Many people have a rosy view of the wild. Some think nonhuman animals live in some kind of paradise in the wild. However, animals living in nature have lives that are far from idyllic, and most of them have to deal with the reality of constant threat of tremendous suffering. Wild animal suffering is widely prevalent. Many people do not see or think about this aspect of living in nature. Others believe that wild animal suffering is not a serious issue because animals can cope with their suffering better than domesticated animals. Most of us may accept that nonhuman animals experience suffering, yet it may be easy to think they suffer less than they really do. This, however is not so.
If sentient beings matter, we shouldn’t be indifferent towards wild animal suffering. Moreover, we should bear in mind that the amount of suffering and premature death present in nature is very significant. Wild animal suffering is much more prevalent than many people think. Most animals die in painful ways when they are very young, so they have no chances for enjoyment, for pursuing their aims or fulfilling their capacities. This is so mainly due to the reproductive strategies prevalent in nature due to evolutionary reasons. The huge populations of animals living in the wild also make this issue especially pressing. The following texts explain this in detail.
The reproductive strategy that is overwhelmingly prevalent in the wild consists of having huge numbers of offspring of which the vast majority die not long after coming into existence. This is the main cause of wild animal suffering, as it means most animals in nature have little time for enjoying positive experiences and often die in ways that involve significant suffering (such as starvation, dehydration, cold or being eaten alive). In this way, population dynamics suggest that suffering prevails over happiness in nature.
Natural selection works when different individuals come into existence but only some of them survive, as there are not sufficient resources available for everyone. Because of this, many individuals come into existence only to die shortly after, and a reproductive strategy maximizing the number of new individuals that are born may prevail for evolutionary reasons, even if it entails that wild animal suffering and premature death increase tremendously.
Animals living in nature endure significant harms, as other animals would be harmed in similar circumstances. Humans are not the only beings that can feel suffering and wellbeing. The section on animal sentience explains this in detail. Moreover, wild animal suffering is prevalent. There is no reason to have attitudes towards animals living in nature different from the ones we would have if they were domesticated animals or humans, so we should try to help animals in nature whenever possible.
You can also read the following collections of articles about wild animal suffering and the ways to help animals in nature:
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.
Presents the different threats animals face in the wild, including hostile weather conditions, lack of food and water, disease, injuries due to accidents, conflicts, and psychological suffering.
Explains several ways in which animals can be helped, and are indeed currently helped, when they are harmed by natural or indirectly anthropogenic reasons.
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.