Michael Manfredo

Professor, Colorado State University
  • United States of America


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Dec 16, 2020
Replying to Ronnie Hawkins

Dear Professor Manfredo, I appreciated your 2019 article in Biological Conservation, and I think it's high time we all began to make this attitudinal shift from domination to mutualism in our relationships with nonhuman animals. You attribute this shift to a tendency to anthropomorphize, which many in the scientific community still consider mistaken, but as we learn more about the cognitive abilities of many other animals (including the neuroanatomical similarities we share with our close evolutionary relations, and the surprising convergences with our more distant kin), it should be recognized as often being the more parsimonious explanation for much of their behavior. As you and your coauthors noted, "Domination is an intergroup process, whether between human groups or between human groups and nonhuman animals." With all the attention currently being given to ending racism (and all that should be given to ending our other intraspecific group-on-group conflicts, which fuel a considerable proportion of climate change, in addition to causing untold human misery and death), we need to come to terms with the underlying motivation driving our propensity for domination in all of these contexts. With respect to wildlife, one astonishing statistic sums up, for me, the result of the last fifty years of our thoughtless human usurpation of habitat and exploitation of individual animals: according to Bar-On, Phillips and Milo (2018, The biomass distribution on Earth. PNAS 115 (25), 6506-6511, https://www.pnas.org/content/115/25/6506), the total biomass of all remaining terrestrial wild mammals is only about 5% of the biomass of our single human species, and less than 2% of the biomass of us plus our livestock. I find this absolutely shocking, and morally shameful. Further expansion of our human population, and additional takeover of remaining wild lands--particularly for feeding more CAFO-confined livestock or tree plantations to fuel the dubious BECCS "negative emissions" scheme--must be scrutinized in light of the extent of the outrageous interspecific injustice our species has already perpetrated. 

Hello Ronnie!

 Thanks very much for your post and for linking our current Nature Sustainability publication to our earlier Biological Conservation article.  There has, no doubt, been considerable debate over the anthropomorphism topic in the scientific literature. We have drawn from the growing attention to the topic as a psychological process, and we found the two-factor theory proposed by our colleague Urquiza-Haas to be quite practical in informing our understanding of human-wildlife interactions. It is hard to imagine that the value shift we have explored would happen without such an impetus.

 I agree that domination is pervasive and influental in influencing intergroup relations. Our thinking about this was largely influenced by Sidanius and Pratto‘s work on social domination theory which addresses the very topic you mention – interracial oppression.

 Finally, we recognize the well-documented problem of biodiversity loss. Many articles have revealed this, and the one you cite is a profound example. The emergency now is pioneering intentional culture shift, a topic that the social sciences have not exactly been successful at understanding or mastering.


Associated Literature

Urquiza-Haas, E.G., & Kotrschal, K. (2015). The mind behind anthropomorphic thinking: attribution of mental states to other species. Animal Behaviour 109: 167-176. 

Sidanius, J., & Pratto, F. (1999). Social dominance: An intergroup theory of social hierarchy and oppression. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.