling into zoological gardens,  whose missions are not purely conservation.”

That left the Cikananga Rescue Center, “fully funded by the West Java provincial government,”  according to Boediwardhana,  but rescued from catastrophe by British-based charity International Animal Rescue in August 2007, after Jessica Boulton of The People reported that “More than 200 creatures,  including a bear,  an orangutan and her baby,  and a rare slow loris are fed only once every four days.  They were meant to be the ‘saved’ ones,”  Boulton noted, “after being plucked from cruel street entertainers,  horrific pet markets and roadside traders.”

Emergency funding from readers of The People,  the International Primate Protection League,  and the Born Free Foundation helped International Animal Rescue to intervene.

IAR had become involved in Indonesia one year earlier.  “Since attending the Asia for Animals Conference in Singapore last year,”  IAR announced in July 2006,  “we have been building a relationship with the Indonesian-based group Pro Animalia International,  founded in 2004 to protect Indonesian wildlife.”

In December 2006 the Pro Animalia founders,  Spanish veterinarian Karmele Llano Sanchez and Femke den Haas,  originally from the Netherlands,  merged their project into International Animal Rescue to become IAR-Indonesia.

IAR thus inherited their primate rehabilitation program and an attempted reintroduction of Brahminy kites to the region, beginning with releases on Kotok Island,  within Thousand Islands National Park.
IAR has previously melded species conservation and animal welfare work in Britain, Malta,  and India,  partnering in India with Wildlife SOS to rescue former dancing bears.

“The majority of our work is with macaques.  We are also trying to help slow lorises,  as the Javan slow loris just appeared on a list of the 25 most endangered species in the world,” explains IAR cofounder Alan Knight.

The slow lorises at the rescue center have often had their teeth excised before sale as exotic pets.
Knight “is researching the option of dental implants,”  Bartlett reported.  “AR will also try to find out if lorises can still kill their prey without teeth,  or if they can live without meat.  They only have a few lorises at present, but expect to receive more.  Knight told me that if they cannot rehabilitate and release the lorises,  they  will try to use them for captive breeding,  with the offspring eventually released into the wild.”

“I don’t approve of animal welfare organizations involving themselves in breeding of animals for any purpose,”  Bartlett noted,  while observing that the IAR macaque program takes quite a different approach.

Throughout Asia,  as street dog sterilization projects have reduced the numbers of dogs at large,  macaques have invaded the dogs’ former habitat,  proving much more difficult both to live with and to control.  Tens of thousands per year are captured for use in biomedical research.  Though U.S. laboratories are the largest purchasers and any macaques sold to the U.S. are supposed to be captive-bred, primate conservationists and investigative reporters who have followed the macaque traffic suspect that wild-caught macaques from all over Southeast Asia are being “laundered” through southern China and sold to U.S. firms as “captive bred.”

IAR receives both crab-eating and pig-tailed macaques from a variety of sources, but mainly as cast-off pets.  The IAR rehabilitation program focuses on integrating the macaques into progressively larger social groups until they form troops big enough to be returned to the wild,  mainly in uninhabited areas on smaller islands.

“All our macaques are sterilized before starting rehabilitation.  The males all have vasectomies,  although our first group was castrated with no effect on the social structure of the group,”  Knight explained,  contradicting conventional belief that macaque troupes reject castrated males.

IAR recently introduced the use of laparoscopic endoscopy,  a form of microsurgery, to sterilize macaques with minimal incisions and risk of post-surgical  infection.

“I am really hoping we can convince the Indian government to set up an Animal Birth Control program for macaques,”  Knight told ANIMAL PEOPLE,  “so they can help [humane societies performing the surgery]to purchase the equipment needed for the job.  We hope to perfect this technique of macaque sterilization in Indonesia and then take it to India.  We have been given the green light to do this by Major General R.M. Kharb,  chair of the Animal Welfare board of India,  at the Asia for Animals conference in Bali.”

Though the IAR slow loris project may be constructed to emphasize species conservation over individual welfare,  while the macaque project is mostly about animal welfare,  both projects are managed in a manner that minimizes a conflict of ethics. Not so a Javan hawk eagle project begun parallel to the Brahminy kite reintroduction project.

The hawk eagle project,  which has released six hawk eagles so far,  “uses intensively-reared guinea pigs,  a non-native species,  for live feeding to eagles who are being readied for release into the wild,” Bartlett observed.   “I said I didn’t think animal welfarists should be engaged in live-feeding,  much less in raising animals for feeding to other animals in intensive confinement systems that do not incorporate the Five Freedoms,”  promoted by Compassion In World Farming and other organizations as the minimum acceptable standards for animal husbandry.

“I asked if the guinea pigs were also being used as meat for people,”  Bartlett recalled, but the hawk eagle program staff “said they were only for feeding to the birds.  The guinea pig dung is used for fertilizing vegetable gardens.  They mentioned that sometimes the guinea pigs escape from the eagles,  but that because of their bright coloring,  they can easily be spotted outside of the flight cages and be brought back in.  However,  given the fecundity of guinea pigs,  it would seem that just a few escaped animals might establish a breeding population in the nearby jungle,” Bartlett mentioned,  a concern of conservationists who have recently exterminated feral guinea pig populations in Hawaii and New Zealand.

“In addition to the guinea pigs,  the eagles are also fed lizards and snakes,” Bartlett learned.  “All in all,  this would seem to present a very bad humane education model.

“In my view,”  Bartlett told the assembled IAR visitors,  “it shouldn’t matter to an animal welfarist if an animal is from an endangered species,  because it is the individual who suffers–not the species.  I tried to explain that when a species is designated ‘endangered,’ it achieves the status of ‘sacred’ and then all other animals from non-endangered species can be sacrificed to it–because they are predators of the endangered species,  or competitors,  or prey.”

Wildlfe SOS cofounder Kartick Satyanarayan suggested that if the hawk eagles must learn to hunt live prey before they are released from flight cages,  an alternative might be to throw grain down in the cages to attract the native rats.

This would more closely simulate nature, “and the rats would have a choice about whether to risk eating the grain,  as well as a much greater chance of escaping from the eagles,” Bartlett summarized.

“The welfare concerns in terms of live feeding are the same regardless of whether the project uses rats,  guinea pigs,  lizards or snakes,”   responded Animals Asia Foundation veterinarian Heather Bacon.  “I believe it would be speciesist to be concerned only for the welfare of the sole mammalian prey species involved.”

Knight told the IAR guests that the presentation by the Javan hawk eagle project on the day of their visit was the first he knew that guinea pigs were fed to the hawk eagles alive, and that he had earlier been disturbed by live feeding of fish to sea eagles.  “I was as surprised as anyone that they use live prey,” Knight confirmed later.  “I reared snakes in my youth and fed them dead prey that had been heated.  I will look into the problems with feeding live prey,”  he pledged,  “as I am very uncomfortable with this.  I can assure you that the Javan hawk eagle project is only $200 a month out of a budget of $20,000 a month,  so is 1% of the work we do,  and you can rest assured that we will be looking at the feeding of raptors more closely.  We will correct the feeding methods or remove our small funding of the project.”

Claiming to take a broader overview of the project,  beyond the live feeding issue, Bacon argued that “It is not a question of eagle versus guinea pig,  or conservation versus welfare. By conserving species such as eagles and preparing them for the wild and training them to hunt,  you protect not only the welfare of the eagle but also the habitat in which it lives,  by providing a reason for maintaining national parks for a species of conservation interest,   thus protecting the welfare of all of the other species within that animal’s habitat.”

But this presumes that the Indonesian national parks are in fact being protected and maintained as wildlife habitat,  a debatable proposition in many cases.

Extended to endangered species and habitat everywhere,  Bacon’s argument is the reason why U.S. habitat preservationists have focused on lawsuits seeking to protect the “critical habitat” of broadly distributed rare species such as spotted owls,  marbled murrelets, and red-cockaded woodpeckers,  instead of–for example–the much scarcer 31 endangered and threatened bird species native to Hawaii.

In consequence,  more than a third of all the money spent to protect the 95 officially endangered or threatened U.S. bird species,  from 1996 through 2004,  went to protecting spotted owls,  marbled murrelets,  and red-cockaded woodpeckers,  as documented by Hawaii Division of Forestry and Wildlife biologist David L. Leonard Jr. in the September 2008  edition of Conservation Biology.

Whether this skewed emphasis on species with expansive “critical habitat” has actually helped many other species is questionable. Certainly the endangered Hawaiian birds have not benefitted.  Neither have barred owls,  who have been killed for hybridizing with spotted owls and for extending their range into former spotted owl habitat.

If the theory that all wildlife can be protected by protecting the critical habitat for broad-ranging endangered species has failed in the U.S.,  where the federal Endangered Species Act has been in force for 35 years,  with billions of dollars and overwhelmingly favorable public opinion behind it,  the odds would appear slim that this approach will succeed in the most populated parts of the developing world.

Population pressure

Assessed Bartlett,  “Experience in India, and to a lesser extent in Kenya,  has demonstrated that national parks and forests will only be protected by government as long as there is no human population pressure surrounding the areas.  As soon as there is sufficient human demand to exploit the ‘protected’ natural resources or to establish human settlements in the area, politicians accede to the demands to open the reserves,  and the wildlife and plant species quickly decline.

“There is rapid human population growth in Indonesia,  especially on Java,  which is expected to continue for the foreseeable future. The rising ocean levels caused by global warming may simultaneously shrink land surface of the Indonesian islands,  while food shortages increase the demand to turn forests into farms,” Bartlett continued.

“Unless we can inculcate an animal rights perspective,  all wild creatures are endangered,”  Bartlett predicted.  “There is a degree of overlap between certain animal welfare projects and conservation efforts,  but the goals of animal welfare are to prevent suffering and improve the lives of individual animals,”  which if practiced widely enough will protect the health of species as well,  “and the animals’ status as endangered or non-endangered is irrelevant.

“The goals of conservation are to preserve native species and their habitat,  and to reverse the effects of human disruption of ecosystems and the migration of so-called non-native species into protected ecosystems,” whose ideal state is usually supposed to have existed at a relatively arbitrary time before the arrival of technological civilization,  western civilization,  or people with boats and dogs, for instance.

“I see little science in the desire to ‘cleanse’ the environment of ‘invasive’ species,” Bartlett wrote,  “and I believe moreover that it is anti-nature,  since migration of species has always been one engine of evolution,  as animals move into new habitat, and then adapt (another engine of evolution) and out-compete rival species,  often driving them into extinction, which is the principle of survival of the fittest.  Ecosystems have never been static environments.  I am not in favor of further human intervention that disrupts ecosystems,  but neither am I in favor of restoring ecosystems if it means killing animals who have adapted to them.  I say leave wild animals alone from now on and let nature take its course.  But of course this will not happen.

“The point of conservation is generally perceived as restoring and preserving a healthy environment for the benefit of humans,”  Bartlett pointed out,  “which has led to the concept of ‘sustainable use,’  now virtual dogma for conservationists.  Some conservative animal welfarists accept the idea of humane consumptive use of domestic animals,  but even these people generally draw the line at hunting,  trapping, and other consumptive use of wildlife,  whereas virtually all of the mainstream conservation organizations accept hunting,  trapping, and other consumptive use of animals as ‘tools of wildlife management’ or the means through which ‘wildlife pays for itself.’

“Despite all the effort going into preserving endangered species,  as soon as a species has ‘recovered,’  it goes back on the list of animals approved for killing.  If the point of preserving an endangered species is so that it can eventually be caught,  killed and/or otherwise used again in the future,  then why should it be preserved at all?”

In effect,  the “sustainable use” mantra calls for treating wildlife like livestock,  and is therefore in fundamental conflict with animal advocates who believe that “livestock species” should not be treated like livestock,  either.

Concluded Bartlett,  “I think that short of a miracle happening,  the only wild animals who have a good chance of surviving the next 25 years in countries with burgeoning populations are those who either have no monetary or dietary value;  are prolific breeders;  have low territorial needs and can live in proximity to human settlements without causing property damage or crop destruction;  are viewed as being harmless to humans;  are unafraid of or can cope with humans;  and are adaptable enough to survive in a changing environment.

“At some point humans will themselves adapt to changing circumstances,  and perhaps then the species who survive in the wild will be allowed to live unmolested,  while those who have been kept alive in captivity might be returned to wildlife preserves that are truly protected.  But that will only happen when and if people begin to believe that animals have the same right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness as human beings,  or at the very least that animals do not exist to be props in the human environment,  or to be foodstuffs for humans or other commodities.

“I cannot imagine the conservation movement on its present trajectory achieving the necessary change in human perspective,  though I applaud the animal welfare initiatives that may accompany certain conservation projects.

“We are not going to get ahead long-term by substituting one animal victim for another,” such as in conservationist efforts to encourage Africans to eat more dogs instead of bushmeat, Bartlett finished.  “The whole paradigm has to change,  because conservation approaches are not going to be successful in resolving the fundamental problems of how animals and humans can share the earth.”

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ANIMAL PEOPLE is an animal rights charitable organization dedicated to the principle that animals’ lives have intrinsic value apart from human interests. We believe there is an urgent need to cultivate human compassion for the other creatures with whom we share the earth. To that end, ANIMAL PEOPLE seeks to further animal advocacy by providing a global forum in which people who care about animals can speak and be heard. Click to see author's profile.

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