Attitudes and EthicsProject Summary
Examine the list of principles related to the treatment of animals entitled "An Animal Bill of Rights" (see below) and consider how these principles relate to declining and endangered species. Suggestions are given on how to use this document for classroom discussion or reports on endangered species.
Our attitudes about animals have undergone radical changes in the past few decades. For most of human history, people have believed, like the philosopher René Descartes, that animals were merely machines, blindly obeying instincts. The opinions of many people have been greatly changed by the results of work with animals, for example, the intelligent Chimpanzees who make tools and exhibit many of the same emotions that humans have, such as fear, love, anger, joy and even despair. Elephants have also shown extraordinary qualities of altruism, and many examples of their intelligence have been documented by zoologists. Whales and dolphins, too, have been shown to be intelligent and extremely devoted to one another.
Attitudes towards animals are also changing rapidly as a result of films and books and closer contacts with domestic cats and dogs. The popularity of house pets, with whom we form strong bonds, has encouraged a growing number of people to regard animals as having many of the same emotions as humans, and their friendship and loyalty toward us have been an inspiration to many. The popularity of nature films and books has educated the public to have a greater affection and respect for wild animals and a desire to protect and appreciate them. Still, many people treat animals as having neither sensitivities nor even the ability to feel pain. Fur trapping, research involving cruel experiments on animals, and baiting or attacking animals as an amusement are examples of a lack of compassion. A comment by a Canadian forester represents such a point of view that is, fortunately, disappearing: "Our instinctive attitude toward other species seems to range from indifference to antipathy . . . Concern for other species, particularly for those that have no immediate economic value to us, is a learned response, one we still struggle with" (Don Gayton, British Columbia Forest Service, "Terms of Endangerment" article in Canadian Geographic, May/June 1997).
Having a set of values and principles is a logical step in reevaluating how we treat animals--domestic and wild. The famed British zoologist Desmond Morris, in his book The Animal Contract (Warner Brothers, 1990), recommends 10 principles that human beings should adopt in their treatment of animals. This book discusses in detail the basis for the principles and gives many examples of our treatment and mistreatment of animals. He states that brutality to animals affects all our conduct and dealings with humans as well, and that a culture that is sympathetic to animals is a culture that is sensitive and caring in all respects. Moreover, he believes that a culture that feels a kinship with animals will be a culture that keeps faith with its roots in recognizing that humans are also animals, relatives of other species. These principles, as related to threatened species, are discussed below. They could also be used as interesting subjects for classroom discussions or for reports.
An Animal Bill of Rights
1. No animal should be endowed with imaginary qualities of good or evil to satisfy our superstitious beliefs or religious prejudices.
2. No animal should be dominated or degraded to entertain us.
3. No animal should be kept in captivity unless it can be provided with an adequate physical and social environment.
4. No animal should be kept as a companion unless it can adapt easily to the lifestyle of its human owner.
5. No animal species should be driven to extinction by direct persecution or further increases in the human population.
6. No animal should be made to suffer pain or distress to provide us with sport.
7. No animal should be subjected to physical or mental suffering for unnecessary experimental purposes.
8. No farm animal should be kept in a deprived environment to provide us with food or produce.
9. No animal should be exploited for its fur, its skin, its ivory or for any other luxury product.
10. No working animal should be forced to carry out heavy duties that cause it stress or pain.
Source: The Animal Contract by Desmond Morris. Warner Books. 1990.
Although many of these principles relate to domestic animals and can be discussed in another setting, others relate to our treatment of wildlife, including endangered species. Discuss the way in which these principles apply to threatened species.
o Principle number 1 could apply to wolves and bats, which are considered by many societies and individuals to be evil. Read the Persecution and Hunting chapter in this book for other such cases and consider the implications of such prejudices on the survival of many animals.
o Principle number 2 can also be applied to endangered species in that Lions (now considered Vulnerable species), Tigers, chimpanzees and elephants (all Endangered species) are trained to perform tricks in circuses that degrade them. Brown Bears used by gypsies in Europe and Asia are another example. They are dragged about by leashes attached to nose rings and trained to perform extremely unnatural acts, such as "dancing" on their hind legs. Discuss this principle and learn how circus animals are trained and how they are treated. Contact organizations such as PAWS (Performing Animal Welfare Society, P.O. Box 849, Galt, CA 95632) or the Animal Welfare Institute to learn more about this.
o Principle number 3 can apply to zoos that house endangered species. If the captive conditions do not allow the animals adequate physical and social environments, they would be considered to be violations of these principles. Examples might be the keeping of an elephant, a highly social species, by itself, in a small enclosure without water to bathe in or space to exercise. These animals are also chained at night in many zoos. Are there animals at your local zoo kept in such conditions?
o Principle number 4 can be applied to wild pets of many species that are kept in unnatural conditions. Tigers and other big cats, wild-caught parrots and many reptiles and amphibians are kept in peoples' back yards in cages or in indoor conditions that are highly unhealthy or psychologically traumatic for the animal. Many states ban various wild pets for this reason. Read the Trade chapter in this book for more information on wild pets and zoos. Find out the laws of your state or country regarding the keeping of exotic pets, especially endangered species.
o Principle number 5 is an extremely critical one in relation to endangered species. Although the US Endangered Species Act specifically addresses the issue of driving species to extinction as unacceptable, the law has been weakened by its opponents and faces further weakening. Moreover, only listed species receive such protection. Many threatened and endangered species that are not listed on the US Endangered Species Act receive no legal protection. In other countries of the world, such as Canada, no law prohibits driving a species to extinction or protects endangered species. Human overpopulation is a major cause driving species to extinction. This is an extremely important moral dilemma, one that is being faced by countries such as Indonesia, which has relocated people from overpopulated islands, such as Java, to areas still forested, such as Borneo and western New Guinea. These new immigrants are burning forests, with the encouragement of the Indonesian government, to create farms and grazing land for livestock. In the process, they are driving endangered species, such as the Orangutan, toward extinction. What should societies do in these circumstances, which will become more and more common in the future?
o Principle number 6 states that causing pain or distress in animals for our amusement is reprehensible and must not take place. Most examples of such cruelty involve domestic animals, such as steers in bull fights, roosters in cockfights and pit bulls in dog fights. Consider situations in which threatened or wild animals are used in such ways. For example, Asian bears are abused in street shows, and Tigers and elephants suffer in circuses. Hunting rare animals for sport might be considered to fall into this category, especially when it is carried out by means that do not usually kill quickly, such as by bow and arrow, and when it is not done for food, but for amusement.
o Principle number 7 concerns causing unnecessary pain for experimental purposes. Such experiments often involve the use of threatened animals. Chimpanzees and monkeys are involved in painful experiments to test drugs, in simulated car crashes or other research. The use of these animals is justified by many research laboratories and others as being important because it can help human beings in various ways, such as finding cures to diseases. However, many experiments are unnecessary and repetitive of already published research. Does the treatment of these animals, especially long-lived chimpanzees who must spend a lifetime that can reach 60 or more years in sterile confinement, justify the research, or are there alternatives to using these animals? (Contact the Animal Welfare Institute for its published reports and articles on this subject.)
o Principle number 9 regards exploitation of animals for furs, skins and other luxury items. Many threatened species are legally traded for such purposes. All the wild cats that are listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild of Fauna and Flora (CITES) may be traded with export permits, for example. The trade in elephant ivory during the 1980s nearly caused the extinction of both the African and Asian species. In 1989 all ivory trade was banned by CITES. Today, many countries want to reopen trade in African ivory, claiming they have stockpiles and overpopulation of elephants in some areas. Discuss the ethics of killing animals for luxury goods and select a species that is threatened with extinction as a result of such killing. This principle could also apply to the trade in live wild pets that threatens many species. Read the Trade chapter in this book for more information.
Books and Publications
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"The Animal Contract," based on the book by Desmond Morris. Garner MacLennan London and Lifetime Pictures in association with Island Visual Arts and G.C. Films, UK.