Wild animals are an important part of our world. They make up the ecosystems that we ourselves are part of and even rely on for some aspects of our lives.
In addition to that, all wild animals are beautiful and unique in their own way, so the vast majority of people don’t want to see any harm done to these sentient beings.
However, the reality is that wild animal suffering happens every day all over the world, and most people choose to turn a blind eye.
Even kind, empathic people often find it very difficult to accept the reality of animal suffering and decide to ignore it instead.
So, why do intelligent and compassionate individuals frequently choose to look the other way instead of trying to help when wild animals are suffering?
This is a very interesting and complex question, so let’s get into it.
Why People Ignore Wild Animal Suffering
1. Perceived Normality
The fact that wild animals suffer and become extinct is something that most of us have known since a very young age, to the point that it has become normalized.
When something has seemingly always been the case, it’s easier to ignore it because it loses its power to spark shock or outrage.
The fact is, the human brain is built to focus on things that are exceptional rather than those that are unexceptional.
This is an evolutionary function of our brains because things that we have grown accustomed to are generally less likely to be a direct threat to us.
Systemic problems such as wild animal suffering are simply not as stimulating to our brains as sudden, unexpected tragedies. For this reason, many people find it much easier to ignore wild animal suffering than, say, natural disasters.
2. Lack Of Perpetrator
In some cases of wild animal suffering, a direct perpetrator can be identified. And, in these cases, the public outcry tends to be pretty intense.
The case of Cecil the lion, who was killed by a trophy hunter, is an example of this.
However, in most cases, it can be very difficult to identify a perpetrator to blame for wild animal suffering.
For example, many wild animals are killed by poachers every day, but since these poachers are usually never caught or named, we can’t pinpoint one name to associate with the injustice, which makes us less likely to view it as a moral issue and feel angry about it.
Additionally, a lot of wild animal suffering is actually unintentional. Think about all the animals that have died in forest fires, for example.
Nobody intentionally started that fire or wanted to kill those animals.
When things like this happen, we often ignore the wild animal suffering aspect because we perceive it as an unfortunate accident rather than something morally unacceptable.
3. No Direct Relationship
When you really start thinking about how people ignore wild animal suffering, one of the first realizations you’re likely to have is the hypocrisy involved in ignoring this suffering.
If you have a pet of your own that you love, you might even feel like a hypocrite yourself. If your own pet was suffering, you’d probably immediately rush them to the vet, right?
Even if you saw another cat or dog that wasn’t yours in pain, you’d probably have the urge to step in and stop it.
But when we’re told about wild animal suffering, many of us don’t have the same protective instinct.
Part of that, admittedly, comes down to wild animal suffering seeming like a huge, insurmountable problem. We don’t know where to start with tackling it.
However, it’s also because we don’t have a direct, reciprocal relationship with most wild animals.
When it comes to cats and dogs, most of us view these animals through a lens of heightened empathy compared to other animals because we have reciprocal relationships with them.
In the case of most wild animals, we may never have even seen them in person before. Therefore, we simply don’t experience the same level of empathy.
Therefore, we’re more likely to turn a blind eye to wild animal suffering than to a story about a cat or dog getting hurt.
4. Analytical Thinking VS Empathy
When it comes to wild animal suffering, the scale of the problem is enormous.
You’ve probably read articles or posts on the internet detailing the exact statistics of how many species are going extinct and how many animals are killed by poachers every day.
But do you remember all of those statistics? Probably not, and there’s a reason why.
The fact is, while you might think that seeing huge numbers indicating wild animal suffering would shock people into action, processing those numbers requires something called analytical thinking.
Unfortunately, analytical thinking is very separate to empathy in the brain, so one does not necessarily spark the other.
Psychological studies have also found that proportion is more effective than magnitude when you’re trying to convince someone to take action.
What this means is that simply saying ‘a million animals suffer every year because of X’ may not necessarily inspire action.
In fact, it might make the issue seem insurmountable and like even trying to help would be futile, leading people to ignore the suffering.
By contrast, telling someone ‘100 animals suffer every day because of X, and you can help 95 of them by doing X’ is more likely to lead to action because it suggests that a larger proportion of the problem can be addressed.
Unfortunately, the reality is that a lot of issues tied up in wild animal suffering are problems of huge magnitude, and as individuals, we can only help a tiny portion of the animals that are suffering.
So, it often feels less painful to simply ignore it.
5. Difficulty Accepting Injustice
If you’ve ever complained about something unjust being done to you, only to have someone else tell you that ‘life isn’t fair’, you already know how difficult it can be to accept the unfairness of our world.
Unfortunately, wild animal suffering is part of that unfairness. Wild animals don’t deserve the suffering that they endure, and accepting that the way our world works is inherently unjust in a lot of ways is difficult.
It becomes even more difficult when we are forced to confront how we, ourselves, might contribute to that injustice.
Finding out that the zoo you used to love going to as a child actually treats animals inhumanely, or watching ‘Blackfish’ after going to Seaworld every summer for years might actually trigger a desire to ignore the situation rather than confronting it because – well – it’s just painful to accept that the world isn’t fair and that we contribute to it.
As you can see from the list above, there are many reasons why people ignore wild animal suffering.
Many of these reasons actually make sense when we delve into the evolution and psychology behind them, but that doesn’t mean we should continue to turn a blind eye.
Understanding why we, as humans, have a tendency to ignore this suffering can help us to identify these patterns in our thinking.
We are then in a better position to challenge them and start making a difference to wild animal suffering.