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Putting the Human into Humane

GUEST BLOG Author: Dr Jacqueline Boyd, animal scientist and humane education specialist

Putting the Human into Humane

Our latest blog is from Dr Jacqueline Boyd, an animal scientist with a passion for applying robust scientific and educational principles to enhance animal health and well-being. Jacqueline currently works as a Nutritional Consultant for a pet food company, is a Senior Visiting Fellow at Nottingham Trent University and a Certified Humane Education Specialist. Jacqueline believes education with a pro-social and humane approach is key for creating a mutually beneficial and respectful dialogue – and has seen this first hand both in her day job, but also in the voluntary work she is involved with for an international charity focused on the welfare of working animals. In our latest blog, she explores how understanding interactions between human and non-human animals can enhance animal well-being.

Can you remember the first time you saw an animal in captivity and felt uneasy? I can, vividly. She was a polar bear (who I later found out was called Mercedes) and she lived in an enclosure in Edinburgh Zoo. I think I was about eight or nine years old, an animal-mad child, who had grown up to be an animal scientist, so something clearly stuck somewhere. However, I recall watching this huge animal lying, dozing in her (largely concrete) enclosure and wondering why it was so small; after all, I had grown up on a diet of wildlife documentaries and was semi-versed in the wild exploits of such creatures.

That experience had a deeper impact on me that I appreciated at the time. For years, I actively avoided zoos and similar institutions, preferring to hone my animal skills, knowledge and experience with more traditional domestic species, and indulging in local wildlife-watching when able. One thing I was fascinated by however, was the pull that exotic and wild species had on people, whether that was to visit zoos and wildlife parks, to undertake safaris, to swim with dolphins or even keep exotic species as pets.  When, during my early studies as a zoology student, I stumbled across the subject of anthrozoology, I realised I had found a way of understanding much more about the human desire to connect with wild species in a much more detached, scientific and critical way, while still appreciating the need to ensure health and well-being (for all species) through supportive, empathetic, respectful and compassionate communication and education.

Fast forward to 2020. Captive animals globally continue to suffer. Humans continue to campaign. Ecosystems continue to be destroyed and habitats fragmented and lost. Conversely and even a little perversely, knowledge and understanding about the needs (both simple and complex) of individual species increases.

Improvements and enhancements do occur but are incremental and gradual. They are certainly not universal, and we know standards, approaches, care and management differ under cultural, financial, social, attitudinal, regulatory and other pressures. Knowing this, how can we best use the science of anthrozoology to help animals, and to help us humans make the world better for those that we manage?

The first thing that is interesting is that interactions between humans, non-human animals and the natural environment has been speculated to be an inherent, natural drive, often referred to as “biophilia” which translates literally as “love of life”. Biophilia was originally a hypothesis developed by the American ecologist, E. O. Wilson and has become a central thesis in the understanding of interactions between humans and nature.  Indeed, on an evolutionary basis, understanding nature, its processes and routines, would have been a distinct survival advantage and would likely have been selected for.  However, although the rapid global changes which our species has both observed and been instrumental in, has been in direct contrast to that inherent drive, potentially with long-term negative consequences. On this basis, biophilia, or at least the ability to affiliate with the natural world, has been described as an essential component in childhood development and the maintenance of a stable physical, emotional and mental persona in adulthood. An appreciation of biophilia can thus potentially be exploited in the enhancement of attitudes and management towards captive species specifically, and the natural world more generally.

How does biophilia then impact on our perceptions and attitudes towards captive species?

It seems likely that the desire of many to have contact, either passive or active, with non-human species is a fundamental human drive. The keeping of domestic species as companions mirrors this apparent innate desire, and the value of exposure to nature in order to enhance our own well-being is widely acknowledged. Understanding the basis of this fundamental drive and what it means for non-human species, is undoubtedly one way of managing human and non-human animal interactions more generally, in addition to being able to develop effective educational strategies with the intention of enhancing such interactions, to mutual benefit. To this end, accepting that there is a wide spectrum of expected ways in which humans can have contact with other species, from purely passive, distant, visual contact, through to potentially pathological forms of active animal management, captivity and contact, including hoarding and the keeping of exotic species, in sometimes less than ideal circumstances, is critical.

From a captive animal perspective, the recognition of the potential educational and conservation value of captivity (when done well) is important to manage human expectations and develop a more humane frame of reference. Demonstrating this value benefits the naysayers, who believe captivity in any form is abhorrent, and will also meet at least some of the expectations of others, who desire “up-close and personal” encounters with species that would otherwise be beyond the realms of possibility. Being able to apply the fundamental humane education principles of empathy, respect and compassion underpin this potential; being empathetic to all viewpoints, respectful of differing perspectives and compassionate in the understanding of desires, permits a managed approach from both the human and non-human animal viewpoint, and can go at least some way to meeting on middle ground. Indeed, opening full and frank dialogue, much of which can incorporate the language, approaches, intent and modelling behaviour that promotes excellent management of, and maximal well-being, is a critical foundation for ensuring enhancement of animal health and well-being, for both captive and free-living species, in addition to moving towards biosynergy, a mutual enrichment of life.

The ongoing challenge for the diverse community that seeks to manage the planet, ecosystems and species in a balanced, ethical and harmonious way, is balancing the biophilic desire and fascination of humans to interact with nature (in whatever form it is manifested) with the more complex appreciation of how living systems interact and the interconnectivity of life. Encouraging a humane approach from all stakeholders is imperative; judgement, criticism and alienation simply creates further polarisation and closes debate further. This is not conducive to improving awareness, understanding, or possibly from an animal perspective, welfare, health and well-being, of all forms.  Remembering the “human” in humane is key.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by guest bloggers are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Wild Welfare or any employee thereof. Wild Welfare is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the guest bloggers. We accept no liability for any errors, omissions or representations. The copyright of this content belongs to the author and any liability with regards to infringement of intellectual property rights remains with them.