Beware What You Support

I have started a regular feature of animal videos to liven up your Mondays, but this is not one of them. This one is going to be a bummer, but I’m sharing it because it is important to be aware of what practices you might be supporting when you visit other countries.

tl;dr: don’t ride elephants when visiting countries like India and Thailand.

This practice is actually far easier to combat in the face of educational campaigns than many. This is not like trying to convince a different culture to stop using the medicine that they have been practicing for thousands of years because of conservation concerns, or trying to get people living in extreme poverty to stop poaching certain animals when it is their only source of income. Elephant rides are primarily requested by and offered to toursits who, ironically, love animals. If everyone knew of the kidnap and torture that is involved, the demand would drop, and far fewer elephants would be subjected to this treatment.

I understand the allure of elephant rides. Elephants are amazing creatures, and their intelligence and friendliness can be moving. However, if you really love elephants and want some interaction with them, think about helping out at an elephant sanctuary that rescues them from brutality instead. I know that has always been on my bucket list.

Anthropocentrism Strikes Again

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.

ALL Countries Are Responsible for Killing Whales

When it comes to the mass killing of whales in the ocean, it is very easy for many people to point in outrage at Japanese whaling fleets, or to Norway’s resistance to the IWC’s moratorium on commercial whaling. Hunting whales is unsustainable, plus they’re too cute right? Free Willy and Flipper won our hearts as children, so how could these people even think of killing and eating such majestic creatures?

The sad fact is, we are all responsible for the slow slog towards extinction that whales are facing. Every country has its part to play.

In recent years, we are seeing more and more “mass beachings” of whales, in which dozens wash up onto our shores at a time. What is causing this, you may ask? There seem to be two predominant explanations for this.

As for the 29 sperm whales which washed up on the German shores of the North Sea this year, they seem to have starved with a full stomach – that is – their stomachs were filled with plastic bags and debris, distending their stomachs while providing no nutritional value.

Other mass beachings seem to be caused by sonar tests conducted by Navy warships and other exploratory vessels, leading to hemorrhaging of the brain and leading the whales to seek to leave the water in distress.

It is so very, very easy to feel morally superior to the Japanese, Norwegians, and inhabitants of the Faroe Islands as they kill and eat whales in this day and age. It is less easy to realize that any country which sports a Navy, an oil company, or uses plastic on a regular basis is in fact responsible for a staggering number of whale lives. If you are one of those people who is adamant about imposing a worldwide ban on whaling, I would ask you to take that into consideration, and realize that such a ban will not be sufficient, not by a long shot.

Do you really want to “Save the Whales”? Time to take a hard look at how your own country is contributing to their demise as well.

Uhuru Kenyatta Is Not Playing Around

Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta has just sent a powerful message to poachers and those who engage in the illegal ivory trade.

Kenya, which introduced the world to burning ivory in 1989, still thinks it’s a good idea. On Saturday morning, it hosted the most spectacular burn event yet: The tusks of nearly 7,000 elephants — 105 metric tons’ worth — were set alight in 11 separate pyres in Nairobi’s National Park.

The tusks, taken from elephants that were poached as well as from those that died naturally, were collected from Kenya’s parks and confiscated at its ports.

The haul represents the bulk of Kenya’s entire ivory stockpile. In addition, a 1.5-ton basket of rhino horn was set on fire. All told, more than $300 million worth of contraband went up in flames.

The article is worth the read, as there are potential concerns as well as benefits to making such a bold statement. However, I don’t think anyone can deny that the effect is powerful. Burning hundreds of millions of dollars worth of anything is going to make an impression, no matter how you slice it. It sends the message ivory should have no monetary value whatsoever, and I have to say I like it.



Damn straight, President Kenyatta.