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Ethical debate on the killing of kangaroos has polarised conservation and animal welfare science, yet at the heart of these scientific disciplines is the unifying aim of reducing harm to non-human animals. This aim provides the foundation for common ground, culminating in the development of compassionate conservation principles that seek to provide mechanisms for achieving both conservation and welfare goals. However, environmental decision-making is not devoid of human interests, and conservation strategies are commonly employed that suit entrenched positions and commercial gain, rather than valuing the needs of the non-human animals in need of protection. The case study on the wild kangaroo harvest presents just such a dilemma, whereby a conservation strategy is put forward that can only be rationalised by ignoring difficulties in the potential for realising conservation benefits and the considerable welfare cost to kangaroos. Rather than an open debate on the ethics of killing game over livestock, in this response I argue that efforts to bring transparency and objectivity to the public debate have to date been obfuscated by those seeking to maintain entrenched interests. Only by putting aside these interests will debate about the exploitation of wildlife result in humane, compassionate, and substantive conservation benefits.
The ethical position underpinning decisionmaking is an important concern for conservation biologists when setting priorities for interventions. The recent debate on how best to protect nature has centered on contrasting intrinsic and aesthetic values against utilitarian and economic values, driven by an inevitable global rise in conservation conflicts. These discussions have primarily been targeted at species and ecosystems for success, without explicitly expressing concern for the intrinsic value and welfare of individual animals. In part, this is because animal welfare has historically been thought of as an impediment to conservation. However, practical implementations of conservation that provide good welfare outcomes for individuals are no longer conceptually challenging; they have become reality. This reality, included under the auspices of “compassionate conservation,” reflects an evolved ethic for sharing space with nature and is a major step forward for conservation.