Genetic Engineering, Nature Conservation, and Animal Ethics – Why Genetically Modifying Wild Sentient Animals Is Not a Good Option

Environmental Ethics
published on May 3, 2024
Leonie N. Bossert, Thomas Potthast


The use of genetic engineering is increasingly discussed for nature conservation. At the same time, recent animal ethics approaches debate whether humans should genetically engineer wild animals to improve their welfare. This paper examines if obligations towards wild sentient animals require humans to genetically engineering wild animals, while arguing that there is no moral need to do so. The focus is on arguments from animal ethics, but they are linked to conservation ethics, highlighting the often neglected overlap between the two fields. The paper emphasizes that a) the benefits of genetic engineering are overestimated and at the same time harms from its development and use underestimated, b) the assumption that genetic engineering is an appropriate ‘last resort’ tool is wrong, c) many arguments in favor of genetic engineering are based on an inadequate understanding of ecology and biotechnological processes, and d) the debate downplays the importance of self-determination for wild animals.