Wildlife should be treated better: study

Conservation group says animal-welfare rules should apply in wild

Edmonton Journal, By Judith Lavoie

Animal-welfare rules that apply to animals in captivity like pets and farm animals should also apply to wildlife, says a newly published study by scientists from the Victoria-based Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

The peer-reviewed paper, published in the British scientific journal Animal Welfare, breaks new ground by suggesting wildlife researchers focus more on the welfare of animals than simply gathering information. The argument is boosted by remarkable images captured by remote cameras in the forests near Bella Bella.

The photos show bears, sitting, rolling and sticking their heads into a hole while wolves and cougars go about their daily business.

“These images give an insight into why everyone ought to think about reducing suffering in the wild,” said Raincoast research scientist Chris Darimont. “They show bears as unique, sensitive individuals.”

Most wildlife research is designed to help people, not animals, said Raincoast senior scientist Paul Paquet, who authored the study with Darimont.

“And that leads to all sorts of abuse,” he said, pointing to the tranquilizing of large carnivores for tests. “When we handle animals there’s a huge level of stress.

“We need an ethical framework to guide us in these decisions and we lack that,” said Paquet, professor in the faculty of environmental design at the University of Calgary.

Darimont said Raincoast, which does much of its coastal carnivore research on the Central Coast, has, for the last decade, tried to avoid invasive research.

“Whether it be picking up the poop of wolves or snagging the hair of bears, none of the work involves capturing, collaring or otherwise harassing,” he said.

The Raincoast study also looks at the effect of development and industrial expansion into wildlife habitat.

“As we destroy areas where animals live, it almost always guarantees slow death and suffering,” Paquet said, adding that there needs to be a “seismic change” in attitudes.

Enormous suffering is caused by human activities such as habitat destruction, hunting and food shortages, Darimont said.

Ultimately, Paquet said, the problem is caused by a growing human population that needs more and more space, at the expense of other species.

“The adverse environmental consequences of unrestrained human population growth and industrial development are not something we face in the future. They are with us now,” says the paper.

The study suggests that those working with wildlife should adopt an adapted version of the internationally recognized Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare, used for captive animals.

It should include:

– Freedom from thirst, hunger and malnutrition caused by humans.

– Freedom from discomfort due to environmental disruption caused by humans.

– Freedom from fear and distress caused by humans.

– Freedom from pain, injury and disease caused by humans.

– Freedom to express normal behaviour for the species.

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