Wild Animals Can Live Positive Lives
Much wild animal welfare research presumes that wild animals have more suffering than pleasant experiences throughout their lives. In this study, the authors argue that insufficient evidence backs up this assumption. They highlight the need for more empirical data based on the animals’ experiences, to develop more effective welfare interventions. The authors present three arguments for why wild animals’ lives are probably not as bad as most believe.
First, they claim that prey animals may not experience severe suffering when hunted. Many predators kill animals relatively quickly, and with minimal pain. Wild animals’ bodies may react to injury with a natural shock response, which numbs the pain to make escape easier and incidentally may make death less painful. Deaths are often quick, and those moments of suffering don’t outweigh the pleasure in the rest of the animal’s life.
Second, the authors argue that animals’ lives may be good. While animals experience hunger, sickness, and other kinds of suffering, these experiences may not be frequent or intense enough to outweigh their positive experiences. For example, prey animals probably don’t live in continuous fear. Although the presence of predators changes prey animals’ behavior, constant anxiety and stress wouldn’t be adaptive. Conversely, a wild animal’s life is full of natural pleasant experiences: affiliative and play behaviors; courtship; breeding; raising children; exploring the environment; and body sensations, like olfaction. Even suffering can lead to pleasure, because animals can overcome the suffering. For example, while hunger is painful, animals experience pleasure both from eating and from performing their natural hunting and foraging behaviors.
Finally, although many species produce far more offspring than can survive to mate, we don’t know that members of those species have net-negative lives. Although animals who die before they get to mate live short lives, these animals can experience moments of pleasure, like exploring the environment and searching for food. By another token, if the animals who survive are sufficiently long-lived, the pleasure they experience may outweigh the suffering of the animals that died.
The authors point out that we need to be careful about welfare interventions aiming to alleviate wild animal suffering. They note that it’s likely fine to do interventions with a low risk of harming the ecosystem, such as vaccination, animal rescue, and feeding animals after natural disasters. However, they say we should avoid other types of interventions such as predator removal, eliminating parasitic species, or genetic engineering, when we don’t have enough knowledge about wild animals’ lives and welfare. Most of all, we should research wild animal welfare in order to better understand whether wild animals’ lives are good or bad and what the effect of our actions will actually be.