Harrisonburg, Virginia – On Endangered Species Day, research by James Madison University professor Jennifer Byrne sheds light on why people volunteer to help animals.
“There’s a desire to speak for animals that can’t speak for themselves,” said Byrne, whose interest is at the intersection of human animal studies and political science. “These volunteers believe that humans should be the voice of creatures who are at worst considered property and at best benefit from weak social protections. There is also an acknowledgment of intelligence and autonomy many species. Some species can recognize themselves in the mirror, for example.
Empathy and compassion for animals are a common set of values that motivate people to volunteer in conservation, and specifically with animals. The instinct for care extends to all animals, not just those on the brink of extinction, says Byrne.
Another set of shared values revolves around a sense of human guilt for the current mass extinction and climate crises. There is a recognition of the interdependence between people and nature and a desire to prevent extinctions that will also negatively impact humans. These volunteers are highly motivated by ethical values such as accountability and are results-oriented.
While public discourse tends to focus on political actions – laws such as the Endangered Species Act in the United States, international treaties and policies to combat wildlife trafficking – personal actions are essential to make political actions a reality. Like so much today, personal action on endangered species can be tied to identity politics, Byrne says.
Byrne found that different ethical reasonings and ethical values also characterized broader interests, including a person’s politics. This additional component of identity has so far been largely overlooked, but it is increasingly important as world leaders seek to craft political agendas amid warnings from the Intergovernmental Panel on the Changing (IPCC), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and others. on the loss of biodiversity.