Insight 11 - June 2014 - page 7

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ecosystems. Advocatesof such research
wouldargue that, subject toappropriate
welfareandethical consideration, theends
justify themeans.
Similarly, supposewildlife researcherswish to
collectDNA fromanother nativeanimal, say,
awombat, to identifyageneticbottleneck
thatmaypredisposea species toa similar
diseasewith rapid spread. One simpleway
todo thiswouldbe toput double-sided
As animals exit or enter theywill leavehairs
on the sticky surface. TheDNA in thehairs
then canbeamplified for scientificuse.
Doespullinghairs fromawombat constitute
animal experimentation?Yes it does. Does it
requireethical oversight?Again, yes.
Suchexamplesof conservation-based
research involvingendangered species
illustrate thekindsof animal experimentation
that canbeeasily justified– if done correctly.
But is allwildlife research completely free
of thewell-publicised stigmaassociated
withaspectsof laboratory-basedanimal
use?Having illustratedaperceivedneed for
at least somewildlife research, discussions
inmy classroom continueusinga rangeof
more controversial experimental protocols to
showhowproposed researchprograms are
conceived,modified, approvedand reviewed.
My students can thenexplore their own
thoughts and feelings in termsof context,
comprehensionand compassion.
“Thosewho think that science is ethically
neutral confuse thefindingsof science,which
are,with theactivityof science,which isnot.”
Bronowski (1956)
InSeptember 2010, an international
conferencewas convenedat theUniversityof
Oxford, UK, toadvancediscussionof animal
welfare considerations inwildlife research,
what isnowknownasCompassionate
Conservation. ActressVirginiaMcKenna
of ‘Elsa theLion’ fame formed theBorn
FreeFoundation to support theaimsof
this symposium. Philosophers andwildlife
aspectsof animalwelfare in conservation
Isallwildlife research
completely freeof the
well-publicised stigma
of laboratory-based
Theapplicationofahot iron to theprotected
skinsof iconic (andbaby) seals... causesa level of
moral discomfort that forcesanevaluationof the
importanceof such research...
Whatwas apparent frommany case studies
was that a tension sometimes existed
between the justifiedaimsof the research
(generally involving the long-term survival of
wild species) andaspectsof animalwelfare in
the conduct of the research.
At the conference I gaveanoverviewof a
controversial Australianwildlifemanagement
programwhichhad involved thehot iron
brandingof newly-weaned southern
elephant sealson sub-Antarctic islands. Up
untilMarch2000, 14,000pupshadbeenhot
ironbranded for individual identificationas
apart of a long-term studyof elephant seal
population trends. However,media coverage
of sufferingamonga fewpoorlybranded
animals resulted inpublicoutcryand the
ministerial banningof thepractice.
Why the intervention?Hot ironbrandingof
seal pupshadbeen shown tobe thebest
of allmethods attempted, andpermissions
hadbeen received frommore thanoneAEC.
At the same time, societal opposition tohot
ironbrandingof calves and foals as apart of
livestock farming is almost non-existent. So
why the inconsistency?Whywere thewildlife
scientistsordered to stopbranding?
Formanypeople, emotionsnotwithstanding,
their objections tohot ironbrandingof
seals canbeabbreviated toa ‘means-
Popular perceptionsofwildlife research
areoverwhelminglypositive; and cattle
branding, if ever consideredby society
at all, generally receives a ‘necessary-evil’
justification. Theapplicationof ahot iron to
theprotected skinsof iconic (andbaby) seals,
however, causes a level ofmoral discomfort
that forces anevaluationof the importance
of such research if it canonlybe conducted
at theexpenseof individual animalwelfare.
This isno simple calculation suchaswhen
someonemight consider aperceivedmoral
‘right’versus aperceivedmoral ‘wrong’before
decidingwhat todo. Instead, it involves
considering the relativemeritsof twomoral
Thenotionof compassionate conservation
was again illustrated recently in thedispute
betweenAustraliaand Japanover lethal
scientificwhaling. The International Court of
Justice (ICJ), TheHague, Netherlands ruled
inMarch2014 that Japanesewhalingwas in
noway scientific– rather itwas commercial
whaling indisguise. The ICJbased its findings
onarguments that the techniqueused to
collect data (i.e. byfirst killingwhales)was
not best practice.
Theseexamples serve to illustratewhy
invasivewildlife research isnot free from
ethical andpublic scrutiny. It is just as
important to consider individualwelfare,
best practiceand theethicsofwildanimal
researchas it is to consider these issues in
laboratory-basedanimal experimentation.
My students followadiscussion framework
basedonutilitarianapproaches toethical
decision-makingwhichweighs costs and
benefitsbut alsoacknowledges the intrinsic
beliefs that lieat the coreofmuchopposition
to invasivepractices inanimal-based
research. Inparticular circumstances, such
asAustralia’sopposition to lethal scientific
whaling, intrinsicobjections led to the legal
pursuit (andharpooning) of onenationby
Classroomdiscussionofwildlife research
as animal experimentationenables an
explorationof thoughts and feelingswithout
preconceivednotions about ‘conventional’
animal experimentation, andoftennegates
the ‘absolutist’endsof any spectrumof
attitudes to research-animal use. Importantly,
identificationof inconsistency inattitudes
toanimal-basedpractices in society, such
as that seen inopposition tohot-branding
of one species (seals) but itsoverwhelming
acceptanceusinganother (cows), leads toa
thought-provoking ‘elephant-in-the-room’
conversationaboutwhatweallow tohappen
toour domestic livestock.
Bronowski, J. (1956).
, revisededition1965.Harper andRow:
Monamy,V. (2007). Editorial:Hot iron
brandingof sealsand sea lions:why theban
will remain.
AustralianVeterinary Journal
(12): 485-486.
Monamy,V. (2009).
Animal Experimentation
AGuide to the Issues
(CambridgeUniversityPress: Cambridge),
Monamy,V. &Gott,M. (2001). Practical and
ethical considerations for students conducting
ecological research involvingwildlife.
26, 293-300.
Rothschild,M. (1986).
AnimalsandMan: The
Romanes lecture for1984-5
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