Giving Compass' Take:

• Persis Eskander, a researcher at the Open Philanthropy Project, discusses the problem of wild animal suffering and questions to consider when trying to address this issue. 

• How could you address wild animal suffering? What is the best use of funds intended to protect animals? 

• Read about how to navigate the complex web of animal protection philanthropy.

Elephants in chains at travelling circuses; pregnant pigs trapped in coffin-sized crates at factory farms; deers living in the wild. We should welcome the last as a pleasant break from the horror, right?

Maybe, but maybe not. While we tend to have a romanticised view of nature, life in the wild includes a range of extremely negative experiences.

Most animals are hunted by predators, and constantly have to remain vigilant lest they be killed, and perhaps experience the terror of being eaten alive. Resource competition often leads to chronic hunger or starvation. Their diseases and injuries are never treated. In winter wild animals freeze to death and in droughts they die of heat or thirst.

There are fewer than 20 people in the world dedicating their lives to researching these problems.

But according to Persis Eskander, researcher at the Open Philanthropy Project, if we sum up the negative experiences of all wild animals, their sheer number – trillions to quintillions, depending on which you count – could make the scale of the problem larger than most other near-term concerns.

Persis urges us to recognise that nature isn’t inherently good or bad, but rather the result of an amoral evolutionary process. For those that can’t survive the brutal indifference of their environment, life is often a series of bad experiences, followed by an even worse death.

But should we actually intervene? How do we know what animals are sentient? How often do animals really feel hunger, cold, fear, happiness, satisfaction, boredom, and intense agony?

For most of these big questions, the answer is: we don’t know. And Persis thinks we’re far from knowing enough to start interfering with ecosystems. But that’s all the more reason to start considering these questions.

There are a few concrete steps we could take today, like improving the way wild caught fish are slaughtered.

Read the full article about wild animal suffering by Robert Wiblin at 80000 Hours.