Wild Animal Welfare

Humans interact with wild animals on a daily basis. These interactions may be deliberate or unintentional and vary greatly in their impact (both positive and negative) on the animals involved.

Public opinion varies as to whether, and to what degree, humans should be considered responsible for the welfare of wild animals – In the past, humans have played only a minor role in the lives of the majority of free-living wild animals and natural selection and ‘survival of the fittest’ have been accepted as the driving force behind which animals thrive or die. However, the influence of humans and their activities on the natural world is becoming greater.

At a conference discussing veterinary and animal ethics, James Kirkwood (UFAW Chief Executive and Scientific Director, 1996 to 2014) stated that: “Because we now greatly influence the fate of very many wild animals, the old distinction between owned and free-living animals, as regards our responsibility for their welfare, is not as clear as it used to be. The quality of the lives of many wild animals is as closely dependent on human activities as that of kept animals. With this, arguably, comes some responsibility for their welfare” (1).

Human activity impacts on wild animal welfare in two ways: (i) direct human intervention, such as: control of wild animal populations, hunting, use of animals in field research; and (ii) indirect human interventions, such as: disturbance, removal of habitat, installing structures which interfere with animal movement (eg fences aimed at the control of movement of humans or animals can have an impact over very large areas), installing structures that can cause injury (eg glass windows and wind turbines), and effects of pollution.

UFAW has worked to improve the welfare of wild animals over many years. UFAW’s focus has been to identify issues where human impacts on wild animal welfare have not been identified or fully appreciated and to seek solutions.  In 2016, UFAW supported the Wild Animal Welfare Committee (WAWC) in running their inaugural conference: ‘Wild Animal Welfare: challenges and opportunities’. Some detailed examples of how anthropogenic (relating to, or caused by humans) activity has affected the welfare of wild animals, and in turn, how UFAW has worked towards improving these situations, are given below:

  1.  Garden wildlife health
  2.  Monitoring wildlife populations
  3.  Wild animal control
  4.  Tourism

Suggested further reading:

The Exploitation of Mammal Populations. 1996. Edited by Victoria J. Taylor (UFAW Development Officer 1992-1998) and Nigel Dunstone. Published by Chapman & Hall, London. ISBN 0 412 64420 7.


  1. Kirkwood JK. Chapter 10 Wildlife Medicine, Conservation and Welfare. IN: Veterinary and Animal Ethics. Proceedings of the First International conference on Veterinary and Animal Ethics, September 2011. Edited by Christopher M. Wathes, Sandra A. Corr, Stephen A. May, Steven P. McCulloch and Martin C. Whiting. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 978 1 118 31480 7. Part of the UFAW Animal Welfare Series