Social Question

wundayatta's avatar

Is it appropriate to judge animal welfare by human standards?

Asked by wundayatta (58349 points ) December 31st, 2012

It is inhumane to see a human starve to death. We must intervene.

But is it inhumane to let animals in our wilderness preserves to starve to death? Should we intervene there? What about on large farms that are stocked with wild animals? During harsh winters when there are huge die-offs, should we have sharpshooters go in and kill the weaklings before they have a chanced to starve?

If so, can we reliably know which animals will not make it through the winter and therefore should be shot?

Or is this all a human emotional problem that has nothing to do with ethical treatment of animals?

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40 Answers

Shippy's avatar

Both humans and animals should be treat with respect. They are both important. What pisses me off is when a person runs to help an animal and leaves a human starving I have a strong emotive reason for saying this. I have suffered at the hands of an animal helper gone mad, who treats humans like shit.

Coloma's avatar

Over populated wildlife needs to be culled in certain circumstances but ALL domestic animals deserve to be provided for. I would prefer to have any animal humanely dispatched over starving to death but this is an unrealistic idea. I live in the hills/mountains and often see sickly and underweight deer in winter, but it would be impossible to seek out all animals in this condition.
There was a scourge of some sort of mange in the deer population around here a few years ago and the county fish and game people did dispatch some of them as reported.
Birth control has been utilized too but often with tragic results.

Wild horses in the Montana mountains that were fed birth control laced feed ended up cycling off season and giving birth to foals in the dead of winter of which many did not survive.
So much for that little experiment.
Tampering with nature usually results in a worse outcome than not.
I have neighbors that do not provide shelter or blankets for their horses in winter and I disagree with this completely.

They are well fed, but when I have owned horses they have always had good shelter and have been blanketed in extreme weather.
I hate neglectful animal owners.

syz's avatar

As difficult as it is, I tend to believe that wildlife is best served when natural cycles are allowed (with exceptions for endangered species or species that have been directly adversely affected by human activities).

I hold humans to a higher standard for those animals that have been bred, caged, fenced, captured, ‘tamed’, or domesticated for our own benefit; I feel that we have a moral obligation to guarantee a minimum quality of life for those animals (in which I feel we are failing miserably).

CWOTUS's avatar

The question borders on a kind of hubris to think that “we” (collectively) can determine the best living and feeding conditions for all of the individual members of each species, and then provide that, or determine that “they can’t achieve that outcome”, and on that basis killing them.

Yikes.

That sounds like the start of a new government program. I hope I’m not around to see it come into being.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS Alternatively, if you can bring yourself to take a step back from knee-jerk alarmism for a second, you might recognize that this kind of question involves doing nothing more than the exact same things we do whenever we make any ethical decision whatsoever.

CWOTUS's avatar

Not so, @SavoirFaire. Most ethical decisions do not involve taking responsibility for all life on the planet. Or pretending that we can.

@Coloma had the right response first. You take care of your domesticated animals, and let the wild animals take care of themselves.

wundayatta's avatar

Too late, @CWOTUS. It’s reality in the Netherlands now, where the sight of a starving deer falling through the ice caused an emergency meeting of the legislature which ordered wildlife officials to dispatch animals deemed unlikely to make it through the winter before the winter arrived. Just read an article about it by Elizabeth Kolbert in the New Yorker this week.

The people of the Netherlands have warm hearts and can not bear to see wild animals suffer from starvation. The animal keepers argue that starvation is actually a very peaceful way to go.

The people are placing their humane standards on animals. How can they know what is best for the animals? How can they know what the animals really want? And indeed, would humans want to be shot if someone knew they would die of starvation in a few weeks? Is that really humane treatment?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS I also agree with @Coloma, but her response still accepts that the question can be asked and reasonably answered. Your response suggests that it is hubristic to even ask in the first place. That is the mistake I am pointing out, and your agreement with @Coloma itself proves that you must concede the point I was making.

CWOTUS's avatar

Of course the question can be asked. And the answer is “you can take care of some animals – just as you can take care of some people – some of the time, and to some degree.” But no one is omniscient or omnipotent enough to be able to make such decisions “for all”.

For example, “dispatching wounded animals” ignores the rest of the ecosystem that depends on sick and wounded animals – including the bacteria and viruses that use these animals as vectors in their own survival and life cycles. Which is not to say that we want to support every bacterial culture and strain of virus, or we wouldn’t be trying to wipe out polio and smallpox.

It’s one thing to see a starving animal in a place where it is easily visible (and probably doesn’t belong), such as a residential neighborhood or on thin ice on a popular lake, and want to do something about “that incident”. But to make it a matter of public policy that “we should do this for all animals within our borders” is preposterously stupid.

wundayatta's avatar

@CWOTUS Which is why it boggles my mind that the Dutch have made that the law of the land. Further, I would not be surprised if it could not become a law in a state here in the US. You call it a preposterously stupid idea, and I would agree, yet I’m trying to understand where people are coming from when they have such feelings. Do you have any thoughts on that subject?

KNOWITALL's avatar

It is inhumane to see any animal or human starving and do nothing.

In the US we have hunting permits that are regulated based on the populationand managed by the Conservation Dept. So I think we’re good.

To me it’s kind of like feeding the wild birds seed in winter. I like to think they appreciate it, but if it wasn’t there, I’m sure they’d find it elsewhere- that is a human emotion (to be needed.) It’s really not necessary to their survival, I’m sure.

syz's avatar

@KNOWITALL Actually, the impact of birds feeders can be quite pronounced. And starvation is a control mechanism in population cycles that serves as a “check and balance”, a method of improving herd health, and a mechanism for evolution.

CWOTUS's avatar

I think @KNOWITALL has given you the answer as to “why”, @wundayatta. Not that I want to attack you personally, @KNOWITALL, but the idea that “it is inhumane to see any animal or human starving and do nothing” is the basis of the preposterous stupidity that I noted above.

What does one do, then, while watching a National Geographic special on “Lions in Africa” or “Shark Week” on Discovery, then?

Okay, that’s not about “starving” animals. How about “Life on the Serengeti”, then? As the rainy season ends and rivers dry up, fish starve and animals dehydrate. It’s a fact of life. They’ve been doing that for millions of years. Now you know about it. What’s the answer? Stop watching television? Is that the ethical behavior demanded to “do something” at those times?

Should we set up fresh water distribution systems for the African veldt, then, so that no animal ever has to starve or perish from dehydration? Is it ethical to demand that others get involved in every plan that anyone might have to “save the world”?

For that matter, have you ever taken antibiotics? Ever used a disinfectant wipe? You’re killing “animals”, even if you can’t see them and don’t like them. Even if they don’t have faces.

wundayatta's avatar

@KNOWITALL Why is it inhumane to see a starving wild animal and do nothing? How is it that you place animals and humans on exactly the same plane when it comes to dealing with starvation?

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS Your original response attacked the validity of the question, and that is what brought about my response. Now that you have backed off from that position, I have no more quarrel with you. The difference between where you started and where you ended up, however, is an important one.

CWOTUS's avatar

Hmm. I don’t think I attacked the “validity” of the question, did I? I attacked it as foolish, and I haven’t backed off from that position.

There are few questions – none that I can think of offhand, anyway – that are “invalid”.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m an empath and it hurts me when I see others hurting. So whether it’s an animal or human (yes wyundatta both) I personally can’t stand to keep walking.

@CWOTUS I meant in real life, not tv. If you see it on tv you can join a group and donate your time or money to helping change the situation.

@wundayatta Because I have love for humans and animals. I’ve rescued animals from starvation and I will probably do it again. I’ve taken people to the store who otherwise would have gone hungry. My love is for all creatures, not just human and I don’t feel bad about that.

One thing that does bother me is that animals can be humanely euthanized, and humans still can’t (legally.) To me that’s wrong and it’s all about money.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS But questions themselves are never foolish. It is only being too afraid to ask a question that is foolish. It is answers that can be mistaken, accurate, foolish, or wise. Questions cannot “border on hubris,” though answers and policies can.

wundayatta's avatar

@KNOWITALL It’s one thing to take personal responsibility for animals. But let’s say there was a wildlife preserve near you, and there was a herd of elk. Each winter, about forty to sixty percent of the herd will die off because that’s what happens in natural conditions.

You are passing by the preserve on the highway and you notice a herd of fifty elk huddling against a fence, and they are are starving and gaunt. What do you do? Do you bring food out to them? Do you ask the government to shoot them?

CWOTUS's avatar

So, do you donate reflexively whenever you see the poor, starving children in Africa, @KNOWITALL? Do you think that those appeals would be perhaps fully successful and “solve the problem of hunger in Africa” if they made those appeals everywhere and always?

Fair enough, @SavoirFaire. I had a problem with the wording of that first response, knowing that “the question” was not hubristic in itself (obviously), but a policy based on a positive response, “Yes, we need to take care of all the starving animals”, would be. Is that better?

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’m frankly disconcerted that both of you feel the need to question my empathy in regards to animals. I have always been our family’s animal lover since I was a small child. Most of the time, I enjoy the company of animals more so than most humans I know.

@wyundayatta Okay, let’s hypothesize shall we? In that situation I would probably call animal control and ask who to call, report the situation and let them do their job. We have systems in place for these situations of abuse, and these people are trained to help much more efficiently and with the correct equipment and housing.

@CWOTUS I have donated to many various causes and will continue to do so for my entire life I hope. I think the hunger situation in Africa may never be resolved and I don’t think some people want it solved. It’s very sad.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@CWOTUS We’re good.

wundayatta's avatar

@KNOWITALL Who is doing the abuse? These are wild animals. Living in nature. Where is the abuse?

Coloma's avatar

In areas where deaths benefit other species, animals such as Caribou, Elk, Deer, Moose, etc provide food for other apex predators and I believe in letting nature take it’s course. However, IF, one stumbles across a sick or wounded animal in distress the only humane thing to do is dispatch it. I have called out the sheriff and fish and game on many occasions to dispatch critically wounded deer. I have seen a large buck with a broken pelvis literally “swimming” across the road in it’s terror with no use of it’s hind quarters.

Horrible and heartbreaking.

The roads up here have roadkill deer on them every day, infact, I phoned one in a few weeks ago that was freshly hit and the driver actually left it, smack in the middle of our two lane highway in the dark where anyone coming along at 10 o’ clock at night was going to, potentially have an accident hitting the dead animal. Normally the coyotes, cougars and bobcats, foxes and vultures make short work of roadkill but a suffering animal should always be humanely destroyed whenever possible, short of vast herds of animals on the Serengeti.

I agree nature is nature but when and if a human stumbles upon some obvious need for intervention I think it is the right thing to intervene if possible.

CWOTUS's avatar

Having seen what can happen to the “driving victims” in a car / deer collision, I won’t automatically assume that it was inhumane to leave the wounded deer if a passenger (or driver) in the vehicle needed immediate medical assistance. I especially wouldn’t judge if the deer was capable of kicking and the driver who struck it was incapable of safely dispatching the animal.

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS Of course not, but usually, because they are so common up here people nail them and just keep going unless it is a serious accident. Big trucks just mow them down and leave them. True, it is almost impossible to approach a wounded deer, they are so terrified, but if they are dead and nobody was injured they should be pulled to the side of the road for the safety of other drivers. This was a BIG deer and a car hitting it at 60 mph might have even flipped or something.

It’s like hitting a 150 lb.log in the road, not good.

CWOTUS's avatar

If people are hitting a stationary dead carcass lying in the middle of the road because of their irresponsible driving, then they’re just as apt to hit the “good guy” trying to pull it off the road. In that case, common sense among a population of such idiot drivers who “drive faster than they can stop” (to use my father’s expression for it when he taught me) would dictate, “leave it and move on”.

This reminds me of a debate I had with a contemporary of mine who drives as much as I do, but also flies. We were talking about how to handle driving into a wall of fog or smoke unexpectedly, such as when cresting the brow of a hill, for example. His assertion was that “you just have to keep going, and not step on the brakes, or you’ll be rear-ended”. His analogy was that when flying into clouds, the pilot can’t reduce his speed or he’ll stall.

I could never convince him that his analogy was a non-starter for driving on roads. We don’t stall and fall out of the sky when we slow down our cars. And to attempt to drive “at speed” through a fog bank because of a misguided fear that we might be rear-ended by another idiot who would do the same thing is nearly certain to cause the multiple car wrecks that we experience (for exactly that reason) from time to time. I don’t drive faster than conditions allow me to stop within my field of vision. At least if I get rear-ended that way – and I’m always mindful that I could be – I take comfort in the reasonable expectation that I won’t be crushed in the middle after having rear-ended someone myself.

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS Jesus, up here you often have to come to a stop on a blind curve due to a slow truck on an upgrade or road work. Scares the crap out of me every time I am the last in line.
I hate that feeling more than anything else in the world, just waiting for some dumb fuck speed demon to come around the bend and crush me like a tuna can. 0-o

burntbonez's avatar

I read the Kolbert article. I’m thinking that Americans could easily do the same thing. Although I’m not sure they’d be willing to send armies of humans wandering through the Tetons to dispatch animals that were starving to death. But you never know. The wilderness in the Netherlands was built on land reclaimed from the sea. It’s really more like a zoo. Even if they are trying to bring back extinct species there.

CWOTUS's avatar

Hmm. There isn’t a lot of “wilderness” (if any) in the Netherlands, and what there is would be along the borders with Belgium and Germany, primarily in the southeast part of the country, which is “upland”. That is, “wilderness” as we know it in the States. The reclaimed land along the Rhine and in the North Sea is far too dear to be deemed “wilderness”, although some of it lies fallow from time to time, in accordance with normal crop rotation and proper farming. (Most of that land, at least the land that has been built up above sea level, is growing condominiums and light industry. The land in the polders below sea level, kept “dry” by dikes and continuous piping, is mostly farm land and pasture.)

If you imagine “armies of humans wandering through the Tetons” for any purpose at all, @burntbonez, then you don’t really grok the Tetons.

[EDIT: Of course I’m ignoring the “reclaimed” barrier islands, especially those in the Rhine delta that have been built up explicitly as “coastal wilderness”, to be sacrificed as necessary in case of extreme flooding.]

Coloma's avatar

@CWOTUS Well the Sierra Nevadas here In Ca. are not wanting for lack of wildlife.
Jeez…I am over run with wild turkeys, blacktail deer, coyotes. cougars, bobcats, foxes, raccoons, skunks, rattlesnakes, vultures, possums, squirrels…on & on. ( which, I must say, I had the only goose in america that survived having her neck wrung by a bobcat a few years ago and drug off by a 3 legged Coyote which I beat over the head with a stick to make it drop her. haha ) My cat survived a big hit from a 3 foot Pacific Diamondback rattler under my deck stairs last July too.

Shit…come on out to Colomas zone for some wild action. lol

hearkat's avatar

I see this issue in our communities with regards to feral cats. One community fined a man for driving to an area where there is a huge cat colony, and dropping a huge 60-lb bag of dried cat food. The nearby residents don’t like having the cats there. Our shelters don’t take feral cats, because there are too many. I’m unsure what animal control does about them… but it seems to be a growing problem.

Coloma's avatar

@hearkat That is so sad.
Poor cats.
I do not agree with maintaining feral cat colonies at all. If the cats cannot be found homes they should be humanely euthanized. Just because these animals are being fed doesn’t mean they are happy or that their quality of life is enviable.

hearkat's avatar

@Coloma – but most feral cats can’t be socialized… they’re not completely wild, but they’re no longer domestic. There are organizations that try to trap and sterilize them, and catch the kittens so they can be sterilized and domesticated, but it seems to be a growing problem. I don’t feed them… I think of them like squirrels – they’re cute, smart and resourceful.

Coloma's avatar

@hearkat Agreed, I just don’t think estranged feral cats should be kept in huge colonies. They also wreak havoc on songbird populations. There are no easy answers. Being a cat lover it just breaks my heart as cats are such creatures of comfort, but of course, I am aware I am projecting my human emotions onto them. A feral cat can’t miss something its never experienced like a warm house and loving care.

wundayatta's avatar

Nope, @CWOTUS. If you can get ahold of the article, do so. They reclaimed a lot of land from the North Sea, and they reserved it for what they call wilderness. It’s a huge area. Fenced off. And the animals run free. However, there are train tracks and high tension wires running across it. There is also a tourist train, but other than that, humans aren’t allowed in, if I understood it right. For the Netherlands, it is wilderness and it’s the biggest natural space they have. Natural, in the sense that they manage it more minimally than anywhere else.

CWOTUS's avatar

Oh, you have no idea how closely managed supposedly “wild” areas are in the Netherlands, @wundayatta. When I was there I took a public tour of the great dike / sea barrier / land reclamation was created at the mouth of the Rhine. In fact, after devastating floods in the 1950s, this has been one of the nation’s primary civil works projects, and it has been ongoing since then.

To give an example, they correctly recognized the huge value of deserted, low-lying barrier islands to prevent and slow flooding. So they built those islands, linked together “hundreds” of islands to make them “dozens”, and then supervised planting natural grasses and other plants (to hold the sand in place, of course). However, they planted grass seedlings (from nurseries), and recognizing that the grasses naturally grow with a bend in the shaft (because of the winds on the beaches), they made sure that each grass seedling was planted in the correct orientation to the prevailing winds.

Not that this is wrong. It’s not. It’s the best way to ensure the survival of the grass seedlings. But just imagine the work and the supervision required to ensure that each grass seedling in thousands of acres of planting grass seedlings is “turned” just-so.

They also made sure of the distribution of plant species, making sure that the barrier islands weren’t “all grass”, but had the correct (as determined from surveys of thousands of other acres of undisturbed and prior plant distribution from before the construction started, decades earlier), of other beach plants, “weeds”, wild flowers and scrub brush.

Every fucking plant is managed! The Dutch did this well; I give them credit for a massively successful engineering, construction and environmental project. But to call this area “wilderness” is a modification of the English language that I’m not prepared to accept yet.

wundayatta's avatar

I see. I have no quarrel with that. But just as long as we know what they mean when they say wilderness. I suppose it is relevant, since you might call it a farm, and of course, one might take a different attitude towards starving animals on a farm than in a wilderness. Yet, perhaps the Dutch are trying to have their version of wilderness, which includes deaths at the hands of the elements. So they might have two kinds of farms. One by normal rules and the other by “wilderness” rules.

Coloma's avatar

Hey…a weed sprouting in a crack in the sidewalk in any major city IS wilderness! lol

CWOTUS's avatar

There’s a saying over there that, “God made the Earth. The Dutch made Holland.” I can’t speak to the first, but the second is definitely true. (One of Europe’s busiest airports is Schiphol outside of Amsterdam. The word “schiphol” in Dutch means “ship hole”. It’s a place where ships used to sink – because it was obviously in the ocean. Well, the North Sea, anyway.)

Here is a simple enough page of illustrative photos and light text to partially describe the engineering part of the project. I haven’t been able to find the environmental stuff that I was able to read during the tour. But this is how they made their wilderness.

It was a great day trip while there. I recommend it to anyone with the least interest in engineering, construction, flood management and environment / ecology. (They built the thing in the Dutch way, by getting consensus from everyone involved, from fishermen, farmers, coastal dwellers and visitors, and probably beachcombers as well.)

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