Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Animal Rights

I had lunch today with two friends I met through our work with Amnesty International. I'd had the pleasure of being on the board of the Canadian Section with both of them. While ordering, one mentioned he'd been reading a book about how badly food animals are treated and said that while their treatment disturbed him, he wasn't ready to become a vegetarian. He then indicated that he figured the people who did make that move were probably more moral than he is.

"I don't care about animals," said my other friend. "Do you care about animals?" she asked.

I confessed that I care about elephants, all the primates, whales, dolphins, and some dogs and cats; but I'd still put humans first, and I don't really care about other animals much.

"Not this guy I saw on TV who says animals are as worthy of life as humans," she said. "If he had to choose between saving a mosquito and saving you, he wouldn't be able to."

This led to me talking about the our war against the insects and our allies in the war: spiders and bats as well as insect collaborators like the preying mantis and the dragon fly.

My animal-apathetic friend told us that pest removal companies have told her that bats are a protected species and cannot be killed.

This shocked me. (Let's just say it made me glad that I've not exactly said what's happened to the last few bats who got into my house.)

However, now that I'm here with my high-speed internet connection, I've gone looking for information on whether bats are protected in Ontario and have found nothing to suggest that they are. According to this Environment Canada list, the pallid bat is "threatened" and the spotted bat is of "special concern", but they're only found in British Columbia.

Just the same, I promise that I'll endeavour to build a bat house to attach to the outside of my house and I have sent an email enquiring about the "Wild about Bats" package from the Canadian Wildlife Federation.

For those of you interested in animal rights, and for those of you interested in human rights and how it can be that people get more worked up about animals than people, there are two CBC news stories from today that might be of interest.

First, have you wondered why you haven't seen the swans on the Rideau Canal this summer? Their caretakers say they are protecting them from the flu. It appears others suspect something more sinister.

Group releases photos of 'Swantanamo Bay' [Source]

A coalition of animal rights groups is calling on Ottawa to release its Royal Swans from a facility activists have dubbed "Swantanamo Bay."....

But while city officials claim conditions at the facility are top-notch, the coalition says photos offering a glimpse inside the facility show cramped, inhumane conditions...

And, while the politicians discuss whether our military should protect people in Lebanon and Israel, our soldiers are taking care of two little birds:

Rare, endangered birds spotted at military base [Source]

Two Kirtland's warblers, one of the world's rarest birds, have been spotted at a military base west of Ottawa.

Earlier this year, one warbler was spotted and tagged at CFB Petawawa. Then recently a second was found. It, too, was captured, banded and released. ...

The Canadian Forces is working with the Canadian Wildlife Service to try to protect the birds while still using the base, one of the main training areas for the Forces in Canada...

As for our meal, two of us had the leek and salmon pie and the other one ordered seafood chowder. Moving towards vegetarian, but still we all agreed that we have to watch what we say around some of the other Amnesty members.


Anonymous said...

Interesting questions.

I do find it hard to reconcile my love of animals with my appetite for them.

As for the son's father, as part of his duties while employed by Lansdowne Park, had the responsibility of feeding the swans in the winter time. Back then they were housed on the top floor of one of the buildings at Lansdowne Park. I saw the swans in their winter housing, and it was depressing. Dirty, dingy, smelly, cramped, dark...totally unswanlike. It was also kind of depressing to see how nasty and vicious swans can be when kept in such conditions.

coyote said...

I, for one, am all for animal rights... but it's all about the balance, isn't it? And there seems to be a selectiveness. How do animal rights types feel about the (instinctive) rights of certain hairy quadrupeds to eat buffalo swan wings? Do they differ materially from the rights of bipeds scarfing suicide chicken wings at any roadhouse, and if so, why? Just askin'.

Anonymous said...

That reminds me of a story I recently read about the "Hitler beetle", a very rare species that dwells only in a few caves somewhere in Slovenia, and which is endangered now because collectors are crazy about them.

The interesting thing is that scientists shun the beetle,while neo-nazis love them. Go figure. Here's the Wikipedia entry.

S said...

I don't believe bats are protected. Most species are incredibly common. And if you can keep them outside your house, all the better, they will eat lots of bugs.

My moral compass goes something like this (half-baked though it may be):

We should all be concerned about the "circle of life" that we are a part of, or maybe I should say, I think we're all better off when we do so. That said, I think eating meat is fine if you appreciate where it comes from and are okay with that.

There's an interesting recent book on the topic, The Omnivore's Dilemma by American journalist Michael Pollan, (which I only read in part). The premiss is that humans can eat just about anything, so our choices say a lot about us, as individuals, and as a society.

Maybe people get all worked up about suffering animals more than suffering people because animals are the classic "underdog", so out-powered by humans. Whereas suffering humans are morally in a grey area - the old "they might have brought it on themselves" excuse for ignoring their plight. It seems, it's only when we manage to see them as victimized by another group of humans, that we think we need to do something about it. The other classic mistake is getting all worked about one individual plight such as a trapped whale, and not taking care of large groups or trends, such as immunization and malaria control programs in parts of the developing world. It just doesn't make sense.

Bottom line, suffering is a part of life, whether an animal's or person's. It can't be eliminated, but can and should be minimized where possible if only because it makes us more connected to each other to do so - we would want the same done for us. I'm all for placing helping humans first, but caring about animals comes naturally too, and is just an extension of that innate capacity to care. Just don't get carried away.