Ecological Ethics in Captivity: Balancing Values and Responsibilities in Zoo and Aquarium Research under Rapid Global Change

By March 12, 2015Ethical, Workgroup 2

Author(s): Ben A. Minteer and James P. Collins

Publication: ILAR Journal

Publication Date: 2013

Abstract: Ethical obligations to animals in conservation research and management are manifold and often conflicting. Animal welfare concerns often clash with the ethical imperative to understand and conserve a population or ecosystem through research and management intervention. The accelerating pace and impact of global environmental change, especially climate change, complicates our understanding of these obligations. One example is the blurring of the distinction between ex situ (zoo- and aquarium-based) conservation and in situ (field-based) approaches as zoos and aquariums become more active in field conservation work and as researchers and managers consider more intensive interventions in wild populations and ecosystems to meet key conservation goals. These shifts, in turn, have consequences for our traditional understanding of the ethics of wildlife research and management, including our relative weighting of animal welfare and conservation commitments across rapidly evolving ex situ and in situ contexts. Although this changing landscape in many ways supports the increased use of captive wildlife in conservation-relevant research, it raises significant ethical concerns about human intervention in populations and ecosystems, including the proper role of zoos and aquariums as centers for animal research and conservation in the coming decades. Working through these concerns requires a pragmatic approach to ethical analysis, one that is able to make trade-offs among the many goods at stake (e.g., animal welfare, species viability, and ecological integrity) as we strive to protect species from further decline and extinction in this century.

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