Book Recommendations, Reviews and Author Interviews from

Animal Ethics in the Wild: Wild Animal Suffering and Intervention in Nature By Dr. Catia Faria

Publisher: Cambridge University Press

Author interviewed by Marc Bekoff

Animal Ethics in the Wild: Wild Animal Suffering and Intervention in Nature
Available at Cambridge University Press


Should We Try to Alleviate the Suffering of Wild Animals?

Image: David Selbert/Pexels

As a long-time field researcher, I've seen my share of pain, suffering, and death in various wild animals stemming from injuries incurred when running through wild environs, various sorts of altercations, and becoming a meal. I've always been plagued by trying to figure out if I or my field assistants should do anything when there was no reason to think that we had anything to do with what was happening to these unfortunate individuals. However, this isn't always the case, and humans can intentionally or unintentionally harm wild animals, and researchers themselves can have strongly negative effects on the physical and emotional lives of the animals they're studying (see Bad Science Adversely Affects Animals' Emotions and Reality).

The sad fact is that injuries and death naturally occur among wild animals, and that's part of what it is to be one of these amazing beings. We never did intervene in their lives because their injuries occurred naturally as they did the things they needed to do. Needless to say, we all hated to see the suffering of various prey animals hunted by wild coyotes, animals who were severely beaten up by others, Adélie penguins leaping out of the ocean after being ripped apart by leopard seals or killer whales, or individuals injuring themselves when running around, tripping, or colliding with rocks or cactuses. We felt that once we intervened, we became part of their lives, and there was no way we could always be there to help all individuals who needed assistance.

Because I've long thought about the different sorts of responsibilities we have to wild animals, I learned a lot by reading the highly acclaimed book Animal Ethics in the Wild: Wild Animal Suffering and Intervention in Nature by philosopher Dr. Catia Faria, and I believe it should be required reading for field researchers and anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors watching other animals. Here's what she had to say about her deeply thoughtful book.

Why did you write Animal Ethics in the Wild?

I started writing "Animal Ethics in the Wild" because I recognized the importance of addressing the moral problem of wild animal suffering, which had been largely overlooked in the field. In a nutshell: Wild animals suffer too. Should we help them? (Also see Should We "Nudge Nature" to Help Animals Save Themselves? for a discussion of some of the themes about which Catia writes and also Paul Taylor's book Respect for Nature, a must-read for figuring out when and if we should interfere in the lives of other animals.)

The research I conducted during my PhD thesis laid the groundwork for this book, and with the encouragement of my viva committee and others, I expanded upon it to create a more comprehensive publication that was ultimately accepted by Cambridge University Press.

Entering the field, I was already firmly convinced of the moral case against animal suffering. If we acknowledge the importance of animal suffering, it becomes our responsibility to prevent or alleviate it whenever possible. I find it perplexing that some individuals struggle to grasp this fundamental idea. Personally, I have always found it challenging to fully appreciate the beauty of nature due to the moral horrors that lie beneath its surface. Even a simple walk in the woods serves as a constant reminder of the suffering present in seemingly "healthy ecosystems." Behind the idyllic facade of natural landscapes, wild animals face excruciating deaths as they become prey to predators, suffer from parasites, endure starvation, and succumb to diseases. Once we confront the reality of wild animal suffering, ignoring it becomes truly impossible.

It is disheartening to see how this crucial moral issue has been overlooked in the animal ethics literature for so long, persisting as the "greatest taboo in animal rights advocacy" until recently (see Golden). Considering the profound significance of the topic, its widespread neglect, and my own personal horror in the face of wild animal suffering, it felt imperative to delve into animal ethics in the wild.

How does your book relate to your background and general areas of interest?

As I mentioned before, my concern for wild animal suffering naturally stems from a broader concern for animal suffering as a whole. After all, suffering is inherently negative for any being who experiences it, regardless of its cause or location. The case for wild animal suffering also relates to my work on the tensions between environmental ethics and animal ethics, making the case for reevaluating and ultimately abandoning the prevailing intuition to "leave nature alone." By delving into the intricacies of wild animal suffering and its moral implications, it reveals that simply leaving nature untouched does not guarantee the absence of suffering or promote animal well-being. Ignoring the suffering that exists in the natural world perpetuates a cycle of indifference and allows unnecessary harm to persist.

Moreover, the issue of wild animal suffering intertwines with my concerns regarding feminist perspectives on animal issues, particularly ecofeminism. While ecofeminism has played a significant role in highlighting the patriarchal domination of nonhuman animals, it often assumes that natural processes among wild animals fall outside our moral responsibility. This assumption arises from an idyllic view of nature, overlooking the need for compassion towards wild animals impacted by natural events. Neglecting their suffering, I argue, not only fails these animals but also perpetuates a male-biased worldview.

This male-biased worldview is reflected in an extreme hands-off approach that aligns with the masculine stereotype of emotional restraint and a lack of personal involvement with those in need. However, countering the anthropocentric and male-biased paradigm of intervention in nature should not lead us to adopt a laissez-faire attitude. Instead, it should guide us toward a gender-sensitive approach to the ethics of our interventions within the natural world.

Who is your intended audience?

The book has a wide-ranging audience in mind, encompassing scholars specializing in animal ethics, environmental ethics, and ethics as a whole. It accommodates readers with varying levels of familiarity with the topic, welcoming both those well-versed in the field and newcomers alike. Nevertheless, its target goes beyond academia and aims to resonate with animal advocates actively dedicated to promoting animal well-being. The book strives to provide these advocates with analytic resources to effectively articulate their moral beliefs and contribute to positive change for wild animals. Furthermore, it invites individuals from all backgrounds who possess a genuine interest in addressing and alleviating suffering on a broader scale. My sincere hope is that anyone driven to make a meaningful impact in the world will discover inspiration and valuable insights within this book.

What are some of the topics you weave into your book and what are some of your major messages?

The first part of the book delves into fundamental discussions of animal ethics, including the moral consideration of nonhuman animals, the significance of their well-being, and a critical examination of speciesism. These explorations serve as a foundation upon which I build a minimal case for intervening in nature to mitigate wild animal suffering.

Drawing directly from widely accepted moral beliefs and backed by relevant facts about the lives of wild animals, I argue that intervening in nature becomes an imperative when we acknowledge our reasons to help and fully recognize the moral worth of nonhuman animals. After all, most people believe that we should help others in need due to natural events. But what about starving, wounded and sick wild animals, shouldn’t we also help them? If nonhuman suffering matters, wild animal suffering matters too and we should do something about it whenever we can. This conclusion gains further support from the contention that suffering is likely pervasive in the lives of wild animals, which may come as an unexpected but significant revelation. Various factors contribute to wild animal suffering, including the wasteful reproductive strategies adopted by the majority of wild animals and the multitude of natural threats to their health, physical well-being, and psychological integrity. The primary aim of such intervention is thus to alleviate the extensive suffering experienced by wild animals to the greatest extent possible. Their suffering matters, just as ours does, and it's our responsibility to take action whenever we can. It's a straightforward proposition, isn't it?

As mentioned earlier, there is a significant number of people who struggle to accept this fundamental proposition. Therefore, a substantial portion of the book is dedicated to addressing various objections that have been raised or could potentially be raised against it. To navigate through these objections, I take Albert O. Hirschman's map of the opposition to social progress and identify six primary sets of objections that form the core of the case against intervention in nature.

One concern is that intervention could backfire and have counterproductive consequences. But, of course, this ignores something crucial: that intervention should be performed only when the expected outcome is net positive for wild animals. By recognizing the need to alleviate suffering in the wild, we are compelled to carefully evaluate the consequences of intervention. Another concern regards how intervention might pose risks to other values that are deemed more important, such as ‘the natural’ Yet, and this is perhaps one of central messages of the book, if you think we should always "leave nature alone” and you genuinely care about the suffering of other animals, you simply can't have it both ways.

Now, another common objection is that addressing wild animal suffering might be an insurmountable challenge or simply impossible to achieve. Wild animal suffering is not an insurmountable challenge, even if interventions to reduce it now are often infeasible. To label certain interventions as infeasible simply indicates that we currently lack the knowledge or means to achieve them. Feasibility should not be seen as something static, but rather as dynamic and conditional upon our efforts to try. From this, it follows that we ought to put ourselves in a position, both individually and collectively, to develop future safe and effective solutions to the plight of wild animals. This can be accomplished by fostering the development of welfare biology as a distinct field of research. Welfare biology is a systematic discipline that revolves around the study of sentient organisms and their well-being. Its primary objective is to understand the factors and relations that affect the welfare of these organisms, focusing on strategies that can contribute to their overall improvement. Moreover, this notion is only partially true, as there are already feasible, low-impact interventions available that can make a difference. For instance, we have witnessed successful vaccination programs implemented for wild animals to combat diseases like rabies or tuberculosis for several decades. In national parks, additional food is occasionally provided to starving animals, ensuring their survival. These examples, among many others, illustrate the feasibility of interventions to alleviate wild animal suffering. Moreover, they imply that there is potential for numerous other interventions to be successfully implemented.

It is important to note though that the fundamental discussion does not solely revolve around the interventions that are already available. Rather, the focus lies in examining whether we have moral reasons to develop the means to increasingly make these interventions more feasible. The scale of the problem is clearly enormous and our current capacity for action is fairly limited. Much more work is needed on different fronts to address this crucial moral topic. Yet, we should be wary of not over-focusing on practical issues and minimising the question of how to develop the appropriate moral attitudes which will make it increasingly feasible to provide wild animals with the care they need. This is, in my view, the greatest obstacle to tackling the problem wild animal suffering. "Animal Ethics in the Wild" aims to contribute to this necessary moral shift. While there is much work to be done, it is my hope that through collective efforts, we can make progress and pave the way for a future where the welfare of wild animals is given the attention and care it truly deserves.

How does your book differ from others that are concerned with some of the same general topics?

My book provides a comprehensive treatment of the moral debate surrounding the specific issue at hand. In contrast, some other books may not exclusively dedicate themselves to this particular issue or offer as comprehensive of an exploration of the moral debate. They may also address the political dimension of the problem or focus on implementation issues. While these perspectives are valuable and important, my book emphasizes the ethical case as its primary focus. My aim is to help readers cultivate the right moral attitudes toward suffering of wild animals. This, in turn, can contribute to making the implementation of the best solutions increasingly feasible in the future. I believe that by establishing a strong ethical foundation, we can make informed decisions and navigate the complex challenges of reducing wild animal suffering more effectively.

Are you hopeful that as people learn more about wild animal suffering they will be more sensitive to the issue?

Clearly, people can only exhibit compassion towards a reality that they are aware of. When I first started working on the issue of wild animal suffering, I held a somewhat naive belief that as people gained a deeper understanding of the subject, they would naturally become more attuned and sensitive to the issue. This led me to dedicate a significant portion of my activism towards challenging the idyllic view of nature that portrays wild animals as leading blissful lives, only occasionally disrupted by human interference. In many ways, I believe I was partially correct in this assumption.

However, in recent years, I have become increasingly skeptical. I must admit that there is a powerful narrative, often supported by an environmentalist agenda, that fosters a sense of indifference towards individual wild animals, even in light of the substantial information available. It seems to be a strategy that replaces an "absence of awareness" with an "absence of care." This realization has given rise to my growing skepticism about the effectiveness of empirical knowledge alone in driving compassionate action for wild animal welfare.

Can you say something about when we shouldn't interfere -- maybe that's something you write about?

As discussed earlier, the scope of large-scale interventions aimed at reducing wild animal suffering is presently quite limited. Consequently, there are instances where interference may not be advisable due to our current lack of knowledge and ability to execute scientifically informed interventions that would reliably yield a net positive outcome. In certain extreme cases, such as gene editing for predator control or genetic alteration of reproductive strategies, caution is particularly warranted. While these approaches hold potential, our understanding of the complex ecological interactions and long-term consequences is still limited. Therefore, it is crucial to exercise prudence and refrain implementation until we have a more comprehensive understanding of the potential risks and benefits associated with such interventions.

However, rather than viewing this as a justification for inaction, it should instead motivate us to actively position ourselves, such as through research endeavors, to discover the most effective and safe approaches for alleviating wild animal suffering. This calls for a proactive pursuit of knowledge, with the ultimate aim of developing optimal strategies to address the challenges faced by wild animals. This is precisely why I strongly advocate for an urgent moral shift, aiming to transform the value orientation of relevant research. By doing so, we can progressively create the conditions necessary to ensure that wild animals have the best possible lives.


Catia Faria is an assistant professor in Moral Philosophy at the Department of Philosophy and Society at Complutense University of Madrid. She is a founding member and currently serves on the board of the Centre for Animal Ethics at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona. Her research primarily focuses on normative and applied ethics, specifically exploring the intersection of animal ethics, feminist ethics, and AI ethics. She has a particular interest in understanding the impact of our present decisions on the lives of future sentient individuals and how to decrease the risk of generating astronomic suffering. She has published extensively on topics such as wild animal suffering, speciesism, and the ethical tensions that arise between animal ethics and environmental ethics. Her most recent book, titled Animal Ethics in the Wild was published by Cambridge University Press. Alongside her academic pursuits, she is an animal and feminist activist.

Centre for Animal Ethics

Last paper: Vulnerability and the Ethics of Environmental Enhancement

Bad Science Adversely Affects Animals' Emotions and Reality.


Catia Faria is a PhD in Moral Philosophy from Pompeu Fabra University and a founding member of the Center for Animal Ethics at the same university. She is a professor of moral philosophy in the Department of Philosophy and Society at the Complutense University of Madrid. She has been a postdoctoral researcher at the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology. She works in normative and applied ethics, in particular, on issues of animal ethics, feminist ethics, and the ethics of artificial intelligence.

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