Finding a Common Ground: Conservation, Animal Welfare, and Animal Rights
15 September 2016

During the first few days of the IUCN World Conservation Congress, Forum events were held where the world’s leading conservation experts and other participants could come together and share their knowledge in many different ways. One of those ways was through a “Knowledge Café”. The Knowledge Café sessions were designed to be small gatherings of up to 12 people who could explore common areas of interest, talk about how to build on each other’s experience, and discuss possible partnerships or joint ventures.

One Knowledge Café that drew an overwhelming amount of participants (over 50) was titled: Conservation, Animal Welfare, and Animal Rights: Tensions & Synergies. This session was hosted by some associations for zoos and aquaria, the IUCN Species Survival Commission, the IUCN Sustainable Use and Livelihoods Group and other various organizations. It was in the style of a discussion about the relationship between conservation, animal rights, and animal welfare. This is a very important topic because the animal welfare and animal rights movements are gaining influence across the world, which has been aided by the widespread use of social media. New fields of thinking and activism increasingly emphasize the rights and welfare of individual animals even when broader nature conservation goals are at stake.


This begs the question: what does this mean for conserving nature and achieving equitable and effective governance? The session examined areas of actual and potential conflict across zoos and aquaria, sustainable use and trade of wild resources, and control of invasive species:

  • West Indian Manatee rehabilitation (in zoos and aquaria) and release
  • Trophy hunting (in general)
  • Grey squirrel population control

The trophy hunting topic was discussed on a broad scale, but the main question discussed was: is it ethical to sacrifice an individual animal for the population to benefit from it? Some said having animals to hunt them is not the conservation vision, but it is okay to use hunting as a conservation tool. This sparked a debate where it seemed as if the animal rights and welfare activists were pinned against the sustainable use proponents. After a lot of arguments being grappled with, Shane Mahoney of Conservation Visions so eloquently commented, “We can’t leave this session preoccupied with us. It doesn’t matter who is ‘right’, what matters is the wildlife. We are here for the wildlife.”

The audience was more than actively engaged and shared their thoughts and knowledge from all sides of the debate. The outcome of the session was to promote a more focused exploration of these issues within IUCN and become the basis of a peer-reviewed paper which would key ideas and issues on this topic.

The CIC welcomes this initiative, with caution, and looks forward to the possibility of contributing to this discussion further!