The need for compassionate conservation (CC) arose as a direct response to the exclusion of individual animal wellbeing in conservation. The standard theories and practices of conservation ignored individual animals, leading to their treatment as resources for human use, convenience, and manipulation. This is traditional conservation (TC) as it has been practiced for over a century. Compassionate conservation is an alternative paradigm that reframes the meaning and purpose of conservation, and reimagines our relationship with and responsibility towards wild animals and nature.
The roots of compassionate conservation lay in the great debunking – advances in both scientific and ethical knowledge that dispel the idea that animals are merely biological machines, functional units of ecosystems or resources for human use. These insights track with the wisdom of traditional knowledge amongst many First Nations across the globe.
Scientifically, we understand far better who other animals are and their importance to the communities in which they live. Animals are conscious socio-ecological beings entangled with their biotic and abiotic communities, and individual animals are repositories of the cultural and environmental knowledge for their groups. These individuals – and the knowledge they share inter-generationally – provide social and behavioural stability. In addition to the important roles of individual animals, the variation among them is crucial for the wellbeing of their ecological and social communities.
Ethically, we also understand that animals and the rest of nature have intrinsic value. Because animals are aware (sentient), self-aware (sapient) and other-aware (social), we have distinctive responsibilities to treat them with compassion, respect and justice. These ethical insights of compassionate conservation are expressed predominantly through principlism, that is, a pluralistic ethics that uses multiple principles to nimbly guide our thinking and action in the varied circumstances faced by wild lives. The initial guiding principles of compassionate conservation were “first, do no harm; individuals matter; inclusivity, and coexistence.” Additional principles around virtue, multispecies justice and other ethical viewpoints are actively in debate.