If you picture a football match between supporters of the animal welfare cause and conservationists, some participants probably wouldn’t be sure which team to play for. There is no doubt that while the two disciplines share common supporters and sometimes work hand in hand for a common cause, their goals may be contradictory as well. But does the public actually make a distinction between the two ?
If you are working in the conservation field you have probably been asked about a specific individual animal that is ill-treated and you were expected to have all the answers to save it. But we conservation biologists often don’t and unfortunately we sometimes have to excuse ourselves for having little knowledge in a field that is not ours.Though sometimes entertaining this kind of confusion can be problematic.
The most familiar example for me is the debate about the exportation of long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) for biomedical research from the island of Mauritius. The numerous online campaigns that have been fighting for years to stop this trade deserves respect. But unfortunately, misguided conservation-oriented arguments are used in some of them when this is and will always be an animal right issue.
The long tailed macaque is not a ‘Mauritian’ monkey with a declining population in the wild as sometimes claimed, simply because it is not a native species of the Mauritian forest. It has been introduced from Asia by European sailors some centuries ago. And like some introduced species has turned into a pest. The long-tailed macaque is actually a conservation threat in the native forest as it predates eggs of endemic birds and not only destroys flowering and fruiting branches of the native flora but also feeds on unripe fruits of endangered plants such as the Tambalacoque more commonly known as the ‘Dodo tree’. So in a conservation context, the removal of the monkey would actually be beneficial. Does that mean conservation wins the battle ? Definitely not.
It is up to everybody to have their own opinion and stick to the one cause which makes more sense to them. But people have the right to think intelligently and should make up their mind based on facts and accurate background information
To me this issue reflects how little the public really knows about conservation. The concept of protecting this unique species that is on the brink of extinction is so easily simplified into a general concept of protecting all animal individuals. And we all know that this is often not only impossible to achieve, but, if applied to the “wrong” species, also detrimental for the conservation status of other endangered species.
Guess we have a lot of communication work to do out there. What do you think ?