Being just back from a trip with the tent into the wilderness of the Southern Carpathians in Romania, I realised once again the truth of the statement: Most wild animals are happy most of the time. With wild animals I mean here animals, who are not being persecuted by humans, who live an independent life outside of civilisation. I say that, because I keep seeing animals in the wild, and they almost always seem content and happy. Some are frolicking in the sun, some are playing, some are making love, some are resting and simply enjoying themselves. In only very rare occasions do I see animals, who are suffering.
Well, I would not have thought this statement to be remarkable. But for some people it is. There are people, who think that we humans in civilisation have the best possible life and the animals living in the wild generally suffer. They then conclude we should be interfering, bringing technology and civilisation into the wild, and possibly even genetically modify animals to become happy vegans.
The central argument for the suffering of non-human animals in the wild is, firstly, that some animals follow the evolutionary strategy to reproduce much and invest little into their offspring, so that most of them die. Secondly, humans argueing like this are mostly detached from nature and imagine themselves in the wild and conclude they would suffer (from cold, fear, wetness, hunger and so forth), so everybody else must as well. For them, the wild is paradigmatic for suffering, civilisation for safety and happiness. Funny, though, that it seems the opposite is true.
My primary argument for the above statement, that most wild animals are happy most of the time, is not just my observation, but also from evolution. Being happy is an important psychological state for animals, in order to be healthy. A happy animal has not just a much better immune system, he or she is also active and inquisitive, does interact socially and is looking after him or herself. Being happy and content is a vital ingredient to procreate and to live safely and long. Hence, evolution will produce animals, who are mostly happy under normal circumstances. When they are miserable in exceptional circumstances, they will strive to change conditions so that they become happy again.
It is true that most animals die a violent death in the wild. But that does not contradict the above statement. If I am killed today, I would still have lived a mostly happy life. In addition, adult animals feel safe under normal circumstances in the wild. In the evolutionary arms race between predator and prey, the prey animals are always one step ahead, otherwise the ecological balance could not be upheld.
For farmed animals, the absolute opposite is true. Most farmed animals are miserable most of the time. This is because most farmed animals are kept in very closed confinement, in order to produce as much output from them with as little monetary input as possible. But evolution has not prepared animals for being confined. They feel miserable and firstly try to escape. If that is frustrated, they give up and get seriously depressed. This is the state of mind of most farmed animals.
I conclude that our issue as animal activists must be primarily to help farmed animals and other animals abused by humans. For utilitarians, it is there where by far most of the suffering on this planet can be found. For political animal rights activists, for whom the autonomy of animals is the primary concern, animal liberation from human domination is the political goal anyway. This is because autonomy essentially means to live according to your own rules and laws. Wild animals do that, farmed animals mostly cannot.