The Animal Manifesto: Six Reasons for Expanding Our Compassion Footprint - Marc Bekoff (2010)
REASON 5. Our World Is Not Compassionate to Animals
“The zoo is not a window on nature but rather a prism that bends the light according to the culture it is set in. Both the design of zoo exhibits and the ways in which zoos use their money reveal much about our culture’s view of animals — what we value them for and whether we regard them as objects to be used by us or as living beings who are valuable in their own right.”
— Vicki Croke, The Modern Zoo
ANIMALS ASK US FOR COMPASSION. They ask to be treated with dignity as fellow living beings. It doesn’t matter where we encounter them, whether by accident or choice: animals want humans to respect their well-being for their own sake as sentient, emotional, sometimes moral fellow animals. This requires a much-needed and long-overdue paradigm shift on our part that incorporates compassion and empathy for all other beings, a change in our ways that will benefit other animals and ourselves.
As we’ve seen, all species are interdependent on each other for their own survival and to maintain the health of our world’s ecosystems. When humans abuse animals, we suffer along with them. This is true not only when abuse occurs “in the name of food.” When humans justify animal cruelty “in the name of science” or “in the name of entertainment,” we suffer as well. Humans have incorporated animals into our lives in a multitude of ways, and in each arena, if humans treated animals with respect and care, it wouldn’t be a selfless act. If we did this, we would improve our own lives, our own health, our own compassion and dignity.
This chapter looks at the myriad ways in which humans use animals in our modern world. Throughout, I ask two central questions: Are we caring for the animal’s well-being? And is using animals in this way or in this setting necessary? With few exceptions the answers are no and no. In nearly every area — whether it be science, education, industrial farming, clothing, zoos, circuses, rodeos, the wildlife trade, and so on — we are abusing animals, sometimes horrifically, and we are doing so by choice. Though we may justify the abuse as “necessary,” upon closer inspection, this is almost never the case.
Animal advocate and author Nick Taussig points out in Gorilla Guerrilla that the brutality with which we treat other animals belies our intelligence. How can we big-brained, intelligent mammals routinely do what we do to other animals with little or no regard for how we are making them suffer? How did people come up with the idea of factory-farmed animals to begin with, and how can we continue supporting them, considering how little we do about the incredible suffering they create? How can scientists in research laboratories deprive animals of water and food, confine them to cages, bolt their heads, isolate them, force them to endure painful electric shocks, and expose them to diseases and harmful drugs until the animals die? How can zoos and circuses abuse animals the way they often do, and audiences enjoy these sad displays?
Self-justifying “necessity” is one reason. Another is that animal abuse, particularly the worst instances, is kept hidden from the public as much as possible. Circus audiences don’t see and aren’t told how lions were trained to perform. Drug companies don’t explain how many unsafe products were tested on animals before a safe product was developed. Scientists don’t detail the cruelty they design into their animal research. In all areas, we need constant inspection of what is happening behind closed doors by those who have no vested interest in the particular company or research project. These reports then must be made publicly available, so that people can see what is happening. Only then will the full ethics and morality of our choices be clear. It’s no longer acceptable for scientists to dismiss the ethics of their animal research simply because it’s “science.” As with the food industry, all of human society is complicit in the choices we collectively make and in the abuse that’s allowed, whether in the name of medicine, science, business, or entertainment.
Furthermore, animal abuse makes for bad science, and bad science doesn’t work. Exposing animal abuse is important to expose faulty research, which does nothing to benefit human health. Indeed, the U.S. National Research Council recently concluded that the testing of toxic substances on animals is of little value, yet very few people know of this important report. A similar report by medical experts in England concluded that using animals to research chronic pain has “limited value” and should be ended. Plus, scientific studies on animals produce different results depending on who’s doing the research. Scientists claim to be objective, but they have a subjectivity that can influence their methods and outcomes. Sometimes, results just seem to reflect funding. Noted science writer Sharon Begley discovered that “153 out of 167 government-funded studies of bisphenol-A, a chemical used to make plastic, find toxic effects in animals, such as low sperm counts.” On the other hand, “No industry-funded studies find any problem.”
I fully realize that there are difficult situations where there isn’t a clear right or wrong solution. Certain situations may work well for some species but not others. Some animals love to perform and can be taught with kindness. When animals find themselves held in zoos, their interactions with caring people can be enriching. The same is true for animals who are kept in laboratories. But there are innumerable instances in which we simply ignore the interests of animals and do the wrong thing because it’s easier. And in general, as Matthew Scully says in his book Dominion, “our society has turned its gaze away from animals, and countenanced a shameful climate of exploitation and cruelty toward them.”
If you think I’m being overdramatic about the extent to which we violate the lives of animals, rent the 2005 documentary film Earthlings, which graphically demonstrates everything this and chapter 4 describes. Of course, humans do a lot of good things on behalf of animals, but the larger point is that it’s not enough. This book is a critique of who we are and what we have done to animals for millennia. The reason animals ask for compassion is because it does not yet define their relationship with humans.
Trainer Stabs Elephant! Monkey Boiled Alive!
Just as it makes headlines whenever animals display their sentience and emotions, we notice when animal cruelty and tragedy is made public. Here is just a handful of recent incidents:
Army Shoots Live Pigs for Medical Drill
MSNBC, July 18, 2009
“The Army says it’s critical to saving the lives of wounded soldiers. Animal-rights activists call the training cruel and outdated.
“Despite opposition by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the Army proceeded to shoot live pigs and treat their gunshot wounds in a medical trauma exercise Friday at Schofield Barracks for soldiers headed to Iraq. . . .
“‘It’s to teach Army personnel how to manage critically injured patients within the first few hours of their injury,’[an Army spokesperson] said. The soldiers are learning emergency lifesaving skills needed on the battlefield when there are no medics, doctors or facility nearby, he said.
“PETA, however, said there are more advanced and humane options available, including high-tech human simulators. In a letter, PETA urged the Army to end all use of animals, ‘as the overwhelming majority of North American medical schools have already done. . . . Shooting and maiming pigs is as outdated as Civil War rifles.’”
Videos Renew Debate on Military Use of Animals
CNN, June 5, 2009
“Newly released videos are raising questions about the military’s continued use of live animals in simulated battlefield medical training. . .[and] are evidence that the military is violating its own animal-welfare regulations. Military officials counter that the training is legal and vital to saving the lives of service members in the field.
“In one of the training videos, a live vervet monkey is anesthetized and then injected with a dose of physostigmine, a simulated nerve agent. . . . The military says trainees observe the effects of the physostigmine and then take steps to relieve them, injecting the animal with an antidote. . . .
“ ‘The animals recover completely and display no behavioral or physical ill effects from the exercise,’ a military spokesman said in an email about the procedure. ‘No animal has ever died as a result of the exercise.’
“In another video, a medical instructor uses a scalpel to slice open the leg of an anesthetized goat. The video goes on to show medical personnel applying a tourniquet and then dressing the wound. A third video shows a chest tube being inserted into an anesthetized goat.”
Dolphin Dies After Aerial Collision In US
Sydney Morning Herald, April 29, 2008
“A dolphin has died after colliding with another dolphin while performing aerial tricks at a US marine park. Sharkey, a 30-yearold dolphin, died after the accident on Saturday at the Discovery Cove park —a sister property to Sea World in Orlando, Florida.
“About 30 visitors were standing in a lagoon while the dolphins did tricks, but something went amiss when the two mammals leapt from the water and collided mid-air.
“The second dolphin did not appear to have been injured. . . .’This is a very unfortunate and very rare incident,’[a spokesperson] said.”
Unbearable Zoo Mystery Turns Into Potboiler
Sydney Morning Herald, March 29, 2008
“The Berlin Zoo is under pressure to explain the fate of hundreds of animals which have vanished amid claims they were slaughtered and in some cases turned into potency-boosting drugs. Claudia Hammerling, a Green party politician, backed by several animal rights organisations,. . . claims to have evidence that four Asian black bears and a hippopotamus were transported to the Belgian town of Wortel, which has no zoo, but which does have an abattoir.
“According to Ms. Hammerling these animals were slaughtered. She said the systematic ‘overproduction of animals’ at zoos, designed to attract more visitors, was to blame. Ms. Hammerling said she also knew of several tigers and leopards from Berlin that ended up in a tiger breeding farm in China that promoted itself as a purveyor of traditional potency-boosting medicines made from big cats. She alleges the animals’ remains were turned into drugs.
“[The zoo director] strongly denies the charges. . . . Rearing animals was central to his work and visitors should have the chance to observe the rearing process, he said.
“However, at Nuremberg zoo, the deputy director. . .has been reported as saying: ‘If we cannot find good homes for the animals, we kill them and use them as feed.’ At Nuremberg recently an antelope was fed to caged lions as visitors watched in outrage.”
Zoo Rocked by Abuse Allegations
The Age, January 19, 2008
“Senior zoo experts, staff and the RSPCA have accused the Melbourne Zoo of abuse and neglect of animals. . . . A confidential internal memo. . . reported the stabbing in May last year of a 13-year-old elephant, Dokkoon, with a marlin spike — a large, needle-like implement used to untie rope knots.
“The memo. . . says[the] animal trainer. . . was trying to control the elephant using a hooked implement known as an ankus or bullhook. ‘After a time trying to control the elephant,[the trainer] appeared to become extremely angry and used his marlin spike to stab at the elephant’s leg repeatedly in excess of a dozen times. The elephants seemed obviously distressed, standing back to back, vocalising and defecating.’
“In other incidents confirmed by the zoo:. . . Four seals have suffered partial blindness after being moved to a small swimming pool — out of public view and possibly for up to three years. . . . The eye problems have been caused by chlorine in the pool.
“The eyelids of a Malayan tapir were sewn together, also because of eye trouble. . . . Lack of tree cover and over-exposure to the sun is believed to have contributed to the animal’s eye damage.”
Orangutan Drowns in German Zoo
Der Spiegel, July 31, 2008
“Staff at a Hamburg zoo say one of their orangutans died needlessly after a visitor broke park rules against feeding animals. The animal, they claim, drowned in pursuit of a bread roll that had been lobbed into her enclosure.
“The chief zookeeper. . . said a visitor was responsible for the drowning. ‘Leila wanted to get the roll, but instead fell into the water and drowned.’”
32 Research Monkeys Die in Accident at Nevada Lab
Associated Press, August 7, 2008
“Thirty-two research monkeys at a Nevada laboratory died because human errors made the room too hot, officials for the drug company that runs the lab said Thursday. . . . Charles River Laboratories Inc. issued a statement saying the monkeys died in Sparks on May 28. The company, based in Wilmington, Mass., attributed the deaths to incorrect climate-control operation.
“[A PETA spokesperson said]: ‘That monkeys were literally cooked to death by a heating system failure, as a whistleblower alleges, shows that the facility did not even have a simple alarm system in place to alert staff to the malfunction.’”
Monkey Boiled Alive at Research Lab
KIRO TV, January 31, 2008
“A monkey, slotted to be used in a drug-product research experiment, was instead boiled alive inside an Everett laboratory, a KIRO Team 7 Investigation found. It’s a deadly error, but not the first one. . . uncovered at SNBL USA. . . .
“KIRO Team 7 Investigators confirmed someone placed a wire kennel, with a healthy female macaque monkey still inside, into a giant rack-washer. The 180-degree water, caustic foam and detergent killed the primate at some point during the 20-minute cycle. . . .
“[A former Animal Care Supervisor for SNBL] says she was recently fired after telling federal inspectors that some SNBL employees were abusing primates and failing to follow other US Department of Agriculture guidelines. Her list of complaints include: employees carelessly spraying monkeys with acid and intentionally slamming primates on the floor.”
By the Numbers: Quantifying Death and Cruelty
The number of animals used by humans is staggering. Far and away the most animals are used in agriculture, but we encounter animals in numerous different venues in our complex and demanding world. Indeed, we typically don’t even realize how extensive animal use is. Each of us is pulled in many different directions as we go through the day, and it’s easy not to notice or to forget about the animals imprisoned in laboratories, slaughterhouses, rodeos, circuses, zoos, fur farms, and more. It’s hard to coexist and be compassionate with beings we never see. Out of sight, scent, or hearing is out of mind and out of heart.
Yet when one looks at the number of animals who are routinely and cavalierly abused behind closed doors and shaded windows, it makes for a frightening portrait that is at once sobering, stunning, and sickening. It makes me embarrassed to be human.
Consider scientific research. U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics for the fiscal year 2005 listed a total of 1,177,566 primates, dogs, cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, and other species as being subjected to experimental procedures; this was an increase of 7 percent from the previous year. This included 66,610 dogs, 57,531 primates, 58,598 pigs, 245,786 rabbits, 22,921 cats, 176,988 hamsters, 64,146 other farm animals, 32,260 sheep, 231,440 other animals, and 221,286 guinea pigs. However, animals such as mice and rats are not protected by the federal Animal Welfare Act and they are not even counted; if they were, the total would be over 20 million animals in the United States alone. Worldwide in 2005, it was estimated that in 179 countries about 58.3 million living nonhuman vertebrates were subjected to fundamental or medically-applied biomedical research, toxicity testing, or educational use.
Veterinarian Andrew Knight has estimated that 68,607,807 additional animals may have been killed for the provision of experimental tissues, used to maintain established genetically modified strains, or bred for laboratory use but then killed as surplus to requirements. Knight also cautions that the estimate of 17.3 million living vertebrates used within the United States is significantly less than a 2000 U.S. Animal Plant Health Inspection Service estimate of 31 —156 million. In November 2008 it was reported that primate experimentation increased to a record of 69,990 animals, and at least 20 million animals are killed in biomedical research and in laboratories that test various products.
Despite a growing consensus among scientists that animal testing should be decreased for ethical and practical reasons, it nevertheless increases. In 2008, Britain reported that experiments on animals rose to 3.2 million in that country, an increase of 6 percent over the previous year. Further, animal experiments in England have increased steadily over the past eleven years by a total of 21 percent. In the United States, there has been a marked increase in primates imported from other countries: in 2006, the total number was 26,638, a 44 percent increase since 2004, and in 2008 the total number rose to over 28,000. Nearly all were destined for research labs.
While many people certainly show kindness to the animals they meet in their everyday lives, that doesn’t mean everyone does. England reported that in 2007 the number of people convicted of cruelty to animals in that country rose by 24 percent. One newspaper story said: “In all, 1,149 people were convicted in 2007 for crimes against animals, up from 927 the previous year, the RSPCA said. Convictions for cruelty to dogs went up by 34% to 1,197, to cats by 15% to 277 and to horses by 13% to 119. The number of jail terms rose by 42% while suspended prison sentences rose by 39% to 71.” Uncounted in these numbers are the approximately 40,000 retired racehorses that are slaughtered each year and the millions of cats and dogs killed in animal shelters.
Obviously, people love their pets, but the market for purebred or pedigree dogs has led to the rise of abusive “puppy mills,” in which dogs are consciously and intentionally bred and inbred, leading to severe anatomical, physiological, and genetic defects that shorten their lives and cause them to suffer when they’re alive. Renowned Australian veterinarian Paul McGreevy laments, “Pedigree dogs, as they are currently defined, are doomed. Inherited disorders will only become more and more common unless the breeding rules are changed.” In March 2009 the BBC dropped its coverage of the prestigious Crufts dog show because of the way in which dogs suffer after they’re bred for various physical traits to achieve “winning looks.” Public outcry was concerned with such breeds as pugs and Pekingese, whose faces are so flat that they have difficulty breathing and regulating their body temperature. An editorial in the Times of London noted, “It is difficult to see dog as man’s best friend when we castrate them, make them commit incest and parade them under bright lights in Birmingham.”
Internationally, millions of wild animals are traded illegally as if they were mere commodities like televisions or couches. The commercial trade in wild animals is a multibillion dollar business that threatens the survival of many species, and it involves a vast range of people, desires, and businesses, from finding exotic pets and stocking zoos to providing unusual leathers, furs, food, traditional medicine, and more.
Clearly, many people still consider leather and fur stylish, but that doesn’t make them necessary as clothing. And what is the cost in lives and suffering? It’s been well documented that fur farms are purveyors of pure torture, in which the bones of a fox, chinchilla, or mink go snap, crackle, and pop in the process of turning them into a coat. Yet the number of animal skins needed to make a forty-inch fur coat may surprise you — 60 mink, 50 muskrats, 42 red foxes, 40 raccoons, 20 badgers, 18 lynx, 16 coyotes, and 15 beavers. According to animal activist Camilla Fox (in my Encyclopedia of Animal Behavior), over 50 million animals worldwide are killed for their fur annualy. Although the number of wild animals trapped in the United States has decreased from nearly 14 million in 1987 to less than 4 million in 2005, increasing overseas fur markets and the growing popularity of fur trim could reverse this trend. Moreover, many former fur trappers, unable to profit from their trade, have switched to “nuisance” or “damage control” trapping, a fast-growing, highly unregulated industry capitalizing on increased urban/suburban conflicts with wildlife and employing the same body-gripping traps used in fur trapping. Fox also stresses the suffering that trapping causes. Ethical concerns abound. Many animals caught and killed for their fur suffer out of our view beneath the surface of lakes and rivers. Consider what Fox wrote about trapping aquatic animals: “Leghold and submarine traps act by restraining the animals underwater until they drown. Most semi-aquatic animals, including mink, muskrat, and beaver, are adapted to diving by means of special oxygen conservation mechanisms. The experience of drowning in a trap must be extremely terrifying. Biologists Frederick Gilbert and Norman Gofton discovered that animals display intense and violent struggling and were found to take up to four minutes for mink to die, nine minutes for muskrats to die, and ten to thirteen minutes for beavers to die. Mink have been shown to struggle frantically prior to loss of consciousness, an indication of extreme trauma.” Most animals caught in aquatic traps struggle for more than three minutes before losing consciousness.
The time it takes an animal to die is one way to judge the cruelty of a method of killing. Whales are another prime example: once they are harpooned or shot, as cetacean expert Philippa Brakes documented in Troubled Waters: A Review of the Welfare Implications of Modern Whaling Activities, it can take from two to more than forty minutes for them to die, depending on how they are hunted and how wounded they are; during this time, Brakes wonders, “Do whales scream?” Worldwide, as many as 300,000 cetaceans slowly meet their death when they get entangled as accidental bycatch in fishing nets. When their bodies are recovered, it’s obvious that they had desperately struggled to escape from their entrapment and that they sustained horrific injuries while doing so; there is nothing quick about this. Trapped individuals sustain deep cuts and skin abrasions from the rope and the netting, and fins and tail flukes can be partially or completely amputated. They also have broken teeth, beaks, or jaws, torn muscles, hemorrhaging, and serious internal injuries.
The suffering of these sentient beings goes unnoticed because it is shrouded by the water in which they live, but it’s safe to say that it would not be tolerated if it happened on land in situations such as commercial meat production. What is simply unacceptable is that there isn’t any legislation that is concerned with this hidden problem. Because most fur animals trapped in aquatic sets struggle for more than three minutes before losing consciousness, biologists have argued that they did not meet basic trap standards and therefore can’t be considered humane. Camilla Fox concluded, “For an activity that affects millions of wild animals each year, it is astounding that so little is known about the full impact of trapping on individual animals, wildlife populations and ecosystem health.”
In his book The Great Compassion, activist and Buddhist scholar Norm Phelps notes in a chapter titled “The Rosary of Death” that worldwide about 48 billion animals are killed annually for food and fabric, of whom 46 billion are chickens, ducks, turkeys, and geese. But what about the 115 million wild animals who are killed annually just for the pleasure of it? Sport hunting is the second leading form of animal killing in the United States, although it is decreasing. Still, there’s now evidence that hunting is having an effect on the size of animals who survive the nonselective onslaught of humans, and hunting and commercial fishing may hurt the long-term survival of some species. Over the course of a thirty-year study on Ram Mountain in Alberta, Canada, biologist Marco Festa-Bianchet Sherbrooke discovered that both male and female sheep were getting smaller and that the size of the horns of bighorn sheep declined by about 25 percent. Biologists argue that hunting has led to a form of “evolution in reverse.” Festa-Bianchet notes, “When you take them[larger and more fit individuals] systematically out of the population for several years, you end up leaving essentially a bunch of losers doing the breeding.” This threatens the viability of the species and actually leaves fewer of the prized “trophy animals” hunters want in the first place.
Of course, death is easy to quantify. When we are keeping rather than killing animals, judging what treatment qualifies as “cruel” can be less clear. However, take circuses: elephants spend between 72 to 96 percent of the time chained, big cats are confined to small cages upwards of 95 percent of the time, and horses are tethered up to 98 percent of the time. Would a human performer put up with this? In February 2009, a suit was filed against Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus claiming that the circus abused their elephants and used fear to get them to cooperate and perform, which challenged the circus’s claim that the elephants were happy, healthy, and well cared for. In addition, a recent British study found that about 54 percent of elephants in U.K. zoos suffer from daytime behavioral problems. As we’ll explore more later, it’s now well documented that zoos can’t satisfy the social, emotional, or physical needs of elephants, and elephant exhibits are being phased out at some major U.S. zoos, despite the fact that they’re moneymakers. Zoos, according to renowned New York University philosopher and ethicist Dale Jamieson, remain “more or less random collections of animals kept under largely bad conditions.”
Indeed, what if zoos contained only those animals who could be well cared for in conditions reasonably close to their actual natural habitats? What animals would then be left, and what would zoo visitors really lose if this happened? Wouldn’t zoos without elephants and lions — and perhaps many other species — become lessons in compassion? Children and all visitors would learn that animals are not commodities to be controlled and exploited for human ends, but individuals with whom humans seek to connect and treat with dignity. Wouldn’t this turn zoos into places where everyone in them — animals and humans alike — was for the most part happier?
Animal Rights and Human Laws
We’re only fooling ourselves whenever we claim that animals are adequately protected from pain and suffering. In the United States, the minimum standard of care for animals in most settings — such as research, commercial sale and transportation, exhibition, and others — is established by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is governed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. However, only about 1 percent of animals used in research in the United States are protected under the AWA. Or, put differently, around 99 percent of research animals have no legal protections. This is because the AWA has sometimes been amended in nonsensical ways to accommodate the “needs” of researchers. For example, in 2004, mice, rats, and birds bred for research were excluded from the AWA’s definition of “animal,” and farmed animals are not covered by federal legislation, yet these animals are the most frequently used and abused animals in research.
Despite the extremely limited number of animals the AWA covers, from 2002 to 2007, violations of the Animal Welfare Act in the United States increased more than 90 percent. In 2006 alone there were 2,107 known violations of the AWA, with the highest level of violations occurring in the areas of Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees (which oversee research; 58 percent) and veterinary care (25 percent). It’s been estimated that about 75 percent of all laboratories violate the AWA at one time or another.
Karen Davis, president of United Poultry Concerns, notes:
Millions of birds suffer miserably each year in government, university, and private corporation laboratories, especially considering the huge numbers of chickens, turkeys, ducks, quails, and pigeons being used in agricultural research throughout the world, in addition to the increasing experimental use of adult chickens and chicken embryos to replace mammalian species in basic and biomedical research. For example, Colgate-Palmolive sponsored the development of the CAM (Chorioallantoic Membrane) Test, an eye irritation test in which vivisection of fertilized chicken eggs is necessary to expose the egg’s interior membrane to the materials being tested. . . .
Slaughter experiments are also routinely performed on live chickens, turkeys, ducks, ostriches, and emus, in which these birds are subjected to varying levels of electric shock in order to test the effect of various voltages on their muscle tissue for the meat industry. For example, the Spring 2002 issue of the Journal of Applied Poultry Research has an article in which USDA researchers describe shocking 250 hens in a laboratory simulation of commercial slaughter conditions to show that “subjecting mature chickens to electrical stimulation will allow breast muscle deboning after 2 hours in the chiller with little or no additional holding time.”
Clearly, animal laws and their enforcement are both inadequate protections from arrogant, self-centered “research” like this. Even the prestigious journal Nature, which largely defends animal research, noted in 2009: “The federal government should conduct a thorough review of the regulations concerning animal research to eliminate gaps, ensure compliance and strengthen penalties. Ideally, the oversight powers would be consolidated within a single organization. But, in any case such measures might boost public confidence in animal research.”
It is incumbent on all people who work with animals to take responsibility for their practices and always to use the most humane and noninvasive techniques possible. Not only will this produce more reliable data but it will also set an example for future researchers, including young children, who might want to pursue a career in science. Not only is it incumbent on us to conduct humane research, and treat animals well in every setting, but we must own our actions. Far too many people, including practicing scientists, ignore the fact that each of us is individually responsible for our own choices. If we harm animals, even if we are just doing our job in a research lab, we still are the ones causing intentional suffering, pain, or death. Most people who work with animals on a daily basis come to care about and even love the animals, and they feel bad when the animals suffer and die. In particular, a 2008 story in the New Scientist looked at researchers who weep for the animals they must kill, and sometimes seek counseling and hold memorial services to cope with their grief.
The article quotes Gill Langley of the Dr. Hadwen Trust for Humane Research, who said, “Omitting any mention of the suffering caused to animals during experimental procedures, the technicians seemed to care only about the moment of euthanasia. What a bizarre reversal of priorities that animal technicians, who freely apply for and continue with their jobs, should seek emotional support for the remorse and grief they cause themselves by harming and killing animals, albeit in the name of science. Rather than wasting resources on commemorative services, more would be achieved by replacing animal research and testing methods with humane alternatives. That way, animals, human patients and technicians would all benefit.”
The Unlucky Puppy:
The Faulty Logic of Animal Testing
“Mice are lousy models for clinical studies.”
— Mark Davis, PhD,
Director of the Stanford Institute for Immunity
“Since President Richard Nixon declared the war on cancer in his famous State of the Union address of 1971, cancer has become the second-biggest killer of Americans. Two in every five of us will be diagnosed with cancer, and one of us will die from it. Millions of dogs, cats, monkeys, guinea pigs, rabbits and mice have lost their lives, and billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent, in the quest for a cure. Yet, despite decades of intense effort, age-adjusted mortality rates have slowly increased, and experts such as Dr. J. C. Bailar III, former chief administrator of the war on cancer, tell us that all these efforts focused largely on improving treatment must be judged a ‘qualified failure.’ How could this be so, when researchers tell us that animals are so similar to human beings that drugging, irradiating and dissecting them provides a valid model for a human cancer victim? Perhaps it is because, as the researchers also tell us, animals are in fact so different from humans that these things may be done without consent, kindness, painkillers or adequate medical care, as undercover investigations of laboratories repeatedly reveal. Perhaps those differences have something to do with the fact that adverse reactions to drugs deemed safe after passing animal tests are the fourth-leading killer of Americans, killing more people each year than all illegal drugs combined.”
— Veterinarian Andrew Knight
An increasing number of scientists are growing skeptical about the use of animal models in scientific research. But there are some hangers-on who ignore the warnings of their colleagues and use misleading moral arguments to justify their treatment of animals. The U.S. National Institutes of Health, in conjunction with an animal research trade group, promotes a children’s coloring book called The Lucky Puppy that presents a false view of what animal experimentation entails, so much so that the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine has called attention to the misleading messages that this book presents. The Lucky Puppy implies that researchers are trying to cure animals who are already sick, rather than purposely infecting them with diseases, and it ignores the fact that animals suffer and die in the process. The only thing such propaganda reveals is the dishonesty of the people who created it.
In a recent discussion of the use of animals to study human pain, psychologists and animal experimenters Stuart Derbyshire and Andrew Bagshaw wrote, “We believe that animals are sufficiently different from us that pursuing experimentation with animals to advance human interests is morally justified.” Clearly these researchers want it both ways — animals are different enough so that it’s moral to cause them pain but similar enough that we can learn about human pain by torturing them. Further confirming their self-serving logic, Derbyshire and Bagshaw note that we don’t do the same things to humans that we do to animals because it would be immoral on humans. Meanwhile, Roberto Caminiti, chair of the Programme of European Neuroscience Schools, argues that it will never be possible to replace animals in research, yet Caminiti conveniently avoids any discussion of the numerous non-animal alternatives that are available, many of which are currently being used successfully.
Bill Crum of the Centre for Neuroimaging Sciences at the Institute of Psychiatry at King’s College London counters Caminiti as follows: “To my mind, there is a moral inconsistency attached to studies of higher brain function in non-human primates: namely, the stronger the evidence that non-human primates provide excellent experimental models of human cognition, the stronger the moral case against using them for invasive medical experiments. From this perspective, ‘replacement’ should be embraced as a future goal.”
False Hopes and Few Results
Unfortunately, the use of animal models often creates false hopes for humans in need. While the human mortality rate has declined since 1900, it is estimated that only 1 to 3.5 percent of the decline stems from the results of animal research. If all of the current animal research going on today were equally “successful,” we must ask ourselves, will it be worth the death and suffering it causes so that humans can, on average, live a year or so longer?
Innumerable animals are used in biomedical research, but compelling data show that studies on animals — particularly mice and great apes such as chimpanzees — make little contribution to progress in treating diseases. In a recent review of the ability of animal models to predict human outcomes, a team of a medical doctor, a veterinarian, and a philosopher concluded: “When one empirically analyzes animal models using scientific tools they fall far short of being able to predict human responses. This is not surprising considering what we have learned from fields such[as] evolutionary and developmental biology, gene regulation and expression, epigenetics, complexity theory, and comparative genomics.” Concerning mice, another report summarized, “When it comes to adapting therapeutic interventions that seem to cure all kinds of infectious disease, cancers and autoimmune conditions in mice for use in human beings, the record is not so good. The vast majority of clinical trials designed to test these interventions in people end in failure.”
In a paper titled “The Poor Contribution of Chimpanzee Experiments to Biomedical Progress,” veterinarian Andrew Knight reported that few papers based on these experiments are ever cited in future research and that a detailed examination of these medical papers revealed that, rather than animal-related research, in vitro studies, human clinical and epidemiological studies, molecular assays and methods, and genomic studies contributed the most to their development. Knight also showed that in toxicology testing, animal models were frequently equivocal or inconsistent with human outcomes.
The bottom line is that animal models have very limited utility, they are very expensive, and they raise all sorts of ethical questions. Why pursue research methods that harm animals and provide results that are not particularly relevant for humans? Consistent with these concerns, in February 2008 top officials from the U.S. National Institutes of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency announced a five-year deal to share technology, information, and other resources that will improve the toxicity testing of chemical compounds used in food, medicine, and other products using robots rather than lab animals.
Often it’s not clear why experimenters conduct animal studies when they already have compelling results from human studies. Consider one study that found that monkeys can control a mechanical arm with their thoughts. This research, as reported in 2008 in the New York Times, would hopefully help people suffering from paralysis to gain more control over their lives. What I found interesting was that the article went on to state: “In previous studies, researchers showed that humans who had been paralyzed for years could learn to control a cursor on a computer screen with their brain waves and that nonhuman primates could use their thoughts to move a mechanical arm, a robotic hand or a robot on a treadmill.” If scientists already knew this, why use more monkeys? Wouldn’t the most fruitful route for this sort of research, which has very important implications for humans with severe motor deficits, be to study humans?
In the behavioral sciences, two examples of the inadequacy of animal models are the use of maternal and social deprivation (depriving young animals of mothering and other social contact) to learn about human depression, and the use of animals to study human eating disorders, including obesity, anorexia, and bulimia. The deplorable maternal-deprivation studies of Harry Harlow at the University of Wisconsin proved the obvious, and ever since, socially deprived monkeys have been commonly used to study the psychological and physiological aspects of depression. Individuals typically are removed from their mothers and other family members soon after birth and raised alone, often in small, dark, barren cages called “depression pits.” In their impoverished prisons, isolated monkeys scream in despair, become self-destructive, and eventually withdraw from the world. The only social contacts with these unsocialized, frightened, and distraught monkeys occur when blood is drawn or other physiological measures are taken, or when they are introduced to other monkeys, whom they avoid or who maim or occasionally kill them.
Besides the fact that these types of studies are ethically revolting, numerous flaws plague deprivation studies, including the lack of human clinical relevance. Researchers view human depression as a distinctly human condition. Simplistic animal models of human depression do not work for the diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of human depression. Nonetheless, federal agencies heavily fund (with taxpayers’ money) these studies in which baby monkeys are torn from their mothers and made to suffer panic attacks, anxiety, and depression. Even people who accept other forms of animal research are offended by the horrors of deprivation research. Many in the public believe it should be stopped immediately. No ends justify these means.
Psychologist Kenneth Shapiro has written extensively about the use of animal models in psychological research, specifically in eating disorders. Despite research in which animals are starved, force-fed, or subjected to binge-purge cycles, Shapiro found that only 37 percent of clinicians who treat people for eating disorders even know about the results of such research. Of those who do know about the research, 87 percent said animal models were not used to design human treatment programs. Thus, the success rate of animal models for application in human clinical practice is extremely low. If you had the same chance of arriving at a theater to see a movie, you probably would not even try to go.
For scientific research, the minds and emotions of our fellow animals are simply too much like us to morally justify doing them harm, yet they remain too physically different to make them useful models for helping humans. In February 2006 the prestigious Diabetes Research Institute published a report stating that scientists “have shown that the composition of a human islet is so different than that of the rodent model, it is no longer relevant for human studies.” This bad animal research leads to bad human medicine. An essay published in the Journal of the American Medical Association estimated that 106,000 people die each year in hospitals from adverse reactions to drugs that had previously been tested on animals and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Adverse drug reactions are now the fifth leading cause of death in the United States, following heart disease, cancer, stroke, and lung disease. Vioxx, a popular drug for arthritis, caused about 27,500 heart attacks, of which about 7,000 were fatal. According to the FDA, 92 of every 100 drugs that pass animal trials fail during human clinical trials, meaning that about 90 percent of drugs tested as safe and effective on animals don’t work on humans. Plus, more than 50 percent of those that are given to people are withdrawn because of toxic effects on humans not predicted in animal experiments. Drugs would actually be safer if animal testing was eliminated. John Pippin, a cardiologist, points out, “The monoclonal antibody TGN1412 was safe in monkeys at 500 times the dose tested in humans, yet all six British volunteers who received the drug in 2006 nearly died. Conversely, simple aspirin produces birth defects in at least seven animal species, yet is safe in human pregnancy.”
Stress is also a problem in research on captive animals. Jonathan Balcombe and his colleagues analyzed eighty published studies to assess the potential stress associated with three routine laboratory procedures that are commonly performed on animals: handling, blood collection, and the use of stomach tubes (or force-feeding). They published their results in the professional journal Contemporary Topics in Laboratory Animal Science in 2004. What they found is that simply picking up a mouse and holding the animal briefly can affect the animal’s heart rate and blood pressure significantly (along with other stress indicators), and the effects can last from half an hour to an hour. They found that, the particular experiment aside, life in the lab for animals is so stressful that it alone impairs their immune system, which of course affects the results for many types of research, such as tumor growth, cardiovascular disorders, immune function, and psychological studies, among others.
All in all, a paradigm change is needed. It’s not just animal protectionists who argue against animal research. Scientists who care about solid, effective science are also becoming skeptical. Human health and compassion will both improve when research focuses more on humans, rather than on animal surrogates.
No More Cutting:
The End of Dissection and Vivisection
“I am not interested to know whether vivisection produces results that are profitable to the human race or doesn’t. . . . The pain which it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis of my enmity toward it, and it is to me sufficient justification of the enmity without looking further.”
— Mark Twain
For centuries, medical schools and universities have cut up animals to teach students. Yet ever since the late nineteenth century, an antivivisection movement has argued that these practices are immoral and unnecessary for learning. Today, schools of all kinds and at all levels around the world are finally banning this practice, not only because of ethical issues, but because nonanimal alternatives are as good or better for teaching. More than thirty published studies show that the use of alternatives such as computer software, models, and transparencies are at least as likely as dissection to achieve the intended educational goals.
Technological advances, in fact, provide overwhelming advantages to dissection — such as imaging that allows students to view the nervous system, to rotate the image, to make certain layers opaque and others transparent, to cut away certain layers, and to repeat these operations in reverse.
Educators around the world agree. At Bhavnager University in Gujyrat, India, the annual use of over three thousand animals has been replaced with alternatives; Israel banned vivisection in schools in 2003; and in March 2008 the Faculty of Zoology at Tomsk Agricultural Institute in Russia ended the use of animals for dissection, even though Russian president and Time magazine’s person of the year, Vladimir Putin, harassed rats when he was young.
Medical schools in the United States are also “swapping pigs for plastic.” In an essay in Nature, it was noted that while doctors used to try out their surgical skills on animals before being allowed to work on patients, now only a handful of medical schools in the United States still have animal labs. Live-animal experiments were on the curriculum in 77 of 125 medical schools in 1994, but now only about 11 of 126 schools still use them. In January 2008, the New York Times reported that all American medical schools have abandoned dog labs for teaching cardiology. The newspaper quoted Francis Belloni, a dean at New York Medical College, as saying that, though animal use “was not done lightly and had value,” students would “become just as good doctors without it.”
Studying Wild Animals: Traps and Dung
Fieldwork — or studying and researching animals in the wild — is far better than studying animals in cages and labs. Yet fieldwork can also be invasive, and the current regulations used to protect animals are not good enough. In order to study wild animals and track their habits, scientists not only observe animals as unobtrusively as they can but also capture individuals, measure them, weigh them, evaluate their health, often tag them, and then release them; these practices extract a cost on the animal and can lead to misleading data.
For instance, wildlife researcher and veterinarian Marc Cattet and his colleagues recently conducted a study evaluating the long-term capture-and-handling effects on bears. Cattet discovered that these methods can seriously injure and impact the bears, causing scientists to gather spurious data. One bear died ten days after a capture because it suffered from “such a severe case of capture myopathy — a kind of muscle meltdown some captured animals suffer when they overexert themselves trying to escape — that its chest, bicep and pectoral muscles were pure white and as brittle as chalk.”
Further, “blood analyses of 127 grizzlies caught in Alberta between 1999 and 2005 revealed a significant number of those animals were showing signs of serious stress for alarmingly long periods of time after they were processed and released back in the wild,” and about two-thirds of the animals caught in leghold traps suffered muscle injuries.
While Marc Cattet and other researchers aren’t ready to give up wildlife research, it is heartening that he concludes that we can do much more: “I think that a number of things can be done to perhaps minimize restraint times and capture-related injuries,” Cattet said. “We could use motion activated video cameras at trap sites that would allow researchers to assess animals’ reactions to capture. I think that what this study underscores is that the status quo is not the answer. It also underscores the reality that it is not only bears that suffer. There’s every reason to believe that other animals are suffering too when they are captured and released.”
There are alternatives to trapping and immobilizing animals that work very well. Collecting dung is one. When I visited Iain Douglas-Hamilton and his coworkers as they studied elephants in Samburu National Reserve in Northern Kenya, I had the pleasure of collecting elephant dung with George Wittemyer. Samples of dung are collected, then sent off for genetic analyses that help George and his colleagues further understand the elephants. By analyzing fecal hormones, scientists can get information on stress levels; for instance, it’s known that stress hormones increase when a matriarch is killed and are higher in areas with high levels of poaching. What are called “fecal-centric approaches” to wildlife behavior and ecology are becoming more popular because these scatological techniques are noninvasive.
Research ecologist Robert Long and his colleagues recently published a book titled Noninvasive Survey Methods for Carnivores that surely will help wild animals and be a win-win for all involved in field research. John Brusher and Jennifer Schull have developed nonlethal methods for determining the age of fish using the characteristics of dorsal spines. Many researchers realize that they don’t have to kill animals to study them, and we can look forward to the development of more and more noninvasive techniques for studying a wide variety of animals. Even a 2009 essay in the New York Times noted the effectiveness of noninvasive research on wildlife, such as the wealth of information that can be gleaned from an animal’s hair.
Admittedly, it’s a difficult situation because we need to do the research to learn more about the animals we want to understand and protect. But we can always do it more ethically and humanely — to make sure we don’t harm animals in our pursuit of knowledge about them, and to be sure that the information we collect reflects their actual needs and behavior in the wild.
Circuses and Rodeos
Given the choice, would animals find circuses and rodeos as entertaining as people do? Unlike zoos (which I address next), circuses, rodeos, and other types of animal “performance” don’t promise any higher redeeming value, such as education, conservation, and so on. They are for amusement and entertainment, pure and simple. But, are the animals amused and entertained?
In fact, so much has been written about the serious ethical concerns surrounding these venues that the short answer is simple: No. There simply are no data that show that there is much, if anything, good for the animals who are kept for human amusement and entertainment. Like humans, some animals show evidence that they are natural “performers,” but the business of animal entertainment is synonymous with abuse. Circuses deprive animals of any chance to have their emotional needs met; they’re an insult to both animals and humans and rob us all of our dignity. It will be a great day when all circus animals are allowed to live out their lives with respect and dignity in appropriate animal sanctuaries. Circuses also set a bad example for children, as the underlying lesson they teach is that it’s okay for animals to be treated as objects for entertainment and amusement.
Concerning circuses, Boulder, Colorado, animal activist Donna Marino sums up the dire situation by asking, “Would you knowingly pay to watch an elephant jabbed with an electric prod until his body collapsed in pain? How about watching a lion prodded by a trainer with a steel hook until blood spurts from one of his legs?” Marino notes that if you pay to see the circus, that’s exactly where your money goes. She goes on to write:
For years, circuses have abused animals to get them to perform tricks for the ‘entertainment’ of humans. Since animals do not naturally or voluntarily ride bicycles or jump through rings of fire, their trainers must force them to perform these tricks. The methods are generally barbaric and involve the use of whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bull hooks, and other brutal tools of the trade. Some animals are kept muzzled to subdue them and discourage them from defending themselves if they feel threatened. Others are drugged to make them manageable and some even have their teeth removed to prevent biting. Because circus animals travel long distances on a grueling schedule in order to earn the most profit for their owners, these creatures are often confined for 20 hours or more a day in small cages. During that time, they cannot satisfy their natural needs and may not even see the light of day until they’re unloaded for a performance.
As I noted above, one study revealed that large circus animals like elephants, big cats, and horses spend virtually all their time chained and confined in cages. Furthermore, captive bears engage in stereotyped back-and-forth pacing about 30 percent of the time. Many animals display repetitive stereotyped movements in captivity that are not seen in the wild, and Israeli scientists are using the behavior of disturbed animals in zoos to help them understand obsessive-compulsive disorder in humans. Let’s hope the animals also benefit from these studies.
Rodeos and bull riding are also insults to the animals who are abused and objectified solely for our own entertainment. Despite the assurances of rodeo advocates that great care is taken to provide for the animals’ welfare, injuries in rodeos are very common, including paralysis from spinal cord injuries, severed tracheas, as well as broken backs and legs. A common activity, calf roping, is incredibly inhumane. Even Bud Kerby, owner and operator of Bar T Rodeos, agrees; he was quoted as saying he “wouldn’t mind seeing calf roping phased out.” Stock shows around the country allow young kids to engage in “mutton busting,” in which children are placed on scared, bucking sheep. This endangers the sheep and the children, and it most assuredly doesn’t promote kindness and respect for animals. Indeed, despite claims by advocates otherwise, rodeos are dangerous for people; for instance, in June 2009 in Longmont, Colorado, a twelve-year-old boy was killed when a bull he was trying to ride stomped on his stomach.
It’s Not Happening at the Zoo
Zoos and aquariums are meant to be entertaining, but many also operate with a “higher calling.” They are first and foremost supposed to be educational institutions that aim to teach people about our fellow animals, and they also hope to aid the conservation of species. While education and conservation are admirable goals, the evidence is so far lacking that zoos achieve either one very well; nor is there evidence that zoos are the best way to accomplish them. Despite being founded explicitly to care for animals, zoos have a disturbing record of failing the very animals they hold.
Let me begin by saying that most people who work in zoos care about the animals with whom they work, and they do the very best they can for them. Many zoo and aquarium employees are deeply committed to education, conservation, and animal protection, and it’s imperative to keep them in the discussion about the best means for achieving these goals.
Nonetheless, I’ve been told from time to time that zoos are good for animals because they get free meals, a safe place to live and to sleep, and health insurance (veterinary care). These luxuries keep them content and happy. But are animals really happy in zoos? Do zoos adequately provide for them? The answer can vary depending on the zoo and the animal, but the record is extremely mixed, and it gets worse with the larger, most complex species — typically, the zoo’s moneymaking “star attractions.” Yet all by itself, providing comfortable quarters is not reason enough to justify keeping animals in captivity, at which point it becomes a lame excuse.
For instance, in January 2007, Ralph, an adolescent, twenty-two-foot-long whale shark, died mysteriously at the Georgia Aquarium, despite being as well cared for as perhaps any whale shark in captivity. This raised questions about whether whale sharks, a species about which little is known, should ever be taken from the wild. Despite a zoo’s or aquarium’s best efforts, captivity can never replicate a healthy natural environment; for some species, it’s so inadequate as to be fatal. Only a month earlier, a beluga whale at the Georgia Aquarium became seriously ill and died.
In December 2007, in another high-profile example, Tatiana, a female Siberian tiger at the San Francisco Zoo, got out of her aging, inadequate enclosure and attacked three men, killing one of them. Tatiana’s story illustrates a number of problems with zoo care, and it attracted worldwide press because not only was it a terribly sad event but it also could have been avoided. First of all, in this case, the zoo wasn’t properly protecting either the animal or the public; the enclosure’s walls were very old and four feet lower than the current recommended standard. If tigers can’t get out, they can’t hurt anyone.
But also, a year before, Tatiana had attacked a keeper and chewed his arm. Large carnivores simply do not belong in zoos, but Tatiana may have been particularly agitated. Tatiana had lived at the Denver Zoo and was shipped to San Francisco because Denver wanted to redecorate their facility. Animals are sentient and emotional beings, and it affects them when they are shipped here and there as if they were couches. During her two years in the San Francisco Zoo, between the time she was transferred and when she was shot by San Francisco police, she’d lost 50 pounds. Her weight dropped from 292 pounds to 242 pounds. At the Denver Zoo, she was fed 42 pounds of food a week. At the San Francisco Zoo, she was fed between 32 and 36 pounds of food a week. Her keeper’s notes show a pattern: “Tatiana frantic for food.” Given her history, an essay in Time magazine even speculated whether Tatiana held a grudge against people.
In addition, the men Tatiana attacked had been taunting her, an activity that is rather common at zoos. In the mid-1990s my students and I discovered that 20 to 25 percent of visitors at the Denver Zoo taunted animals by mimicking, yelling, and throwing things at them and that carnivorous predators were the most likely targets. It’s quite possible Tatiana had been taunted many times, and in this case, it made her so mad she found a way to fight back. However, at the time, Stephen Zawistowski, science adviser for the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, said that taunting probably was not the sole reason for Tatiana’s attack, though it likely played a role. Indeed, the likelihood that lions, tigers, bears, gorillas, and so on will be taunted should be taken into account when building enclosures. The Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) must build taunt-proof cages, and zoos should be vigilant about removing people who taunt animals.
Robert Jenkins, director of animal care at the San Francisco Zoo, claimed that, “We don’t know how[the tiger] was able to get out.” Then the zoo and the AZA traded blame, with the AZA saying they had told the zoo the enclosure wasn’t high enough for Siberian tigers, and the zoo saying they didn’t know this. Lost in the debate was Tatiana herself, an animal with a point of view who did not like being treated as if she were an inanimate object. She was a highly evolved predator who didn’t like being imprisoned. When will zoos learn this lesson? How many more people and animals will have to be injured or killed? Isn’t it about time that the AZA start investigating how to remove certain animals from zoos and send them off to sanctuaries so they can live out their lives with dignity?
In many ways the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and some zoo advocates are their own worst enemies. The AZA has a history of lax enforcement of their stated standards and of reaccrediting zoos with extremely poor records. Take, for instance, the prestigious National Zoo in Washington, DC, which some consider the flagship institution in the United States. Major problems were documented at the National Zoo in the late 1990s through the early 2000s that seriously compromised the well-being of its residents, but which didn’t compromise its AZA accreditation.
When you look into the eyes of animals in zoos, you immediately know when something isn’t right. I confirmed this when I was a reader for the “Review of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Zoological Park,” a zoo report resulting from a study conducted by the National Academy of Sciences’ National Research Board on Agriculture and Natural Resources. The purpose of the study was to “identify strengths, weaknesses, needs and gaps in the current infrastructure” at the National Zoo because of suspicions of mismanagement and inadequate animal treatment. The report documented a long history of problems, with numerous infractions of federal statutes, laws, and other guidelines (as well as common sense) that were serious and inexcusable.
One of the most egregious violations was the alteration of veterinary records. It was disquieting that infractions and abuses occurred even though the zoo’s veterinarians are board-certified by the American Veterinary Medical Association. Questions from the public finally surfaced when two red pandas died after being exposed to rat poison. Safety managers, who could have prevented these unnecessary deaths, were nowhere to be found. Overall, there was a shameful lack of concern for animal welfare by some of the administrators responsible for overseeing the zoo’s operation.
Other concerns included the lack of documentation for the preventative medicine program, the lack of compliance with standard veterinary medicine, and the shortcomings of the animal nutrition program (despite supposed world-class research) that led to animal fatalities. Further worries included the disregard for requirements for research given by the Public Health Service, the Animal Welfare Act, the American Zoo and Aquarium Association, and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committees, in addition to the zoo’s own policies and procedures for animal health and welfare. Poor record-keeping — such as the failure to keep adequate animal husbandry and management records — and poor compliance with the zoo’s own policies were commonplace.
Unfortunately, the AZA didn’t hesitate to reaccredit the zoo in the spring of 2004, apparently turning a blind eye to the zoo’s appalling state and no doubt yielding to political pressure. Even though a previous AZA accreditation report had asked the National Zoo to develop a strategic plan, they still hadn’t done so, and this in and of itself justified withholding accreditation until the zoo made major adjustments. While the report was meant to foster significant changes, many problems were blatantly ignored.
I found myself wondering how things could have gotten so bad at such a high-profile zoo. How and why did conditions deteriorate despite close scrutiny by organizations and individuals who are supposed to be responsible for overseeing zoos and despite repeated and deep expressions of concern by the public that appeared in regional and national media? If these things weren’t enough to keep the National Zoo from providing substandard care, then what could possibly ensure adequate care for animals at all the other smaller, lower-profile zoos around the country and the world? In how many other places is the same story unfolding, and how easy will it be for it to keep happening?
Letting Elephants Go
Currently five major zoos in the United States — the Bronx Zoo and those in Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco, and Philadelphia — are phasing out their elephant exhibits, despite the fact that they’re moneymakers. They are doing this because zoos cannot meet the social, emotional, and physical needs of these awesome mammoths, and also because of the high cost of keeping captive elephants. Elephants are highly intelligent, extremely emotional, very social, and like to roam. By definition, zoos are antithetical to these needs.
In contrast, in Colorado, a debate has arisen over the Denver Zoo’s plan to spend$52 million to increase the size of its Asian elephant habitat and to boost the number of captive elephants from two to as many as eight. But the Denver Zoo’s proposed ten-acre elephant park — which would include a “hot tub” — would merely be a bigger but still thoroughly inadequate cage.
The Denver Zoo justifies its intentions by claiming that its park will help to conserve this endangered species. In an interview I did on Colorado Public Radio with Craig Piper, vice-president of the Denver Zoo, Piper called the Denver Zoo elephants an “insurance population.” But, insurance for what? For the day all wild Asian elephants are gone? The AZA has developed what it calls the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which attempts to ensure the survival of certain wildlife species using managed breeding programs and reintroducing captive-bred wildlife into proper habitat. Yet the Denver Zoo puts less than 10 percent of its annual budget into conservation efforts (and about the same into education); by comparison, that’s one-quarter of what the Bronx Zoo devotes to conservation. Piper admitted that it’s extremely unlikely — really impossible — that any of these “insurance” elephants would ever be reintroduced to the wild. Every conservation biologist knows that retaining suitable habitat for animals is enormously difficult, and there’s no hope that habitat into which elephants could be released would be saved for them in their absence. If wild Asian elephants don’t have habitat and protections enough to maintain themselves in the wild, then neither will reintroduced captive elephants. Captive elephants merely insure a zoo’s income.
Or, as Terry Maple, renowned director of Zoo Atlanta, has noted, “Any zoo that sits around and tells you that the strength of zoos is the SSP is blowing smoke.”
Keeping elephants in captivity, then, fails two of a zoo’s stated goals: humane care and conservation. For example, Piper said that the zoo might be able to house perhaps six bull elephants and use them for breeding and also for sending around to other zoos. Redecorating zoos with any animal raises serious ethical questions. Yet elephant groups are particularly important; if, in order to maintain Denver’s elephant park, individuals will be shipped in and out, then the strong and enduring social bonds elephants create will be broken repeatedly. Elephants are highly emotional, sentient beings, and they suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder and psychological flashbacks. They grieve, often irreversibly, when life-long friendships are broken. Elephants have thick skins, but tender hearts.
Officials at the Denver Zoo already know this, since they’ve had experience with what can go wrong. In spring 2001, Dolly, a thirty-two-year-old female Asian elephant at the Denver Zoo, was removed from her friends, Mimi and Candy, and sent to Missouri on her “honeymoon,” as the zoo called it, to breed. A few months later, Hope, a mature female, and Amigo, a two-year-old male (who had been taken from his mother), were sent to the Denver Zoo, where they lived next door to Mimi and Candy.
In the following months, Mimi got increasingly agitated. In June 2001, Mimi pushed Candy over; when Candy couldn’t get up, she had to be euthanized (the zoo didn’t have a proper elephant hoist). Two days after Candy died, Hope got angry, escaped from her keepers, and rampaged through the zoo. Miraculously, no one was seriously injured. Hope was then transferred out of the zoo, and a new elephant, Rosie, was brought in. When the social order of elephants is severely disrupted, individuals get very upset. I’ve seen this firsthand among wild elephants in Kenya, and not surprisingly, this is what happened at the Denver Zoo. Playing “musical chairs” with animals is a serious business that can have dire consequences.
All of which raises a larger question: if the Denver Zoo, or any zoo, wants to spend tens of millions of dollars helping to conserve Asian elephants, why don’t they spend it helping wild elephants? If captive Asian elephants aren’t likely to help conserve the species, then why not put our efforts into preserving habitat that’s useful to wild elephants? There’s no reason the zoos can’t publicize their efforts and educate the public (and make money doing so), but why not act in ways that actually help the animals, rather than just help the zoo?
Georgia Mason, a professor in the Animal Science Department at the University of Guelph in Canada, and an acknowledged expert on the behavior of animals in captivity, has made exactly this case: “In the past 10 years Western zoos have spent or committed something like$500 million improving the enclosures of something like just over 200 elephants — all of it evidence-free. These sums are worrying because they are staggering compared with what it would take to conserve these animals better in Africa and Asia. . . . The Oklahoma City zoo has announced plans to create a$23 million enclosure that would keep a handful of elephants. . . . That sum is about the same as the annual budget of the Kenya Wildlife Service or the South African National Parks Authority.”
Zoos are no place for elephants. The purposes zoos serve, and the animals we keep in them, are up to us to decide, so let’s make the correct choice — phase out the elephant exhibit and send these amazing animals to sanctuaries where they can live out their lives with social and emotional stability, respect, and dignity. The Denver Zoo should use its money to improve the lives of the residents it already has, or to help preserve the habitats of wild animals so they will never know a cage.
What Do Zoos Teach Us?
Most people come to zoos to be entertained, to be amazed by exotic creatures, and to experience a rare interaction and connection with our fellow animals. These same desires often inspire our adventures into the wilderness. But as we saw with Tatiana, the Siberian tiger, for a minority of visitors (but perhaps as many as a quarter), the interaction they most enjoy is the power zoos give them to mock and antagonize otherwise fearsome predators.
However, I’m told that zoos do indeed also educate, and I find this to be a reasonable claim. Yet there is only scant evidence that this results in any attitude and behavior changes concerning conservation, or that it leads to improved animal welfare. If zoos want to claim that they are conducting conservation education, they need to find a way to prove that their efforts are resulting in behavior changes that preserve biodiversity. However, until we have proof, it is more fair to say that zoos are conducting what Sarah Bexell calls “wildlife natural history education” that has yet to be shown to engender humane attitudes and biodiversity preservation.
A recent study conducted by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums attempted to quantify the educational impact of zoos and aquariums. The assessment was titled “Groundbreaking Study Identifies Impact of Zoo and Aquarium Visits,” and it surveyed 5,500 out of about 157,000 visitors to twelve zoos. The results showed that about 60 percent of visitors said they had their values and attitudes toward conservation reinforced, 42 percent believed that zoos and aquariums played an important role in conservation education and animal care, and 57 percent said that their visit strengthened their connection to nature.
From this, the AZA concluded, “zoos and aquariums all over this country are making a difference for wildlife and wild places.” In fact, this survey only confirms what visitors say about how a zoo influences their attitudes, not whether zoos improve the lives of animals. Actually, only about 11 percent of animals confined in zoos are threatened or endangered, animals are rarely if ever reintroduced to the wild, and animals in zoos do not have healthier lives. When a report was published that captive Asian elephants show higher mortality rates than their wild relatives, Paul Boyle, a conservation official with the AZA, became very upset and extolled the virtues of zoos by claiming: “When you get a seventh-grader next to an elephant, there’s that hay smell. It’s huge. They look up and see these eyelashes that are 4 inches long. . . . And they begin to ask questions.”
But do they? Or do they just look in amazement and move on to the next animal? There is no empirical evidence that the experiences zoos provide, as warm as they can be, actually inspire lasting action or changes in attitudes. Sarah Bexell, an expert on the educational role of zoos, has noted that even seeing animals such as pandas playing doesn’t motivate people to ask questions about the conservation of these charismatic animals. In one study conducted at the Edinburgh Zoo in Scotland, only 4 percent of zoo visitors said they went to the zoo to be educated. Even if people become interested, this does not lead to monetary contributions or any long-lasting education effect that actually benefits the animals. Animals in zoos surely aren’t ambassadors for their wild relatives. How can an individual who is caged and has lost his or her freedom be an ambassador for their species? As former zoo director David Hancocks says, zoos are “a different nature” and, indeed, a paradox, for they represent animals in misleading ways.
Of course, I realize research on attitude and behavioral changes toward animals is difficult to conduct and evaluate. Still, there are effective ways of teaching conservation and compassion for animals. For instance, take the conservation camps in Chengdu, China, which Sarah Bexell and her Chinese colleagues have organized. The camps were developed for children ages eight to twelve, and they were designed to encourage the acquisition of knowledge about animals, care for animals, compassion toward animals, and environmental stewardship. The program guided children along what they called a “continuum of care.” To facilitate this process, students first met small animals (rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, parakeets, and tortoises) as individuals (not merely members of a species), and they were encouraged to recognize them as individuals with personalities and feelings similar to ours. They also met exotic captive animals (including giant pandas, red pandas, zebras, golden monkeys, giraffes, and lemurs) as individuals. Bexell and her colleagues found statistically significant selfreported increases of knowledge, level of care, and propensity for animal and environmental stewardship. Anecdotally from observation as well as from parental responses, they also learned that some students became kinder toward their peers, especially younger campers. This program and its evaluation allowed the researchers to document one way that young people can develop positive and humane attitudes and behavior toward animals and nature, and it can serve as a model for other much-needed studies elsewhere.
To conclude, let’s consider what the Association of Zoos and Aquariums itself has to say in their own executive statement, which notes: “Little to no systematic research has been conducted on the impact of visits to zoos and aquariums on visitor conservation knowledge, awareness, affect, or behavior.” Enough said. There’s little groundbreaking information contained in the AZA’s reports, and the burden of proof still falls on those who want to keep animals in captivity. Thus far, they have been unable to provide any convincing evidence that zoos do much of anything for “the good of a species.” All zoos must show that they are living up to their stated educational and conservation goals, and the public must hold them accountable. The animals, of course, can’t do this for themselves.
“Good Welfare” Isn’t “Good Enough”
Clearly, the way we treat animals today doesn’t work. It doesn’t work for our fellow animals, and quite often it doesn’t work for us. Just about everyone I know says they care about animals. Many people work hard to protect animals. Some people say they love animals and yet harm them nonetheless; I’m glad those people don’t love me. While most of us have good intentions, judging by the state of animal welfare today, good intentions aren’t enough. Despite global attempts to protect animals from wanton use and abuse, the institutions and industries we ‘ve created kill and torture billions of animals every year — what currently passes for “good welfare” just isn’t “good enough.” Humans still tend to deny that the wanton abuse of animals occurs in numerous venues, and when they acknowledge it, they still sometimes justify it by saying that animals don’t have emotions and don’t understand what’s going on. But at this point, given the constant reminders in the popular media about animal sentience and suffering, only a hermit could really say, “Oh, I didn’t know animals could feel.”
Our relationships with our fellow animals are complicated, frustrating, exhilarating, ambiguous, and paradoxical; they range all over the place. Our fellow animals challenge us to take a hard look at who we are and who (not what) they are. Our relationships with animals are scattered across the love-hate spectrum, and this causes problems for animals and for us.
According to existing laws and regulations, “good welfare” in research allows mice to be shocked and otherwise tortured, rats to be starved or force-fed, pigs to be castrated without anesthetic, cats to be blinded, dogs to be shot with bullets, and primates to have their brains invaded with electrodes. We need to ask ourselves what “good welfare” really means. Is it just synonymous with “convenient for humans,” or is this really the best that humans can do on behalf of animals? Consider the real-life scenarios we’ve already read about, which occur in laboratories, zoos, slaughterhouses, and in the wild nearly every day:
Is injuring coyotes and bears in leghold traps so we can study them “good welfare”?
Is shooting pigs to teach medical procedures for treating bullet wounds “good welfare”?
Is drowning minks in aquatic traps “good welfare”?
Is slaughtering hens so we can learn how to debone them faster “good welfare”?
Is injecting a disease into a chimpanzee “good welfare”?
Is blinding seals in chlorinated pools “good welfare”?
Is placing tigers in cages where they can be taunted “good welfare”?
Is moving elephants from zoo to zoo “good welfare”?
Are factory farms that create “downer” cows “good welfare”?
Is chaining circus horses and elephants over 90 percent of the time “good welfare”?
Clearly, “good” isn’t good enough. Treatment that humans regard as acceptable is unacceptable to animals. It is also disquieting that the results of a national survey of 157 veterinary faculty in the United States show that only 71 percent of respondents self-characterized their attitude toward farm animal welfare as “we can use animals for the greater human good but have an obligation to provide for the majority of the animals’ physiologic and behavioral needs.”
When it comes to deciding what constitutes “good welfare,” I often ask people: Would you do this to your dog? Would you trade places with the animal? If not, then why would any animal want to be treated in ways that, though legal, are abusive enough that you would not tolerate them, either for yourself or an animal you love? I ask these questions because we need to be very clear about what we do to animals and why we do it. It is possible for a dog to live in a closet or a cage as long as she or he is fed and given medical care when needed. They might not like it — indeed, they wouldn’t — but they could survive. We need to ask ourselves if we ‘re being consistent in deciding who to treat with compassion, and if not, why. We need to unravel what we mean by “good welfare” from the point of view of our fellow animals.
Françoise Wemelsfelder stresses in her excellent work, which focuses on how we assess the quality of life of animals, that good welfare is more than just an absence of suffering. It concerns the quality of the individual’s entire relationship with his or her environment, how she or he copes with their environment, and our willingness to treat animals as sentient beings with feelings, as individuals who care about what happens to them. In other words, animals don’t want us to merely stop acting cruelly toward them; they need us to also provide a compassionate world in which they can thrive.
What Animals Want: All We Have to Do Is Ask
If we ask, is it possible for animals to tell us what they want? Apparently so. Renowned ape-language researcher Sue Savage-Rumbaugh did just this with the bonobos she has studied for years, Kanzi, Panbanisha, and Nyota. Then she coauthored a peer-reviewed paper of her discoveries in the Journal of
Applied Animal Welfare Science. Sue and her colleagues developed a method for conducting two-way conversations with these amazing beings using a keyboard with symbols (or lexigrams), and using this, she could actually ask them questions and record their responses. Sue notes, “Although it is true that I chose the items listed as critical to the welfare of these bonobos and facilitated the discussion of these particular items, I did not create this list arbitrarily. These items represent a distillation of the things that these bonobos have requested repeatedly during my decades of research with them.”
Sue discovered that these were the items the bonobos agreed were important for their welfare:
1. Having food that is fresh and of their choice.
2. Traveling from place to place.
3. Going to places they have never been before.
4. Planning ways of maximizing travel and resource procurement.
5. Being able to leave and rejoin the group, to explore, and to share information regarding distant locations.
6. Being able to be apart from others for periods of time.
7. Maintaining lifelong contact with individuals whom they love.
8. Transmitting their cultural knowledge to their offspring.
9. Developing and fulfilling a unique role in the social group.
10. Experiencing the judgment of their peers regarding their capacity to fulfill their roles, for the good of the group.
11. Living free from the fear of human beings attacking them.
12. Receiving recognition, from the humans who keep them in captivity, of their level of linguistic competency and their ability to self-determine and selfexpress through language.
The bonobos live in captivity, yet they articulated a range of seemingly universal needs and desires: to eat well, to have the freedom to move about, to have time alone as well as to be an active, admired member of a social group, to be stimulated by novelty, to be appreciated for the beings they are, and to live free from fear. Enriched and challenging social and physical environments are clearly important to them, as they would be to most animals, but perhaps particularly to those living in confined situations with limited options. If we could apply these same communication techniques with other species, how revolutionary would that be? Our fellow animals could tell us what they want and need, and by doing this, we could make “good welfare” reflect true compassion.
I realize that no one is perfect. Without meaning to, good people can do bad things to animals. Yet we all can do more to make the world a more compassionate and less cruel place for all beings. What is important is that we lead by example and that we engage in compassionate activism, hopefully proactively. Although we live in an imperfect world and although we’re all fallible, this does not mean that anything goes. Rather, it means that we all must work that much harder to make more sustainable, ethical, and humane choices. We can make a positive difference, each and every one of us, by working together to create a more compassionate world. Isn’t that why we are here?