The recent controversy over the fate of black bear cubs Jordan and Athena, captured near Port Hardy; the ongoing debate over wolf culls in B.C. and the protests over deer management practices in numerous communities across the province are just a few examples of how changing public expectations are challenging traditional wildlife conservation and management practices in our province.
At an international conference being held at the University of British Columbia July 28-31, academics and practitioners in the field will explore “compassionate conservation”, a multi-disciplinary, worldwide movement in biological sciences that examines how the welfare of individual animals is taken into account when dealing with the management of wild animal populations.
The conference is sponsored by the Born Free Foundation and UTS Centre for Compassionate Conservation and is being hosted by UBC’s Animal Welfare Program with support from the BC SPCA and WildCRU.
Dr. Sara Dubois, chief scientific officer for the BC SPCA, attended the inaugural Compassionate Conservation conference in Oxford, UK, in 2010 and was instrumental in bringing the 2015 conference to B.C.
“We are seeing a paradigm shift of how people view the management of wildlife, whether it is the public outcry against large, indiscriminate culls or the treatment of individual wild animals,” she says. Dubois notes that animal welfare science has traditionally focused on the quality of life for individual animals whereas conservation biology has focused on managing populations, species and biodiversity issues.
“In the past they were considered two distinct fields of study but it is becoming increasing clear that animal welfare knowledge has a valuable role to play in creating better conservation programs and outcomes and in increasing public support for conservation practices.”
She says we don’t need to look far to find examples of controversial conservation practices. “Since 2010, deer culls undertaken in five B.C. communities have caused considerable debate. There was also the contentious issue of removing nearly 1,000 feral rabbits from the University of Victoria campus and polarizing views over the recent wolf culling program in the Selkirk Mountains.”
Dubois says the goal of the Compassionate Conservation conference is to shine a light on changing public expectations and to explore how animal welfare science and research can improve conservation policies, focusing on the principle of ’first, do no harm’.
“This is a new era of scientific endeavour that will have a significant impact on the welfare of wild animals here in our province and around the world and the BC SPCA is excited to be part of it."
The conference brings together academics and practitioners from South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, India, the United Kingdom, Europe, the United States and Canada.
A full list of conference speakers and topics is available online. Follow conference updates on Twitter:@comconservation
Photos by Grayson Pettigrew and Colin Franks
The British Columbia Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is a not-for-profit organization reliant on public donations. Our mission is to protect and enhance the quality of life for domestic, farm and wild animals in B.C.