In the past, the ethical and moral questions about how to handle a wild animal’s suffering were usually left up to the judgement of wildlife experts. These days, the human and wild worlds are increasingly bumping into each other. While the proximity began in the physical world with humans entering the wilderness more frequently, now animal lovers from every corner are one click away from becoming invested in the well-being of wild animals that they’ll never meet through social media.
Ultimately, does our emotional investment help or hinder the quality of life of wild animals?
Wild Animal Suffering
Take for example a recent case in Minnesota where a wounded moose‘s suffering spread all over social media. As reported in Daily Digest News (DDN), animal lovers took to social media to express their anger and frustration because the moose was missing its tail. Should nature take its course? Should wildlife experts intervene and humanely end the animal’s suffering? It seemed like everyone had an opinion.
The moose with the missing tail isn’t the first example of such social media outcry. Thousands of viewers tuned in to watch a baby eagle with a broken wing trapped in its nest just wanting to fly free.
The thousands of viewers also saw wildlife authorities not taking any action to help the bird. As DDN reports, Lori Naumann from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources explained, “Social media had a big impact on our decision-making process. My phone blew up. My email blew up.”
The public’s persistence eventually mobilized wildlife authorities to intervene, and the baby eagle got veterinary care. Unfortunately, it was more than a broken wing; the baby eagle’s systemic infection and bad wing meant that it couldn’t survive on its own and live free of pain, so the veterinarians euthanized the wild animal.
The same public outcry that mobilized help for the baby eagle also mobilized a campaign of hate over the eagle being euthanized. DDN reported how Naumann was forced to go to social media extremes by deleting posts and blocking individual users because of the hateful messages.
Helping or Hurting Wild Animals?
Some could argue that the social media mobilization in the baby eagle example was counterproductive because the PR nightmare took away the experts’ time and resources from doing their job and helping other animals. When did the average person become a wildlife expert and able to tell them how to do their job? Although, there’s a possibility that an animal could’ve been saved, and it wouldn’t have been possible without the care and concern of strangers.
Most of us feel indebted to the animals that we know another human has purposefully hurt. Come on, didn’t you want justice for the weak and starving brown pelican with the human-inflicted wound? I think anyone with a pulse and an iota of compassion did.
Yet, do we still have that ethical obligation when we’re not sure if the wild animal is in pain and suffering because of us? I don’t know.
If we remove our emotions from the pain and suffering of other sentient beings, then we’ll remember that the natural world isn’t as idyllic as we like to romanticize. As DDN writes, Richard Dawkins explains, “During the minute it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive.”
If they’re not being eaten, then they are running for their lives. They could be in the last battle of their lives where only one will come out alive. They slowly could be succumbing to deadly diseases introduced by parasites, and there are many more realities taking place in the natural world every second. Yet, in nature’s infinite wisdom, even a dead carcass has a role in the natural order of life, e.g. a meal for vultures. It’s a cycle that we break when we intervene to alleviate one animal’s suffering.
So, should we just remove our emotions, butt out and leave these instances of animal pain and suffering to actual wildlife experts or not? As the human and wild worlds get closer, both online and offline, it’s a question that we’ll undoubtedly run into again.
Photo Credit: Rob Bixby