I’ve posted before about the dangers of anthropocentrism, and the need to be aware of it when making decisions regarding animals. In my previous post, I was referring specifically to the pet trade. However, this time I am talking directly to the subset of animal rights activists who break into facilities, and don’t know what the fuck they’re doing.
The other day, two young activists broke into a South African marine park, stole a penguin, and released him into the wild. As the penguin in question was born in captivity, their actions have almost certainly condemned the penguin to a slow death due to starvation, as well as greatly injured his two chicks and female partner who relied on his presence to help look after their young. One of them has already died. Not great news, for one of the few breeding pairs of African penguin trying to do their part in keeping their endangered species afloat.
These kinds of stories infuriate me. While I am sure that the penguin thieves in question thought they were helping, their ignorance and stupidity actually did far more harm than good.
I remember a few years back when animal rights activists broke into a research facility in Milan and wrecked the place, mixed up the mice, and even opened a few of the cages. This, of course, cost the facility untold amounts of money, set back their research into psychiatric diseases by years if not decades, and led to the euthanizing of pretty much all of the mice that were fiddled with.
Now let me tell you something, as someone who works in this field. If wild mice had any idea how good lab mice had it, they would line up outside the doors and beg to be chosen. The regulations as to the comfort and well-being of laboratory mice is intense. Their cages are especially designed for their comfort. Any experiment done with mice has to pass an ethics committee, who decides whether or not the mice will suffer any kind of pain, or distress, if the research is important enough to warrant the sacrifice of mice and if the minimum number possible is being used. You are not allowed to freak them out, torture them before you kill them, starve them, let them be cold, be alone, or any of the things that wild mice face on a regular basis. They lead cushy lives, and their lives are used to give us important, lifesaving insights into all manners of human diseases, from cancer to schizophrenia.
That does not mean that you can’t push for a reduction in the use of lab mice. No one will be on your side more than the researchers themselves, if for no other reason than mouse work is very expensive and the permits to conduct it can take over a year to approve. The problem is, it’s the best we have so far.
Don’t like zoos? Push for legislation to get them shut down. Don’t like animal research? Work on an alternative model system that makes the use of mice obsolete. I can get behind many animal rights ideals, but I cannot abide people being stupid, reckless and irresponsible with their lofty goals.
Mice are not people. Penguins are not people. That doesn’t mean you can’t care about their lives, but it does mean that what is good for a person is not necessarily good for an animal. If they had asked Buddy the penguin if he would rather be ripped from his family and starve to death or stay where he was, I think the answer would have been quite obvious.
These kinds of people are the reason why many people, including myself, shy away from the label “animal rights activist”. If these people really wanted to make a difference they would stop giving the movement a bad name, and maybe the entire concept would gain more traction and respect.