The illustration of a mother elephant and her young

Wild Animal Suffering...and why it matters

When thinking about nature and the lives of wild animals, we often picture dolphins swimming in the ocean or elephants and lions roaming in the savannah. We mostly picture large adult animals living lives characterized by freedom. However, this rose-tinted view of nature doesn't even come close to representing the lives of most wild animals.

In reality, the life of most wild animals is characterized not by freedom, but by struggle. They constantly deal with harsh weather, starvation, disease, and injuries, and much like a dog or a human would suffer in their position, they suffer as well.

The following is an overview of wild animal suffering, why it matters, and what we can do to help.

There are roughly8 billion humanson planet Earth.

For every human, there are roughly 3-4 farmed animals being farmed at any given moment.

…and that's not even counting farmed fish, which is estimated to be around 10-13 per person.

However… in the wild:
For every human, there are between:

  • 10-50 wild birds

    10-100 wild mammals

  • 10-10,000 reptiles & amphibians
  • 1,000 - 100,000 fish
  • 10,000 - 10⁶ earthworms
  • 600,000 - 7*10⁸ terrestrial arthropods

…in existence at any moment.

This means that the vast majority of individuals are wild animals. The scale is truly mind boggling.

Even Worse,Wild Animals Suffer in Terrible Ways:

Click on an item above to learn more.

Population Dynamics

Wild animals often have many children, but for their populations to remain stable, on average each parent can only have two offspring that reach adulthood. This means that the majority of animals die young.

Videos You Might Like

In this 20 minute video, a logical case is presented for reducing the suffering of wild animals. Like farmed animals, wild animals are also in need of our help, but this is an issue that many animal advocates haven’t given much consideration.

Suffering often outweighs happiness in the lives of wild animals as a result of malnutrition, disease, human impact, and more. It is possible to reduce wild animal suffering by rescuing and treating sick or injured animals. Humans intervene in nature to reduce our own suffering, and wild animals are owed the same moral consideration.

Both vegans and meat-eaters often engage in the appeal to nature fallacy. Our idea of what is natural or unnatural is arbitrary, yet an appeal to nature is often used to justify things we would otherwise view as immoral or unjust, including wild animal suffering.

Welfare is the net value of an individual's subjective experience, which may also be called happiness or wellbeing. Wild animal welfare may be quantified by considering scale (the number of wild animals) and intensity. The Wild Animal Initiative is currently focused on building capacity to advance wild animal welfare.

The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park has been celebrated by many, but did this intervention make the world a better place?

In this 22 minute video, Mal Graham of the Wild Animal Initiative explains basic concepts of evolutionary biology and how these concepts shape our understanding of wild animal welfare. They field questions and objections and call for more research on the subject.

Humane Hancock discusses the ethical implications of rewilding, replicating ecosystems on other planets, and simulations. Rewilding as practiced today often increases wild animal suffering while space colonization and simulations have potential to increase suffering without due moral consideration.

Which entities deserve moral consideration? Ecocentrism values the preservation of ecosystems as a whole without regard for the wellbeing of individuals in them, whereas biocentrism values the wellbeing of all living beings. Arguments both for and against ecocentrism and biocentrism are presented.

In this half hour video, Humane Hancock discusses potential solutions to wild animal suffering. Topics include vaccinations against disease, fertility control to prevent starvation, and genetic engineering. He presents several examples of each method which have already been employed as well as objections to such methods.

The most common causes of wild animal suffering are starvation, disease, injuries and lack of shelter. Several methods to help wild animals are presented and examples are given, including treatment and prevention of disease, treatment of injuries, caring for orphaned animals and providing suitable shelter and other resources.

Humane Hancock sits down with fellow Youtuber Cosmic Skeptic for a long-form conversation on the issue of wild animal suffering. If we have a moral obligation to be vegan, do we also have a moral obligation to help wild animals? Their conversation touches on philosophy, environmentalism and biodiversity, and human overpopulation.

Oscar Horta, professor of philosophy and one of the founders of Animal Ethics, speaks to the London School of Economics on the topic of wild animal suffering. He discusses current efforts to help wild animals, why it matters, and highlights new areas of research into welfare biology. Raising awareness is a key way to advance the movement.

In this 21 minute video, Humane Hancock looks critically at David Attenborough's work and philosophy. The ecosystems which Attenborough calls “perfect” are in fact changing all the time, and his documentaries contribute to our skewed perception of nature and the lives of wild animals.

Common Objections to Helping Wild Animals

Some people argue that we are not responsible for the suffering of wild animals because we did not cause it. However, the reason to help animals is because they need our help. If we believe that it is our moral responsibility to help the most vulnerable members of society, regardless of whether or not we caused their suffering, then we should extend that same compassion to wild animals as well.

How Can You Help?

In addition to the above, you can find career opportunies, get career advice, and join a community here. Are you a researcher? Apply for a grant!

View more opportunities

Organizations Working on Wild Animal Suffering

Wild Animal Initiative

Wild Animal Initiative (WAI) currently operates in the U.S., where they work to strengthen the animal advocacy movement through creating an academic field dedicated to wild animal welfare.

Animal Ethics

Animal Ethics aims to achieve a shift in attitudes towards nonhuman animals. Their vision is a world where sentient beings are given full moral consideration.

Rethink Priorities

Rethink Priorities is a research organization that conducts critical research to inform policymakers and major foundations about how to best help people and nonhuman animals in both the present and the long-term future.

Faunalytics

Faunalytics' mission is to empower animal advocates with access to research, analysis, strategies, and messages that maximize their effectiveness to reduce animal suffering.

Websites

Effective Altruism

Effective altruism is a project that aims to find the best ways to help others, and put them into practice. It's both a research field, which aims to identify the world's most pressing problems and the best solutions to them, and a practical community that aims to use those findings to do good.

Reducing Suffering

This site contains writings on the topic of reducing suffering, including the suffering of non-human animals and far-future beings. Most content is by Brian Tomasik, though a few pieces are written by others.

Animal Charity Evaluators

Animal Charity Evaluators began in 2012 under the name Effective Animal Activism (EAA), as a division of the U.K.-based charity 80,000 Hours—an organization dedicated to providing career advice to people who want to be highly impactful in their work.

Center For Reducing Suffering

The Center for Reducing Suffering (CRS) is a research center that works to create a future with less suffering, with a focus on reducing the most intense suffering.

World Animal Protection

"We protect the world's animals. We always have done, and we always will." World Animal Protections is working on the ground with local partners for greatest effect, we are active in more than 50 countries.

Animal Advocacy Careers

Animal Advocacy Careers (AAC) is an organisation that seeks to address the career and talent bottlenecks in the animal advocacy movement, especially the farmed animal movement. We provide careers services for individuals at all levels of experience with animal advocacy.

80000 Hours

You have about 80,000 working hours in your career: 40 years x 50 weeks x 40 hours. If you want to have a positive impact with your life, your choice of career is probably your best opportunity to do that. That means it's worth thinking hard about how to use this time most effectively.

Blogs

Ways To Reduce Wild Animal Suffering

If we hope to help the approximately trillions of vertebrates and quintillions of invertebrates in the wild, we need to be prepared for a long, uphill path to success. Wild animal suffering (WAS) is not just contentious; it's also extremely complex.

Wild Animal Suffering: Potential Solutions From CRISPR

Most animal activists have no problem with intervention in nature in order to prevent or reduce harm caused by humans. Breeding programs to help species' recovery from poaching or habitat loss, for example, are relatively uncontroversial practices.

The Relevance of Wild Animal Suffering

Society has become increasingly aware of the suffering that nonhuman animals experience at the hands of humans. Many are aware of the shocking realities of factory farming, or have seen terrible videos and images of animals being neglected and abused.

Humanity's Impact on Wild-Animal Suffering

There is a chance that right now many trillions or quintillions of wild animals are experiencing lives that include terrible suffering. For many animals the threat of predation is nearly constant, which, in more brutal terms, is the prospect of experiencing the horror and pain of being eaten alive.

The Importance of Wild-Animal Suffering

The number of wild animals vastly exceeds that of animals on factory farms, in laboratories, or kept as pets. Therefore, animal advocates should consider focusing their efforts to raise concern about the suffering that occurs in the natural environment.

Why wild animal suffering matters

Many people have a rosy view of the wild. Some think nonhuman animals live in some kind of paradise in the wild. However, animals living in nature have lives that are far from idyllic, and most of them have to deal with the reality of constant threat of tremendous suffering.

Wildfires And Animal Protection: Towards Better Intervention Strategies

Beyond the human suffering caused by fires, they also impact countless wild animals by causing distress, injuries, and a wide range of physiological and behavioral changes.

The Wild Frontier of Animal Welfare

The most emotionally difficult moment in Mal Graham's life was when five snakes in her lab died. They had started a doctoral program studying jumping and flying snakes. There are several species of snakes that not only live in trees but can leap from one to the next.

Books

Wild Animal Ethics

Kyle Johannsen

Though many ethicists have the intuition that we should leave nature alone, Kyle Johannsen argues that we have a duty to research safe ways of providing large-scale assistance to wild animals. Using concepts from moral and political philosophy to analyze the issue of wild animal suffering (WAS), Johannsen explores how a collective, institutional obligation to assist wild animals should be understood.

Making a Stand for Animals

Oscar Horta

Engaging and thought-provoking, this book examines how humans see and treat other animals and argues that we should extend equal consideration and respect to all beings, human and nonhuman alike. Our world is plighted by "isms" such as racism and sexism, but we may have overlooked a very important one: speciesism.

Saving Animals

Elan Abrell

In the past three decades, animal rights advocates have established everything from elephant sanctuaries in Africa to shelters that rehabilitate animals used in medical testing, to homes for farmed animals, abandoned pets, and entertainment animals that have outlived their “usefulness.” Saving Animals is the first major ethnography to focus on the ethical issues animating the establishment of such places.

Saving Animals, Saving Ourselves

Jeff Sebo

In 2020, COVID-19, the Australia bushfires, and other global threats served as vivid reminders that human and nonhuman fates are increasingly linked. Human use of nonhuman animals contributes to pandemics, climate change, and other global threats which, in turn, contribute to biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and nonhuman suffering.

Wild Souls

Emma Marris

Protecting wild animals and preserving the environment are two ideals so seemingly compatible as to be almost inseparable. But in fact, between animal welfare and conservation science there exists a space of underexamined and unresolved tension: wildness itself. When is it right to capture or feed wild animals for the good of their species?

Physiology and Behaviour of Animal Suffering

Neville G. Gregory

Written by an expert in applied welfare aspects of physiology, this book is the first to address the physiological aspects of suffering in animals. It explores the different causes of suffering: physical discomfort, thirst and hunger, the responses in the body that lead to suffering and it offers insight into how suffering can be managed.

Podcasts

Reducing Wild Animal Suffering with Kyle Johannsen

On this episode, we are joined by Dr Kyle Johannsen. Kyle is an adjunct associate professor of philosophy at Queen's University in Canada. We discuss his 2020 book Wild Animal Ethics, which was published by Routledge.

Who cares about wild animals? with Maia Laperle

Maia introduces the values and tenets of wild animal welfare while interviewing leaders in the wild animal welfare space. In each episode, host Maia Laperle explores fundamental concepts in wild animal welfare, and what we do and don't know about life in the wild.

Brian Tomasik on Wild Animal Suffering

Our guest Brian Tomasik opens our eyes to Wild Animal Suffering. Brian Tomasik writes about ethics, animal welfare, and far-future scenarios from a suffering-focused perspective on his main website, "Essays On Reducing Suffering".

Persis Eskander on wild animal welfare and what, if anything, to do about it

Elephants in chains at traveling circuses; pregnant pigs trapped in coffin sized crates at factory farms; deers living in the wild. We should welcome the last as a pleasant break from the horror, right?

Kyle Johannsen, Wild Animal Ethics: The Moral and Political Problem of Wild Animal Suffering

Many sentient (or possibly sentient) wild animals follow a reproductive strategy whereby they have large numbers of offspring, the vast majority of which suffer and die quickly or suffer and die slowly.

Mother bearBear pups

Together, we can make life better for wild animals.

The increasing moral concern for animals in recent years is a welcome development. It is becoming increasingly rare to find individuals who are indifferent to animal suffering. We understand that suffering is a negative experience for any individual who experiences it, regardless of their species or location, whether they are in a house, farm, or forest. Their suffering matters. It matters to them. And it should matter to us.


If you care about wild animals, we encourage you to join our mission to improve their lives. There is a lot to learn about the conditions that wild animals face. This page is just a brief overview of the issue. The reality is that many animals are in desperate need of help, and people like you have the power to make a difference. We hope you will choose to take action and help us in our efforts.


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