Recognizing animal personhood in compassionate conservation

Arian D. Wallach*, Chelsea Batavia, Marc Bekoff, Shelley Alexander, Liv Baker, Dror Ben-Ami, Louise Boronyak, Adam P.A. Cardilin, Yohay Carmel, Danielle Celermajer, Simon Coghlan, Yara Dahdal, Jonatan J. Gomez, Gisela Kaplan, Oded Keynan, Anton Khalilieh, Helen Kopnina, William S. Lynn, Yamini Narayanan, Sophie RileyFrancisco J. Santiago-Ávila, Esty Yanco, Miriam A. Zemanova, Daniel Ramp

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Citations (Scopus)
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Compassionate conservation is based on the ethical position that actions taken to protect biodiversity should be guided by compassion for all sentient beings. Critics argue that there are 3 core reasons harming animals is acceptable in conservation programs: the primary purpose of conservation is biodiversity protection; conservation is already compassionate to animals; and conservation should prioritize compassion to humans. We used argument analysis to clarify the values and logics underlying the debate around compassionate conservation. We found that objections to compassionate conservation are expressions of human exceptionalism, the view that humans are of a categorically separate and higher moral status than all other species. In contrast, compassionate conservationists believe that conservation should expand its moral community by recognizing all sentient beings as persons. Personhood, in an ethical sense, implies the individual is owed respect and should not be treated merely as a means to other ends. On scientific and ethical grounds, there are good reasons to extend personhood to sentient animals, particularly in conservation. The moral exclusion or subordination of members of other species legitimates the ongoing manipulation and exploitation of the living worlds, the very reason conservation was needed in the first place. Embracing compassion can help dismantle human exceptionalism, recognize nonhuman personhood, and navigate a more expansive moral space.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1097-1106
Number of pages10
JournalConservation Biology
Issue number5
Early online date18 May 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Oct 2020
Externally publishedYes


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