From a utilitarian point of view, is it ethical to save tigers by creating sanctuaries and criminalizing poaching, when such tigers are known to violently attack humans?

Also, one strain of response could be that killing all tigers would lead to an imbalance in the ecosystem, but such an imbalance would not be considered unethical as far as it does not cause suffering.(Assuming only human pain and joy have any value)

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    This type of reasoning is known as the fallacy of relative privation, see What fallacy dismisses problems by presenting “bigger” problems? Combating hunger need not exclude saving tigers, and specific resource allocation is subject to cost-benefit analysis, not ethics.
    – Conifold
    Mar 28, 2017 at 1:59
  • I think the question here is not very clear. It could mean many things such as: is it ethical to save tigers when such tiger is dying, or is it ethical to save tigers over a human life, or is it ethical to spend resources trying to protect tigers. Once you clarify the context, then it would be easier to do a proper moral assesment. Mar 28, 2017 at 2:16
  • The fallacy you point to is about presenting a "bigger" problem to dismiss a smaller one. But I don't even consider the smaller one as a "problem" to be tackled, irrespective of the bigger problem. I have made the point more clear now, by totally removing that part of the question.
    – SMJoe
    Mar 28, 2017 at 5:55
  • @Non sequitur I've made the point clear now!
    – SMJoe
    Mar 29, 2017 at 3:51
  • Imbalance in the ecosystem causes suffering. Parts of the US hunted out their wolf populations, the ecosystem shifted so that coyotes replaced those wolves. Wolves are afraid to enter towns, coyotes aren't. So there are now more predator related deaths in those areas.
    – user9166
    Jun 8, 2017 at 19:02

3 Answers 3


Great question and for me, it points up one of the major confusions evidenced by the typical conservationist assertion that somehow, nature as we observe it in the recent centuries is in some type of 'balance', that is, before human intercession interrupts this 'natural' ecological normalcy. Species have come and gone in their multi-thousands upon thousands since life began. And so when I look out in my yard and see squirrels and chipmunks and robins and blue jays and crows and raccoons am I observing an ecological balance of some sort? Sorry for the sour humor!

But, seriously this question also attempts to bring into question another important issue; why are humans viewed as 'outside' of the natural system? For the zealous conservationist nearly everything we do is wrong. Having lived in Africa for 7 years and working for the Government of Botswana in Sothern Africa which boasts some of the most abundant 'wild' animal populations in the world, I experienced first hand the negative side of these NGOs that come into Africa and purport to understand a situation that they have never inhabited better than the people who live there. They go so far as to claim to be 'educating' the indigenous people on how to co-exist with animals that they have existed beside for millennium.

To push for balancing the needs of humans and animals and attempting to reach some sort of consensus is not anti-conservation. It is pro common sense with a touch of reality inserted into this emotionally charged issue.

To ensure that this answer incorporates a philosophical component, let me draw your attention to Spinoza's take on the proper interaction between humanity and the other lifeforms on the planet. This excerpt is from; Ethics Part Four- On Human Bondage- Appendix- VIII.

Whatsoever in nature we deem to be evil, or to be capable of injuring our faculty for existing and enjoying the rational life, we may endeavour to remove in whatever way seems safest to us; on the other hand, whatsoever we deem to be good or useful for preserving our being, and enabling us to enjoy the rational life, we may appropriate to our use and employ as we think best. Everyone without exception may, by sovereign right of nature, do whatsoever he thinks will advance his own interest.

This does not paint Spinoza as an opponent of animal rights. It simply lays out human choice coupled with a responsibility to manage wisely the resources on this planet. Sapere Aude, CS


Just because tigers do not speak English, it does not mean that tiger's pains and joys have no value. Humans are primates; primates are animals. What makes you think one animal's pain and joy have more value than another? Just because the other one cannot speak English? Is it ethical to take the bread out of a child's mouth to feed your own simply because that child is a tiger cub?

Historically, the tiger's silence has been abundantly taken advantage of by some famished English-speaking hominids.

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    This does not seem to address the "from a utilitarian point of view" aspect of the question.
    – E...
    Mar 27, 2017 at 14:22
  • My question was not really if tigers' lives have any value, I have already assumed it doesn't. But since you are on it, yes, I do find it reasonable that a human's life is more valuable than a tiger's because I am a human and tigers obviously prey on humans (and could possibly on me), and so I don't find any reason to value them more than fellow humans. Also, just check out the amount of human attacks that tigers cause around these sanctuaries. If protecting human murderers is unethical, why should tigers be spared?
    – SMJoe
    Mar 27, 2017 at 17:27
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    @SMJoe - your assumption is egocentric and unacceptable. The truth is some humans are more valuable than tigers, some others are not. Mar 27, 2017 at 18:15

It may be considered ethical by some and unethical by others. One's ethics = one's moral belief system (e.g., I should/should not kill others, I should/should not show up late to my meeting, I should/should not help this person find a ride home, I should/should not allow another person to break the law, etc.). Let's consider two similar assertions: 1) it's unethical to save people at the expense of animals and 2) it's ethical to save animals at the expense of people. If you agree with assertion 1, then you might vote against animal-testing, given the democratic opportunity to do so. However, your vote might not match that of the majority: I, for example, would vote for animal-testing because this practice allowed for the use of insulin for the treatment of diabetes in humans (a MAJOR preventor of human death). The only alternative to animal-based research in this particular case would have been to wait until mastery of insulin dosages by happy-stance coincidence or by testing insulin dosages on humans, which would have resulted in several human deaths. Having learned of the case of insulin, given that you still agree with assertion 1, you also agree with assertion 2 (which is slightly harder to swallow): the moral belief system that agres with assertion 1 depsite the insulin-case claims that, regardless of potential harm to any humans, one should save animals. Assertion 2, though, is readily refuted by the following argument for survival: if you will die unless you eat this animal (that is not yet dead- all the dead animals are too bacteria-ridden to safely consume and there are no other food sources), then would you decide to not eat the animal at the expense of your own life? Probably not, but if so, do reply with your reasoning (haha)!

CONCLUSION: Unless you can defend assertions 1 and 2, then you cannot claim that donating your money/spending your time saving tigers is ethical when there are people who could benefit from your donated money/spent time.

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