Wild animal suffering

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The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. ~ Richard Dawkins

Wild animal suffering is the suffering experienced by nonhuman animals in nature through causes such as disease, injury, parasitism, starvation, extreme weather, natural disasters, and predation. Wild animal suffering has historically been discussed in the context of the philosophy of religion as an instance of the problem of evil. More recently, a number of academics have considered the suspected scope of the problem from a secular standpoint as a general moral issue, one that humans might be able to take actions toward preventing.

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  • There is enough suffering here for a thousand warrens [...] In these holes lie all the plagues and diseases that come to rabbits—fever and mange and the sickness of the bowels. And here, too, in this nearest hole, lies the white blindness, that sends creatures hobbling out to die in the fields, where even the elil will not touch their rotting bodies.
  • Many human beings say that they enjoy the winter, but what they really enjoy is feeling proof against it. For them there is no winter food problem. They have fires and warm clothes. The winter cannot hurt them and therefore increases their sense of cleverness and security. For birds and animals, as for poor men, winter is another matter. Rabbits, like most wild animals, suffer hardship.
  • Many people today have a romanticized view of nature and of the situation of animals in the wild. They believe nature is some kind of paradise where animals live happy lives. Other people are aware that animals in the wild can suffer and die prematurely in different ways but believe these are exceptions. The truth, however, is very different from this.
  • On the one hand, animals in nature face all kinds of coercive horrors, such as starvation and disease. According to the Principle of Negative Fairness, these natural horrors are a moral issue: we should care about the coercive horrors that animals experience in nature. Simply leaving animals alone in nature – however much animal advocates may like to romanticize it – is, on Rightness as Fairness, not fair to animals. Just as there is nothing fair about leaving fellow human beings to suffer or die from starvation or disease, so too is there nothing fair about leaving animals to suffer and die from such things in nature.
  • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice. ~ Charles Darwin
    People who accuse us of putting in too much violence, [should see] what we leave on the cutting-room floor. My conscience troubles me more about reducing the pain and savagery that there is in the natural world than the reverse.


  • Society has become increasingly aware of the suffering that nonhuman animals experience at the hands of humans. Many are aware of the shocking realities of factory farming, or have seen terrible videos and images of animals being neglected, abused, subjected to violent and traumatic experiments, exploited for entertainment, or killed systematically in slaughterhouse lines. But what is even more neglected, and even greater in scale, is the suffering of animals in the wild.
    • Tobias Baumann, "Mission", Wild-Animal Suffering Research, 2016
  • It can be easy for us to overlook the fact that the overwhelming majority of sentient beings on earth are wild animals, but if we are serious about including all sentient beings in our circle of compassion, we cannot ignore them. Because of the enormous scale and neglectedness of wild-animal suffering, and the tractability of research that could lay the groundwork for future intervention, we consider research on wild-animal suffering a top priority.
    • Tobias Baumann, "Mission", Wild-Animal Suffering Research, 2016
  • [J]ust a smidgen of biological insight makes it clear that, although the natural world can be marvelous, it is also filled with ethical horrors: predation, parasitism, fratricide, infanticide, disease, pain, old age and death — and that suffering (like joy) is built into the nature of things. The more we know of evolution, the more unavoidable is the conclusion that living things, including human beings, are produced by a natural, totally amoral process, with no indication of a benevolent, controlling creator.
  • What are we to make of a creation in which the routine activity is for organisms to be tearing others apart with teeth of all types—biting, grinding flesh, plant stalks, bones between molars, pushing the pulp greedily down the gullet with delight, incorporating its essence into one's own organization, and then excreting with foul stench and gasses the residue. Everyone reaching out to incorporate others who are edible to him. The mosquitoes bloating themselves on blood, the maggots, the killer-bees attacking with a fury and a demonism, sharks continuing to tear and swallow while their own innards are being torn out—not to mention the daily dismemberment and slaughter in "natural" accidents of all types: an earthquake buries alive 70 thousand bodies in Peru, automobiles make a pyramid heap of over 50 thousand a year in the U.S. alone, a tidal wave washes over a quarter of a million in the Indian Ocean. Creation is a nightmare spectacular taking place on a planet that has been soaked for hundreds of millions of years in the blood of all its creatures. The soberest conclusion that we could make about what has actually been taking place on the planet for about three billion years is that it is being turned into a vast pit of fertilizer. But the sun distracts our attention, always baking the blood dry, making things grow over it, and with its warmth giving the hope that comes with the organism's comfort and expansiveness.
  • Existence, for all organismic life, is a constant struggle to feed-a struggle to incorporate whatever other organisms they can fit into their mouths and press down their gullets without choking. Seen in these stark terms, life on this planet is a gory spectacle, a science-fiction nightmare in which digestive tracts fitted with teeth at one end are tearing away at whatever flesh they can reach, and at the other end are piling up the fuming waste excrement as they move along in search of more flesh.
  • Many humans look at nature from an aesthetic perspective and think in terms of biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, but forget that the animals that inhabit these ecosystems are individuals and have their own needs. Disease, starvation, predation, ostracism, and sexual frustration are endemic in so-called healthy ecosystems. The great taboo in the animal rights movement is that most suffering is due to natural causes. Any proposal for remedying this situation is bound to sound utopian, but my dream is that one day the sun will rise on Earth and all sentient creatures will greet the new day with joy.
  • Had Mother Nature been a real parent, she would have been in jail for child abuse and murder.
  • Tennyson nailed it. We trust that God is love. But we also believe that God is the creator of the nature, and nature simply does not seem to point to a God of love. Parasites, viruses, bacteria, diseases and cancer kill millions and torment millions more, humans and animals alike. Earthquakes, hurricanes, tsunamis, mudslides and volcanoes do the same. And the animal kingdom is, as Tennyson said, red in tooth in claw. (So is the human kingdom for that matter). The creation looks almost as much like it was created by a cosmic predator (I Pet 5:8) as it does like it was created by an all loving, peaceful, benevolent Creator. There seems to be a "Lucifer Principle" at work in the world, as Howard Bloom noted. "Nature does not abhor evil," he says. "[S]he embraces it." (The Lucifer Principle).
  • "Natural? Why would I give a damn about what's natural? Nature is a butcher! Nature is a goddamned butcher!" [...] This was a recurring theme with my mother. She loved the beauty of nature, loved animals of any species, but always she saw ugliness behind the beauty. Every bird at our backyard feeder would remind her of how many chicks and fledglings died for each bird that survived to maturity. Every image of wildlife on television or the web would bring to her mind the bloody, rapacious cycle of predator and prey. The boundless, uncaring wastefulness of nature infuriated her. All through my childhood our home was an impromptu hospital, rehabilitation clinic, and long-term rest home for a host of rescued wild and domesticated animals. Orphaned fledgling birds and baby squirrels, starving semi-feral alley cats, and then the mice and birds rescued from the jaws of those same cats.
  • And then came the capstone on the AIs' new world: Reports from forests, jungles, and wildlife reserves began to show that it wasn't just humans who were prohibited from harming animals. One early video showed a pride of lions stealthily closing in on a mother zebra and her foal. Then there was a series of flashes and crackles, and predator and prey darted off in opposite directions. That same afternoon, a drone on caterpillar treads was seen dropping off a load of realistic-looking but undoubtedly synthetic meat upwind of the lions. The lions ate well that night, and the zebra mother and her foal lived to see another sunrise. A thousand confirmations eventually followed, and soon after it was reported that the birthrate of all prey animals had dropped precipitously. The new rulers of the Earth weren't content to simply take a hand in the affairs of humans; they'd decided that nature itself needed some straightening out. So no longer would a mother zebra need to birth and rear ten or twenty offspring so that one or two might live to reproductive age. No longer would nature be so profligate with lives, so red in tooth and claw. That bit about God's eye being on the sparrow would no longer be a cruel joke at the sparrow's expense as its life ended in agony and terror, with torn flesh and crushed bones. Now, in the remade world, that sparrow could look forward to a long and carefree life, a dignified old age, and a quiet death in its little sparrow bed, the whole of its time on Earth innocent of pain and fear.
    Many humans look at nature from an aesthetic perspective and think in terms of biodiversity and the health of ecosystems, but forget that the animals that inhabit these ecosystems are individuals and have their own needs. ~ Nick Bostrom
  • Among these, animals are classified as the one of the three (or four) unfortunate rebirth destinies [...] The category of animals includes both land and sea creatures, as well as insects. The specific kinds of suffering that animals undergo are frequently mentioned in Buddhist texts; these include the constant need to search for their own food while always seeking to avoid becoming food for others. [...] The possibility of achieving rebirth out of the realm of animals is said to be particularly difficult because of either the inevitable killing in which predators engage or because of animals' constant fear of becoming prey; neither mental state is conducive to higher rebirth.
  • It seems to me that many theories of the universe may be dismissed at once, not as too good, but as too cosy, to be true. One feels sure that they could have arisen only among people living a peculiarly sheltered life at a peculiarly favourable period of the world's history. No theory need be seriously considered unless it recognises that the world has always been for most [humans] and all animals other than domestic pets a scene of desperate struggle in which great evils are suffered and inflicted.
    • C. D. Broad, Examination of McTaggart's Philosophy, Vol. 2 (1938) p. 774


  • More seriously still, the value commitments of the humane movement seem at bottom to betray a world-denying or rather a life-Ioathing philosophy. The natural world as actually constituted is one in which one being lives at the expense of others. Each organism, in Darwin's metaphor, struggles to maintain its own organic integrity. The more complex animals seem to experience Gudging from our own case, and reasoning from analogy appropriate and adaptive psychological accompaniments to organic existence. There is a palpable passion for self-preservation. There are desire, pleasure in the satisfaction of desires, acute agony attending injury, frustration, and chronic dread of death. But these experiences are the psychological substance of living. To live is to be anxious about life, to feel pain and pleasure in a fitting mixture, and sooner or later to die. That is the way the system works. If nature as a whole is good, then pain and death are also good.
  • It is often assumed that wild animals live in a kind of natural paradise and that it is only the appearance and intervention of human agencies that bring about suffering. This essentially Rousseauian view is at odds with the wealth of informatio n derived from field studies of animal populations. Scarcity of food and water, predation, disease and intraspecific aggression are some of the factors which have been identified as normal parts of a wild environment which cause suffering in wild animals on a regular basis.
  • Utility, rights, and holistic standards all point toward some modest steps to limit or check the predatory activity of carnivores relative to their victims. At the very least, we should limit current subsidies to nature's carnivores. Policing nature need not be absurdly costly or violate common-sense intuitions.
  • Many believers in animal rights and the relevance of animal welfare do not critically examine their basic assumptions [...] [T]ypically these individuals hold two conflicting views. The first view is that animal welfare counts, and that people should treat animals as decently as possible. The second view is a presumption of human non-interference with nature, as much as possible [...] [T]he two views are less compatible than is commonly supposed. If we care about the welfare and rights of individual animals, we may be led to interfere with nature whenever the costs of doing so are sufficiently low.
  • In other cases we are interfering with nature, whether we like it or not. It is not a question of uncertainty holding us back from policing, but rather how to compare one form of policing to another. Humans change water levels, fertilize particular soils, influence climatic conditions, and do many other things that affect the balance of power in nature. These human activities will not go away any time soon, but in the meantime we need to evaluate their effects on carnivores and their victims.


  • Observe, too, says Philo, the curious artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. ~ David Hume
    Whichever way man may look upon the earth, he is oppressed with the suffering incident to life. It would almost seem as though the earth had been created with malignity and hatred. If we look at what we are pleased to call the lower animals, we behold a universal carnage. We speak of the seemingly peaceful woods, but we need only look beneath the surface to be horrified by the misery of that underworld. Hidden in the grass and watching for its prey is the crawling snake which swiftly darts upon the toad or mouse and gradually swallows it alive; the hapless animal is crushed by the jaws and covered with slime, to be slowly digested in furnishing a meal. The snake knows nothing about sin or pain inflicted upon another; he automatically grabs insects and mice and frogs to preserve his life. The spider carefully weaves his web to catch the unwary fly, winds him into the fatal net until paralyzed and helpless, then drinks his blood and leaves him an empty shell. The hawk swoops down and snatches a chicken and carries it to its nest to feed its young. The wolf pounces on the lamb and tears it to shreds. The cat watches at the hole of the mouse until the mouse cautiously comes out, then with seeming fiendish glee he plays with it until tired of the game, then crunches it to death in his jaws. The beasts of the jungle roam by day and night to find their prey; the lion is endowed with strength of limb and fang to destroy and devour almost any animal that it can surprise or overtake. There is no place in the woods or air or sea where all life is not a carnage of death in terror and agony. Each animal is a hunter, and in turn is hunted, by day and night. No landscape is so beautiful or day so balmy but the cry of suffering and sacrifice rends the air. When night settles down over the earth the slaughter is not abated. Some creatures see best at night, and the outcry of the dying and terrified is always on the wind. Almost all animals meet death by violence and through the most agonizing pain. With the whole animal creation there is nothing like a peaceful death. Nowhere in nature is there the slightest evidence of kindness, of consideration, or a feeling for the suffering and the weak, except in the narrow circle of brief family life.
  • I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidæ with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of Caterpillars, or that a cat should play with mice.
  • That there is much suffering in the world no one disputes. Some have attempted to explain this in reference to man by imagining that it serves for his moral improvement. But the number of men in the world is as nothing compared with that of all other sentient beings, and these often suffer greatly without any moral improvement. A being so powerful and so full of knowledge as a God who could create the universe, is to our finite minds omnipotent and omniscient, and it revolts our understanding to suppose that his benevolence is not unbounded, for what advantage can there be in the sufferings of millions of the lower animals throughout almost endless time?
  • The wolf, escorted by his milk-drawn dam,
    Unknown to mercy, tears the guiltless lamb;
    The towering eagle, darting from above,
    Unfeeling rends the inoffensive dove;
    The lamb and dove on living nature feed,
    Crop the young herb, or crush the embryon seed.
    Nor spares the loud owl in her dusky flight,
    Smit with sweet notes, the minstrel of the night;
    Nor spares, enamour'd of his radiant form,
    The hungry nightingale the glowing worm;
    Who with bright lamp alarms the midnight hour,
    Climbs the green stem, and slays the sleeping flower.
  • Fell Oestrus buries in her rapid course
    Her countless brood in stag, or bull, or horse;
    Whose hungry larva eats its living way,
    Hatch'd by the warmth, and issues into day.
  • Arrest with rising jaw the tribes above;
    With monstrous gape sepulchral whales devour
    Shoals at a gulp, a million in an hour.
    ―Air, earth, and ocean, to astonish'd day
    One scene of blood, one mighty tomb display!
    From Hunger's arm the shafts of Death are hurl'd,
    And one great Slaughter-house the warring world!
  • Various intuitions prevent people from taking wild-animal suffering as seriously as it deserves, including status-quo bias, just-world hypothesis, and lack of intentional harm. Fortunately, most progressive movements have successfully overcome deep-seated bias, so hope remains for the wild-animal movement.
  • Wild animals almost never die of old age: starvation, disease, or predators catch up with them long before they become really senile. Until recently this was true of man too. Most animals die in childhood, many never get beyond the egg stage. Starvation and other causes of death are the ultimate reason why populations cannot increase indefinitely. But as we have seen for our own species, there is no necessary reason why it ever has to come to that. If only animals would control their birth rates, starvation need never happen.
  • One simple test of the claim that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain [...] is to compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of the animal being devoured. ~ Arthur Schopenhauer
    It is better for the genes of Darwin's wasp that the caterpillar should be alive, and therefore fresh, when it is eaten, no matter what the cost in suffering. If Nature were kind, She would at least make the minor concession of anesthetizing caterpillars before they were eaten alive from within. But Nature is neither kind nor unkind. She is neither against suffering nor for it. Nature is not interested in suffering one way or the other unless it affects the survival of DNA. It is easy to imagine a gene that, say, tranquilizes gazelles when they are about to suffer a killing bite. Would such a gene be favored by natural selection? Not unless the act of tranquilizing a gazelle improved that gene's chances of being propagated into future generations. It is hard to see why this should be so, and we may therefore guess that gazelles suffer horrible pain and fear when they are pursued to the death– as many of them eventually are.
  • The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored.
  • I think of the fox that Park Service Ranger Gene Parker told me about. The fox sprawled naked and pink-skinned in a mountain field, unable to rise, dying of mange. I think of the swimming bluegill I saw at the Lawsons', upstream in Tinker Creek on the other side of Tinker Mountain. One of its eyes was blinded by an overgrowth of white water mold, a white that spread halfway down its back in filmy lumps like soaked cotton batting. It had been injured, perhaps when a fisherman had hooked it and tossed it back, perhaps when a flood dashed it on rocks, and the fungus had spread from the injured site. I think of Loren Eiseley's description of a scientist he met in the field, who was gleefully bearing a bloody jar squirming with yard after yard of some unthinkable parasite he had just found in the belly of a rabbit. Suddenly the lives of the parasites—some sort of hellish hagiography—come to mind. I remember the bloodworms and flukes, whose parasitic life cycles require the living bodies of as many as four hosts. How many of the grasshoppers that hurtled around me in the Lucas meadow bore inside their guts the immense coiled larvae of horsehair worms?



  • [I]t is clear you have either never taken a course in ecology and evolution, or forgot the message. There is this strange thing called a food web – in which organisms are primary producers, eat primary producers, eat the eaters of primary producers – and so on. That is called life. It has NO ethical or moral values. Those are HUMAN values. A wolf or lion kills another animal – the pain and suffering are not ecological issues – the life of the wolf or lion is the issue. If the wolf or lion dies of starvation – then the prey potentially become over populated – like the deer in Princeton. Your values are not the values of nature.
  • Indeed the amount of suffering and premature death present in nature could still be glimpsed were we only to consider the tiny number of animals that successfully reach maturity in comparison to those who die shortly after coming into existence. Population dynamics shows how this figure is very low because of the prevalent reproductive strategy in nature, which consists in producing very large numbers of offspring who have very little chance of survival.


  • We now know that the whole of organic nature on our planet exists only by a relentless war of all against all. Thousands of animals and plants must daily perish in every part of the earth, in order that a few chosen individuals may continue to subsist and to enjoy life. But even the existence of these favoured few is a continual conflict with threatening dangers of every kind. Thousands of hopeful germs perish uselessly every minute. The raging war of interests in human society is only a feeble picture of the unceasing and terrible war of existence which reigns throughout the whole of the living world. The beautiful dream of God's goodness and wisdom in nature, to which as children we listened so devoutly fifty years ago, no longer finds credit now – at least among educated people who think.
  • It is commonly believed that animal ethics entails respect for natural processes, because nonhuman animals are able to live relatively easy and happy lives in the wild. However, this assumption is wrong. ~ Oscar Horta
    All species reproduce in excess, way past the carrying capacity of their niche. In her lifetime a lioness might have 20 cubs; a pigeon, 150 chicks; a mouse, 1,000 kits; a trout, 20,000 fry, a tuna or cod, a million fry or more; an elm tree, several million seeds; and an oyster, perhaps a hundred million spat. If one assumes that the population of each of these species is, from generation to generation, roughly equal, then on the average only one offspring will survive to replace each parent. All the other thousands and millions will die, one way or another.
    • Fred Hapgood, Why Males Exist: An Inquiry Into the Evolution of Sex (1979) pp. 44–45 ISBN 978-0688035464
  • The jungle, existing exclusively in the present, is certainly subject to time, but remains forever ageless. Any concept of justice would be antithetical to all this. But is there justice in the desert, either? Or in the oceans? And in the depths? Life in the sea must be pure hell, an infinite hell of constant and ever-present danger, so unbearable that in the course of evolution some species – including Homo Sapiens – crawled, fled, onto some clods of firm land, the future continents.
  • Nature here is vile and base. I wouldn't see anything erotical here. I would see fornication and asphyxiation and choking and fighting for survival and growing and just rotting away. Of course, there's a lot of misery. But it is the same misery that is all around us. The trees here are in misery, and the birds are in misery. I don't think they sing, they just screech in pain.
  • And what haunts me, is that in all the faces of all the bears that Treadwell ever filmed, I discover no kinship, no understanding, no mercy. I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food.
  • At first sight, domesticated animals may seem much better off than their wild cousins and ancestors. Wild buffaloes spend their days searching for food, water and shelter, and are constantly threatened by lions, parasites, floods and droughts. Domesticated cattle, by contrast, enjoy care and protection from humans. People provide cows and calves with food, water and shelter, they treat their diseases, and protect them from predators and natural disasters. True, most cows and calves sooner or later find themselves in the slaughterhouse. Yet does that make their fate any worse than that of wild buffaloes? Is it better to be devoured by a lion than slaughtered by a man? Are crocodile teeth kinder than steel blades?
  • Nature is babies with teeth growing up into their skulls. It's animals with open wounds rotting over without treatment. It's swollen feet and hunger and painful, infectious blindness. I see a healthy-looking animal getting ripped open and eaten alive by a predator, and while I flinch, I honestly think "Wow, it looked healthy - it was really lucky that only those last 30 minutes were intensely painful."
  • It is commonly believed that animal ethics entails respect for natural processes, because nonhuman animals are able to live relatively easy and happy lives in the wild. However, this assumption is wrong. Due to the most widespread reproductive strategy in nature, r-selection, the overwhelming majority of nonhuman animals die shortly after they come into existence. They starve or are eaten alive, which means their suffering vastly outweighs their happiness. Hence, concern for nonhuman animals entails that we should try to intervene in nature to reduce the enormous amount of harm they suffer. Even if this conclusion may seem extremely counter-intuitive at first, it can only be rejected from a speciesist viewpoint.
  • Then, I claim that if we abandon a speciesist viewpoint we should change completely the way in which we should intervene in nature. Rather than intervening for environmental or anthropocentric reasons, we should do it in order to reduce the harms that nonhuman animals suffer. This conflicts significantly with some fundamental environmental ideals whose defence is not compatible with the consideration of the interests of nonhuman animals.
  • What happens to all the other animals that come into existence? They die, often shortly after they start to be sentient. They starve, are killed by other animals or in other painful ways, and, because they die so soon, they do not have the chance to have many other experiences apart from the suffering of their death. This means that they may never have any positive experiences at all, or just have very few ones. Other animals may be able to survive a bit longer and have some more positive experiences, yet not enough to outweigh the suffering they endure because of the hardships of their existence which eventually lead them to their death. These animals experience more suffering than well-being in their lives.
  • Many people think we shouldn't worry about this. Some people hold speciesist views according to which we should only care about what happens to human beings. Others hold environmentalist positions that entail that we should just care about the conservation of ecosystems or species and disregard the interests of individual nonhuman animals. According to those holding these views, nonhuman animals can be sacrificed for the sake of environmental conservation (though, interestingly, they seldom maintain this view when human beings are affected). However, if we agree that the interests of all sentient animals must be taken into account we should reject these anthropocentric and environmentalist views as speciesist.
  • Similarly, some people have argued that the harms suffered by animals in the wild (e.g. disease, starvation and predation) should not concern us because they are natural. This sounds like a speciesist claim, given that such a view is rarely held when humans suffer those harms. Also, it seems that if the animals themselves could have a say on this, they would clearly prefer to be spared those harms, as we would in their situation.
  • This means that the number of animals that come into existence only to die shortly after is extremely high. On average, if we consider a context in which populations remain stable at least in the mid term, for each animal that reproduces, only one of her or his offspring survives (otherwise animal populations would grow exponentially very fast, and would become massive with just one generation). This means that all the rest of the animals die. Many of them die shortly after coming into existence. These animals starve to death, are eaten by other animals, or die for other reasons that usually entail a great deal of suffering. This means that an enormous number of animals come into existence only to suffer. Their lives contain virtually no enjoyment, since they die shortly after they start to exist. However, their lives do contain significant suffering, because of the painful ways in which they die. They thus live lives in which disvalue outweighs value. Living their lives causes them more harm than good. In fact, in many cases it causes them great harm and no good at all.
  • But [the human treatment of nonhuman animals is] nothing compared to the suffering doled out by Nature. It boggles the mind to consider the billions upon billions of animals stalked and killed or eaten alive by predators or who died slowly and painfully, decimated by disease, famine, or drought.
    So it is that we must face a sobering fact: the history of our planet is a history stuffed with undeserved, horrific evil and suffering.
  • Observe, too, says Philo, the curious artifices of nature, in order to embitter the life of every living being. The stronger prey upon the weaker, and keep them in perpetual terror and anxiety. The weaker too, in their turn, often prey upon the stronger, and vex and molest them without relaxation. Consider that innumerable race of insects, which either are bred on the body of each animal, or flying about infix their stings in him. These insects have others still less than themselves, which torment them. And thus on each hand, before and behind, above and below, every animal is surrounded with enemies, which incessantly seek his misery and destruction.
  • Look round this universe. What an immense profusion of beings, animated and organised, sensible and active! You admire this prodigious variety and fecundity. But inspect a little more narrowly these living existences, the only beings worth regarding. How hostile and destructive to each other! How insufficient all of them for their own happiness! How contemptible or odious to the spectator! The whole presents nothing but the idea of a blind Nature, impregnated by a great vivifying principle, and pouring forth from her lap, without discernment or parental care, her maimed and abortive children!
  • The first circumstance which introduces evil, is that contrivance or economy of the animal creation, by which pains, as well as pleasures, are employed to excite all creatures to action, and make them vigilant in the great work of self-preservation. Now pleasure alone, in its various degrees, seems to human understanding sufficient for this purpose. All animals might be constantly in a state of enjoyment: but when urged by any of the necessities of nature, such as thirst, hunger, weariness; instead of pain, they might feel a diminution of pleasure, by which they might be prompted to seek that object which is necessary to their subsistence. Men pursue pleasure as eagerly as they avoid pain; at least they might have been so constituted. It seems, therefore, plainly possible to carry on the business of life without any pain. Why then is any animal ever rendered susceptible of such a sensation? If animals can be free from it an hour, they might enjoy a perpetual exemption from it; and it required as particular a contrivance of their organs to produce that feeling, as to endow them with sight, hearing, or any of the senses. Shall we conjecture, that such a contrivance was necessary, without any appearance of reason? and shall we build on that conjecture as on the most certain truth?
  • Natural selection, in fact, though like the mills of God in grinding slowly and grinding small, has few other attributes that a civilized religion would call Divine. It is efficient in its way—at the price of extreme slowness and extreme cruelty. But it is blind and mechanical; and accordingly its products are just as likely to be aesthetically, morally, or intellectually repulsive to us as they are to be attractive. We need only think of the ugliness of Sacculina or a bladder-worm, the stupidity of a rhinoceros or a stegosaur, the horror of a female mantis devouring its mate or a brood of ichneumon flies slowly eating out a caterpillar.
  • From the point of view of the moralist the animal world is on about the same level as a gladiator's show. The creatures are fairly well treated, and set to fight–whereby the strongest, the swiftest, and the cunningest live to fight another day. The spectator has no need to turn his thumbs down, as no quarter is given. He must admit that the skill and training displayed are wonderful. But he must shut his eyes if he would not see that more or less enduring suffering is the meed of both vanquished and victor. And since the great game is going on in every corner of the world, thousands of times a minute; since, were our ears sharp enough, we need not descend to the gates of hell to hear [sighs and groans of pain like those heard by Dante]


  • Though a small proportion manage to lead successful lives, [Animal Rights] theorists cannot restrict their concern to successful r-strategists. Any sentient being is morally significant from an [Animal Rights] perspective, and thus all sentient individuals born into r-strategist species must be taken into account when determining whether r-strategists are flourishing. And the facts about r-strategists' life histories suggest that they aren't [...] most r-strategists die very painful deaths, e.g., starvation, exposure, and being eaten by predators [...] most of them die minutes, days, or weeks after birth, and thus do not have the opportunity to experience the enjoyment associated with reaching a stage in life where one has learned to competently manage and be comfortable in one's environment [...] these facts suggest that, at best, most r-strategists fail to live flourishing lives. At worst, they suggest that most r-strategists experience more suffering than enjoyment in their lives: that they do not even have lives worth living. Furthermore, since one of the defining characteristics of r-strategist species is that they produce far greater numbers of offspring than K-strategist species, it seems that we're left with an even more depressing conclusion: at best, most wild animals born into the world fail to flourish, and at worst, most do not have lives worth living.


  • A while ago I watched a wildlife documentary about Komodo dragons poisoning, tracking for a week or so, and then, finally, when their victim became too weak to defend itself, disembowelling and eating alive, a water buffalo. The cameraman said this had been his first ever wildlife assignment, and it would probably also be his last, because he couldn't cope with the depth of suffering he had been forced to witness. That was just one poor creature. Each day, millions of animals are similarly forced to tear each other limb from limb to survive. And this has been going on for hundreds of millions of years. This is, in many ways, a beautiful world. But it's also a staggeringly cruel and horrific world for very many of its inhabitants.
  • So flees the squirrel from the rattlesnake, and runs in its haste deliberately into the mouth of its tormentor. I am [Nature] that from which thou fleest.
  • I also naturally come to the conclusion that you are the avowed enemy of men, and all other creatures of your creation. Sometimes alluring, at other times menacing; now attacking, now striking, now pursuing, now destroying; you are always engaged in tormenting us. Either by habit or necessity you are the enemy of your own family, and the executioner of your own flesh and blood.
  • Thus I reply to you. I am well aware you did not make the world for the service of men. It were easier to believe that you made it expressly as a place of torment for them. But tell me: why am I here at all? Did I ask to come into the world? Or am I here unnaturally, contrary to your will? If however, you yourself have placed me here, without giving me the power of acceptance or refusal of this gift of life, ought you not as far as possible to try and make me happy, or at least preserve me from the evils and dangers, which render my sojourn a painful one? And what I say of myself, I say of the whole human race, and of every living creature.
  • So say all the philosophers. But since that which is destroyed suffers, and that which is born from its destruction also suffers in due course, and finally is in its turn destroyed, would you enlighten me on one point, about which hitherto no philosopher has satisfied me? For whose pleasure and service is this wretched life of the world maintained, by the suffering and death of all the beings which compose it?
  • Whilst they discussed these and similar questions, two lions are said to have suddenly appeared. The beasts were so enfeebled and emaciated with hunger that they were scarcely able to devour the Icelander. They accomplished the feat however, and thus gained sufficient strength to live to the end of the day.
  • It seems as though death were the essential aim of all things. That which has no existence cannot die; yet all that exists has proceeded from nothing. The final cause of existence is not happiness, for nothing is happy. It is true, living creatures seek this end in all their works, but none obtain it; and during all their life, ever deceiving, tormenting, and exerting themselves, they suffer indeed for no other purpose than to die.


  • In the immense sphere of living things, the obvious rule is violence, a kind of inevitable frenzy which arms all things in mutua funera. Once you leave the world of insensible substances, you find the decree of violent death written on the very frontiers of life. Even in the vegetable kingdom, this law can be perceived: from the huge catalpa to the smallest of grasses, how many plants die and how many are killed! But once you enter the animal kingdom, the law suddenly becomes frighteningly obvious. A power at once hidden and palpable appears constantly occupied in bringing to light the principle of life by violent means. In each great division of the animal world, it has chosen a certain number of animals charged with devouring the others; so there are insects of prey, reptiles of prey, birds of prey, fish of prey, and quadrupeds of prey. There is not an instant of time when some living creature is not devoured by another [...] Thus is worked out, from maggots up to man, the universal law of the violent destruction of living beings. The whole earth, continually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death.
  • A strong duty to relieve suffering that does not discriminate between species would require radical changes in the ways that we relate to other animals. It would, for example, require an end to the practice of factory farming, in which billions of animals are annually subjected to extreme suffering in order to supply humans with meat and other products at the lowest possible cost. It would also raise difficult questions about the practice of experimenting on animals to obtain medical benefits for humans. These cases, much discussed in the literature on animal ethics, involve suffering that is inflicted by human beings. But a species-blind duty to relieve suffering would also make it a prima facie requirement to save animals from suffering brought upon them by natural conditions and other animals.
  • The lioness sinks her scimitar talons into the zebra's rump. They rip through the tough hide and anchor deep into the muscle. The startled animal lets out a loud bellow as its body hits the ground. An instant later the lioness releases her claws from its buttocks and sinks her teeth into the zebra's throat, choking off the sound of terror. Her canine teeth are long and sharp, but an animal as large as a zebra has a massive neck, with a thick layer of muscle beneath the skin, so although the teeth puncture the hide they are too short to reach any major blood vessels. She must therefore kill the zebra by asphyxiation, clamping her powerful jaws around its trachea (windpipe), cutting off the air to its lungs. It is a slow death. If this had been a small animal, say a Thomson's gazelle (Gazella thomsoni) the size of a large dog, she would have bitten it through the nape of the neck; her canine teeth would then have probably crushed the vertebrae or the base of the skull, causing instant death. As it is, the zebra's death throes will last five or six minutes.
    • Christopher McGowan, The Raptor and the Lamb: Predators and Prey in the Living World (1997) ISBN 978-0788198014
  • The suffering that animals undergo while being caught and eaten may be intense and the process by which they are killed may last for a quarter of an hour or more. Because the number of predators worldwide is enormous, and because, like us, many of them must eat with considerable frequency, the aggregate amount of suffering in the world at any time that is caused by predation is unimaginably vast.
  • Viewed from a distance, the natural world often presents a vista of sublime, majestic placidity. Yet beneath the foliage and hidden from the distant eye, a vast, unceasing slaughter rages. Wherever there is animal life, predators are stalking, chasing, capturing, killing, and devouring their prey. Agonized suffering and violent death are ubiquitous and continuous.
  • Suppose that we could arrange the gradual extinction of carnivorous species, replacing them with new herbivorous ones. Or suppose that we could intervene genetically, so that currently carnivorous species would gradually evolve into herbivorous ones, thereby fulfilling Isaiah's prophecy. If we could bring about the end of predation by one or the other of these means at little cost to ourselves, ought we to do it?
  • [I]f suffering is bad for animals when we cause it, it is also bad for them when other animals cause it. That suffering is bad for those who experience it is not a human prejudice; nor is an effort to prevent wild animals from suffering a moralistic attempt to police the behavior of other animals. Even if we are not morally required to prevent suffering among animals in the wild for which we are not responsible, we do have a moral reason to prevent it, just as we have a general moral reason to prevent suffering among human beings that is independent both of the cause of the suffering and of our relation to the victims. The main constraint on the permissibility of acting on our reason to prevent suffering is that our action should not cause bad effects that would be worse than those we could prevent.
  • It seems, moreover, that my argument has some relevance to choices we must make even now. There are some species of large predatory animals, such as the Siberian tiger, that are currently on the verge of extinction. If we do nothing to preserve it, the Siberian tiger as a species may soon become extinct. The number of extant Siberian tigers has been low for a considerable period. Any ecological disruption occasioned by their dwindling numbers has largely already occurred or is already occurring. If their number in the wild declines from several hundred to zero, the impact of their disappearance on the ecology of the region will be almost negligible. Suppose, however, that we could repopulate their former wide-ranging habitat with as many Siberian tigers as there were during the period in which they flourished in their greatest numbers, and that that population could be sustained indefinitely. That would mean that herbivorous animals in the extensive repopulated area would again, and for the indefinite future, live in fear and that an incalculable number would die in terror and agony while being devoured by a tiger. In a case such as this, we may actually face the kind of dilemma I called attention to in my article, in which there is a conflict between the value of preserving existing species and the value of preventing suffering and early death for an enormously large number of animals.
  • [T]here are problems with using any of these definitions of biodiversity as a proxy for animal welfare. Biodiversity is essentially a measure of variety, even if different definitions of biodiversity involve different types of variety. Variety is not the same thing as flourishing. Among humans, this is very clearly true: I can work in a very diverse department (in terms of nationality, gender, philosophical style, etc.) where everyone is miserable. We see the same thing among nonhumans. A region with high biodiversity is full of lots of different kinds of individuals. They might be suffering; their lives might be barely worth living. But if they are alive, they count positively toward biodiversity. The only time welfare will affect biodiversity at all is when it affects either reproduction or mortality to such an extent that the relevant kind of variability in the population is diminished—for example, when a species goes extinct. However, significant effects on welfare happen to species members long before their species goes extinct. To care about biodiversity, then, is to care about the existence or presence of the kinds, not about the welfare of the individuals belonging to those kinds.
  • In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature's every day performances. [...] The phrases which ascribe perfection to the course of nature can only be considered as the exaggerations of poetic or devotional feeling, not intended to stand the test of a sober examination. No one, either religious or irreligious, believes that the hurtful agencies of nature, considered as a whole, promote good purposes, in any other way than by inciting human rational creatures to rise up and struggle against them.
  • If there are any marks at all of special design in creation, one of the things most evidently designed is that a large proportion of all animals should pass their existence in tormenting and devouring other animals. They have been lavishly fitted out with the instruments necessary for that purpose; their strongest instincts impel them to it, and many of them seem to have been constructed incapable of supporting themselves by any other food. If a tenth part of the pains which have been expended in finding benevolent adaptations in all nature, had been employed in collecting evidence: to blacken the character of the Creator, what scope for comment would not have been found in the entire existence of the lower animals, divided, with scarcely an exception, into devourers and devoured, and a prey to a thousand ills from which they are denied the faculties necessary for protecting themselves! If were not obliged to believe the animal creation to be the work of a demon, it is because we need not suppose it to have been made by a Being of infinite power. But if imitation of the Creator's will as revealed in nature, were applied as a rule of action in this case, the most atrocious enormities of the worst men would be more than justified by the apparent intention of Providence that throughout all animated nature the strong should prey upon the weak.
  • The suggestion that we should take wild animal suffering seriously as an ethical issue runs contrary to many of our most powerful biases. It concerns animals for which we, instinctively, feel very little sympathy, and whose suffering we humans did not cause and thus do not feel obliged to help alleviate. The suffering is also far removed from our daily lives and it exists on a scale of magnitude so large that it is hard for us to grasp it. Finally, wild animal suffering challenges a romantic view of nature, which is deeply held by many, and since all large-scale solutions lie far in the future, it is easy for us simply to disregard it.
  • One way to increase the chances that the suffering of wild animals will be taken into account in research and development is to challenge the biases and assumptions that make it so difficult for us to address it. Most important, perhaps, is the pre-Darwinian fiction that life in nature is harmonious, and that without human intervention, all is fine and good. The truth is quite the opposite. If we imagined that from now on, animals started emitting a red light every time they suffered, then from space, Earth would no longer be a blue planet, but a red and glowing one.
  • All over the non-human world, with few exceptions, each being seeks the satisfaction of his own desires, if not with positive disregard for the happiness and misery of the rest of the universe, at least with sincere unconcern. There is no courtesy, sympathy, or amenity there—a cold, heartless, implacable world of strangers.
  • The chief activities of beings, both human and non-human, are put forth, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of procuring food. The suppression, entire or partial, of one being by another for nutritive purposes is, therefore, the form of the most frequent and excessive egoism. The lowly forms of life—the worms, echinoderms, mollusks, and the like—are, for the most part, vegetarians. So, also, are prevalently the insects, birds, rodents, and ungulates. These creatures are not, as a rule, aggressively harmful to each other, chiefly indifferent. But upon these inoffensive races feed with remorseless maw the reptilia, the insectivora, and the carnivora. These being-eaters cause to the earth-world its bloodiest experiences. It is their nature (established organically by long selection, or, as in the case of man, acquired tentatively) to subsist, not on the kingdom of the plant, the natural and primal storehouse of animal energy, but on the skeletons and sensibilities of their neighbors and friends. The serpent dines on the sparrow and the sparrow ingulfs the gnat; the tiger slays the jungle-fowl and the coyote plunders the lamb; the seal subsists on fish and the ursus maritimus subsists on seal; the ant enslaves the aphidae and man eats and enslaves what can not get away from him. Life riots on life—tooth and talon, beak and paw. It is a sickening contemplation, But life everywhere, in its aspect of activity, is largely made up of the struggle by one being against another for existence—of the effort by one being to circumvent, subjugate, or destroy another, and of the counter effort to reciprocate or escape.
  • Hardships have come. They have come from the inanimate universe in the form of floods, fires, frosts, accidents, diseases, droughts, storms, and the like; from other species, who were competitors or enemies; and from unbrotherly members of the same species. Some have survived, but the great majority have perished. Only a fraction, and generally an appallingly small fraction, of each generation of a species have lived to maturity.
  • The preponderance of egoism in the natures of living beings is the most mournful and immense fact in the phenomena of conscious life. It has made the world the kind of world it would have been had the gods actually emptied their wrath vials upon it. Brotherhood is anomalous, and, even in its highest manifestations, is but the expression of a veiled and calculating egoism. Inhumanity is everywhere. The whole planet is steeped in it. Every creature faces an inhospitable universeful, and every life is a campaign. It has all come about as a result of the mindless and inhuman manner in which life has been developed on the earth. It has been said that an individual of unlimited faculties and infinite goodness and power made this world and endowed it with ways of acting, and that this individual, as the world's executive, continues to determine its phenomena by inspiring the order of its events. But one cannot help thinking sometimes, when, in his more daring and vivid moments, he comes to comprehend the real character and condition of the world, what a discrepancy exists between the reputation of this builder and his works, and cannot help wondering whether an ordinary human being with only common-sense and insight and an average concern for the welfare of the world would not make a great improvement in terrestrial affairs if he only had the opportunity for a while.
  • There is, in fact, but one great crime in the universe, and most of the instances of terrestrial wrong-doing are instances of this crime. It is the crime of exploitation—the considering by some beings of themselves as ends, and of others as their means—the refusal to recognize the equal, or the approximately equal, rights of all to life and its legitimate rewards—the crime of acting toward others as one would that others would not act toward him. For millions of years, almost ever since life began, this crime has been committed, in every nook and quarter of the inhabited globe.
  • Yes, do as you would be done by—and not to the dark man and the white woman alone, but to the sorrel horse and the gray squirrel as well; not to creatures of your own anatomy only, but to all creatures. You cannot go high enough nor low enough nor far enough to find those whose bowed and broken beings will not rise up at the coming of the kindly heart, or whose souls will not shrink and darken at the touch of inhumanity. Live and let live. Do more. Live and help live. Do to beings below you as you would be done by beings above you. Pity the tortoise, the katydid, the wild-bird, and the ox. Poor, undeveloped, untaught creatures! Into their dim and lowly lives strays of sunshine little enough, though the fell hand of man be never against them. They are our fellow-mortals. They came out of the same mysterious womb of the past, are passing through the same dream, and are destined to the same melancholy end, as we ourselves. Let us be kind and merciful to them.


  • A failure to help that polar bear – or any individual animal in a comparable condition, regardless of our responsibility (direct or indirect) for that suffering – is. Nor can lack of action be defended by some alleged concern for the course of nature ('We must not interfere!') or the gene pool of the species ('Let the weak die!'). Consider someone who would use those same arguments to justify not intervening to help relieve the suffering of particular human beings during a famine or after a tsunami, or someone who would use such arguments to say that we should not give antibiotics to a child with pneumonia. Such an attitude, reminiscent of various Charles Dickens characters, would be rejected out of hand as immoral. If the only morally relevant factor is 'can they suffer?', there is no relevant moral difference when animals suffer pain that we can alleviate.
  • At least one distinguished ecologist, Ivar Mysterud, and a friend of the reindeer, thinks that even if there were an ecologically very innocent way of heavily reducing the population of a certain parasite that causes extreme pain to the reindeer, or of altering its habits, it should nevertheless not be carried out. The reason: it might disturb a relevant ecosystem. We know too little (the docta ignorantia of a field ecologist!). I agree that there is a presumption against it, but I disagree with his conclusion. The very prolonged, cruel sufferings of the reindeer count more. I am for radically reducing the population of the parasite even if it may be wrong according to L. If an ecosystem is dominated by pain-producing parasites, perhaps we might say its "beauty" diminishes? I am somewhat uncertain about how to interpret the term, and also about the possibility that human beings could preserve or enhance beauty by interfering.
  • Every day some animals become weak and ill and enter a process of dying that involves prolonged pain as far as we can judge from their behavior. When wild reindeer smell large carnivores like bears, wolves, or dogs, they run away quickly. Old and tired reindeer find it more and more exhausting to keep up with the others. The same holds of some of the young ones. If they are caught quickly by carnivores, they tend to get a rapid, merciful death and not a slow, "cruel" one. Some reindeer experience the latter. Having been badly attacked by a winged insect (Cephenomyia trompe), they may die very slowly from suffocation from the growing larvae in their noses.
  • I hope no such planet exists, but consider one where slow, painful death from parasitism is universal. How would we talk about nature on such a planet? What kind of book would Thoreau have written there?
  • The parasitology of mammals tells us about parasites that kill or maim in ways that elicit intense alarm, disgust, and great negative feelings in us. Evolution specialists tell us that such parasites are not among the most successful and highly developed ones, which thrive without inflicting intense suffering or death on their hosts.
  • This admission of the imperfection of some parasites does not console their victims, however. The situation is relevant in assessing the adequacy of unconditional positive, sometimes highly emotional utterances about nature. What do human beings do when witnessing animals in what they think is unnecessary and prolonged pain? Those who intensely identify with the victims try to rescue them, provided it is not too late and a practical way is seen. The rescue may involve merciful killing by human hands. Generalized, and made into a policy, rescue attempts would amount to an attempt to reform nature. Not everybody studying the consequences of such a policy will accept it as desirable. Because it is totally out of our reach completely to eliminate prolonged extreme suffering, it is of no practical value to discuss its ethical status, but its existence makes general glorification of nature strange to many of us.
  • In Ecosophy T there is an ultimate norm "Self-realization!" and an ultimate hypothesis "The higher level of self-realization reached by a living being, the more further increase requires others to reach self-realization." In simple words, it is not a question of acceptance of any kind of life but of "live and let live!" Thanks to the capacities of the human brain, full realization of our potentialities—if there is any limit—cannot be anything like an ego trip but must be a joint venture with other beings, both human and nonhuman. The higher the level of realization, the more the realization is a joint venture, a Self-realization without loss of the individuality of each living being. We have sometimes the potentiality of relieving extreme suffering, human and nonhuman—and we make use of that privilege.
  • A likely objection to my proposed long-term attempt to alleviate animal suffering is that it is very risky; the ecological system is too dangerous to tamper with. At our current levels of scientific and technological capabilities, I fully agree with this objection and do not advocate actions in the near future. However, this should not prevent us from aspiring to understanding more and hope to be able to help alleviate animal suffering in the future. Some people may believe that we should never think about tampering with the ecosystem, This may well suit the purpose of our lucky species which appears to enjoy positive welfare. But what if I am right that most other sentient species are suffering enormously? If and when we can confidently reduce their suffering enormously at a small cost and very small risk to ourselves, should we cautiously proceed to help them or should we postpone indefinitely? Analogously, if people in poor countries are suffering enormously from their poverty, and if people in the rich countries can help them develop out of their poverty at a very small risk of aggravating the global environment, should the help be extended? What if you were one of the suffering poor? What if we were one of the suffering species? Let us at least agree that more resources be put into the study of welfare biology.
  • The death of a gazelle after painful torture is just as bad for the gazelle when torture is inflicted by a tiger as when it is done by a human being. That does not mean that death by tiger is as blameworthy; obviously it is not. But it does suggest that we have similar reasons to prevent it, if we can do so without doing greater harms [...] Whatever we say about this difficult case, it shows us once again that the positive/negative distinction cannot be maintained in anything like its classical form. Humans are intervening in animals' lives all the time, and the question can only be what form this intervention should take. An intelligently respectful paternalism is vastly superior to neglect.


  • [F]rom an antispeciesist view, which takes the interests of all sentient animals into account, whether they are human or not, what matters most is how their well-being is affected by our actions and omissions. It follows from this view that we have decisive reasons against performing negative interventions in nature (those with an expected net negative value for nonhuman animals). Similarly, it implies that, whenever it is in our power to do so, and if the intervention is expected to bring about more benefits than harms, we have decisive reasons to intervene in nature with the aim of helping the animals that live there.
  • It is easy to romanticise, say, tigers or lions and cats. We admire their magnificent beauty, strength and agility. But we would regard their notional human counterparts as wanton psychopaths of the worst kind.
  • Much more seriously, in those traditional eco-systems that we chose to retain, millions of non-human animals will continue periodically to starve, die horribly of thirst and disease, or even get eaten alive. This is commonly viewed as "natural" and hence basically OK.
  • If we already lived in a cruelty-free world, the notion of re-introducing suffering, exploitation and creatures eating each other would seem not so much frightful as unimaginable – no more seriously conceivable than reverting to surgery without anaesthesia today.
  • Humans already massively intervene in Nature, whether through habitat destruction, captive breeding programs for big cats, "rewilding", etc. So the question is not whether humans should "interfere", but rather what ethical principles should govern our interventions.
  • The irrationality of the "appeal to Nature" is illustrated by a simple thought-experiment. Imagine, fancifully, if starvation, disease, parasitism, disembowelling, asphyxiation and being eaten alive were not endemic to the living world - or such miseries have already been abolished and replaced by an earthly paradise. Would anyone propose there is ethical case for (re)introducing them? Even proposing such a thought-experiment can sound faintly ridiculous.
  • More controversially, technology can accelerate the transition from harming to helping free-living sentient beings: mankind's fitfully expanding "circle of compassion". The civilising process needn't be species-specific but instead extend to free-living dwellers in tomorrow's wildlife parks. Every cubic metre of the biosphere will soon be computationally accessible to surveillance, micro-management and control. Fertility regulation via immunocontraception can replace Darwinian ecosystems governed by starvation and predation. Any species of obligate carnivore we choose to preserve can be genetically and behaviourally tweaked into harmlessness. Asphyxiation, disembowelling, and agonies of being eaten alive can pass into the dustbin of history.
  • Sound good? Nice parrots. However, they are merely postponing the point at which the red teeth and claws come into the picture. These parrot parents produce more than two offspring. What do you think happens to most of them? They go off and found happy egalitarian parrot families of their own? Maybe for a little while. But a species can't expand indefinitely. Most of these new parrots will get eaten or starve to death. The lucky few will go on to put dozens of new parrots into the world, for natural selection to claw apart and eat alive. r is evil, but K is not so great either.
    • Sarah Perry, Every Cradle Is a Grave: Rethinking the Ethics of Birth and Suicide (2014) ISBN 978-0989697293
  • The moralistic fallacy is that what is good is found in nature. It lies behind the bad science in nature-documentary voiceovers: lions are mercy-killers of the weak and sick, mice feel no pain when cats eat them, dung beetles recycle dung to benefit the ecosystem and so on.
  • On top of all the miseries inflicted by predators and parasites, the members of a species show no pity to their own kind. Infanticide, siblicide, and rape can be observed in many kinds of animals; infidelity is common even in so-called pair-bonded species; cannibalism can be expected in all species that are not strict vegetarians; death from fighting is more common in most animal species than it is in the most violent American cities [...] Perhaps biology would have been able to mature more rapidly in a culture not dominated by Judeo-Christian theology and the Romantic tradition. It might have been well served by the First Holy Truth from [Buddha's] Sermon at Benares: "Birth is painful, old age is painful, sickness is painful, death is painful..." As soon as we recognize that there is nothing morally commendable about the products of evolution, we can describe human psychology honestly, without the fear that identifying a "natural" trait is the same as condoning it. As Katharine Hepburn says to Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen, "Nature, Mr. Allnut, is what we are put in this world to rise above."
  • It's no mystery why organisms sometimes harm one another. Evolution has no conscience, and if one creature hurts another to benefit itself, such as by eating, parasitizing, intimidating, or cuckolding it, its descendants will come to predominate, complete with those nasty habits. All this is familiar from the vernacular sense of "Darwinian" as a synonym for "ruthless" and from Tennyson's depiction of nature as red in tooth and claw.
  • I was walking along the bank of a stream when I saw a mother otter with her cubs, a very endearing sight, I'm sure you'll agree. And even as I watched, the mother otter dived into the water and came up with a plump salmon, which she subdued and dragged onto a half submerged log. As she ate it, while of course it was still alive, the body split and I remember to this day the sweet pinkness of its roes as they spilled out, much to the delight of the baby otters, who scrambled over themselves to feed on the delicacy. One of nature's wonders, gentlemen. Mother and children dining upon mother and children. And that is when I first learned about evil. It is built into the very nature of the universe. Every world spins in pain. If there is any kind of supreme being, I told myself, it is up to all of us to become his moral superior.


  • The suffering and death I saw seemed to me in some meaningful respect lamentable—that is, unfortunate, regrettable, worthy of sadness, the kind of thing it would be better if the world did not involve. What can be said for such a response, and what against it? Can my lamentation be rationally defended as appropriate, or must it be viewed as nothing more than mawkish sentimentalism? How should we view the fact that some animals need to kill other animals in order to live? Can a world in which animals did not kill each other, and indeed did not need to do so in order to live, plausibly be called a better one?
  • Our focus is on wild animals, because they bear the brunt of suffering on Earth at present. And, to that end, the only acceptable action for us is the one which reduces their suffering the most. We must explicitly endorse an ethic that is in direct conflict with wilderness conservation. The wild that is conserved through these efforts has preventable suffering, so we have an obligation to prevent it. Nature holds no value in and of itself, and no value at all outside of humanity's personal attachment to it. And while the loss of something humanity is attached to certainly causes suffering for humans, it seems safe to say that this suffering is minimal compared to that of animals in the wild. The moral crisis of nature is not that the status quo is threatened, but that the status quo is terrible.
  • Suppose in some distant forest lightning strikes a dead tree, resulting in a forest fire. In the fire a fawn is trapped, horribly burned, and lies in terrible agony for several days before death relieves its suffering. So far as we can see, the fawn's intense suffering is pointless. For there does not appear to be any greater good such that the prevention of the fawn's suffering would require either the loss of that good or the occurrence of an evil equally bad or worse. Nor does there seem to be any equally bad or worse evil so connected to the fawn's suffering that it would have had to occur had the fawn's suffering been prevented. Could an omnipotent, omniscient being have prevented the fawn's apparently pointless suffering?


  • The ways in which creatures in nature die are typically violent: predation, starvation, disease, parasitism, cold. The dying animal in the wild does not understand the vast ocean of misery into which it and billions of other animals are born only to drown. If the wild animal understood the conditions into which it is born, what would it think? It might reasonably prefer to be raised on a farm, where the chances of survival for a year or more would be good, and to escape from the wild, where they are negligible. Either way, the animal will be eaten: few die of old age. The path from birth to slaughter, however, is often longer and less painful in the barnyard than in the woods. Comparisons, sad as they are, must be made to recognize where a great opportunity lies to prevent or mitigate suffering. The misery of animals in nature—which humans can do much to relieve—makes every other form of suffering pale in comparison. Mother Nature is so cruel to her children she makes Frank Perdue look like a saint.
  • The principle of natural selection is not obviously a humanitarian principle; the predator-prey relation does not depend on moral empathy. Nature ruthlessly limits animal populations by doing violence to virtually every individual before it reaches maturity; these conditions respect animal equality only in the darkest sense.
  • When our interests or the interests of those we care for will be hurt, we do not recognize a moral obligation to "let nature take its course," but when we do not want to be bothered with an obligation, "that's just the way the world works" provides a handy excuse.
  • Where we can prevent predation without occasioning as much or more suffering than we would prevent, we are obligated to do so by the principle that we are obligated to alleviate avoidable animal suffering. Where we cannot prevent or cannot do so without occasioning as much or more suffering than we would prevent, that principle does not obligate us to attempt to prevent predation.
  • On the the other hand, refusing to accept and affirm, avoidable suffering, unfair distributions of of goods, uninhibited aggression, and and so forth, are refusals which have long been and continue to be part of everyday morality. As such, they they are are a well-established part of life as it is. Animal liberation extends such concerns, which have traditionally been focused on the human world and on human life, to include equal consideration consideration for animals. In this way, animal liberation is simply carrying on the business of everyday moral practice. Therefore, it does not loathe or deny life as it is. Rather, unlike Callicott's proposed retreat to the wilderness, animal liberation is participating in life and, hopefully, in its continuing moral evolution.
  • Baldner contends that is "arrogant" and "paternalistic" morally to condemn something as definitive of the natural order as predation. However, it is in the nature of morality to devise ideals of a better world and to work toward realizing them. This entails judging this world to be less than ideal and working to change it. One could restrict moral evaluations to the products of human activity, but that would be arbitrary: what makes suffering (prima facie) morally bad is not that it is the result of human activity but that it is suffering. Our commitment to making the world a morally better place impels us to make moral evaluations of the natural order. There need be nothing either arrogant or paternalistic in making and acting on such evaluations, provided we recognize the very limited nature of our understanding and our power to make improvements.
  • It is of the utmost importance to emphasize the fact that, whatever the legal fiction may have been, or may still be, the rights of animals are not morally dependent on the so-called rights of property; it is not to owned animals merely that we must extend our sympathy and protection. [...] To take advantage of the sufferings of animals, whether wild or tame, for the gratification of sport, or gluttony, or fashion, is quite incompatible with any possible assertion of animals' rights.
  • Something rustled in front of them, close to the ground. The fern fronds and wood-lettuce concealed something that advanced in violent motion. A threadlike, little cry shrilled out piteously; then all was still. Only the leaves and the blades of grass shivered back into place. A ferret had caught a mouse. He came slinking by, slid sideways, and prepared to enjoy his meal.
  • Winter dragged on. Sometimes it was warmer, but then the snow would fall again and lie deeper and deeper, so that it became impossible to scrape it away. It was worst when the thaws came and the melted snow water froze again in the night. Then there was a thin slippery film of ice. Often it broke in pieces and the sharp splinters cut the deer's tender fetlocks till they bled.
  • It was silent in the woods, but something horrible happened every day. Once the crows fell upon Friend Hare's small son who was lying sick, and killed him in a cruel way. He could be heard moaning pitifully for a long while. Friend Hare was not at home, and when he heard the sad news he was beside himself with grief.
  • Another time the squirrel raced about with a great wound in his neck where the ferret had caught him. By a miracle the squirrel had escaped. He could not talk because of the pain, but he ran up and down the branches. Everyone could see him. He ran like mad. From time to time he stopped, sat down, raised his forepaws desperately and clutched his head in terror and agony while the red blood oozed on his white chest. He ran about for an hour, then suddenly crumpled up, fell across a branch, and dropped dead in the snow. A couple of magpies flew down at once to begin their meal.
  • Another day a fox tore to pieces the strong and handsome pheasant who had enjoyed such general respect and popularity. His death aroused the sympathies of a wide circle who tried to comfort his disconsolate widow.
    The fox had dragged the pheasant out of the snow, where he was buried, thinking himself well hidden. No one could have felt safer than the pheasant for it all happened in broad daylight. The terrible hardship that seemed to have no end spread bitterness and brutality. It destroyed all their memories of the past, their faith in each other, and ruined every good custom they had. There was no longer either peace or mercy in the forest.
  • The future really didn't look very bright for Gobo. He was weak. He had always been much more delicate than Bambi or Faline and remained smaller than either of them.
    He was growing worse from day to day. He could not eat even the little food there was. It made his stomach ache. And he was quite exhausted by the cold, and by the horrors around him. He shivered more and more and could hardly stand up. Everyone looked at him sympathetically.
  • "Did you see him?" the midges asked each other.
    "That's the old may-beetle," some of them hummed.
    Others said, "All of his offspring are dead.
    Only one is still alive. Only one."
    "How long will he live?" a number of midges asked. The others answered, "We don't know. Some of his offspring live a long time. They live forever almost...
    They see the sun thirty or forty times, we don't know exactly how many. Our lives are long enough, but we see the daylight only once or twice."
  • [A]nimals are not just subject to suffering like man, but subject to much more suffering; their existence is considered to be extremely unhappy, not only because they are exploited and tortured by man but also in nature itself, where the weaker one is threatened and devoured by the stronger, and, moreover, because at least many of them live on disgusting food or in uncomfortable places.
  • One simple test of the claim that the pleasure in the world outweighs the pain [...] is to compare the feelings of an animal that is devouring another with those of the animal being devoured.
  • [H]e saw in Java a plain far as the eye could reach entirely covered with skeletons, and took it for a battlefield; they were, however, merely the skeletons of large turtles, five feet long and three feet broad, and the same height, which come this way out of the sea in order to lay their eggs, and are then attacked by wild dogs , who with their united strength lay them on their backs, strip off their lower armour, that is, the small shell of the stomach, and so devour them alive. But often then a tiger pounces upon the dogs. Now all this misery repeats itself thousands and thousands of times, year out, year in. For this, then, these turtles are born. For whose guilt must they suffer this torment? Where fore the whole scene of horror? To this the only answer is: it is thus that the will to live objectifies itself.
  • After Singer's talk, I began thinking through the consequences of his morality. A question occurred to me: "Should we also stop animals from eating each other?" I was sure others had made such arguments as reductio ad absurdums of vegetarianism, but I thought I might be the first to be genuinely interested in it from a moral perspective.
    "Of course not," said my friend. "It's not our fault if the animals kill each other." "You mean," I said, "that you think it's perfectly moral to let that guy" — I pointed at a random guy nearby — "go around killing people?" "Well, OK," he said. "But it's different with animals, because they don't know any better." "You mean it would be OK to let him go around killing people if he was mentally ill and didn't realize he was doing it?" "You should go ask Singer," he said.
    So I did — he was signing books outside the lecture hall and as the line ended I asked him my question. His answer was even better than I imagined: "We would if we knew how to do so without making things worse and disturbing the ecosystems and so on." "Thanks!" I said, impressed.
  • I cannot help but feel the suffering all around me, not only of humanity but of the whole of creation. I have never tried to withdraw myself from this community of suffering. It seemed to me a matter of course that we should all take our share of the burden of pain which lies upon the world.
  • The fact that in nature one creature may cause pain to another, and even deal with it instinctively in the most cruel way, is a harsh mystery that weighs upon us as long as we live. One who has reached the point where he does not suffer ever again because of this has ceased to be a man.
  • Nature is often perceived as an idyllic, beautiful and peaceful place, where wild animals live in freedom. This romanticized view conceals the fact that wild animals suffer in horrible ways. Far from being idyllic and peaceful, nature is actually "red in tooth and claw": at its heart it's all about competition. Animals are frequently eaten by predators – a horrific, extremely painful death. Food scarcity often leads to starvation, and wild animals endure injury and painful diseases without relief. Nature's cruelty knows no boundaries: For example, gulls peck out the eyes of baby seals, leaving them to die so they can later eat their remains. Some animals use venom to paralyze their prey and eat them piece by piece. Wild animals certainly also experience moments of happiness, but gruesome fates as described above are by no means exceptional. On the contrary, they are rather commonplace in nature, and even if a wild animal manages to avoid them, his or her life is for a large part a constant struggle for survival in a harsh and relentless environment.
  • [F]or practical purposes I am fairly sure, judging from man's past record of attempts to mold nature to his own aims, that we would be more likely to increase the net amount of animal suffering if we interfered with wildlife, than to decrease it. Lions play a role in the ecology of their habitat, and we cannot be sure what the long-term consequences would be if we were to prevent them from killing gazelles. [...] So, in practice, I would definitely say that wildlife should be left alone [...] The remaining question is purely hypothetical, and perhaps it would be politic to refuse to answer it. Nevertheless, philosophers are supposed to answer hypothetical questions, so I will risk it. If, in some way, we could be reasonably certain that interfering with wildlife in a particular way would, in the long run, greatly reduce the amount of killing and suffering in the animal world, it would, I think, be right to interfere.
  • It must be admitted that the existence of carnivorous animals does pose one problem for the ethics of Animal Liberation, and that is whether we should do anything about it. Assuming that humans could eliminate carnivorous species from the earth, and that the total amount of suffering among animals in the world were thereby reduced, should we do it?
  • If animals like free-range cows have lives that are not worth living, almost all wild animals could plausibly be thought to also have lives that are worse than non-existence. Nature is often romanticised as a well-balanced idyll, so this may seem counter-intuitive. But extreme forms of suffering like starvation, dehydration, or being eaten alive by a predator are much more common in wild animals than farm animals.
  • After long pondering, I believe that I can define good and evil in terms to which even a biologist of the mechanical school can hardly take exception. At least, I fancy that I can do so for evil.
    The great evil of life is parasitism.
  • I have come to view vegetarianism as a standing protest against predation, which is life's greatest evil. If there were no other argument in its favor, that would be sufficient.
  • [Predation is] a great evil that a wise or benevolent creator would have avoided.
  • Earth has no more distressing spectacle than that of a predator suddenly striking down some defenseless creature innocently singing or attending its young, no sight more pitifully repulsive than the hideously mangled remains of what, a few hours before, was a beautiful animal enjoying its life.
  • The evolutionary impulsion to increase fecundity, technically known as fitness, at whatever cost is responsible for most of the ugliness, strife, and suffering that afflict the living community on the fairest planet illuminated by the Sun.
  • [If evolution had been guided, the Earth would have become] the abode of a vast diversity of creatures dwelling in concord (instead of) a place of mixed character, where beauty and ugliness, peace and fear, happiness and horror, mingle together in the most perplexing contrasts.
  • That evolution has accomplished much that is splendid and admirable, it would be ungrateful to deny. That the means it has employed have often been ruthlessly harsh is a proposition to which every compassionate person will attest.
  • The wild life of nature, regarded simply as woodland glades, murmuring brooks, fragrant flowers and songful birds, or the tranquil emptiness of a seascape in calm weather, is restful and refreshing after the clangor and turmoil of human existence, especially in the crowded centers of population. Its myriad shapes and colors divert the fevered mind from its too-absorbing problems. But viewed with a more penetrating and philosophic eye, what spectacle could be more hideously revolting than that of countless animals, each busily stuffing itself with as many other living things as its maw can hold? Were this all that we could detect beneath the seemingly tran-quil face of nature, some who now turn to it for spiritual comfort and refreshment might shrink away in horror.
  • Sometimes, especially in inclement weather, incubating birds continue to cover their eggs while hungry, and even when they would appear to be suffering acutely from a long-continued fast. Many marine birds, especially of the penguin and petrel families, remain on their nests for days or even weeks without eating; and some Emperor Penguins, who incubate single eggs on the ice in the frigid gloom of midwinter at the edge of the Antarctic continent, pass about two months in an absolute fast. Must not birds at times experience gnawing pangs of hunger, while they slowly become emaciated from lack of nourishment?
  • Animals more obviously violate the concept of goodness, for none can live without tearing and devouring other organized beings, whether vegetables or other animals, or else sapping their strength as noxious parasites. The larger ambulatory animals can hardly move without crushing the herbage and multitudes of small creeping things; and all compete with each other for space and nourishment in the same manner as plants, but often far more violently. Moreover, they struggle for mates in a fashion wholly unknown among vegetables, even the milder herbivores sometimes exhibiting in their quarrels with rivals a fury that astounds us. Thus none is wholly good; yet those which devour only vegetation seem to be endowed by nature with a capacity for goodness lacking in those which kill and tear for food creatures more akin to themselves; while the fiercest kinds, which destroy living things that they do not require to sustain their own lives, fall most conspicuously short of goodness.
  • Beyond the limits of the most comprehensive actual society are living creatures whom our moral impulse bids us to include within our system of organized, reciprocal relations, although up to the present we have found this impossible to achieve. Nevertheless, we can at least reach out to help them when in distress, as by rescuing them from the pools and pits into which they sometimes fall, feeding them when hungry as far as our means allow, perhaps at times curing their wounds. Such charity is the truest sort, because we can never expect any extrinsic recompense nor even an indirect economic advantage from it. When we contemplate the vast amount of mutilation, suffering, and death which hourly occurs among the living creatures on this planet, and the complex relations among them which make it impossible for us to help one of them without perhaps indirectly injuring another, we sometimes suspect that our most devoted effort on behalf of nonhuman creatures is scarcely more than a gesture. Yet it is a gesture which symbolizes the comprehensive society that we aspire to create.
  • Not long ago I was sleeping in a cabin in the woods and was awoken in the middle of the night by the sounds of a struggle between two animals. Cries of terror and extreme agony rent the night, intermingled with the sounds of jaws snapping bones and flesh being torn from limbs. One animal was being savagely attacked, killed and then devoured by another. [I]t seems to me that the horror I experienced on that dark night in the woods was a veridical insight. What I experienced was a brief and terrifying glimpse into the ultimately evil dimension of a godless world.
  • Although disease and suffering in animals are unpleasant and, perhaps, regrettable, biologists recognize that conservation is engaged in the protection of the integrity and continuity of natural processes, not the welfare of individuals. At the population level, the important processes are ultimately genetic and evolutionary because these maintain the potential for continued existence. Evolution, as it occurs in nature, could not proceed without the suffering inseparable from hunger, disease, and predation.
    For this reason, biologists often overcome their emotional identification with individual victims. For example, the biologist sees the abandoned fledgling or the wounded rabbit as part of the process of natural selection and is not deceived that "rescuing" sick, abandoned, or maimed individuals is serving the species or the cause of conservation. (Salvaging a debilitated individual from a very small population would be an exception, assuming it might eventually contribute to the gene pool.) Therefore, the ethical imperative to conserve species diversity is distinct from any societal norms about the value or the welfare of individual animals or plants. This does not in any way detract from ethical systems that provide behavioral guidance for humans on appropriate relationships with individuals from other species, especially when the callous behavior of humans causes animals to suffer unnecessarily. Conservation and animal welfare, however, are conceptually distinct, and they should remain politically separate.
  • [C]onsider the sea-hare Tethys, a shell-less, flabby sea-slug, actually a marine snail, which may be seen crawling about in tidal estuaries, somewhat resembling a rabbit crouched over. A California biologist estimated the number of eggs produced by a single animal during a single breeding season to be more than 478 million. And the adults sometimes occur by the hundred! Obviously all these eggs cannot mature, all this potential cannot, must not, become reality, else the ocean would soon be occupied exclusively by sea-hares. There would be no kindness in that, even for the sea-hares themselves, for in a few generations they would overflow the earth; there would be nothing for the rest of us to eat, and nothing for them unless they turned cannibal. On the average, probably no more than the biblical one or two attain full maturity. Somewhere along the way all the rest will have been eaten by predators whose life cycle is postulated upon the presence of abundant larvae of sea-hares and other forms as food—as all life itself is based on such a postulate.


  • Who trusted God was love indeed
    And love Creation's final law —
    Tho' Nature, red in tooth and claw
    With ravine, shriek'd against his creed —
  • What happens in wildlife is indeed of moral concern, according to utilitarianism. When there is famine among the antelopes, the utilitarian sees a problem. It is as bad when wild animals suffer from natural causes, as it is when they are treated badly in the food industry. To the moral rights theorist [...] it is not a moral problem when the wolf kills the lamb. It is a problem from the point of view of utilitarianism, however. If there is anything one can do about it, one should not hesitate to do it.
  • Is there anything we can do about animal suffering in wildlife? There was a time when many said that nothing should be done to obviate human suffering, since attempts to establish a welfare state would either be in vain, jeopardise what kind of welfare there happens to exist, or produce perverse (even worse) results. We rarely meet with that reaction any more. However, many seem to be ready to argue that wildlife constitutes such a complex system of ecological balances that any attempt to interfere must produce no good results, put into jeopardy whatever ecological 'balances' there happen to exist, or perversely make the situation even worse. This is not the place to settle whether they are right or not, but, certainly, there must exist some measures we could take, if we bothered to do so, rendering wildlife at least slightly less terrible. If this were so, we should do so, according to utilitarianism.
  • If we humans could 'civilize' wildlife, and provide better living and dying conditions to non-human animals, then we ought to do so. We ought to side with the lamb against the wolf.
  • Why did I feed these animals against all advice? Because we live in the same place, because they were individuals, because they had relatives, experience, a past, and desires, because they were cold and hungry, because they hadn't found enough to eat in the fall, because each had just one life.
  • Just within the edge of the wood there, I see a small painted turtle on its back, with its head stretched out as if to turn over. Surprised by the sight, I stooped to investigate the cause. It drew in its head at once, but I noticed that its shell was partially empty. I could see through it from side to side as it lay, its entrails having been extracted through large openings just before the hind legs [...] Such is Nature, who gave one creature a taste or yearning for another's entrails as its favorite tidbit!!
  • The importance of animal suffering seems to be one significant lacuna in the ethical views of most elite thinkers. It's helpful to expand people's hearts and minds on this issue, although we need to make sure to do so in a way that actually helps suffering animals in nature rather than reinforcing some of the other ideas of the animal-rights movement, like that we should "leave animals alone in all cases."
  • And even for the survivors, life involves a constant struggle to find enough food, avoid predators, and overcome sickness and injury for a few brief years (or months) before death comes at the jaws of a predator or the grip of a parasite. Pain is a powerful motivational tool, and evolution has no qualms about using it to maximum effect.
  • I think we have an obligation to exercise our rare position in the history of life to do the best we can in replacing the consequences of evolution's singular focus on reproductive survival of species with a humane approach that values instead the emotions of individual sentient organisms.
  • Whether a harm occurred intentionally or unintentionally is often relevant for our moral judgment of the action that caused the harm. However, in the case of animals, intentions don't generally bear on how bad the harm feels to experience. It seems plausible that intuitions about the moral reprehensibility of intentional harm cause people to overamplify the raw badness of intentional harm relative to unintentional. If so, this has the unfortunate side effect that people downplay the immense amounts of unintentional suffering in nature. Personifying nature's cruelties is one strategy we could test for dealing with this.
  • The number of wild animals vastly exceeds that of animals on factory farms, in laboratories, or kept as pets. Therefore, animal advocates should consider focusing their efforts to raise concern about the suffering that occurs in the natural environment. While in theory this could involve trying directly to engineer more humane ecological systems, in practice I think activists should concentrate on promoting the meme of caring about wild animals to other activists, academics, and other sympathetic groups. The massive amount of suffering occurring now in nature is indeed tragic, but it pales by comparison to the scale of good or harm that our descendants -- with advanced technological capability -- might effect. I fear, for instance, that future humans may undertake terraforming, directed panspermia, or sentient simulations without giving much thought to the consequences for wild animals. Our #1 priority should be to ensure that future human intelligence is used to prevent wild-animal suffering, rather than to multiply it.
  • Intense suffering is a regular feature of life in the wild that demands, perhaps not quick-fix intervention, but at least long-term research into the welfare of wild animals and technologies that might one day allow humans to improve it.
  • [W]hile many animals appear to endure such conditions rather calmly, this doesn't necessarily mean they aren't suffering. Sick and injured members of a prey species are the easiest to catch, so predators deliberately target these individuals. As a consequence, those prey that appear sick or injured will be the ones killed most often. Thus, evolutionary pressure pushes prey species to avoid drawing attention to their suffering.


  • Man and animals are really the passage and the conduit of food, the sepulchre of animals and resting place of the dead, one causing the death of the other, making themselves the covering for the corruption of other dead [bodies].
  • [O mighty and once living instrument of formative nature. Incapable of availing thyself of thy vast strength thou hast to abandon a life of stillness and to obey the law which God and time gave to procreative nature.]
    Ah! how many a time the shoals of terrified dolphins and the huge tunny-fish were seen to flee before thy cruel fury, to escape; whilst thy fulminations raised in the sea a sudden tempest with buffeting and submersion of ships in the great waves; and filling the uncovered shores with the terrified and desperate fishes which fled from thee, and left by the sea, remained in spots where they became the abundant prey of the people in the neighbourhood.
  • Why did nature not ordain that one animal should not live by the death of another? Nature, being inconstant and taking pleasure in creating and making constantly new lives and forms, because she knows that her terrestrial materials become thereby augmented, is more ready and more swift in her creating, than time in his destruction; and so she has ordained that many animals shall be food for others. Nay, this not satisfying her desire, to the same end she frequently sends forth certain poisonous and pestilential vapours upon the vast increase and congregation of animals; and most of all upon men, who increase vastly because other animals do not feed upon them; and, the causes being removed, the effects would not follow. This earth therefore seeks to lose its life, desiring only continual reproduction; and as, by the argument you bring forward and demonstrate, like effects always follow like causes, animals are the image of the world.
  • Animals will be seen on the earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malignity; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the trees of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and, when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and wars and fury to every living thing; and from their immoderate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the too great weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth or in the waters which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed into another. And their bodies will become the sepulture and means of transit of all they have killed.
    O Earth! why dost thou not open and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven such a cruel and horrible monster?
  • [E]ven veganism is not as broad as antispeciesism, since it says nothing about the vast majority of sentient beings on the planet: animals who live in nature. Wild animals also suffer, and should not be granted less consideration simply because their suffering is not our fault.
  • We cannot allow ourselves to spuriously rationalize away the suffering that takes place in nature, and to forget the victims of the horrors of nature merely because that reality does not fit into our convenient moral theories, theories that ultimately just serve to make us feel consistent and good about ourselves in the face of an incomprehensibly bad reality.


  • When it comes to wild animals, though, only the last [expression of normal behaviour] is guaranteed. They have to struggle to survive on a daily basis, from finding food and water to another individual to mate with. They don't have the right to comfort, stability, or good health. [...] By the standards our governments have set, the life of a wild animal is cruelty.
  • The simple facts are that both predation and starvation are painful prospects for deer, and that the lion's lot is no more enviable.
  • The insidious lethality of a parasitic wasp, the cruelty of a cat playing with a mouse – these are, after all, just the tip of the iceberg. To ponder natural selection is to be staggered by the amount of suffering and death that can be the price for a single, slight advance in organic design. And it is to realize, moreover, that the purpose of this "advance" – longer, sharper canine teeth in male chimpanzees, say – is often to make other animals suffer or die more surely. Organic design thrives on pain, and pain thrives on organic design.
  • I wonder if a sillier and more ignorant catachresis than "Mother Nature" was ever perpetrated? It is because Nature is ruthless, hideous, and cruel beyond belief that it was necessary to invent civilisation. One thinks of wild animals as savage, but the fiercest of them begins to look almost domesticated when one considers the viciousness required of a survivor in the sea; as for the insects, their lives are sustained only by intricate processes of fantastic horror. There is no conception more fallacious than the sense of cosiness implied by 'Mother Nature.' Each species must strive to survive, and that will do, by every means in its power, however foul—unless the instinct to survive is weakened by conflict with another instinct.


  • Why is so much of Nature at war with other parts of Nature? Because there isn't one Evolution directing the whole process. There's as many different "evolutions" as reproducing populations. Rabbit genes are becoming more or less frequent in rabbit populations. Fox genes are becoming more or less frequent in fox populations. Fox genes which construct foxes that catch rabbits, insert more copies of themselves in the next generation. Rabbit genes which construct rabbits that evade foxes are naturally more common in the next generation of rabbits. Hence the phrase "natural selection".
  • Why is Nature cruel? You, a human, can look at an Ichneumon wasp, and decide that it's cruel to eat your prey alive. You can decide that if you're going to eat your prey alive, you can at least have the decency to stop it from hurting. It would scarcely cost the wasp anything to anesthetize its prey as well as paralyze it. Or what about old elephants, who die of starvation when their last set of teeth fall out? These elephants aren't going to reproduce anyway. What would it cost evolution—the evolution of elephants, rather—to ensure that the elephant dies right away, instead of slowly and in agony? What would it cost evolution to anesthetize the elephant, or give it pleasant dreams before it dies? Nothing; that elephant won't reproduce more or less either way.
  • In a way, Darwin discovered God—a God that failed to match the preconceptions of theology, and so passed unheralded. If Darwin had discovered that life was created by an intelligent agent—a bodiless mind that loves us, and will smite us with lightning if we dare say otherwise—people would have said "My gosh! That's God!"
    But instead Darwin discovered a strange alien God—not comfortably "ineffable", but really genuinely different from us. Evolution is not a God, but if it were, it wouldn't be Jehovah. It would be H. P. Lovecraft's Azathoth, the blind idiot God burbling chaotically at the center of everything, surrounded by the thin monotonous piping of flutes.
    Which you might have predicted, if you had really looked at Nature.

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