Posts Tagged ‘animal rights’

Dolphin personhood, and animals as persons

Due to their extremely high levels of intelligence and their self-aware mind, cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises, and other marine mammals) have had a declaration of rights drawn up by philosophers and marine biologists.

This bill of rights would grant them protection and they could be defended by law. It will go as far as to grant them the status of ‘non-human persons’.

By granting cetaceans personhood, they would also be granted individual rights. A killing of a dolphin would therefore be equal to killing any other person, including human beings, both ethically and legally speaking.

The bill of rights includes that of liberty, meaning an end to their captivity for theme parks such as SeaWorld. To hold a cetacean captive would be equal to enslaving a human.

It would also ban any practice which ‘disrupts their cultures’ which could include the use of acoustic sonar and certain types of fishing.

This comes at a very important time for cetaceans, particularly when we look at Japanese treatment of the animals. Commercialised whaling has been a notorious part of Japanese culture for over a century now, and the practice of whaling itself dates back for many centuries before that.

Similarly, the Japanese treatment of dolphins has become infamous since the Academy-Award nominated documentary, The Cove. The film uncovered the horrific and frequent dolphin drive-hunts in Taiji, Wakayama.

One of the companies that financially supported these hunts (by buying captured dolphins) was SeaWorld Parks, a chain of theme parks in the US. Should this cetacean bill of rights gain enough momentum and support, there could be further bad news for SeaWorld too, as the parks controversially contain several captive dolphins and whales.

Fishing will also be affected in a fairly big way. Bycatch (the name given to unwanted catches during fishing) consists of a growing number of cetaceans every year. Tuna fishing is mainly responsible for this. Even dolphin-friendly labelled tuna does not mean dolphins weren’t killed in the fishing process – it simply means that the fishermen targetted tuna using other methods (the easiest method for finding tuna hotspots is to target a dolphin feeding area). Dolphins, porpoises and whales are routinely entangled in nets and drown, due to being mammals.

I have no idea what's going on here, I just Googled 'dolphin person' and this guy came up.

This is not the first time a non-human species has been granted personhood. Great apes have famously achieved such a status in some countries. New Zealand, in 1999, granted basic rights to great apes, and it is now illegal to use them for research and testing. 8 years later, in 2007, the Balearic Islands granted personhood to great apes. As an autonomous province of Spain, it has been fighting to convince Spain to follow suit ever since.

Renowned animal rights philosopher, Gary Francione, also argues for the personhood of all animals. As one of the fathers of the abolitionist movement, Francione believes that we have no right to use animals in any way, even if they are treated respectfully. Francione argues that all sentient beings should be granted personhood, with sentience being the only requirement. Cognitive abilities beyond that are not of significance. For Francione, veganism a moral baseline – the minimum one must do to avoid being harmful and morally wrong is be a vegan.

Even if you disagree with Francione’s approach towards animal rights, allow me to at least argue abolitionism from another approach. As it has been noted, the personhood of cetaceans is garnering support due to their cognitive abilities. However, it is increasingly becoming evident that a huge number of species are far cleverer than they are given credit for.

This can be seen in some of the tests done on the animals to highlight their intelligence. One such test, which dolphins performed successfully, was to prove that they are self-aware. If you would like to do this test for yourself then do the following right now:

  1. Stand up and walk over to the nearest mirror or reflective surface.
  2. Look into it.
  3. If you recognised that the image in front of you was a reflection of yourself, then well done, you are self-aware.

If on the other hand you looked at it and thought ‘WHO THE F@%! IS THAT?!’ then I am afraid you are less intelligent than a dolphin, a pig, or even a chicken, and therefore most people wouldn’t recognise you as a person (although thanks to the likes of Gary Francione and myself, there are people campaigning for you!). That’s right, chickens have been shown to be self-aware. Yet there is never any speak of chickens being granted personhood.

Another test to highlight dolphins intelligence was their ability to trick reward systems. Dolphins have recognised when a reward system is in place (i.e. do this and you’ll get food) and have found ways to trick them. Again though, this is common in other species too. See below for this occurring with a cow.

Again though, there has never been any talk of personhood for a cow.

Francione speaks of humanity as being ‘morally schizophrenic’. We can look at our cats, dogs, or any other animals close to us and love them. We would never dream of calling these animals unintelligent, and we see them as persons (even if they are not recognised as so by society as a whole).

I am not by any means disputing personhood for cetaceans, I fully support such an implementation. However, I am just trying to highlight the inconsistency here. As a supporter of Francione’s ideas and abolitionism, it surprises me that we still fail to recognise animals as beings and not just property to be utilised. These ideas to implement personhood to dolphins, whales, etc. simply begs the question of why stop there? Pigs, dogs, foxes, snakes, spiders, chickens, fish – any animal you can name has shown mind-blowing feats of intelligence, some which we don’t always understand.

And perhaps this strikes at the most important issue of all. We humans, as the dominant species on Earth, like to think that we are the be all and end all to animal intelligence, but the simple fact is that we aren’t. It is impossible for us to understand nature and its complexities in the way that we like to think that we can. Animals and their survival are dependent on their abilities to use their brain.

There are countless examples of intelligent behaviour developing within other species. From ants building fungus farms, to dolphins communicating verbally. The more we discover of Animalia, the more we are astounded. A matter of a couple of centuries ago we didn’t even think that other animals could feel pain, and now this has become universally accepted (with exceptions by some people towards some species e.g. fish).

A quote from Albert Einstein neatly sums this up. Sure, it’s taken out of context, but I think it is still apt (and in fact, more literal):

“Everybody is a genius. But, if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it’ll spend its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

Humanity, in its naivety, is at risk of becoming stuck up its own ass. By proclaiming ourselves as dominant, we have come to fail to realise not just that other species deserve rights, but to even comprehend other species as living, breathing beings. I am glad that these discussions are finally happening for cetaceans, but we have a long way to go before Francione’s ideals are met.

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Magpie and Crow Cull 2011

I think it’s fairly safe to assume that if you’re a vegan or are reading this blog then you probably have some interest in the rights of animals. The UK is currently putting the final touches to a proposed plan of  a mass culling of avian predators. This is an attempt to rectify the issues with dwindling songbird numbers around the UK.

However, the plans are currently sketchy. With the proposals targetting magpies and crows first, the number of songbirds will be reevaluated after a few months of the action being in place. If it is found that songbird numbers are increasing again, then the cull will be expanded to target all avian predators, including kestrels, sparrowhawks and buzzards.

The method of culling the birds will be this: “The predators will be trapped using a cage that contains a live bird. Other magpies and crows will flock to the cage to see off the rival, only to become stuck inside. They will then be humanely destroyed.” (as read here) I question what ‘humanely destroyed’ entails for a start. Caging rival birds together does not exactly seem entirely humane either, and how long are the birds to remain caged before they are ‘destroyed’? Hours? Days? Longer still?

Perhaps the most dubious part of this operation is that no one is even clear if avian predators are having a damaging effect on songbird numbers. There is far more substantial evidence to show that it is actually due to changes in farming practices and habitat alterations (such as the destruction of hedgerows) which is killing off songbird numbers. Yet in what is essentially a trial run of a program that may not have any effect, thousands upon thousands of birds will be killed.

This cull has had significant opposition from various wildlife charities already. An RSPB spokesperson has said “The fall (in songbird numbers) is driven by changes in the countryside. Principally, a lack of nesting areas, a lack of food for chicks and a lack of food in winter.”

Meanwhile the head of the Wildlife Aid Foundation, Simon Cowell (not the Simon Cowell you’re probably thinking of though) has stated that “Killing predators in order to preserve songbirds is utterly illogical. It is man’s interference that has unbalanced the various bird populations to start with, and further interference will do much more harm than good. There is also a bigger animal welfare issue here as culling adult birds means leaving potentially tens of thousands of baby birds orphaned and in many cases unable to fend for themselves.”

Brian May’s organisation, Save Me (who we highly recommend you check out), has also shown opposition. Brian has said “Let’s help Simon Cowell fight this awful new barbarity. When will the human race learn to stop interfering?”

There is still time to fight this cull, even just by spreading the word. Simon Cowell wrote “We are calling on everyone who cares about Britain’s wild animals and birds to protest to Defra and the GWCT and to plead with them not to go ahead with this cruel and pointless cull. We must do our utmost to protect all wild bird species, not just the songbirds.”

For more information please click here to view the Wildlife Aid Foundation’s Press Release on the issue.

Otherwise please take five minutes out of your day to contact DEFRA and let them know what you think about the cull. You can contact them at defra.helpline@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Thank you.

The Horse Racing Debate

The past week has seen four horses die for the sake of entertainment in the UK alone. Both the English Grand National and its Scottish counterpart have seen two horses lose their lives. These hugely publicised events are finally being called into question for their ethics, and let’s hope that at the very least the danger involved in these races can be reduced.

Recent Horse Deaths

In last week’s Grand National two horses were killed at the main race event itself (Ornais and Doonys Gate), whilst a third horse (Inventor) was killed after breaking its leg in another event during the same weekend. The following weekend, the Scottish Grand National saw one horse die of exhaustion (Regal Heights), whilst another collapsed from internal bleeding (Minella Four Star).

For a shocking insight into exactly how many horses lose their lives at these events then check out Animal Aid’s Horse Deathwatch, a website which tracks the number of racehorse deaths, and has been doing so for several years. At the moment it stands at 678 horses killed over 1497 days, averaging out to a death roughly every 2 days.

This year’s Grand National was particularly condemnable for a variety of additional reasons.

  1. The heat on the day left all the horses exhausted and close to dehydration. The four and a half mile race was truly gruelling. The winning horse, Ballabriggs, was too exhausted to even walk into the winner’s enclosure.
  2. The BBC’s coverage had some serious issues. One commentator described the dead body of Ornais as a further ‘obstacle,’ whilst the camera at one point panned over the track, showing Doonys Gate at the side being shot (or, in horse racing terms, ‘destroyed’). An image from this aerial view is below.
  3. One jockey, Peter Toole, was put into (but has now awakened from) a coma from a head injury sustained during the race.

Doonys Gate callously being filmed by the BBC

Blatent Cruelty

Since 2000, the Grand National course alone has claimed the lives of 20 horses, yet it still continues and nothing has been done to prevent the chaos that occurs from happening. Something that has always puzzled me is when people fail to realise the cruelty involved in horse racing. You only have to watch the first couple of minutes of a race to see piles of horses collapse on top of each other, as they all cram their way over the huge jumps at high speeds.

Those horses who lose their lives are often described as accidental deaths, although part of the idea of an accident is that something is unexpected and unforeseen. Given the steady correlation between the number of races and the number of deaths, I think it is fair to say that racehorse deaths cannot be described as an accident anymore. Animal right’s group FAACE described the deaths suffered by horses as “not only sad but inevitable” and this doesn’t seem to be recognised.

Those who are showing their support for horse racing seem to constantly refer to an argument that the horses are being offered the chance to become professional athletes and possibly winners, but this kind of argument cannot hold up when in reality the horses are offered no choice at all. They are bred into this industry and chances are that they will die in it.

Others, including Ornais’ rider, are under the opinion that the Grand National is something to be proud of, the pinnacle of horse racing, and a relic of British tradition. Yet that leaves me asking if the sport is justifiable at all if this is seen as the pinnacle. For those saying it is a relic of British tradition, I wonder if they’ve noticed the steep decline of dignity in the attendees, as highlighted by this article (which is well worth a look if you want to make yourself feel better about your life).

The disturbing sight of Ornais' body, covered up and still lying on the track. Or, if you're a BBC commentator, an "obstacle."

So, what can be done about this situation? If you oppose horse racing the simple thing to do is to boycott it. Don’t watch it, and certainly don’t bet on it. As tempting as it can be to get involved and place a bet, this carnage should be shown no support. Animal Aid are also running a campaign to ban the Grand National, which you can show your support for by clicking here. Support for horse racing is lowering with every year and every death, and this year will see this happen more than ever with major tabloid The Daily Mail jumping onto the anti-racing bandwagon (check out that subtle pun…).

It will be interesting to see how much longer this blatently cruel “sport” can continue for.

Live animals sold as trinkets in China

What is it with China and animal rights? China spends incredible amounts of money every year in an effort to reintroduce pandas to the wild through highly developed breeding centres, yet at the same time millions of cats and dogs are slaughtered whilst still alive just for their skins. The country is moving steadily into superpower status, yet its policies on animal rights could not be more backwards. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a piece of positive news come out of China in relation to its animal rights record, and this is the nation that invented tofu. Sort it out!

So, what’s China’s latest feat of stupidity in terms of animal rights? Well, you may remember as a kid going to fairgrounds and playing all those typical fairground games, and if you were lucky winning a prize which may have been a goldfish in a little plastic bag. The idea of this was to take it home and have a calming aquatic buddy who you could feed and care for until he/she reached a ripe old age, passed away, and was chucked down the toilet by a parent. I seriously question how many goldfish actually reach it home, let alone the ripe old age with this little practice of handing them out alongside generic teddy bears and giant lollies, and therefore the whole idea has always seemed a little weird to me.

If you’ve never been lucky enough to win at any of those games though, there is now another option. Take a quick flight over to China and you’ll be able to pick up a variety of different pets who have been sealed into airtight plastic sacks. Different fish and even small turtles are available to purchase on street corners and at subway stops all over China now, and they are said to live for several months as the bag also contains some nutrient-packed water (although the fact that most of these animals need to breathe in order to survive seems to have been overlooked a little, what with the airtight bags and all… although I’m sure the ever caring, empathetic and ethically motivated street vendors are working on this little hitch as I type this). Not only this, but they’re being marketed as keyrings, so you’ll be able to carry your little buddy around everywhere on your keys. Say hello when you open front door or your car to the little fella, and show them off to your family and friends (make sure you explain that the water is packed with nutrients though – wouldn’t want people thinking it was just an oversized cruel keyring).

Some of you may remember the ridiculous Beijing Olympics souvenir of a goldfish in a similarly airtight plastic sack, but sadly I really thought we’d seen the back of this disgusting issue. But now it’s reared its ugly head again. The worst thing is I don’t know of anything being done to stop it – it is completely legal under Chinese law. Which is why I’m posting this really – send this on to anyone and tell people you know (I’m not talking about just vegans and vegetarians – I’m sure anyone would find this appalling). Let’s get the word out that this is happening, that it’s a growing trend and it is popular, and with enough support let’s hope that something can be done to stop it, or that people will simply come to their senses and realise that buying these cruel trinkets is wrong and the market for them will die rather than the animals themselves.

For more information please check out treehugger.com’s article on the trade.

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