Should animals be given more rights, to live and not suffer?
There can be no doubt that we need to look after this planet and its natural resources.
At present, we are robbing our earth for its minerals, oil, timber and other natural resources. At the same time we are taking more and more land each year for the purpose of building houses, roads, factories, airports, shops, offices and farms...
Each day the world's population increases by over 228,000 individuals. This means that we increase the human population of the planet by a staggering total of one million more people every two to three days!
It has been estimated that it takes three million acres of good arable land to feed one million people - and yet we are taking vast acres of land away from agriculture each year.
The loss of land through the destruction of habitat means that an ever increasing number of plant and animal species are threatened with extinction.
Species of plants and animals which have declined in numbers to the point where they could disappear are regarded as endangered species. Other animals and plants which seem to be declining rapidly in numbers might be described as threatened species or, if laws are passed to prevent further decline, protected species.
Practically all the conservation organisations are concerned with the endangered, threatened and protected species - and tend not to become directly involved in the issues of "animal rights".
So, the conservationists, environmentalists and ecologists are really concerned with the major issues of destruction of habitat endangered species, conservation of natural resources and general environmental protection
Hunters come under several different headings. There are those who hunt for 'sport', hunters and trappers who make a living from the animals they kill, but who generally kill animals that are plentiful. There are poachers, killing for profit, who supply a market made possible by the demands of tourists. There are fox-hunters who dress up in their scarlet coats and make a social occasion out of a kill ("the unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable" as they were once described) - and there are those who simply take pleasure in killing.
Shooting for sport
There are now three times as many foxes as there were forty years ago. The Hunting Act of 2004 states, "A person commits an offence if he hunts a wild mammal with a dog, unless hunting is exempt.", effectively banning hunting foxes with dogs. This decline in fox hunting may have resulted in the rapid increase of the fox population. Some people say that there is a need to control the number of foxes in Britain and reduce their numbers and many people think that the typical fox hunt is an effective means of control. Others say that foxes are not a pest and that if a fox does become troublesome there are alternative and more humane methods of killing it. The alternatives to hunting are shooting, gassing and poisoning - none of which can be guaranteed to succeed in killing the fox without prolonged suffering. After their 2015 election victory, the Conservative Party considered offering a free vote to again legalise traditional fox hunting with dogs, though this was later overturned as it was unpopular with voters. In 2020, foxes are still being hunted as trail and drag hunting is still permitted.
Shooting for Sport
There are still a great many people around the world who enjoy killing animals for 'sport' and for the collection of trophies such as animal heads which are mounted for wall display.
In America, the hunter buying ammunition for the shooting of prey species actually pays a 'conservation tax' on each cartridge which goes to help the State wildlife conservation bodies.
Generally speaking hunters tend to shoot species that are plentiful, and it is in the interests of these hunters to ensure the survival of the species that they want to hunt. For this reason the majority of prey species cannot be hunted during their breeding seasons.
There are those who shoot animals in order to eat them. A typical pheasant shoot produces birds intended for the table, so there is a purpose behind the shoots. The shooting of pheasants and similar game birds is probably no worse than killing animals in a slaughterhouse or battery farm.
It does not necessarily make the shooting of game birds 'alright' but there is at least a purpose in killing pheasants if people eat them. The same can be said for the wildfowlers who shoot geese and ducks.
Deer hunters, whatever we may feel about them, help to control the number of deer. The sheer discomfort of deer stalking has been responsible for the comparatively small number of hunters. In many areas there are far too many deer, so the hunter is one instrument for the reduction in deer numbers. At the same time, the deer meat (venison) gives the kill an additional purpose.
It was the hunters of otters who drew attention to the decline of that species in Britain. The otter hunts ceased hunting before the otter was given protection under the Wildlife and Countryside Act. However, it was not the hunts which reduced the number of otters, but rather the reduction of their natural habitat and the pollution of rivers.
If we can find some excuse for certain types of hunter, there are others which appear to have no valid purpose. Hare coursing involves observing one or two greyhounds chasing a hare that has been given a head start of 80m or so. The greyhounds are given marks by a judge for how skilfully they chase the hare. There is nothing in this sport to test the skills of the hunters and there is no reason for reducing the numbers of hares in this country - they are not a pest.
Poachers are by far the worst hunting threat to wildlife. Few of the hunters previously mentioned are a threat to rare species. The poachers form one of the most serious threats to wildlife conservation. In fact, after the destruction of habitat, poachers are the greatest menace.
However, even here we must stop and think for a moment to ask ourselves why a poacher kills. It is not for sport and only rarely for food, (such as in Zaire where gorillas are now being hunted for their meat by people who are killing to feed their families). In fact the poachers generally kill because there is a market for horns, ivory, skins, etc. taken from the animals they kill.
The next question we must ask ourselves is; "who makes this market possible?" The answer, sadly, is that it is people like us, the ordinary tourists who make it profitable for so many poachers to massacre the world's wildlife.
There has always been a market for ivory, and animals skins have been prized by the makers and buyers of fur coats or crocodile skin shoes etc.
Remember that we become tourists when we go off on our holidays. We may go no further than our own seaside towns - but we are still tourists. To remain respectful and caring to our environment we must never buy or pick up inhabited shells, pieces of coral or wildlife taken from their natural habitats. Paying for goods like these encourage poachers to take more to sell.
Poachers will only be put out of business when the tourists refuse to buy their products, when people refuse to wear the skins of animals as an adornment and when people no longer buy ivory products.
So, while the poacher is a menace who needs to be put out of business - we have to admit that other people make their horrible slaughter possible.
Seal culling or 'sealing' is a commercial practice in many countries including Canada, Greenland, Iceland, Finland and Russia. Harp seals are among the most targeted species with hundreds of thousands killed across the world every year. Seals are considered a valuable 'natural resource' by Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans.
Seals are killed for oils in their fat or blubber, their meat and for their fur - to be worn as clothing. Seal oil is considered a beneficial health supplement, a rich source of Omega 3 oils. They are killed sustainably and traditionally for their meat in rural Inuit communities, but the mass killings or cullings that occur on many coasts account for the death of hundreds of thousands of seals every year. This could be up to 900,000 a year according to the EU.
In September 2009 the EU called for a ban on the trade of all seal products in the European Union. This embargo was challenged by Canada as damaging to their economy and discriminatory. The annual hunt for harp seals in Canada, with a quota of 400,000 individuals, has long been the largest marine mammal slaughter on earth. The US, Mexico, Russia and Taiwan also ban imported seal products. On 22 May 2014 the World Trade Organisation upheld the EU's ban on the importation and marketing of seal products.
In an article in The Guardian in 2013, Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami spoke of the discrimination of this traditional and subsistence practice:
While seal populations are not considered to be under threat due to these practices the moral dilemma exists as to why should we be allowed to kill these wild animals human consumption or adornment. Unlike some of the other categories on this page sealing is a business and provides thousands of jobs to people and an income for families.
"They're basing it on public morals and, when you do that, you're in danger of all the other industries being banned in the same way. I mean, who's to say what's more cruel? Industrialised agriculture? The poultry, pork and beef industry? Who draws the line?"
Circuses, in one form or another, have been around for hundreds if not thousands of years. They have been steadily declining in numbers and popularity since the beginning of World War II, although there are still a number of small circuses to be found in Britain.
Nowadays not all circuses feature animals in the performances but it used to be very common. Elephants, lions, zebras and camels would move all around the country in small cages, in the back of trucks performing for the crowds and then move on again. Animal rights campaigners have been protesting about this practice for decades and, in May 2019, the government introduced The Wild Animals in Circuses Bill to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in the UK.
Animals in the circus are made to perform unnatural tricks for entertainment and are kept in conditions very different to their normal or suitable habitats. It can be said that circus owners and workers care and love their animals very much but the question still remains if it is 'right' to use and keep animals in this way for human entertainment.
A very interesting case came up in 2014 about Sandra, an orangutan who had been kept in a zoo in Argentina for 20 years. Sandra was shy and often hid from the public. A landmark case was settled in a Buenos Aires court granting her some of the legal rights that we as humans have. The singular case hung on whether the animal was a "thing" or a "person". Here is an excerpt from a BBC article;
Lawyers for Argentina's Association of Professional Lawyers for Animal Rights (Afada) said Sandra was "a person" in the philosophical, not biological, sense.
She was, they argued, in a situation of illegal deprivation of freedom as a "non-human person".
Vivisection is probably the most controversial of all the animal rights issues. 'Vivisection' literally means the cutting apart of live animals though the term, in its broad sense, means the experimentation on live animals. Most experiments don't involve any cutting, but many of them cause the animals pain and distress.
Many of the experiments test new medicines which could be beneficial to humans, but many animals are killed in the process. Animal testing has been branded as unreliable by anti-vivisectionists, along with some doctors and researchers, as animals can react to chemicals and conditions in very different ways to humans. Should animals be harmed for the health of humans? Animals are also used to test new cosmetic ingredients - should we put animals in harms way so that we can look good?
Some of the cruellest animal experiments are tests like the Draize eye test , in which a substance is dripped into the open eye of an animal (usually a rabbit) and any reactions are observed. The LD100 test (Lethal Dose 100%) uses 60 to 100 animals, and determines how much of a chemical or medicine the animals need to ingest before they all die. The LD50 test is similar, except that the dose needed to kill half of the animals is determined. This then assists in deciding a safe dosage level for humans.
It may be very difficult to end animal experiments. There will always be occasional successes with new medicines brought about by vivisection, but there are many more failures. There are also many medical miracles that have come about without animal testing. Does the saving of hundreds of thousands of human lives justify the killing of billions of animals? How does this issue compare with the killing of animals for their meat?
Cruelty to Animals
Finally, we must take into account the number of animals, pets, cruelly treated or neglected by their owners.
Although we in Britain are reputed to be 'a nation of animal lovers' we can also be extremely cruel to our pets.
The RSPCA and other animal welfare organisations are called upon to deal with thousands upon thousands of direct cases of cruelty each year.
Pets turned loose when the family goes away on holiday, unwanted puppies or kittens placed in sacks and left on roadsides or in ponds and rivers, animals starved or beaten for no reason - all these form part of a sad list of cases.
Whereas some animals may be starved to death, another form of cruelty is over-feeding. Of course, the people who stuff their pets full of all the wrong foods (sweets, chocolate, cakes etc.) do this out of kindness - and yet the end result is cruelty in that the animal becomes overweight and suffers diseases which humans who overeat suffer.
Image: animal-rights by LGagnon
Image: circus elephant by Leonid Mamchenkov CC BY 2.0
Information sourced from:
Population Institute (2015), Current World Population [online], Available from: https://www.populationinstitute.org/programs/gpso/gpso/ [accessed 18/05/2015]
Legislation.gov.uk (2015), Hunting wild mammals with dogs [online], Available from: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2004/37/section/1 [accessed 18/05/2015)
The Telegraph (2015), Tories to legalise fox hunting if they win 2015 general election [online],
Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/general-election-2015/11307715/Tories-to-legalise-fox-hunting-if-they-win-2015-general-election.html [accessed 18/05/2015]
European Commission Trade (2014), WTO upholds EU ban on seal products [online], Available from: http://trade.ec.europa.eu/doclib/press/index.cfm?id=1084 [accessed 18/05/2015]
www.Parliament.uk, Wild Animals in Circuses Bill (2014-15) [online], Available from: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/wildanimalsincircuses.html [accessed 18/05/2015)].
It is very easy to confuse the many animal rights, anti-hunting and anti-vivisection campaigns with issues of conservation and endangered species. This confusion is understandable, but it is important to be able to separate the main issues involved:
Animal rights - this covers all forms of cruelty to animals be it hunting or vivisection.
Conservation - this covers endangered species and the protection of wildlife habitats and natural resources.
If we can encourage people, young and old, to respect this world and all its wonderful natural resources - then we might have the opportunity of saving at least some of the endangered species and wild places for the benefit of those who follow us.
Unfortunately, each one of the subjects fleetingly covered in these notes would take pages and pages in order to present all the views and evidence. In the end however, it all comes down to careful consideration and common sense.
If we are to achieve a greater degree of conservation in the future we will achieve it as a result of common sense and understanding shown by young people.
In all these cases there are two sides to the story. If we are going to be good, sensible conservationists, we must be ready to understand those opposing viewpoints even if we do disagree with one side or the other.