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Good conservation outcomes depend on sound science that underpins management actions. Good data are becoming increasingly difficult to obtain as competing philosophies and emotive debate interfere with the processes that regulate conservation science. Iconic wildlife species are highly vulnerable to decline and are subject to intense scrutiny, particularly attracting people whose philosophies are closer to animal liberation than animal welfare. We demonstrate through a case study just how vulnerable conservation projects are to emotive pressures on the operation of Animal Ethics Committees (AECs). Our research, which was stopped, used proximity sensing radiocollars to obtain information on disease transmission important for managing a novel contagious cancer that is threatening the Tasmanian devil with extinction. Important lessons include the need for a governance structure of AECs that allows for independent review of decisions, the need to carefully screen potential committee members, and the need for AECs to both apply the code appropriately and then to stand by their decisions and the research in the case of emotive attack. We suggest that AECs and institutions should be less risk-averse about emotive attack in the media and focus on the more important goal of preventing extinction and the broader benefits of the proposed research.

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