As humans, we’ve been watching, admiring, studying, cataloging, hunting, and capturing wildlife since time immemorial, and our relationship to all of the species we share this planet with is complicated, to say the least. Some wild animals are seen very differently from the animals we farm for food, and the animals we call our companions, and instead are regarded as symbols of freedom and the natural world. Other wild animals, however, are seen as pests, vermin, or direct threats to human survival. This exclusive Faunalytics Fundamental examines our varying relationships with wildlife in broad strokes, as well as various wildlife issues that have arisen in recent years, based on the best available and current data. Please see all the sources here, and be sure to check out the blog about what we included, and what we left out here.
No matter where you live in the world, wildlife is all around you. There are plenty of wild animals that you probably see day-to-day – birds, urban animals, and common insects – but there are many, many more species that you likely don’t see. Our planet is home to millions of species of different animals, each who contribute to their respective ecosystems and play their respective roles. Truly, the depth and breadth of animal life on Earth are astounding. Rather than pick a few species, the interactive graphic below looks at a handful of broad categories of wildlife and their significance.
Opinions about wildlife vary greatly depending on the species, and the types of questions that are asked. If the question is about a species of “charismatic megafauna” like elephants, you may find the vast majority of people love the species and want to see them survive and thrive; if the question is about an urban “pest” species like raccoons, you may hear much more derogatory opinions. In other words, our opinions largely depend on our context, the context of the questions, and the overall material and cultural relationship we have with wildlife. Below, we explore attitudes and actions towards wildlife in general, as recorded over the course of more than a decade in Faunalytics’ annual Animal Tracker survey.
It’s important to note that these attitudes aren’t fixed: they’ve changed over time (and will likely change in the future). Because so many of our opinions about wildlife are context-dependent, they will shift as our context does. What this means is that, if we want to protect wildlife, we need to maintain positive relations with them in the eyes of the public.
It may seem like an obvious point to most animal advocates, but wild animals are supposed to live in the wild regions they come from. Unfortunately, many wild animals are targeted for removal from their wild home ranges, because humans want to use them for various reasons: some wild animal parts and skins are used as trophies from hunts; rhinos horns, on the other hand, are use in traditional medicines based on the belief they may increase vitality and treat cancer. In other cases, wildlife are taken from their homes and traded live as “exotic” companion animals, further highlighting the fact that some species of wildlife are seen more like the dogs and cats we may already live with. In either case, humans are the biggest threat to these animals.
In our Companion Animal Fundamentals, we looked at the “surplus” of dogs and cats in the world, and how this overpopulation keeps shelters full. For exotic companion animals, the reality is a bit different, but equally tough. Wild animals are taken live from the wild, and often bred in operations designed to produce as many young as possible, as quickly as possible. From there, they find their way into homes through exotic pet stores, public auctions, or largely unregulated online trading. At every stage of this trade, animal welfare and cruelty issues abound, often due to guardians’ lack of knowledge, and veterinarians’ lack of experience. Below, we look at some statistics relating to exotic companion animals around the world, with a spotlight on the United States.
We are living in perilous times. In some ways, exotic companion animals are shielded from an even worse fate, which is also wrought by humans: climate change. We know that climate change has an effect on wild animals and endangered species – many of us are still imprinted with images of polar bears struggling on ice floes in the Planet Earth series or An Inconvenient Truth. Still, there are so many ways that climate change is already impacting wildlife around the globe.
This is just the tip of the iceberg, unfortunately (no pun intended). Based on future projections, the impacts of climate change are only going to get worse. Below, we look at some of the many projections that have been made about how shifts in temperature around the globe will impact various animal species. It sounds alarmist, but the possibilities are truly disastrous and beg our attention.
Wild animals have always fascinated humans. While many accredited zoos and aquaria today are promoted in a scientific kind of way, the history of those institutions is based in colonialism: zoos and menageries began as a way for empires to show their literal reach, collecting “exotic” animals from the colonies and gathering them together back home. Since those times, zoos have pivoted, from a way for empires to show their superiority, to a commercial enterprise like any other. Below, we look at some statistics about the captive animal industry.
One of the biggest arguments in favor of zoos is that they are educational institutions that promote conservation and positive feelings towards wild animals. This is a claim that has been studied to varying degrees, and those studies lead us to believe that, while the public wants to believe in zoos’ education value, this transmission of information isn’t nearly as effective as we might think.
Zoos can continue to change, and they have the potential to play a more beneficial role for wildlife than they have in the past. Some zoos have included native wildlife rehabilitation in their work; animals, as varied as manatees, otters, seals, sea lions, whales, pelicans, turtles, tortoises, bears, foxes, squirrels, bears, owls, hawks, eagles, condors, and even honeybees, have been successfully rehabilitated by zoos. Could the functions of zoos of the future be to rescue, rehabilitate and release orphaned or injured native wildlife, and to provide life-long care and sanctuary for those individual animals that cannot survive on their own if released back into the wild? Some zoos agree, and they have already moved in this direction.
There are many, many groups around the world that promote conservation, and do hands-on work to protect wild animals around the globe. This work ranges from protecting land where animals live, to rehabilitating wildlife, to removing things that pollute habitat… The types of action are almost as varied as the groups themselves. Below, we look at some conservation successes.
One of the best ways that people can get involved in promoting conservation is through citizen science programs. These programs offer a way for laypeople to gather data and information that can be crucial in understanding the issues facing wildlife. They also allow conservation scientists to get more granular data at a lower cost. Check out some awesome citizen science projects from around the world below and get inspired to get involved where you live.
This Faunalytics Fundamental has provided a visual overview of just some aspects of our relationship with wildlife. Though we’ve tried to give you the big picture of the most important wildlife issues, there is much more than could be covered, but this page should be an excellent starting point for you. Whether you’re new to wildlife issues and advocacy, or a veteran, we think you’ll find the data above to be useful in a variety of ways, and we’d love to hear how you use it in your work.
We hope the data presented here also encourages advocates to ask questions about how to be more effective and how best to invest our limited advocacy resources:
- What are the most pressing ways that wild animals suffer and how can advocates make meaningful, practical interventions on their behalf?
- How can advocates change people’s attitudes toward “pest species”?
- How can wildlife advocates encourage zoos to enter into wildlife rehabilitation and sanctuary for native species and minimize or abandon the industry based on exotic animal captivity?
- How can the average person living in a city, suburb, or rural community help wildlife?
- How can advocates work with groups such as the Nonhuman Rights Project to achieve personhood for megafauna wildlife — great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales?
- Can compassion for companion animals be effectively extended to wildlife? How can advocates help society understand the distinction between companion animals and wild animals and appreciate how wild animals suffer when forced into a captive situation as a companion animal?
These are questions advocates should think about and possibly research further.
We hope you find the above information useful in your wildlife advocacy. Check out all the sources here.
There is so much more work to be done to give advocates the insight they need to choose the most effective ways to help animals. Please donate generously now to help us bring you and other advocates this crucial information.