Values and Ethics in Conservation

In this chapter, you will learn about:
  1. 1.

    Characteristics that distinguish major categories of value in conservation

  2. 2.

    Methods for determining economic values in conservation

  3. 3.

    Philosophical, cultural, and religious traditions that affirm instrumental and intrinsic values of species, biodiversity, and natural objects, and their engagement in the global conservation effort


In their book, Among the Elephants, Iain and Oria Douglas-Hamilton describe their study of the relationship of African elephants to acacia trees in Tanzania’s Manyara National Park (Douglas-Hamilton and Douglas- Hamilton 1975). The elephants were destroying the acacias in the park, and the Douglas-Hamilton’s job was to decide what course of action should be taken: reduce the size of the population by having some of the elephants killed or let the animals continue to destroy the acacias. Regarding the feelings of fellow scientists working in the Park, they wrote,

The very desire to preserve the animals was a subjective statement of faith in the animal’s intrinsic worth. It was a feeling possessed by most of the scientists there …, but they would not admit this sentiment into their arguments because it could not be backed up by facts; the right and wrong of aesthetics being imponderables not open to scientific analysis. (Douglas-Hamilton and Douglas-Hamilton 1975:75–76)

This kind of reasoning, not uncommon among conservation biologists, leads to serious internal conflict, as well as intellectual confusion and contradiction. One is expected to believe that elephants, sea turtles, African violets, or butterflies are intrinsically valuable and therefore worth preserving, and at the same time pretend that such values are not important in determining a conservation solution that will ensure the species’ preservation. Such thinking is selfdeception, a kind of “doublethink” George Orwell described in his novel, 1984, as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one’s mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them” (Orwell 1962:176).


Conservation Biology Religious Tradition Green Turtle Environmental Ethic Conservation Biologist 
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