Australian-first wildlife 'bible' tackles tough ethical questions for animal researchers

11 July 2022

Should you take a selfie with a quokka? Is there a humane way to scare off dingoes? Does electrofishing hurt fish? Can you tattoo a Tassie devil? And do the answers change if it's all for science?

A new wildlife research guide addresses the big ethical questions about conducting wild animal science' and lead editor and CQUniversity dingo researcher Dr Bradley Smith says it's the first to consider all Australian species across land and water.

Wildlife Research in Australia: Practical and Applied Methods is out with CSIRO Publishing in July 2022' and features work from 238 wildlife experts across Australia.

Dr Smith said the giant tome fills a big gap for all those involved in managing and researching Australian wildlife' and covers best-practice processes around animal welfare' animal ethics legislation' and the ethical application of traditional and modern approaches.

"The book is in three parts: wildlife ethics process and administration' research methods' and species profiles'" he explained.

"Imagine a PhD student starting out their project which requires them to trap and tag quolls. They can now refer to the chapter on trapping animals' and the chapter on marsupial carnivores to help plan their study and prepare an animal ethics application.

"We're calling it our wildlife 'bible'' it's the one-stop-shop for ethical research."

Dr Smith said the idea for the book came when as part of his role on CQUniversity's animal ethics committee' he was tasked with writing an operating procedure for considering wildlife when using drones.

"When I searched for detailed standard operating procedures around wildlife research methods' I realised there were no central or shared resources' which meant that many researchers were starting from scratch' or worse having to reinvent the wheel every time these issues came up'" he explained.

Dr Smith assembled an editorial team including an ecologist' an animal ethics manager' and a wildlife veterinarian. With their help he assembled species specialists from across Australia. The project took the team three years to produce' not helped by the global pandemic.

"There is probably a good reason why no one had attempted this task before. But that's how passionately we all felt that this book needed to be created and in the hands of our wildlife researchers and ethics committees across Australia'" he said.

As well as considering long-running ethical debates about humanely trapping' tagging or marking animals' Wildlife Research in Australia also looks at new challenges – such as using drones for monitoring animal populations and the risk to birds of prey (who might attack it)' citizen science projects' and the trend of wildlife 'selfies'.

"Every wildlife researcher in the field now carries a camera or a smart phone. There are certainly reasons researchers might need a photo of themselves with the species they are researching'" he said.

"But a photo with a wild animal should not be taken or shared in a way that members of the public can see it and think they can go out into native habitats and start handling wildlife and snapping selfies with them."

Wildlife Research in Australia will be launched at the 2022 Australian & New Zealand Council for the Care of Animals in Research and Teaching (ANZCCART) Conference in Melbourne on Monday' 25 July.

Dr Smith will also be presenting a session on the role of dogs in advancing human health and science.

For more information about Wildlife Research in Australia or to order a copy visit