The situation of animals in the wild

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.

Most animals in the wild are at continuous risk of dying for a number of reasons. In fact, the vast majority of them die shortly after coming into existence, with their lives containing little more than the pain of their deaths. This happens as most animals reproduce by having huge numbers of offspring, of which, on average, only one per parent survives to maturity.

In addition, those animals who survive must face many threats to their lives and suffer from many causes including physical injuries, illness, hunger, malnutrition and thirst and psychological stress.

Having concerns for the situation of animals in the wild differs significantly from having conservationist views, and the two should not be confused. There are powerful reasons to care for nonhuman animals, as they are sentient beings who can experience suffering as humans do. This is why we should be concerned about what happens to them, not because they belong to a certain species or ecosystem or because they are living beings, but because they can feel suffering and can thus be affected by what we do to them. Conservationist efforts sometimes entail that certain animals in the wild are harmed or killed.

Moreover, conservationists can discourage us from helping animals in situations, where we could save them from terrible suffering and death, on the assumption that doing so is not natural, even though we intervene when it comes to human beings in perilous situations.

It is important that people learn about the true situation of animals in the wild because doing so will help dispel the idyllic view of nature, which impedes efforts to help animals living in the wild. It is also important as a form of moral advocacy; people who learn about the situation some animals live in may become motivated to help them. Finally, it is also important because it can better inform our efforts to help animals living in the wild.

In the following articles you will find more information about the ways animals are harmed in the wild for natural reasons:


Malnutrition, hunger and thirst in wild animals

One of the most important factors limiting the growth of animal populations is the lack of food and water, which can kill huge numbers of animals. We can imagine how much suffering this entails. One of the reasons why many animals have huge numbers of offspring is in order to make it possible that at least some of them can find food and survive, even if it means many others starve to death.


Diseases in nature

Animals in the wild can suffer many different kinds of diseases, some of which are very painful and can kill them slowly. Even those that are not lethal cause them significant suffering. While it would often be possible to vaccinate them, this is only done in some cases, and many animals who could be saved will die.


Physical injuries in wild animals

In the wild, animals are often injured for a number of reasons. The actual wounds may kill the animals, or their injuries may cripple them in ways that are fatal, such as certain types of mutilations. In other cases, even though they survive, they are partly crippled or suffer chronic pain, and their lives are much shorter.


Weather conditions and nonhuman animals

Many animals die after suffering a great deal due to extreme temperatures. This happens regularly in nature, and sometimes animals suffer whole seasons due to this. In addition, animals are negatively affected due to other factors having to do with climate such as rain, snow and droughts.


Animals in natural disasters

Earthquakes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, tsunamis and natural forest fires can cause much suffering and many deaths. Even when it would be possible to help them, most animals affected by natural disasters are left to die or to endure debilitating injuries that could have been healed.


Interspecific conflict

In nature, the ecosystemic relations in which an organism causes a harm to another one for his or her own benefit are called antagonistic ones. These types of relations occur frequently and entail that many animals suffer significant pain and distress, often for a long time, and eventually die.


Intraspecific fights

Animals of the same species can have conflicts and fight over a number of reasons, including territory, mates and social status. Animals of many different species also engage in cannibalism, infanticide and fights to death with siblings.


Sexual conflict

Sexual coercion is common among animals of many species, and can result in serious harms for them. In addition, the males of different species sometime kill the offspring of other males in order to mate with their mothers. Some animals kill those they mate with.


Psychological stress in wild animals

In addition to suffering physically, many animals also undergo significant psychological stress due to the environmental pressures they have to endure. They often find themselves in situations in which they suffer fear and distress, and, in the case of some animals, sorrow when their offspring or animals within their group die.

You can also read the articles in these related sections:


Introduction to wild animal suffering

An introductory text that summarizes the content of this section. You can start here, or read just this text if you’re only going to read one.


Why wild animal suffering matters

Presents the reasons why the interests of animals in the wild matter, and why wild animal suffering is very important.


Helping wild animals

Explains several ways in which animals can be helped, and are indeed currently helped, when they are harmed by natural or indirectly anthropogenic reasons.


Welfare biology

Introduces the field of welfare biology, a proposed cross-disciplinary field of study in natural sciences that studies the situation of animals with regards to their wellbeing. Welfare biology would assess the suffering of animals in the wild and the ways to help them.

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