A gentle reminder that zoos are not the answer

Every now and then I comment on an Instagram post about animal issues. I do not care for the catty nature of insta-arguments, and it is heartbreaking to see how hateful people can be on social media, so I largely keep to myself. But sometimes I get inspired.

Some news outlet recently reposted a cartoon about how zoos educate children about animals not native to where they live, and thus encourage children to get involved in conservation issues when they’re older. The cartoon acknowledged how zoos aren’t the best environment for some of the animals there, but that they serve this educational/encouraging purpose and so we still need them. I found this post well-meaning but naive.

So I make the point in a comment that the problem with zoos is that the animals cannot consent to being locked up and that it is morally unfair for us to essentially imprison them for purely human objectives. Furthermore, doing so perpetuates this idea that we are lords over non-human animals and can do whatever we want with them. And, these days, zoos simply are not necessary to educate kids about wild animals, what with the technology and travel capabilities we have now. We’re past the days of menageries, people (or are we?). I learned empathy towards animals by having domesticated animals around. Elephants were important to me long before I ever saw one in person.

So anyway I made a short, sincere post and went on with my life. Well, someone responded to it. Which is fine, totally cool. Except that she had gone through my Instagram feed and brought my cat into the argument. 

Image result for excuse me gif

I am very protective of Nora, but that is not the point. This individual said that my cat could not consent to being locked up as my pet, and that if zoos made kids want to be conservationists then that’s a good thing. The fun part is that she did not offer any evidence that zoos do accomplish this purpose, when my explicit argument was that they do not accomplish this purpose any more than other methods. But she also erroneously connects lack of consent (which is a whole thing, it’s why we can’t marry horses) to a rescued, domesticated animal.

One depressing fact is that a lot of the elephants in India and SE Asia are domesticated, and it’s causing a huge problem figuring out what to do with them now that using them for logging has been banned, because they still need care. Similarly with dogs and cats, we domesticated them and then we were SUPER irresponsible, and now there are too many. And they need to be rescued and cared for (and spayed and neutered, I’m 100% behind that). But the fact is that shelter cats and dogs must be cared for by humans, because they cannot care for themselves. That’s what domesticated means.

So here’s how that connection is severed regarding elephants. First, some zoo elephants are captured from the wild – this ain’t okay. They cannot live healthy lives in zoo enclosures. In fact, even domesticated elephants can’t. Elephants need three things at the very least: (1) lots of room, (2) to forage for food, and (3) not to be separated from their herds or forced to cohabitate with a stranger elephant. The first point is all we need to look at to discredit the idea of zoos being okay at all for elephants. Zoos will *never* build enclosures large enough to house a family of elephants in a healthy way, because (a) they cannot afford to, and (b) the enclosures would be, essentially, sanctuaries (because we’re talking square miles rather than acres) and zoo visitors would never see the elephants and so what is the point in having them. It’s all about drawing crowds and making money.

We have videos, movies, books, semi-affordable safaris (I mean, I cannot afford them, but maybe someone who feels she is entitled to have the entire animal kingdom physically represented in her hometown can afford one). A kid does not need to see something to care about it – it’s called empathy.

Anyway, here are a few arguments for zoos and what I think about them.

“Zoos are educational and teach children about animals”

So do textbooks, videos, and the internet which is included on every single phone and now even 4-year-olds have their own phones.. I know it’s crazy, anyway thank u, next.

“It’s worth having zoos if it contributes to saving a species”

I read an interesting argument somewhere earlier (here) that submitted that a “species” in and of itself is a collection of individuals, and it’s not the existence of the species so much as it is the quality of life of the existing individuals that matters. How do we choose which individuals in a given species are unlucky enough to be subjected to a life of confinement? Again, that humans wield this power over animals and think we are “saving” them is narcissistic and, um, wrong. Like factually incorrect. Zoos do not contribute to saving a species because (a) it’s extremely difficult to reintroduce the animals into the wild, (b) zoo breeding programs are trash, and (c) it’s about money, guys.

Another problem with this one is that a lot of zoo animal species aren’t in trouble. I’ve not embarked on a study of the animals housed in every zoo but it’s not like zoos are saying, “all of the species you see here are endangered and it’s important to save them.” No, all the zoos are worried about is having exhibits with cute animal babies in them to bring in more money. Babies that likely won’t live as long (and definitely not as happily) as their wild counterparts.

The biggest problem I have with all of this is (obviously, by now) that people think they need to be able to see something to care about it, that it’s our right as humans to be able to see wild, powerful animals in the flesh because we want to. What’s with the entitlement? It’s so incredibly selfish. We take for granted the freedom we have, especially in this country, and we don’t find it necessary to bestow that same freedom on animals?

Image result for elephant gif

This little angel isn’t in a zoo, and we would never see something this endearing or playful in a zoo, I would predict. Until I can afford to travel to a reserve I am satisfied watching videos of elephants, cuddling my 3 or 4 stuffed elephants (yes I’m an adult), and encouraging any kid I come in contact with to do the same. And if I ever have a child and they beg to go to the zoo, I would take them (only once) and I would say, “these animals don’t belong in cages, but not everyone realizes that yet. Momma/Mommy/Mother/Dude (whatever the kid calls me) is working to get these animals out and back into the wild, where they belong.”

Moral of the story is do not call out my cat on Insta if you don’t know her, however if your aim is to get a response from me then that is the way to do it.

Have a good Thanksgiving and you don’t have to eat turkey if you don’t want to! Meow

Elephants, Faces, and Loneliness (and whales!)

Asha, a 35-year-old African elephant, has been at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia for 22 years. Every day, for 22 years, Asha trudges through the same lonely, solitary existence. Every day, she wakes up, and her life is the exact same as it was the day before. And she’s going through it completely alone.

She’s likely been beaten into submission by the “trainers” at this awful place – in fact, a commenter on Yelp stated he’d been asked to leave when his grandson was riding Asha (problem number one) and the trainer began hitting Asha with a stick. If this zoo’s employees are so bold as to hit Asha in front of patrons, imagine what they’re capable of doing after hours? It makes me sick.

She gives rides day after day, even in the sticky, unrelenting heat, with no hope for a better life after all of her literally back-breaking work. No breaks, no proper diet, no proper medical care, no shade….. cracked feet, small quarters, back rides (I can’t) the list goes on. Any of these is reason enough to shut this stupid zoo down, but the Virginia gaming and whatever crew doesn’t know what’s best for animals anymore than the riff raff over at Natural Bridge Zoo does. In any case, to me, the worst part of Asha’s situation is that she’s completely isolated. She’s alone. Everyday, the same painful, humiliating routine. Alone.

[sign a petition for Asha]

Loneliness is scary. Our identity is wrapped up in the relationships we have with other people, and when those relationships aren’t healthy, or they fail, or we isolate ourselves from others, we question our identity. That’s a big reason for depression and other mental illnesses. I mean, how many times have you been down the Rabbit Hole of Sad (RHoS is my own invented phrase, not to be confused with “Rabbit Hole,” an actual sad movie starring Nicole Kidman), and it just takes a simple interaction with another human being who did not go down the Rabbit Hole of Sad for you to snap out of it? (I’m not talking about actual depression – I would never suggest a depressed person simply “snap out of it”). It’s so important to have other humans around you to provide perspective when you get stuck. Even serious suffering can be alleviated by shared experience – see benefits of Group TherapyBut imagine being completely isolated at the hands of a different species. Having no way out, or being powerless to change whatever is isolating you – I mean, that’s even MORE isolating.

Lately I’ve gone down the Rabbit Hole of Reading About Face Transplants because (a) my morbid curiosity always wins and (b) face transplants are f-ing AMAZING. I am blown away by the teams of surgeons that perform these procedures. The intricacy of attaching a face, the super strict time constraints (aka keeping the face alive from donor to recipient). It’s just incredible. Have you ever seen a photograph of a face… just a face… laying on a table? If you get squeamish, ever, I wouldn’t Google it. But.. I mean you should. It’s crazy.

ANYWAY – there are a hundred reasons why a face transplant could fail. The biggest reason is that the recipient’s body could reject the face, just like it could reject any other organ transplant. But a face has more attached to it – muscles, tendons, bone, blood vessels, etc – so there are more ways your body can reject a face than ways it can reject a kidney. This means the recipient has to be on a crazy intense regimen of immunosuppressive drugs, which in turn leave the body vulnerable to other types of infections, and like, cancer. wtf?

My actual point is, another surprising way face transplants can fail is that the recipient doesn’t react well psychologically. Think about it. Think about what you think about when you think about you. (if you break that sentence down, slowly, it does actually make sense).  You think about your face first, right? Our face is our identity, because you can’t identify someone by their thoughts, feelings, preferences, or relationships right off the bat. Our faces allow us to identify a person quickly, so all of the feelings we have about a person are associated with their face. Now imagine that your face is gone, and you have someone else’s face, often ill-fitting (they choose donors by blood type, not whether the face is the same size) and oh also you have to take 700 medications per day which might allow you to get cancer good luck!

So you have someone else’s face, and it probably doesn’t fit right, and it’s swollen in weird places and your eyes are droopy, and it’s just generally an uncomfortable process. And often, when someone’s face is destroyed, their eyesight is destroyed too. So you’re going through this, unable to see whatever family or friends are supporting you, unable to see your doctors, just, in the dark. And face trauma/transplants are still rare, so it’s not likely that you’re in a unit in a hospital with twenty other people with funky faces. No, it’s just you.

And even if it’s not just you, the trauma of losing your face, your identity, is so deeply personal that it can be isolating even if you meet others with the same issue. Some face transplant recipients have a hard time adjusting – like Isabelle Dinoire, who, three years after her transplant, said she didn’t know who she was (like in a existential sense, not in an amnesiac sense). And her new face actually looked really good! Nevertheless, she had a hard time coping with essentially having a new identity. Also, a few years ago her body started rejecting her new face and then she passed away from cancer.

Another transplant recipient literally went crazy after his transplant and committed suicide – although it was a previous suicide attempt that took his face in the first place – despite teams of psychiatrists finding him to be healthy enough to handle a transplant.

Anyway – loneliness, identity, coping, health, blah blah blah. That’s my point. Loneliness is the worst and it’s bad for you, healthwise and for purposes of morale. It’s always better to have a buddy.

Back to Asha. What I am NOT doing is suggesting that Natural Bridge Zoo get a second elephant. No sir. What I am suggesting is that part of the reason zoos are evil is because elephants are isolated. Even within groups of elephants held in zoos, elephants isolate themselves because their fellow inmates are not members of the elephant’s family. Zoo groups are usually brought together in a piece meal manner and it just doesn’t work.

Elephants exhibit signs of loneliness. They are highly social animals that cannot thrive in solitary confinement (who knew?!). They can literally die from the effects of being lonely – they stop eating, don’t get enough nutrients, and die of infection.

But Asha doesn’t even have the option of interacting with another elephant. She just has idiot kids ranting and raving about riding her, and idiot “trainers” that hit her when she does something wrong normal. Basically, everyone is an idiot.

I can’t even sleep properly (poor me!!) imagining what her life must be like. It’s sad and infuriating, and shame on the state of Virginia for allowing this carnival of death and evil to continue operating.

I don’t quite know what to do other than email/write letters/call both the zoo and whoever is in charge in Virginia and hit them with facts. We could organize a protest? I think my organs would shut down if I got within 100 yards of this place. Umm… tell your friends not to ride elephants? Mkay yes thank you.

From the permit application it looks like collectionpermits@dgif.virginia.gov is a valid email. BRB gonna send them my feelings on the matter…

And now ~ back to the ABCs of Endangered Species.

Today’s featured celebrity is… TA DA…

the Blue Whale

FullSizeRender.jpg

Bio:

OTHER NAMES

baleine bleue in French. Quel charme!

HABITAT

blue_whale_range_map

lol, everywhere 

IUCN says they live in every ocean except the arctic. More populous in Southern Chile, Gulf of California, and the Coral Triangle.

POPULATION

10,000 to 25,000

SIGNIFICANCE

beluga_58358.jpg

look at dat faaaace (this is not a blue whale)

So blue whales weigh – wait for it – THIRTY. THREE. ELEPHANTS. They literally weigh the same as 33 elephants. WHat. The largest animal on the planet and it’s louder than a jet. I can hear a jet now (I live near an airport) annnnd, let’s just say I ain’t wanna be near a blue whale when it gets mad. That is just crazy. Like, SeaWorld isn’t even gonna try to cram one of these things in one of its pathetic prison tanks. Imagine airlifting 33 elephants at a time? Omg.

So the significance of whales is that, well, first of all they exist and they have every right to exist just as much as we do. Also they are at the top of the food chain and therefore significantly impact marine ecosystems. Sort of like when my supervisor leaves for the week no one goes to work (is that just me?).

THREATS

Uhhhhh climate change? Habitat loss, toxins from all the trash we throw in the water (seriously littering should be a capital offense it is NOT hard to throw your stuff away and throwing your trash in water? what is wrong with people), toxins from other things like, idk, oil I would imagine. Also they can get into trouble with boats and get tangled up in fishing gear. I can’t imagine how puny fishing gear would be any match for one of these 33-elephant-fish but apparently it’s a serious threat to them. Also they eat krill and krill is disappearing. But let me clarify – they eat 4 tons of krill EACH. PER DAY. They eat four tons of food per day?! So jealous

Also pollution from big ships like barges harms whales by dirtying the oxygen they breath and the water they live in.

THE HELPERS

Sooo for one, World Wildlife Fund and other groups are tracking these babies and documenting the routes they take, so that hopefully those routes can become protected areas where no fishing is allowed. There is also the International Whaling Commission that big groups like WWF lobby for better protections for whales.

Also this group of helpers is encouraging big boats to slow down to help protect the whales. That’s neat.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Unfortunately eating fish/seafood contributes to the problems whales face. The fishing industry often harms bigger fish when it rounds up the tiny fish for us to eat. I’m not like, preaching at you I’m just saying

You could symbolically adopt a whale through Defenders of Wildlife although I interviewed for a law school internship with them and didn’t get hired so can we really trust them

not bitter i swear

Help however you want. Tell your friends! Tell your cat if you prefer to spend time with your cat over humans. No judgment here.  Spread empathy, that may be a good place to start! Also do not throw your trash in the water or I will find you ~

Thanks for reading!

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Hey friends ~

 

How’s everyone feeling? If you feel good, I’m jealous of you. Everyone in the apartment is sick right now. Not to be excluded, even the cat threw up on the shag rug this morning. Now I have about 30 minutes of energy left in me, so let’s talk about elephants again.

 

The only tv I could handle today was Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on very low volume. One of the first episodes was filmed in Myanmar, which is where The Elephant Project is looking to build a sanctuary. It reminded me that recently, a few friends have asked me about visiting elephants in Thailand and how to do it responsibly.

 

I have mixed feelings about visiting elephants. I wonder sometimes if all elephant tourism stopped, if eventually people would just leave them alone in the wild. This is obviously not true, as human-elephant conflict will never allow both parties to live in peace (I care about humans, too!). Maybe elephant tourism is a necessary evil. Some animal rights extremists say owning pets is a necessary evil, and that all domesticated pets should be neutered/spayed so that eventually they will die out. I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, and neither is the end of elephant tourism. Plus, I’m thankful that at least people want to see elephants in their native countries, as opposed to some pathetic zoo over here. 

 

So,

Six rules for a responsible elephant sighting in southeast Asia.

 

 

 

#1  Take your chances

 

If you won’t be devastated by potentially not seeing an elephant, I would suggest visiting a national park or reserve, where the animals roam completely free. For example, according to this article it’s pretty easy to spot an elephant in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka during certain months of the year. I’m sure this is true in Thailand, where there are a bunch of national parks.

 

I know it’s tempting to visit somewhere that you know you’ll be able to interact with an elephant. Who wouldn’t? I would pee in my pants if I got to meet an elephant. But the point of seeing an elephant is seeing it happy, exhibiting behaviors like it would in the wild (waving its tail, flapping its ears, constantly on the move). Who wants to see an elephant that’s been beaten into submission? It’s not worth it. Please, if you can, take your chances. Your elephant karma will be high, maybe that increases your chances of seeing a family!

 

 

#2  No riding

 

 

Most people know this by now (hopefully), but under no circumstances should you ride an elephant. Who are you, Aladdin? Who needs to ride an elephant? Nobody. No matter what the reviews say, no nothing. Those elephants were most likely beaten as infants and are chained when they’re not working. Plus, even if trained elephants were treated humanely, spending money on this activity supports this form of tourism, which increases the demand, which increases the abuse endured by elephants in the industry. Spend your money other ways in the country if you want to help.  

 

#3  Do not. ride. any wild animals.

 

Just don’t. I can’t even post a photo of western tourists riding elephants because they look so. stupid.

 

snape

 

 

#4  Keep it on the elephants terms

 

Elephant Nature Park, right outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the best reviews by “woke” tourists – most people picked up on the fact that every interaction at ENP was “on the elephants’ terms.”

 

You shouldn’t visit places that have trained the elephants to do anything for you. To be trained, an elephant usually has to be broken, first.

 

african-elephant-balancing-on-ball-260nw-718342978

 

NO…….

Here’s a documentary about domesticating an elephant if you really need to be convinced: Yes, it’s PETA, just watch it.

 

 

#5  Use common sense

 

Now that you know an elephant shouldn’t be performing tricks for you, pay attention to the interactions between the mahouts and elephants. Read all the reviews you can. Ask what happens to the elephants when the place is closed. Are they chained or allowed to roam? I’ve read a lot of reviews from people who said they decided not to stay at a place because it “seemed fishy.” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t stay.

Do the animals look healthy? Do they have visible wounds?

 

Do they look like this?

bad-elephant-drawing.gif

Definitely a bad sign.

 

Are the elephants separated or together, in groups that resemble their original family structures? If it feels bad, it probably is.

 

 

#6  Finally, apply this knowledge to other animals

 

Elephants aren’t the only animals exploited for tourism money. See what happened at the famous Tiger Temple a few years ago.  And now they want to open a zoo next door! Don’t visit a zoo, don’t visit a “menagerie.” You should only be viewing animals in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

 

tiger

Mood

 

There are a ton of web articles about ethical elephant experiences, but the best advice is to use your common sense. If you feel that an elephant is being mistreated, don’t stay. If you feel an elephant is being mistreated at a place that claims to be ethical/rehabilitating/sanctuary, tell someone! Leave a review! Contact the owners. Blow up Trip Advisor. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to be responsible with our tourist dollars.

 

 

 

So, if you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else in SE Asia, I’m jealous. I also hope you’ll spend your dollars wisely. It just takes a little bit of research but it’s totally worth it for the elephant babies – and for other animals too! Beware of any group that’s making an animal perform for you.

The Gift of Empathy

Hi friends!

 

Has this been the month from hell or what? Is it just me? What’s going on with you guys?

 

Hell-road-sign-Reuters-5319176

 

March has worn me out and we’re only ⅔ through. I am TIRED. I’m tired of Maryland drivers, and tired of a lot of other things but mostly Maryland drivers. Everyday I cross the state line from Virginia to Maryland, and silly ensues. I think my Google maps lady is getting tired of it too. I feel her rolling her robot eyes every time she says “there’s a 500 minute slowdown on 495 for no identifiable reason.” “Your commute has just been multiplied by 40.” I guess I just hate driving, but I’m thankful I have the means to get to a job in another city everyday.

 

ANYWAY ~ I’ve had a hard time working up the motivation to draft a blog post lately, because I originally thought every post on here needed to be like, really good. (They haven’t been but… ) To put it simply, I thought blog posts needed to take a lot of time to prepare. And, remember when I thought it’d be cute to illustrate my own posts by hand? Well, that was a different time in my life. Let’s call it the “working part time at a wine store” era; the Barrel Epoque – my extended inability to deal with modern adulthood and subsequent enlightenment aka the realization I needed health insurance and therapy.

 

I never wanted to practice law, but I stumbled upon an amazing job opportunity and decided to give it a shot. And I love it. I am so so grateful for where I am now. The only problem is I haven’t quite built up the stamina to work a full day and then do more research and writing for this website, at least at the level I first anticipated. But I have so many ideas that I want to archive on here that it’s probably best to just keep writing and see where this goes. Plus I need to chill, this is a blog, not the bar exam. Go do legal research yourselves.

 

So, I’m going to write about empathy today and hopefully won’t trail off in a direction that’s too hard to follow.

 

The Gift of Empathy

 

What is empathy? My understanding is that it’s the ability to put yourself in the position of someone or something else. When we see pain in an animal, human or otherwise, it bothers most of us. We may not do this consciously, but what we’re doing is sort of imagining what that animal is going through by virtually placing ourselves in that situation. And when we’re in that virtual situation, we think, “I don’t like this…  they probably don’t like it either.” And then we feel bad.

 

Empathy is somewhat easier to have when the pain and suffering is in our face. But most of the pain and suffering non-human animals experience is purposely hidden from us, as consumers. Meat is packaged nicely at the grocery store and the ridiculous ag-gag laws (blog post idea!) prevent us from seeing what really goes on in slaughterhouses even if we wanted to know. Some dog breeders won’t show you where the animals are kept – they just show up with a cute lil puppy in a parking lot somewhere, or sell puppies to a clean pet store. Even more subtle, zoos put lonely, depressed animals on display and then tell us that they’re fine, that their behavior is natural. But, none of this is the whole story. And, it is much harder for us to imagine the suffering these animals are experiencing when we are not seeing it firsthand.

 

It takes what I like to call “advanced empathy” to have the same feelings of compassion and shared suffering when we can’t see an animal suffering firsthand. The good news is that seemingly a lot of people have advanced empathy. The bad news is that a LOT of people do not. (looking at you, NRA).

 

But more good news – you don’t need advanced empathy to make changes that benefit animals! You just need to know that doing the right thing is important, and you need to know what the right thing is. Even more good news is that these days, none of us can claim ignorance regarding animal suffering anymore. Everyone is on blast, and even if they are not, these days everyone should have a healthy level of skepticism about…. Well, everything.

 

So empathy, or the knowledge that animals are suffering, should be sufficient to encourage us to make changes in our daily lives that benefit them. Consuming fewer animals products, perhaps going completely vegan, speaking out, volunteering, donating, etc, are all good ways to help. Furthermore, taking action for animals propagates more action. You’ll want to go even further in your efforts or encourage others to join you.

 

The bad news here is that empathy and knowledge aren’t always enough. Take the current administration, for example. (not really a good example of typical, warm-blooded human beings but whatever). Here’s how their decision making process goes:

 

 

Admin:  we’ll lift the ivory ban for no apparent reason

 

Animal advocates: WHAT, elephants are on their way to extinction and they’re having their tusks ripped from their faces. How is sending Americans on hunting safaris going to solve this problem what is wrong with you everyone knows even the DC Circuit OMG 

 

Admin: okay maybe we won’t, that sounds kinda bad

 

NRA and SCI: here is money also can we join your board 

 

Admin: Ban lifted! Who cares about elephants

 

IMG_3617.gif

“I CAN’T, AND I CAN’T” 

(Kate McKinnon as Mika from Morning Joe, honestly one of her best characters just kidding all of her characters are the best)

 

I’m assuming some of the decision makers have their wits about them, and have some inkling of guilt or emotional pain when considering how barbaric trophy hunting actually is. Or maybe not. But they DEFINITELY have the knowledge that what their doing is mind-blowingly stupid, like, scientifically. This is a great example of a situation in which knowledge and empathy (if it exists) aren’t enough.

 

Where the process breaks down is in our weaponry. The two sides are not fighting with the same weapons. Animal advocates are attempting to appeal to the goodness and logic inside decision makers, and the gun lizards are using money. The decision makers see money and forget to use their brains. It’s a mess.

 

So what do animal advocates do? We’re broke. We are tired of the “small victories” being overshadowed by the endless suffering that no one in charge seems to care about. It feels like constant loss and it’s depressing. (Spoiler alert: there is no resolution in this poorly organized blog post).

 

I for one have decided to embrace my own empathic tendencies. Sure, it means I get sad easier. But if I can muster the energy to turn my feelings into actions, then I have an endless supply of ammunition. I will never run out of empathy, but my opponents may run out of money or power.

 

I used to be self-conscious about how sensitive I am. But now I am proud of my ability to put myself in someone else’s shoes. I forgive faster and I also am not living an insular life. I like feeling connected to animals – all of them, not just dogs and cats. Sure, my empathy is human-centric, but I think I’m in a good place and cheers to always improving.

 

 

Oh yeah – elephants.

Elephants are SUPER empathetic.

Just one of the many reasons we should strive to be more like them. I wonder if elephants show empathy to humans, too, or just their own species? I want to keep going with this but actually I need to go to work on this lovely spring day.

 

IMG_1449

 

 

You know what Hemingway says, stop writing when you know what happens next. That way you know where to start the next day. Stay tuned for my next post on Elephant Empathy!

 

 

5 Reasons We Should Care About Animals, or, Why Is An Elephant Like An Oyster?

Dear Reader,

 

Before this blog (blawg?) gets into laws and regulations and such, I want to first touch on a philosophical question common in the animals rights/welfare movement.

 

WHY?

 

Why should we care about animal welfare and/or animal rights?

 

First, the welfare vs. rights distinction.

Welfare just gives humans a duty to make sure animals are well cared for. It establishes sort of a mutually beneficial relationship that started way back when everyone was a farmer. There is a body of thought that welfare comprises these “Five Freedoms,” and as long as these are checked off, everyone is good.

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
  2. Freedom from discomfort
  3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
  4. Freedom to express normal behavior
  5. Freedom from fear and distress

So, animal welfare still allows humans to use animals for their meat, skins, etc.

 

Animal rights activists generally disagree with the use of animals for any reason, even if the animal is cared for in a “humane” way. The basis of this belief is that animals possess intrinsic value, and are not just valuable for what benefits they provide to humans.

 

Note: Beware the groups that demonize animal rights activists. Every social movement has its extremists, and not all animal rights activists want to take your pets away. Don’t believe everything the NAIA tells you. Seriously what is with the graphic at the bottom.

 

The main difference is that the animal welfare movement stills allows for the use of animals for human benefit, and animals rights movement aims to give animals legal rights and more autonomy.

 

Elephants & the Law’s position is that animals deserve better legal status, because they are valuable in their own right. Obviously not the same legal status as an adult human, although I do think my cat should be able to vote. She’s Lib-purr-tarian…

 

Animals are not ours to use freely, but we should be able to coexist with them, and use what they provide for us if our use does not cause harm. We should be smart enough to know where to draw the line.

 

But still, why do we even care?

 

Five Reasons

Because animals are valuable in their own right.

 

 

 

If you have the time, I would suggest reading Peter Singer’s Animal Liberation or Practical Ethics. Both were published a while ago but the philosophy behind his arguments is timeless.

 

               Peter-Singer-Animal-Liberation-Book         Practical_Ethics,_1980_edition

 

His argument starts with Jeremy Bentham’s utilitarianist view that the test for whether animals matter is whether they can suffer. Peter Singer builds on that test, explaining something that he termed “equal consideration of interests.” Basically, if an animal can experience pain and suffering, then that animal is worthy of consideration. That animal has an interest in not suffering, and that interest should be weighed equally with the interests of humans. Because no one wants to suffer.

 

Animals exist in their own complex universes, innocently concerned with not hurting, starving, or being eaten. We have no place ranking their importance in our universe.

 

But, while we’re on Bentham and the question “Why?”…

jeremy-bentham-remains

Why?

Click here for an explanation

Because we are compassionate beings.

 

If you really need a reason to care about animal welfare or rights, this is a pretty good one.

 

What is compassion? Google says: “Sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others”

 

So suffering and misfortune provokes a compassionate response in humans. Well, animals – elephants in particular – are experiencing suffering and misfortune constantly. And we just can’t plead ignorance anymore.

 

We are compassionate to other humans (hopefully), so why not every living thing?

 

Because caring about animals makes us better.

 

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”

Immanuel Kant

Caring for animals makes makes us better in a lot of ways, not just our health. ( I know some people are like ew Huffington Post, but the author of this article is a well-known neurologist and a very reputable animal advocate. Check out Aysha Akhtar on TedX!)

Caring for animals makes us a more compassionate, progressive, sustainable society.

And less violent.

There are a lot of studies about the link between animal abuse and domestic violence Studies show that abusing animals during childhood is an indicator of violence later in life. This article suggests that children who do abuse animals have probably witnessed domestic or animals abuse themselves. What a terrible cycle.

So, if we turn this around, then maybe showing animals compassion during childhood is an indicator that one will show animals and humans compassion throughout one’s life. Maybe loving elephants is an indicator that one is not a serial killer? Would this hold up in court? Asking for a friend.

 

Because a world without elephants would SUCK.

Question: Why is an elephant like an oyster? (credit: IFAW)

IMG_7694

Answer: Both are “keystone” species. “This means that if the species were to disappear from the ecosystem, no other species would be able to fill its ecological niche.” 

And other reasons. And other other reasons.

 

But, most importantly, elephants are valuable in their own right, remember? They are valuable because they exist. They are beautiful, intelligent, friendly, vegetarians, and a world without them would be so, so, sad. Because a world without elephants reflects on our apathy to their suffering. For what? Little ivory statues? One of my friends from law school often says, “Is everyone okay?” Seriously.

DBJCxfgXoAAafUm.jpg-large

 

And finally,

Because progress is important.

 

Because progress on animal rights reflects progress on equality in general.

 

Equality is about more than race, sex, or whatever humans seem to think. Equality is about an open mind, about consideration, about realizing the world doesn’t revolve around one person or one species. Progress on one front means we’re going in the right direction.

 

“The animals of the world exist for their own reasons. They were not made for humans any more than black people were made for white, or women created for men.”

– Alice Walker.

YES ALICE. By the way, Alice Walker is an author and civil rights activist – not an animal rights activist. She might not be vegan, and that’s her business. This is a good quote and a sentiment that resonates with me.   

There is a common argument against animal activism that says it’s wrong to put time and energy towards animal rights when humans are suffering. But, like I said, progress on one front is progress in general. This article about a human rights activist-turned-animal-rights-activist is another good response.

I just love this:

Of course this is the dominant mentality, based on a presumed superiority of humans, so much so that the slightest harm to a human is often seen to outweigh a tremendous harm to an animal. Given that the capacity to suffer is in no way limited to human beings, this bias in favor of humans is simple prejudice, favoring those we perceive as similar over those we perceive as different and therefore inferior, the hallmark of all discrimination and oppression.”

 

Basically, equality is important, and progress towards equality is essential. And that includes animal equality. It doesn’t mean building mansions for mice, it just means letting them live in peace. It’s not that difficult!

 

Thanks everyone!