The value of the life of an animal is not self-evident to all
When it comes right down to it, our job at the International Fund for Animal Welfare is to save the lives of animals.
Sometimes that means sending our Animal Rescue team in to carry out their incredibly tiring and difficult work and sometimes it means that we have to concentrate not on how we save the lives of animals, but rather on why we save the lives of animals.
Some might ask why we would need to explain; is it not obvious? For many why we want to safeguard the lives of animals isn’t obvious and this is where the issue of value comes in.
In today’s world almost everything, including life, is assigned an economic value.
Unfortunately, this is increasingly true of wildlife.
In the “board room of life” there is another group of people who focus on the ethical or moral value in protecting wildlife; to many in that room, the instinct to protect wildlife is self- evident and needs no explanation.
At IFAW, we believe that wildlife has intrinsic value.
That how animals are treated is a reflection of our own humanity.
This past week in Kenya our team sat down with people who explained why they want to protect wildlife and, truthfully, their reasons do not always coincide exactly with what drives our mission; but each actor plays a critical role in the success of our work and therein lies the complexity.
There is always compromise in any given political undertaking, and working to save wildlife in Africa is inherently political; however there is a line beyond which altruism cannot go.
That line is the belief that wildlife has only economic value and that without that proven value, wildlife is essentially bankrupt and must be liquidated as a worthless asset on the books.
That is not to say that we don’t believe there is some economic value which can be assigned to wildlife, e.g. Eco-tourism safaris and the jobs they create, but to argue that there is no value beyond a price on each head is an extreme view and one that in our view misses the larger picture.
The elephants of Amboseli want to roam, the tourist want to follow them, the inn keeper wants to serve the tourists, the Masai want to benefit from the animals crossing their lands, the Kenyan Wildlife Services want to stop the poachers from killing the animals whilst making enough money from the park to finance that protection, business leaders want to find ways to exploit natural resources whilst maintaining tourism as a growth engine of the country, the poachers want to kill everything they can get their hands on and the population keeps growing and the land keeps shrinking.
Did I miss anything?
Every player assigns a different value to that elephant walking across the plain as it makes its way to the swamp.
Our success often depends on our ability to recognize in a respectful way that not everyone agrees with the value we put on saving wildlife.
We look to find common ground where we can but will not shy away from the difficult when necessary.
The notion that a world devoid of wildlife is somehow acceptable is something that we cannot abide.
The very idea we could find ourselves in a world where we could not see the intrinsic value of wildlife roaming the earth is unfathomable.