Group says animal welfare rules should apply in the wild – and these images show you why

Remote cameras in the forests near Bella Bella show bears hanging out in a circle.

By Judith Lavoie, Times Colonist

Photographs by: Raincoast Conservation Foundation.

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 and no one could
ever reasonably dispute that they ought to be treated as we ourselves want
to be treated.

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.

To see all 13 trail camera images visit the Victoria Times Colonist website:

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