Protecting wildlife

Picture of a dingo

The centre’s Dingo for Biodiversity Project asks how apex predators can help biodiversity flourish.

Researchers at the Centre for Compassionate Conservation are making a global impact in rethinking how we interact and protect our wildlife.

In an age of growing global population pressures and urbanisation, finding practical and compassionate solutions to help protect both wild and captive animals from the threats that humans pose to their habitats is no small task.

But it’s a challenge that researchers at the Centre for Compassionate Conservation are wholeheartedly embracing, not just in our own backyard – but in research that is making a difference on a global scale.

“My research has challenged established paradigms on the cause and treatment of biodiversity decline in Australia.” – Dr Arian Wallach

“Compassionate conservation is an exciting and increasingly critical area of research that recognises the impact humans have on animals’ environments – through commercial exploitation, human-wildlife conflicts, land clearance, and habitat loss. We’re working to develop better co-existence strategies by rethinking our approach to improving welfare outcomes for wildlife in a way that is practical, ethical and compassionate,” says Associate Professor Daniel Ramp, the Centre’s Director.

While the centre is a mere hatchling, established just 4 years ago in 2013, it has quickly come to be recognised as a global heavyweight in this emerging research area for its uniquely holistic approach in bringing together experts from a range of disciplines. At the centre, researchers across different areas of science, law and the humanities are working collaboratively find robust solutions to the challenges that humans pose to wildlife, both in Australia, and abroad.

This year, experts from across the world will converge in Australia’s world heritage listed Blue Mountains to shape the global agenda on critical issues in wildlife protection, as the centre hosts the third International Compassionate Conservation Conference – the first time it has been held outside the UK and US, following previous symposia at the University of Oxford in 2010 and the University of British Columbia in 2015.

The conference is testament to the global reach and impact of the Centre's diverse and multifaceted work – where wildlife conservation and animal welfare is complemented with research areas including environmental and animal law, ethics, economics, decision theory, corporate social responsibility, development planning, and the social sciences.

“Our transdisciplinary approach is a paradigm change for conservation because it refocuses attention on policy and applications that promote wellbeing for both people and wildlife. For example, the centre works with the agricultural industry to highlight the value of farming practices that allow wildlife to persist, like prohibiting lethal practices and restoring vegetation mosaics, simultaneously enhancing wild lives, ecological resilience, and food production. Our focus on wellbeing enables us to look at issues holistically, in a truly transdisciplinary way,” says Ramp.

The Centre emerged from the acclaimed THINKK project at the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures, a collaborative think tank exploring ethical and compassionate approaches to kangaroo management practices in Australia.

With the generosity and support of partners including the Sherman Foundation, animal protection advocacy group Voiceless, and international collaborations with the UK’s Born Free Foundation and the Detroit Zoological Society, the centre has been able to broaden its focus, translating learnings from the Australian experience into a global landscape.

“Through our support for the centre, we have had an inclusive and pivotal role in driving this emerging discipline and our contributions continue to open up new and exciting opportunities.” said Ondine Sherman, Managing Director at Voiceless.

The Centre’s Dingo for Biodiversity Project, co-founded by Dr Arian Wallach, 2016 recipient of the UTS Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellowship and 2013 Eureka Prize winner, is exploring how apex predators can help biodiversity flourish in its research on Australia’s dingo populations.

Dr Wallach’s research, which has taken her to Israel, India, southern Africa and North America to investigate the ecological effects of losing and recovering the Earth's largest predators, like wolves and dingoes, is forcing authorities to reconsider their approach to lethal forms of wildlife control, and its impact on animal populations.

“Traditionally, killing introduced species has been the main response to the problem of animal population control, but there are other ways to provide good outcomes both for threatened wildlife and the welfare of introduced species,” Dr Wallach says.

“My research has challenged established paradigms on the cause and treatment of biodiversity decline in Australia, by showing that protecting dingoes enables species to thrive in modern ecosystems, and that lethal control of introduced species is both unnecessary and counterproductive,” she says.

Dr Ramp says the dingo project is just one example how this new compassionate approach is helping to rethink conservation efforts for large predators, and these lessons that can be applied for other animal populations across the world.

“We’re focused on building productive relationships and partnerships that drive real change in policy and law in Australia and internationally. Our goal is to show people that our best way of conserving biodiversity is to find ways to share space with compassion” he says.