Opening A Dialogue To Improve Animal Studies
The fields of multispecies studies and compassionate conservation have emerged to challenge old ways of thinking about conservation and animal welfare. Multispecies studies is an interdisciplinary field that focuses on relationships between humans and other animals. Multispecies studies scholars adopt a worldview in which beings, things, and concepts come to exist in relation to one another. Meanwhile, compassionate conservation combines conservation and animal welfare. It aims to both preserve Earth’s biodiversity and to treat each individual animal as valuable and worthy of respect.
The authors of this paper argue that, by working together, multispecies studies scholars and compassionate conservationists can offer new perspectives on key animal issues. The first example is the issue of killing. Compassionate conservation originally developed out of opposition to killing wild animals for conservation reasons. Its first principle urges that we should avoid harming animals. Conversely, multispecies studies argues that there’s no way to live without killing other beings. Instead of avoiding killing, it suggests we should avoid making animals killable — that is, treating them as objects whose deaths don’t matter.
Multispecies studies and compassionate conservation both question the way that we make certain animals killable, such as by permitting trophy hunting to save an endangered species or by killing “invasive” species. However, the authors argue, sometimes killing animals is unavoidable. Multispecies studies encourages us to feel appropriate grief in these situations and to avoid separating humans from animals.
Second, both fields condemn our disregard for animal lives. Traditional conservation is fine with reintroducing lynx into Canada even if half of the reintroduced lynx die. Conversely, both multispecies studies and compassionate conservation teach that we should recognize all sentient beings as people. Thinking of nonhuman animals as people allows us to develop close relationships with them. Multispecies studies notes that concern for individual animals is seen as feminine and overemotional, which means it is devalued in a misogynist society.
Third, both fields explore the hierarchies of valued and unvalued animals we create. Traditional conservation not only prioritizes humans over animals but places some species over others. Conventionally, conservationists view wild or endangered species as more important than “invasive” species. Domestic cats who are companion animals are valued, but if they live on their own and become “feral,” these conservationists view them as a threat to more valuable wild animals. Meanwhile, compassionate conservation believes that all animals should be seen as part of biodiversity, regardless of species, and multispecies studies questions and breaks down species-based hierarchies.
The authors argue that the best way for compassionate conservationists to become more inclusive for all species is to adopt multispecies studies’ relational approach: compassionate conservationists should be curious about nonhuman animals’ experiences, recognize that they have their own interests and ways of life, be accountable for how they treat them, and aim to form relationships and a community with animals.
Finally, both fields argue for cohabitation, rather than coexistence. Coexistence is about minimizing the conflict between humans and nonhuman animals. It’s based on the idea that “nature” and “society” are fundamentally different and can only conflict with each other. Cohabitation argues, however, that both humans and nonhuman animals can change their behavior so that they can live together peacefully. Cohabitation sees nonhuman animals as playing an equal role in living peacefully among humans, instead of placing the onus entirely on humans. The authors argue that multispecies studies is particularly well-suited to studying communities where animals and humans are successfully coexisting.
The authors argue that we have only begun to explore how compassionate conservation and multispecies studies could comment on each other and even acquire more academic legitimacy. One area of collaboration that the authors find particularly promising is working on understanding the subjective experiences of animals. The authors also think that both fields could work together on incorporating Indigenous scholarship. Both compassionate conservation and multispecies studies, the authors argue, have the potential to dismantle human exceptionalism and speciesism. They may be more effective if they work together.