Journal of agricultural ethics

, Volume 2, Issue 4, pp 323–347

Ecological, ethological, and ethically sound environments for animals: Toward symbiosis

  • M. Kiley-Worthington

DOI: 10.1007/BF01826810

Cite this article as:
Kiley-Worthington, M. Journal of Agricultural Ethics (1989) 2: 323. doi:10.1007/BF01826810


There are inconsistencies in the treatment and attitudes of human beings to animals and much confusion in thinking about what are appropriate conditions for using and keeping animals. This article outlines some of these considerations and then proposes guidelines for designing animal management systems. In the first place, the global and local ecological effects of all animal management systems must be considered and an environment designed that will not rock the biospherical boat. The main points to consider are the interrelatedness of living things with each other and the environment, the self-sustaining nature of ecosystems, and the importance of diversity in the stability and maintenance of ecosystems. These can and should be taken into account when assessing animal management. They are illustrated by examples of companion/urban dogs, as well as farm, zoo, and circus animals. The environment must also be considered from the point of view of the ethological needs of the animals. There are two possible approaches to this: (1) the reductionist approach, illustrated by the choice experimental tests; and (2) a holistic, evolutionist approach that concentrates on the degree of behavioral restriction and the identification of distress. The assessment of an animal's ethological needs, and thus the ethological soundness of an environment, must take into account the species needs (communication system, species-specific characteristics of the brain receptors and cognition) and the individual's needs (his past experience). The behavioral effects of domestication and how distress can be assessed are discussed. Different ethical positions toward animals and their treatment are briefly outlined, and it is argued that, provided animals are in ecologically and ethologically sound environments, their use by human beings is ethically acceptable. The animal-human association should be characterized by symbiosis—mutual benefit—rather than a parasitic or exploitative relationship—employer to employee, rather than master to slave.

Copyright information

© Taylor & Francis 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • M. Kiley-Worthington
    • 1
    • 2
  1. 1.School of AgricultureUniversity of EdinburghScotland
  2. 2.Little Ash Eco-FarmThrowleigh, Okehampton

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