“Plans to protect air and water, wilderness and wildlife are in fact plans to protect man.” – Stewart Udall
In my first few posts I have looked at human-nonhuman animal relations by introducing theoretical concepts such as anthropocentrism and speciesism. In the following sections, I want to apply these theories to the realms of experience in fields of human/non-human animal interactions in our contemporary world.
Over the past few months, I have experienced various human-nonhuman animal encounters whilst working in a wildlife rehabilitation facility in Victoria, Australia.
While the primary objective of such conservationist activities appears to be an altruistic one – preserving eco-systems and diversity of species – I had to note a lot of inconsistencies within this field. Often, it seems that even the best intentions leave a negative impact on the handled creatures in question or that any possible successes are made void by other, equally claimed as conservationist, actions.
Thus, I cannot help but wonder whether there is indeed a genuine interest to protect wildlife and our natural resources, or whether all such efforts are condemned to be anthropocentrictic and, therefore, serve solely man´s ends, after all?
There are many institutions concerned with animal welfare in Victoria. For instance, some review husbandry conditions for both stock animals and pets. Other authorities are specifically commissioned to ensure the welfare of wildlife, enforcing legislation regarding environmental conservation, such as the Wildlife Act 1975 . Sadly, to my personal experiences, these practices often fall short in dealing with the complex situations that arise in human-nonhuman animal encounters in the expanding metropolitan region of Melbourne and surrounding country.
For example, it is the same department that organises wildlife rehabilitation authorising and overseeing wildlife shelter operators and carers, that also issues any permits to kill members of the same species concerned, sometimes even in the same areas, making the rehabilitation of such wildlife in these areas ironically vain.
Also, while the government offers grants to wildlife shelters for the care and husbandry of wildlife in rehabilitation, they themselves hold permits to cull any number of the same wildlife. These culls are often aimed at Eastern grey kangaroos and other macropod species, but not exclusive to them, involving even the killing of vulnerable and endangered species.
Typically, these events occur where urban development has confined habitats to the extent that they can no longer support the life of a population or the co-existence of several species. Although these creatures are in trouble due to human activity, i.e. urbanisation, road traffic and intensive farming, they are often demonised in the course of these activities, calling for their removal out of the areas concerned.
There is a striking ambivalence inherent in the relationship of the Australian public with their native wildlife. On one hand, the unique and ancient species are cherished and treasured, decorating the Australian coat of arms and featuring in tourism brochures and nature documentaries across the world, but at the same time their presence close to human living spheres is sometimes perceived as nuisance. They an integral part of the Australian identity, as well as a constant cause for dismay, for instance when involved in road accidents or due to competition on living space.
To me, it seems that the nonhuman dwellers of Australia, that have inhabited the land for millions of years before James Cook ever set foot on the East coast, provide a source of identity construction of the human self. Without them the Australian people could not be what they are, but at the same time, they are increasingly neglected for the sake of consolidation of the Australian way of (human) life, often under the pretence of conservationism. That is, if we were to truly preserve the Australian wildlife, human activity ought to cease from their lands. This not being a likely prospect, I am afraid, conservation as a whole is doomed to remain contradictory. One could say conservation is overall an effort to preserve human life and, therefore, anthropocentric.
 See a fulltext of the act here.
Chief Parliamentary Counsel of Victoria (2014): Wildlife Act 1975. Authorised Version No. 100. available under:
http://www.legislation.vic.gov.au/domino/Web_Notes/LDMS/LTObject_Store/ltobjst8.nsf/DDE300B846EED9C7CA257616000A3571/84C427066CB742E2CA257D09000E89E7/$FILE/75-8699aa100%20authorised.pdf, last checked: 26/o5/2016.