And the answer is ……… (Clue: don’t be fooled by the picture above)
🐾🐾DOGS!🐾🐾 But of course you knew that already, didn’t you?
Well, it’s true for women at least. It’s unclear why a college in New York state opted to research women’s sleep in particular, but research it they did. Their study has the serious and meaningful title “An Examination of Adult Women’s Sleep Quality and Sleep Routines in Relation to Pet Ownership and Bedsharing”
“Compared with human bed partners, dogs who slept in the owner’s bed were perceived to disturb sleep less and were associated with stronger feelings of comfort and security.”
Conversely, cats who slept in their owner’s bed were reported to be equally as disruptive as human partners, and were associated with weaker feelings of comfort and security than both human and dog bed partners.”
So it turns out cats are the worst. Do you think cats care? Course not. They know who really rules the roost. Besides, it’s totally beneath them to compete against lesser beings.
And in any case, it seems women who sleep with their canine friends go to bed earlier and get up earlier. Boring…
With Christmas coming up and another new year about to begin, we may think about adding a fur baby to our family. Here are 8 great reasons to adopt a dog (or a cat, depending on how much sleep we want!)
Who wants to support puppy mills or breeders who are just in it for the money?
Rescue buddies come in all shapes, shades, sizes and personalities – there’s a perfect fit out there for the pooch-shaped hole in our lives
Most ‘pre-owned’ mutts are already house-trained – phew!
Our new bff will already have the vet’s seal approval, and be microchipped, vaccinated, often spayed or neutered
Pure gold as he/she is, our rescue canine will cost a lot less than buying from a store or breeder
We will save a life. In the UK 5,000, in the U.S. 670,000 shelter dogs are euthanised each year. Those are not statistics. Those are doggy individuals with hearts full of love and hope
We can never be lonely with that pup by our side
We will reap all the unquestioning love and devotion brimming from those big brown eyes
And now we have a 9th – they are THE best snuggle-monsters! After all, hasn’t science just proved it?
PS The researchers didn’t question me, but it makes no difference to the results. My little rescue dog – who by day would bite the postman’s ankles if he got half a chance – is by night under the covers snuggled up close, his head on my shoulder – bliss!
If you never had the Japanese down as a nation of animal-lovers, get this – on the Japanese rail network Animals Rule.
Monkeys, dogs, goats, lobsters (lobsters?!) and a tortoise proudly hold the official title of stationmaster at rail depots around the country. The most famous to occupy the post in recent years was a cat called Tama, who died in 2015 at the good old age of 16. Her funeral ‘was attended by thousands of local commuters and admirers hailing from near and far. Following a period of mourning, the newly minted Honorable Eternal Stationmaster was replaced by Nitama, a former apprentice of Tama who beat out other candidates for the job partially based on her “willingness to wear a hat.”‘
The only thing vaguely similar of which we can boast here in the UK, is the day last April when a large herd of cows took it upon themselves to congregate on Hever station platform in Kent. Strangely, in spite of having a wealth of applicants to choose from, Network Rail declined to appoint any of them to their staff.
But Network Rail does have one heartening animal trick up its sleeve. Paradoxical, startling, but nonetheless true – the rail network and surrounding land managed by NR is possibly the most biodiverse wildlife haven in the UK. An unseen Shangri-la for rare and endangered species such as the large blue butterfly, the dormouse, the osprey, the natterjack toad and the great crested newt. If we were permitted access, which of course we are not, we might also find an abundance of lizards, grass snakes, slow worms, water voles, deer, foxes, badgers, and bats.
But – and it’s a very big but – the network is both haven and hazard. Between 2003/4 and 2013/14 the number of animals struck by trains tripled, and the unfortunate animals logging up the highest death count are deer.
“Deer have excellent peripheral vision, but most deer incidents take place while the beasts are traversing the railway as part of their natural movement pattern between habitats at dawn/dusk – a time when more trains are running as part of the morning and evening peaks.”¹
What is Network Rail doing to prevent animals getting on the tracks?
Not an awful lot it seems. They “educate land owners about the dangers and disruption caused by animal incursions, emphasising the need to keep gates securely closed and encouraging them to use additional measures such as electric fencing.”
And that’s it. Good as far as it goes, and fine for domestic animals: horses, sheep and cattle – but if we look for NR’s ideas on keeping deer and other wildlife off the tracks, we draw a blank. This in spite of their desire to minimise collisions and costly disruptions to the rail timetable.
Over in Japan, they do things differently
Yes, certainly there is the same imperative not to let collisions with animals mess up the schedule. (Magnify that sixty-fold. The Japanese don’t have a name for super-efficiency for nothing, and Japanese trains are precise to the second. Last November a rail company felt compelled to issue a public apology for one of its trains departing 20 seconds early, at 9.44.20, instead of 9.44.40 – can you imagine it!)
And yes, as in the UK, the most frequent victims of death by train are deer. The deer are “reportedly attracted to the lines due to a need for iron in their diets, licking up small iron filings left behind by the grinding of train wheels on the tracks.”
But in Japan it’s not just about the timetable. As their unlikely choice of stationmasters/mistresses attest, in the world of the locomotive the Japanese have a care for animals. And that extends to the wild kind, whose interaction with trains is too often fatal.
Creatures as small as turtles can come a cropper, as well as cause delays, so one rail company has worked with wildlife experts to create safe crossings in the form of special turtle trenches running underneath the tracks. Rail workers even carry out regular inspections to see if the little guys need an extra helping hand.
For the bigger animals the usual ropes, fences, and flashing lights have all been tried – without success. Now, displaying a creativity sadly lacking in Network Rail, the Japanese are coming up with all kinds of imaginative ways to prevent costly timetable disruptions and animal deaths.
One of the most out there was someone’s brainwave of mixing water with lion dung garnered from a safari park, and spraying the solution along the track. Hey presto, it worked! Not one deer was run over. Even though Japanese deer have never seen a lion, it seems they recognise the smell of an apex predator when they come across it.
The dung spray though 100% effective, did have several drawbacks:
The spraying was very labour-intensive, impractical on a larger scale
It got washed away in the rain
And finally, it REEKED! Railway staff, passengers, and folk living near the line alike, all complained
Based on the observation that the deer are drawn to the iron from the lines, one company developed another effective method to divert the deer – definitely less off-the-wall and decidedly less offensive than the lion poop – ‘yukuru’, simple salt-lick blocks containing the vital ingredient iron.
When it really hit home
One night in 2015 a family of deer were crossing the tracks when a young fawn at the rear of the group was struck by a train and killed. Yuji Hikita, an employee of Kintetsu Railway Co. saw it happening. And continued to watch while a parent deer stood motionless, staring down at the fallen fawn for a full 40 minutes. After witnessing the whole heart-wrenching scene, he determined to find a way to stop such a sorrowful event happening again.
Hikita’s focus was on finding a way to help the deer cross the tracks in safety, rather than simply blocking them out.
He made an on-the-ground study of the deers’ movements. Finding hoof prints and dung (deer droppings, not lion!) helped him establish which spots the animals used as crossing points. The line was enclosed with 2 metre-high netting, but crossing places were left open. In the crossing gaps, ultrasonic waves formed temporary barriers at the riskiest times, dawn and dusk, but were switched off overnight when the trains stopped running.
The ultrasonic waves, inaudible to us, have the advantage of not being a terribleassault on human senses like the lion poop.
Hikita’s ingenious plan won him a 2017 Good Design Award.“This is an excellent example of how railway companies can tackle the deer-train collision problem from the deer’s perspective,” a judge for the Good Design Award said in 2017, “and it owes to the countless number sacrificed in the accidents.”
Meanwhile researchers at the RTRI (Railway Technical Research Institute) have been testing trains that snort like a deer and bark like a dog. With the usual Japanese precision and attention to detail, the formula is thus: a three-second burst of deer-snort noises, followed by 20 seconds of dog-barking.
The deer-snorting noises replicate deer’s alarm warnings to each other, which would alert any real deer getting too close to the tracks. The dogs’ barking finishes the job by scaring them away. And the snort-bark formula works. In fact, it’s proving so successful the Institute is considering setting up stationary snort-bark devices along the tracks near crossing places favoured by the deer.
“Scientists are experimenting with artificial intelligence in order to decode and interpret animal vocalizations such as barks, growls or howls into a language which humans can understand.”*
“So many people would dearly love to talk to their dog or cat or at least find out what they are trying to communicate. A lot of people talk to their dogs and share their innermost secrets. With cats I’m not sure what they’d have to say. A lot of times it might just be “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone”
Professor Slobodchikoff of Northern Arizona University speaking to The Guardian.
Rapunzel the Conversational Cat
My brother has proper conversations with his cat Rapunzel. Not unusual among those of us who have companion animals, you might think. When I say ‘conversations’ though, I mean proper two-way, back and forth discussions on matters of serious import, along the lines of “What do you think of Theresa May’s handling of Brexit, Punzel?”
Punzel: “The woman doesn’t know what she’s doing. Please don’t talk to me about Brexit. I’m depressed enough as it is by the state of the world.” And so on.
Of course Rapunzel doesn’t actually say that. She’s a real cat, not one in a fairytale, in spite of her name. My brother helpfully speaks her lines for her. He thinks she’s a socialist, but maybe he’s got her all wrong. When she does meow for herself, what is she saying? It could well be, “you idiot, just feed me and leave me alone.” She may even be a closet Tory. Without the key to unlock cat-speak, no-one will know.
Dr Dolittle & Zoolingua
For those of us who couldn’t live without animals somewhere in our lives, the tale of animal-loving Dr Dolittle is particularly captivating. The story goes that Dr Dolittle’s parrot Polynesia teaches him the language of the animals. The good doctor opens his home to an ever-growing menagerie of animals whose speech only he can understand, until – the final straw for his long-suffering sister who keeps house for him – the arrival of a crocodile. A creature too far. She gives her brother an ultimatum – me or the animals. I love it that he chooses the animals!
Don’t we all want to be Dr Dolittle? What if we really could understand every word our cats, dogs, guinea pigs and rabbits utter? Well now maybe we will be able to do just that, thanks to something called Zoolingua, a project born from Professor Siobodchikoff’s work with other furry little creatures.
Meet the Prof & the ‘Villagers’
It’s true to say Con Siobodchikoff is the world expert on North American prairie dogs, having studied them closely for 30 years. Prairie dogs are not dogs at all of course. They are rodents, but every bit as fascinating as the canines in our homes. What Prof Con discovered over three decades is that the animals use “a sophisticated communication system that has all the aspects of language”.
These engaging little creatures live in ‘villages’ of underground burrows, and take it in turns to stand guard, watching out for predators. With hundreds of hours of recordings of prairie dog chatter, the Prof and his team discovered that whoever is on lookout uses particular calls for different predators, and the other ‘villagers’ respond according to the type of call.
Deciphering Prairie Dog-ese with AI
Using advanced artificial intelligence to analyse the recordings, they found that the little rodents have specific ‘words’ for ‘human’, ‘hawk’, and ‘coyote’, and their language is sophisticated enough to distinguish between coyotes and domestic dogs.
Professor Con noticed that there were interesting individual variations in calls about specific dangers. So although there was a distinct call for ‘coyote’, for instance, there were also varying elements around the call. He began to wonder if the calls might be doing more than specifying the threat as a coyote. Could they actually be describing the coyote?
The Prof had four human volunteers walk through the prairie dog village in identical clothing except for the colour of their shirts: one wore blue, the next yellow, then green, and finally grey. Analysis of the rodents’ calls revealed they were indeed describing each individual human, and not just in terms of shirt colour:
“Essentially they were saying, ‘Here comes the tall human in the blue,’ versus, ‘Here comes the short human in the yellow,’”says Slobodchikoff.
The prairie dogs’ linguistic ability turns out to be astonishing. When the team placed a picture of a large black oval near the village, the animals created an entirely new alarm call for it. The team took the picture away, and later brought it back. The little rodents all voiced exactly the same alarm call in response to it. It appears the components of the new call are describing the size, shape and colour of the oval in ‘words’ already part of their rich vocabulary. If that is not language, I’d like to know what is.
Prairie dog villages in different locations have their own dialects. The Professor says that the animals he has studied for so long in Gunnison AZ are unlikely to understand Mexican prairie dogs, and vice versa. But then, it’s pretty unlikely they will ever need to!
Prairie Dogs Love to Chat
Most fascinating of all, it seems they love a good gossip. “Prairie dogs also have what I call social chatters, where one prairie dog will produce a string of vocalizations, and another prairie dog across the colony will respond with a different string of vocalizations.
“If animals seemingly as simple as rodents have a language replete with nouns, adjectives, syntax and dialects, think what higher-order animals might be saying”
But thankfully we are now beginning to grasp that, in the words of evolutionary biologist Seeder El-Showk:
“Like every other kind of life on Earth, we may be unique but we are not special”
– even when it comes to language. All nonhuman animals that live in social groups exhibit complex behaviours. And complex behaviours require complex communication. Thankfully we are starting to take, can I say, a more respectful approach, attempting to unlock the secrets of the nonhumans’ own languages, their conversations with each other. And, being fascinated, and humbled, by what we are finding out about their complexity and sophistication, thanks to the work of dedicated zoologists like Prof Siobodchikoff.
Not Quite There Yet
“We know a lot more than we knew a few decades ago, but we’re still a long way from two-way communication,” says Stan Kuczaj, director of the Marine Mammal Behavior and Cognition Laboratory in Mississippi.
So best not get too excited just yet at the prospect of understanding your enigmatic feline as well as he/she gets you. Perhaps a read of Professor Slobodchikoff’s book, “Chasing Dr Dolittle: Learning the Language of Animals” can give us a few pointers. As yet we don’t have access to the kind of sophisticated AI that is helping him unravel the secrets of the prairie dog. Wait till the Prof has succeeded in converting his system into a handy pocket-size translator of dog-, cat-, or guinea pig-ese. Won’t that be a wonderful thing – a bestseller for sure.
It has to be said though, his Zoolingua is still very much a work in progress. Even the Prof thinks it might take 10 years. But watch this space!
“In a long due yet still impressive act of growth, the Chinese Ministry of Education has added an animal welfare course for high schools and students.”
This is MAJOR good news, so welcome after everything anti-animal and anti-nature emanating from the other side of the Pacific in the USA, a country which is travelling back into the dark ages under the present administration.
What makes the news even more exciting is that China has a population of 1.411 billion¹, the largest of any country in the world. And approximately 30% of them are aged between 0 – 24 years². That is a lot of young people, and they will be the ones to shape the country’s future.
Can we hope this is a turning point in Chinese attitudes towards animals and Nature? There have been some exciting trends in the last couple of years –
Just last week at a media event in Beijing, China announced it will host the 11th World Wilderness Congress (Wild11) in 2019
Also in 2016, this vast country – which accompanying its growing affluence had seen an off-the-scale increase in demand for meat and diary in the last couple of decades – announced its plan to cut meat consumption by 50% – a move warmly welcomed by environmentalists and animal-lovers alike
Now “China’s State Oceanic Administration (SOA) earlier this month announced it will dramatically curb commercial development of coastal wetlands. “I’ve never heard of anything quite so monumental,” says Nicola Crockford of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds U.K., which has worked to protect habitat of migratory birds in China and elsewhere.”
Does China need to keep making changes? It so does. In spite of there being a growing animal advocacy movement in recent years, the country and its people at large still have a reputation for horrific cruelty to animals.
Bear bile farming
Bears are kept in cages sometimes so small they cannot stand up or turn around in them. Bile is extracted from the living bear’s gallbladder as an ingredient for traditional Chinese medicine. Most of the bears are starved and dehydrated and suffer from multiple diseases and malignant tumours that end up killing them.
Dogs and cats
Are cruelly slaughtered for their meat. Often they are stolen pets. They suffer broken limbs being transported vast differences without food or water to meat markets.
Animal in Zoos
Kept in small barren cages. Some such as elephants in chains. Live (and terrified) hens, cows, donkeys and pigs are dropped into the enclosure of lions and tigers for the entertainment of the crowds. The animals are often cruelly broken by trainers to force them to perform. Tigers and lions have their teeth ripped and claws ripped out. Babies are removed from their mothers for lucrative photo ops.
Even now Chinese scientists have announced their breakthrough cloning of 2 macaques. They and further cloned monkeys will be used for animal testing. Scientists have also perfected the technology for creating the human/pig hybrid – ‘incubating’ human hearts in pigs. The intention is to use pigs to produce a regular supply for human heart transplants.
At this point China has no kind of animal welfare laws in place. There is much that needs to change if we are to credit the country with any sense of humanity towards nonhuman animals. So, if these Animal Welfare classes can open up Chinese youth to a newfound empathy with and compassion for their fellow creatures, we can hope for some big changes in the not-too-distant-future. For once, some animal news to get excited about!
(The cover photo is there simply because I couldn’t resist its absolute gorgeousness. Hopefully the endangered red panda will eventually be a beneficiary of this step forward in the education of Chinese children.)
China, of course is scarcely the only culprit treating animals with scant regard for their welfare. It has to be said that even in countries like the UK and the US with long established animal protection laws, there are still so many ways both domesticated animals and wildlife experience cruelty at human hands.
“A key reason animals are still used so widely is money. Vivisection is very big business. The pharmaceutical industry is the most profitable industry in the world and its interests are strongly protected by governments. Animal experiments are in the industry’s interests because they can be used to market their products more quickly and – most importantly – they provide a legal defence for the company when people are injured or killed by ADRs [adverse drug reactions]. They will argue that, having carried out the animal tests, no blame can be laid at their door.”– Animal Aid
Animal advocates – up against “the most profitable industry in the world”– that is some formidable foe. Faunalytics Fundamentals aims to arm us for the fight with the best and latest data from the USA on what people think about the issue of animal research; and on the millions of animals that suffer distress, harm and death in labs every year, and the millions more lined up to replace them. (It’s safe to read on – there are no graphic images or descriptions here. They are important, but I leave that to others.)
MEET THE ANIMALS
With their complex thoughts and intricate social structures, primates are the nonhuman animals most like humans. Good reasons not to use them in labs one would think, but unfortunately the very reasons they are used
Docile, friendly, cooperative, eager to please. Makes them ‘perfect’ lab subjects
Easily handled gentle animals that ‘purr’ when they are happy
Mice and Rats
Empathetic and altruistic – they’ve been seen to risk themselves to save cage-mates in captivity
While these are the most commonly used in labs, cats, birds, fish, frogs, rabbits, pigs, horses, cows, sheep, goats are unhappy lab residents too.
“Animals live rich and complex lives” and the animals used in labs are each “unique, sentient, and deserving of their rights to life and freedom.”
Over time (between 2008 – 2016) there has been a welcome decline in the US in the percentage of people agreeing to the statement, “Animal research is necessary for medical advancement” – a drop from 55% to 45%.
In general, people don’t want to see animal testing for cosmetics and personal care products, but many are still ready to believe it is necessary if it is said to be for the purpose of improving or saving human lives. There’s clearly much room here for raising awareness.
Changing public perceptions is vital – just think, for example of good-hearted people donating to medical charities that fund animal research, completely unaware of what is happening in the labs.
BREEDING & TRANSPORT
This is where the tragic story begins. Most are born in large breeding facilities and then shipped to the labs. While some ‘suppliers’ are relatively well-regulated, many are not. The graphic below shows the picture in Southeast Asia. Macaques and humans share 93% of their genes. Substitute ‘humans’ in the infographic below for ‘macaques’ to sense the true horror of what is happening.
IN THE LABORATORY
While it is impossible to know exact numbers of animals bred for the labs and used in experiments, best estimates put it at 115 – 127 million worldwide.
As the rats and mice, fishes, birds, insects and invertebrates are not covered by the US’s Animal Welfare Act, not only are researchers not required to keep statistics for them, there are also next to no protections for them, or official controls, or oversight governing their use. There are no witnesses to their suffering but the perpetrators themselves.
The HSUS has put together an interactive map of testing facilities in the US – you will be shocked to see how many there are. And these are ONLY those covered by the Animal Welfare Act, so there are many many more not identified. You will not readily happen across one when you’re out and about. They are invariably well-concealed. (The same here in the UK. There used to be one only a mile from my home. I never knew it was there until after it ceased to function. It was literally underground – entirely invisible to passers-by.)
IN THE CLASSROOM
Dissection in schools may not have a direct connection with the powerful pharmaceutical industry, but it’s certainly a channel for insidious conditioning to the supposed necessity of using animals in research. So in that sense, schools are doing the pharmaceuticals’ dirty work for them.
Luckily many students, rightly revolted at being made to cut up animals, are demanding alternatives. Some schools have responded by creating “student choice policies” which allow students to opt out of dissection for ethical reasons. So far 18 states and the District of Columbia have such policies in place – a small minority. Unfortunately, even where the option is in place, 53% of teachers aren’t aware of it, neither are 38% of students. Interesting that students are more clued up than their teachers – clearly a great opportunity here too for advocacy and raising awareness.
As if ethical arguments were not enough, there is an overwhelming practical argument against testing on animals – and that is, its ineffectiveness.
Of about 100 vaccines that worked against HIV-like animal viruses – NONE prevented HIV in humans
Of approx, 1000 drugs effective for neuroprotection in animals – NONE worked in humans
9 OUT OF 10 DRUGS FAIL because they cannot predict how they will affect humans
ONLY between 0% and 5% of drugs tested on animals are considered fit for human use
A meta-study found the researchers OVERESTIMATE BY 30% the probability that treatments work, because negative results are often not published
“Animal studies are done for legal reasons and not for scientific reasons. The predictive value of such studies for man is often meaningless.” – Dr James Gallagher, Director of Medical Research Lederle Laboratories
Even if you were one of those people who believed testing on nonhuman animals was justified for human benefit, would you not grieve for all those millions of animals that suffered and died for NOTHING?
There are many alternatives to animal research, and many more being developed.
The infographic shows just a few. FRAME, INTERNICHE, and Animalearn are some of the organisations pioneering and promoting alternatives in research and education.
WHAT WE CAN DRAW FROM THIS TO BETTER ADVOCATE FOR ANIMALS
It has to be about raising awareness – arming ourselves with the facts and getting them out there. As we’ve seen from AnimalTest Info and the Lab Animal Tour, those invested in testing on animals are expert at presenting the public with a highly-sanitised picture of their work. They also have no conscience about employing emotional blackmail – “What if it was your son/daughter with leukaemia/cerebral palsy/kidney disease?” Neatly sidestepping all other objections to research conducted on animals such as its ineffectiveness and the availability of better alternatives.
WHERE WE CAN LOOK FOR MORE INFORMATION & SUPPORT
In the UK
Animal Aid comprehensively covers abuse of animals in the name of science. We can find out everything we need to know here. We can order an End Animal Experiments action pack here
In the US
NEAVS has a brilliant page of FAQs. We can arm ourselves with all the answers we need in our advocacy for the millions of animals suffering in labs. There is also a useful list of other practical ways we can help end vivisection.
Sign petition to tell Congress to Reintroduce The Humane Cosmetics Act 2017
and petition to stop US Fish & Wildlife Service from Making Another Mistake
and petition to stop Air France Transporting Monkeys to Their Deaths
Support SAEN, (Stop Animal Exploitation Now) founded to “force an end to animal abuse in laboratories”
If I said to you, “You are invited inside an animal research lab, free to venture where you will on an open access, 360-degree, street-view-style virtual tour,” what would you think?
Would you even want to – even in the interests of arming yourself with the facts? What if I added, “Don’t worry, there is absolutely nothing here to upset you”? Would you be ready to believe me and give it a go?
Well, it’s for real – times 4. Four animal testing facilities in the UK opened up their doors and welcomed in the film crew of the Lab Animal Tour. And so with this groundbreaking initiative, you and I, anyone and his aunt can now nosey around inside the labs to our heart’s content. Just click on the link.
I promise you will be impressed and reassured. It’s all gleaming and spotless and the animals are so well looked after – not that you will see that much of them. But when you do, they are looking healthy and well-fed, with clean dry bedding and constant access to water. Their pens or cages for the most part are of a ‘decent’ size, you might think. And they are not being kept in isolation. The very worst I saw was an apparently willing and calm rhesus macaque monkey placed in some contraption designed to keep him/her immobilised while being slid into an MRI machine. Not too terrible, one might consider.
What’s more, there are little videos embedded in the tour, with researchers or animal-carers explaining what they are doing and why. And it’s all very nice, clean and reasonable, and entirely devoid of anything remotely cruel or bloody.
Notably and significantly, certain rooms on our virtual tour such as the operating theatre, the post-mortem suite and the intensive care unit are displayed with no animal presence. We onlyget to view these roomsempty,in all their nice, shiny, glass and steel clinical cleanliness. But just the names of those rooms must surely sound alarm bells.
The Lab Animal Tour, a commendable project in open access and transparency? Open access yes. Transparency no. As you may have worked out by now, my take on the Lab Animal Tour is more than a little sceptical. The Lab Animal Tour is no better than a PR exercise, a carefully sanitised piece of propaganda on behalf of those who have no interest in animal testing coming to an end.
So who created the tour? And how is it funded?
It’s all the work of an organisation called Understanding Animal Research (UAR), a misleadingly innocuous title. Who are they? “A not-for-profit organisation that explains why animals are used in medical and scientific research. We aim to achieve a broad understanding of the humane use of animals in medical, veterinary, scientific and environmental research in the UK. We are funded by our members who include universities, professional societies, industry and charities.”
In other words, the force behind the Lab Animal Tour is none other than the designated spokesbody for the researchers themselves. Faultless PR is UAR’s remit, not impartiality.
Understanding Animal Research’s website purports to tell you everything you need to know about animal research in the UK. This is a flavour of their list of ‘Myths’ we the public have ‘erroneously’ swallowed about the use of animals in medical research – which they are at pains to debunk:
Research on animals is not relevant to people because animals are different from people
Systematic reviews demonstrate that animal studies are meaningless for human health
There is an endless list of drugs that have to be withdrawn because of side effects, and these side effects are a major cause of hospital deaths
Many pointless, unnecessary experiments are carried out
Researchers do not care about the wellbeing of laboratory animals
Laboratory animals suffer great pain and distress
How could we be so stupid as to believe such nonsense! There are lots more supposed ‘myths’ listed on this page. If you want to look at them and see the ‘facts’ with which the organisation puts us straight on our delusions, click here
Animal Aid though, paints a very different picture
The difference is that Animal Aid (with assistance from PETA) is courageously uncovering the truth animal researchers are at such pains to conceal. UAR’s carefully-edited version of life in the lab is designed to reassure a public only too happy to believe that testing on animals is both necessary and humane. After all, which would you prefer to be true: that animals suffer, or that everything is fine?
According to Animal Aid,“Each year inside British laboratories, around 4 million animals are experimented on. Every 8 seconds, one animal dies.” No mention of that in the Lab Animal Tour. And these are just some of the unhappy animals making up that number, everyone a person not a statistic
There’s a short video on Animal Aid’s website, “This will make you rethink animal experiments”, which I chose not to watch. So just to warn you, I can’t vouch for how graphic it is. Their Animal Experiments section is packed with impeccably resourced information. And another important fact you won’t discover on the Lab Animal Tour is that animals are being abused daily, not just for ‘vital’ medical research, but also for testing:-
Product safety – agricultural and industrial chemicals, food additives, paints, and household cleaning products
Warfare – effects of injury, shooting, radiation, chemical poisoning and gases
Pain analysis I won’t list the tortures animals are subjected to for this purpose. Refer to the Animal Aid website if you really want to know
Psychology – sounds innocent enough, but ditto the above
Animal Aid also tells us that hundreds of thousands of genetically modified animals are specially bred every year, mostly mice. “And for every GM mouse used in an experiment, hundreds more die or are killed, either because they are surplus to requirements, because they fail to exhibit the desired genetic alteration or because they are born with other, unintended malformations.” Another unpalatable fact that the Lab Animal Tour and UAR avoid mentioning.
UAR and their Lab Animal Tour/Animal Aid – diametrically apposed to one another
‘Have no truck with Animal Aid; it is the same lunatic animal rights brigade in a new package. Society must leave these dangerous fools behind’
That strongly worded statement appears on UAR’s website, on a page called Life Stories – ordinary people bearing witness to how animal testing “has changed their lives for the better.”
It’s unlikely any of us have ever heard of David Dade, the man who made that statement, and one whose ‘Life Story’ is featured. This unfortunate man has both parents suffering from cancer, and his son from diabetes. Understandable then that he’s willing to provide a testimonial for a website promoting the use of nonhuman animals in medical research.
He’s possibly unaware of what a glance at Animal Aid’s website would tell him: the large and growing number of reliable alternative methods – such as organs on a chip, and the use of human tissue – that can make animal testing a bad dream of the past.
The moral of the story?
It has to be, looking out for what we are not shown, not told. People who have something to gain by using animals, in whatever way, are always expert at putting a gloss on their activities. Think McDonald’s and their ads with kids and animals frolicking happily together on a picture-perfect farm.
Compared with other users of nonhuman animals though, the Lab Animal Tour, UAR and lab animal researchers in general have an additional and potent weapon up their sleeve. They claim to have moral right on their side. No-one is morally obliged to eat meat, or take a trip to the zoo. But who, they say, could be so callous as to deny those suffering from crippling diseases the hope of a cure? That is the way subjecting unwilling victims to horrific, and sometimes fatal procedures is justified.
What we can do
Click here for Animal Aid’s useful pdf document about human tissue donation (to donate your tissue you don’t have to die first!)
To ensure your charitable giving does not help fund research on animals click here for a comprehensive list of testing and non-testing charities.
“Biomedical research using animals is a largely secretive process and the public knows little about what goes on in research labs.”
In my recent web meanderings, I stumbled across a site called AnimalTestInfo.
Apparently – I wasn’t aware of this, but maybe you were – in 2010 the EU issued one of its famous/infamous directives requiring every member state to publish open access summaries of animal research taking place in their country.
AnimalTestInfo is Germany’s response to that directive. It takes the form of an online repository for those research summaries. As yet I haven’t been able to discover if and how other member nations have responded to the directive with their own open access websites. Maybe you have? (If this all sounds very academic, dry and dusty, please bear with it a little longer – it could possibly be a matter of life and death to millions of animals.)
What is Open Access?
“Open access is about making the products of research freely accessible to all. It allows research to be disseminated quickly and widely, the research process to operate more efficiently, and increased use and understanding of research by business, government, charities and the wider public.” ¹
AnimalTestInfo’s emphasis is on the public. It describes its purpose as publishing “generally understandable, non-technical project summaries of approved animal experiments in Germany.”
That has to be a blessing, right?
No more concealment behind closed doors. Anyone and everyone can access the information and see which animals are involved, what is happening inside those formerly secretive labs. The hope has to be that with free and open access to animal testing information, the public will be moved to rethink their support for it, and start demanding alternative cruelty-free methods of research.
And the gains for the animals may not be confined to a hoped-for shift in public perception. The German Federal Institute for Risk Assessment (BfR), which authorises the animal tests in the first place, has done a pilot study of the summaries researchers have uploaded to the AnimalTestInfo site. The study matched the test summaries against the International Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems – the ICD system. This gives the BfR “a fine-grained overview of the use of animal testing”, which they claim will be an aid in minimising the harm to the animals in accord with the 3Rs:
Replacement – methods which avoid or replace the use of animals
Reduction – methods which minimise the number of animals used per experiment
Refinement – methods which minimise animal suffering and improve welfare
So that’s got to be good too. Hasn’t it?
Trouble is, national bodies that authorise the tests in the first place (like the BfR in Germany and the Home Office in the UK) are only too ready to trot out the 3Rs mantra – if you doubt my word, just write to your MP about animal testing and see what comes back. I’ll put on a white rat costume and lock myself in a cage in front of the Palace of Westminster on the day of 2018’s State Opening of Parliament if you get a response that doesn’t mention how hard the government is working to implement the 3Rs. (Maybe I should do that anyway.)
In reality do they pay the 3Rs anything more than lip service? Both in the UK and in the US the numbers of animals on which lab tests are performed continue to rise. And between 2011 – 2016 the rise in Germany was a huge 35%. So much for replacement and reduction.
The down side
AnimalTestInfo is of course in German, so maybe not that that easy for non-German speakers like me to navigate. It’s “Search” though clicks open to invite you to pick the particular lab animal you are interested in – and it’s a big and unhappy list:
Mice, rats, guinea pigs, hamsters, Mongolian gerbils, other rodents, cats, dogs, rabbits, ferrets, other carnivores, horses, donkeys and crossbreeds, pigs, goats, sheep cows, lemurs, marmoset and tamarin monkeys, macaques, rhesus monkeys, meerkats, baboons, squirrel monkeys, other species of nonhuman primates, apes, other mammals, domestic fowl, other birds, reptiles, frogs, other amphibians, zebrafish, other fish, and cephalopods.
That’s the first shock.
The second is that German scientists have been adding their summaries to the site at the rate of 3,000 per year. That has to be 3,000 too many.
And the third lies in this statement: that BfR believes its analysis of the summaries on the website will reveal
“new insights about animal testing ….[which] could enable the public to easily pinpoint who might benefit from controversial studies involving non-human primates.”
In other words, the belief is that if the great German public can see that this or that animal test is conducted in the cause of finding cures for horrible conditions like cancer, stroke or heart disease, it will strengthen public support for what might otherwise be seen as abhorrent abuse of nonhuman primates. It will be accepted as a necessity that no reasonable person could deny.
And will simply offer up on a plate to scientists a publicly-sanctioned justification for their continued abuse of sentient animals in nightmarish research – animals who experience psychological trauma, and feel pain, fear and loneliness as much as we do – to get test results that in all likelihood will never be replicated in humans.
Only time will tell which way the open access scales will tilt for our nonhuman fellow animals. Will the blessing outweigh the curse? I’d like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.
For facts and figures on animal testing click here An overview of testing in the US here And to look behind the numbers and see how to help click here
On BBC iPlayer you can see the #ChimpSanctuary in Louisiana where more than 200 chimps used for medical testing in US labs have been retired to, and another 200 are due to arrive. Be warned though – there is horrifying undercover lab footage filmed by PETA, 33 minutes in.
But an absolute must-see (48 minutes into the program) is the first meeting of the female chimps with the males, who together will form a new family troop. Once they have bonded they will be released into a forested area of the sanctuary, to live out the rest of their lives in a way that is as near as possible to what would have been their natural life in the wild.
Disappointingly, in spite of the program revealing something of the trauma suffered by the chimps, and though the US National Institutes of Health have now drawn a line under the use of these primates, the assumption remains in the program’s narrative that it is ethically acceptable to use nonhuman animals in lab tests in the interest of improving human health. An assumption with which I cannot agree.
These were the words naturalist Joseph Banks wrote in his journal, his response to the exuberant rhapsody of birdsong filling the air as Captain Cook’s ship Endeavour dropped anchor in the paradise that was Discovery Bay in 1770.
If Banks and Cook were to make that same landing in 2017, they would hear – silence. Little did either realise that their own expedition, the first to map the coastline of New Zealand and study its wildlife, bears in large part the blame for today’s uncanny hush. For the Endeavour was carrying more than its crew. It also brought stowaways, in the shape of Rattus norvegicus, the brown rat. And it’s rats that have brought that music to a stop.
New Zealand’s native birds were/are endemic, ie. unique to that country, occurring nowhere else in the world. And, having no natural ground predators and therefore no need to take to the sky, they’d evolved over millennia flightless. So, easy pickings for the voracious invaders inadvertently brought to their shores.
Since that time, more than 70 species of birds native to NZ have been lost to the world, with more likely headed in the same direction, including the world’s heaviest parrot, the kakapo, and possibly the cheekiest, the alpine kea.
A shocking 26 million of the nation’s birds are killed by invasive predators every year.
Of course this is not a problem exclusive to New Zealand. The pattern is repeated all over. On Hawaii for example, the most isolated land mass in the world, native plants and animals evolved, as in New Zealand, without aggressively competitive or predatory species. The native species, not having had to compete themselves, are “more gentle than others, leaving them vulnerable to the ‘meaner’ species … being introduced to the islands.”
This is one of the ‘meanies’, who indiscriminately demolishes Hawaiian birds, insects, plants and flowers. He doesn’t belong there, but he sure has made himself at home.
Islands that once were regular Gardens of Eden where all lived in harmony, are today red in tooth and claw. And most often, the teeth and claws belong to Rattus norvegicus, or Rattus rattus, the black rat. Rats have found their way, courtesy of humans, on to more than 90% of the world’s archipelagoes, and embody everything that characterises an invasive species:
High dispersal ability
Ability to live off a wide range of foods
Ability to adapt to different environments
Association with humans
Mammals like the rat are not native to oceanic islands, which are predominantly the domain of birds. Two-thirds of extinctions over the last 500 years have occurred on islands, largely at the paws of invasive mammals. Islands make up only 5.5% of the Earth’s land mass, but are home to 15% of all land species. They are hotspots of biodiversity. And that makes islands in particular, critically important for conservation.
So, how to stem the alarming losses in biodiversity?
Money for conservation is always at a premium. So much to be done, and never enough funding to do it. $21.5 billion is being spent annually, yet in places it’s hard to see much impact on biodiversity. It’s vital to direct funds to projects that will yield good results. And conservationists have found, especially on islands, the only effective method of stemming biodiversity loss is eradication of the invasive species that are pushing the natives to extinction. When the invaders are removed, the beneficial effect on native species is dramatic.
Different lands, different species demand different eradication methods. What works in one locale, fails in another. Our own ‘meanie’ here on the island of Britain is the American mink brought across the Atlantic to be farmed for its fur. Now escaped into the wild, these invaders have eaten their way through the water vole population, pushing the little rodents to the cliff edge of extinction. Mink are being trapped with the help of volunteers, and then shot in the head.
“It’s not something I get any satisfaction out of, but I am trained to do this, and we dispatch them as quickly and humanely as possible to cause minimal distress to the animal,” says river biologist Jamie Urquhart.
( I once saw a mink in the river at a National Trust property. I began an email to notify the Trust, but then couldn’t bear the thought of being responsible for the animal’s death, and deleted the email.)
In the Galapagos Islands, feral goats spread like wildfire, munching their way through forests and native fauna until nothing was left but bare grass. Native birds, invertebrates and the famous Galapagos tortoise were all endangered. Rangers hunted the goats down on land and by air, and shot them, 55,000 of them just on one island. The now goat-less islands reforested and recovered with gratifying rapidity.
In the Seychelles, where the invading Indian red-whiskered bulbul was ousting its native cousin, nets were used, and “rifles to get the last remaining few.”
In New Zealand, lethal traps and poisoned bait have been ‘successful’ on small islands, but as they are labour-intensive (requiring constant checking and resetting) they’re not practical over larger areas. Zero Invasive Predators (ZIP) is developing more effective ‘tools’, from “more attractive lures to electronically monitored traps.”The traps being used kill the rats instantly. “You don’t get those kills where it just breaks the back; we don’t want prolonged suffering,” says Aitken, one of the government-employed eradicators.
This is ZIP’s latest prototype: “Nailed to the tree a few feet off the ground is a shiny orange-and-black contraption called the GoodNature A24. Powered by a gas-fired piston, it delivers a quick, fatal blow to an animal’s head as it tries to snatch the bait inside. The device can kill 24 rats or stoats with a single canister of gas, requiring fewer of these strenuous, time-consuming trap line tromps, thereby saving on labor costs.”
Whatever method is used, eradication means no more nor less than the killing of every possible individual animal of the unwanted species in that territory. ” Most critics point to the ethics of the matter. Killing animals whether they are invasive or not is wrong, they argue, and uncompassionate.Killing wildlife for conservation seems counterintuitive. Isn’t conservation supposed to be about conserving wildlife?”
Some critics even see eradication as another manifestation of racism – prejudice against the non-native. “Certainly the Nazi drive to eliminate non-indigenous plants was related to the campaign to eliminate non-Aryan people.”
But an argument for eradication is that often, the native wildlife needing protection is found nowhere else on the planet, whereas the invaders such as the rats, are generally very widespread. Reading that sentence back and substituting the word ‘Aryans’ for ‘native wildlife’, and ‘Jews’ for ‘rats’, it does sound horribly like the Nazi justification for the Holocaust, doesn’t it? And labelling a group (Jews or rats) ‘vermin’, makes them so much easier to eliminate – it transforms eradication from a murderous crime into a public good.
Even if we accept that the uniqueness-of-the-endangered-native-wildlife argument makes sense at species level, does it justify killing thousands of sentient animals who are just getting on with their lives best they can?
Suppose eradication is a necessity, aren’t there non-lethal methods that could be used?
Yes, there are. Some are not always a practical option, some are just bizarre, and some pose unknown risks.
The obvious solution would be to trap the invaders and transport them back to where they came from. And on occasions this has been done. But imagine the politics, the logistics, and of course the cost involved of say, catching, keeping alive and shipping every veiled chameleon from Hawaii back to Yemen. And where on earth would you take the tens of thousands of feral goats from the Galapagos? Multiply that by thousands of conservation projects and it’s clear that can rarely be an answer.
Researchers in Australia have a novel approach. Remember the native species are invariably ‘gentler’ than the invading ‘meanies’ whose successful proliferation at the expense of the natives is down to their adaptability and aggressive competitiveness? Since there is little to no hope of ridding the whole of Australia of its mercilessly predatory feral cats, researchers there are trying to “force natural selection’s hand”.
They’ve placed hundreds of small endangered endemic marsupials in a pen with a couple of the cats. The hope is that the smartest marsupials will learn to survive, and pass on their cleverness genes to their offspring. But such human-contrived evolution of the marsupial could take 100 years or more. And if it seems like a big gamble, that’s because it is. No need for me to list possible objections, practical and ethical. They are all too obvious.
Genetic technology already available to us would be by far the most effective nonlethal tool for dealing with invasive species. Scientists have now found a way to not only alter the genes of a species – in this case a gene for producing male offspring only – but make that alteration inheritable. It’s called a “self-propagating gene drive system [which] promotes the inheritance of a particular genetic variant to increase its frequency in a population.” This would obviously require “fewer invasive organisms to be released in order to spread infertility and ultimately eliminate the pest population.” The animal basically would be programmed to (re)produce its own extinction.
New Zealand is one country taking a good hard look at this technology as a much easier, and definitely more humane way to rid the land of the invasive rats, mice, stoats and possums that are so destructive of its native wildlife. There is no question the gene technology would work. The invaders would die out, allowing the native species to flourish once more.
But, and it’s a big but, what it would also do, is create in effect a new species still retaining all the characteristics that made it such a successful invader in the first place. In other words, it would be impossible to contain these modified animals in the target location. Invasion is what they do best – they would spread far and wide with unknowable, and most likely catastrophic results.
The self-propagating gene drive is the perfect example of technology moving ahead at such a pace, it is way in advance of any ethical agreements surrounding its use. The international community needs to catch up fast, formulate, and sign up to a binding accord. New Zealand is by no mean the only country looking at the self-propagating gene drive as a conservation tool. And if something can be done, you can guarantee it willsooner or later.
To kill to save, or not?
“Not doing anything to prevent these extinctions is, in and of itself, an action—which is not compassionate to native species. We can sit there and watch animals go extinct, or we can do something about it,” says conservation biologist Holly Jones. “Killing things sucks. But when you realize the gravity of not acting, which in many cases equates to watching extinction happen in front of your eyes, I think there is no other choice,”
“We do have the ability to fix our damages. Which is why many conservationists believe we have an obligation to right the wrong when it comes to invasives since humans are, more often than not, solely responsible for introducing species into places they shouldn’t be.” Peter Haverson, another conservation biologist.“No other species has this capability, unfortunately.”
We’ve carried invasive species to every corner of the world, either deliberately – sheep, goats, dogs, cats and so on, then escaped and gone feral – or inadvertently, as with the rats. The cats, who are particularly pernicious predators of endangered wildlife, fall into both categories.
As we have caused the problem, should we be taking action to fix it? We can refrain from eradicating invasive species. That means standing by, letting individual endangered animals be killed by invaders, and allowing entire species to go extinct. Or, we can opt to kill the invaders – bearing in mind that rats, stoats and possums are people too. In conservation there is no fence to sit on. By not doing one, we are of necessity doing the other.
This is a cowardly cop out I know, but I’m so glad it’s not me having to make the decisions. What is your take on this most troubling of questions?
The most invasive species of all
We don’t just transport invaders around the globe. We ourselves are by far the worst invaders of the lot:
“From Africa, we’ve spread out onto every continent on Earth settling into jungles, plains, forests, deserts, mountains and more. All environments we touch experience extinctions and suffer from varying degrees of degradation. Many scientists even believe we are currently causing a mass extinction event of global wildlife, like the one that ultimately claimed the dinosaurs.”
“Believe”? The 6th mass extinction is no more a matter of belief than climate change. Strangely, I don’t hear anyone suggesting as a solution to the catastrophic loss of the planet’s precious biodiversity, the eradication of this, the most deadly of invasive species, Homo sapiens. Why is that?
“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods. They have not forgotten this”
Calling all cat-worshippers! I have to ask: are you 100% satisfied in your own mind that the Pets-At-Home igloo bed you selected for your feline is up to scratch? Or did you go straight for the cat’s whiskers and lavish £50 on the deluxe Mr Snugs KatDen, only to find kitty curled up in the closet on your sweaters?
For a crashpad truly befitting your furry god or goddess, maybe, just maybe, you should have called upon the services of an ar-cat-ect. Yes, really. I’m serious. There is a wonderful organisation called Architects for Animals
which every October invites architects and designers to make, submit for display, and donate their creative catnap-eries at their annual “Giving Shelter” exhibition and auction. All proceeds go to animals in need. This year, Architects for Animals’ 10th, the recipient is FixNation, an L.A. charity that spays/neuters stray, abandoned, and feral cats. Isn’t that purrfect?
Take your pick from these fabulous puss palaces.
There’s no doubting who’s the star of that show!
Now, a quick flip of the coin, from the money-givers to the money-makers – from the compassionate donors to the fat cats of re-tail.
(Apologies for all the corny cat puns. But you’d better brace yourself for more to come – I can’t resist😄)
A certain business better known for its vegan meatballs and Scandi style has also been getting creative for cats. Available for purr-chase is the ‘Lurvig cat cube’, designed to mix and match with the human furnishings. Infinitely adaptable to cat-er for every possible puss preference.
Even so, I can imagine Felis Catus looking on with cool disdain as we wrestle with the flatpack – a disdain that despite our best efforts, may well extend to the finally completed cat-ready creation.
Oh well, it can always double up as a bedside cabinet.
So that takes care of the cat crashpads. Now how about the fur-niture?
“Cats are connoisseurs of comfort”
Recent pet industry consumer research shows –
80% of millennial companion-animal ‘parents’ regard their pets as family members. (What is wrong with the other 20%, one has to ask)
Americans spend more on cat food in a year than on baby food
And, music to the industry’s ears, 76% of millennial pet parents are willing to splurge on cool stuff for their pet before buying something for themselves.
Discovering just how much millennials are in thrall to their felines, the pet industry is naturally keen to create new product opportunities for the splurging. Would you splash out on these miniature marvels from Japan for your fur baby?
This is fur-niture for felines of the highest craftsmanship. Nothing but the best.
So, now that’s all the kitty comforts sewn up, what does Santa Claws plan on bringing this Christmas?
“Cats seem to go on the principle that it never does any harm to ask for what you want”
I’m sorry, but I have it on the best authority, the standard supermarket pet stocking is not going to cut it this year. Don’t you know, a cat needs some a-mews-ment? A chance to show off her cat-leticism? So how about one of these?
Catastrophic Creations make these ‘Indiana Jones Bridges’ to order. If you are cat-crazy enough to measure up your home for one, expect to get ambushed from on high, that’s all I can say.
From the pampered puss who has everything, back where we started – to the cat who has nothing. We too can help give a cat a home.
If you’d like to help feral cats near you, click here for simple instructions, using materials that would probably otherwise be thrown away, to make a cosy shelter. It may not be as zany or stylish as the ones above, but it will keep them snug from the winter cold and wet.
And/or sponsor a cat pod with the RSPCA. The charity took in 6,390 cats to its shelters last year. “With the current cat overpopulation crisis facing the UK and our centres housing hundreds of cats – more than the number of dogs and rabbits combined – [the cats] need our support more than ever.”
And if you are considering bringing a new companion animal into the family, don’t forget #AdoptDontShop!
For more stylish designs from Architects for Animals, take a look here
Is the human race divided into two tribes, those who love animals and those who don’t? Yes, it seems so. But what makes us this way? If only we could open a window into the human brain and see what is going on in there, what it is that makes one ‘tribe’ so different from the other.
Oh, hang on – we can. Exactly what was revealed when neuroscientist Massimo Filippi and his team did just that, opened that window, we will come to very shortly.
We’ve already seen in his fascinating book The Animals Among Us, John Bradshaw delving deep into the past to unravel the threads of our relationship with domesticated animals. He uncovers an evolutionary forking of the path – one group of humanity opting to settle, begin domesticating and living with animals, while the other remained hunting, marauding nomads.
Through the generations, passing those tameness genes down, the domesticated cats and dogs, cattle and sheep gradually got tamer. And at the same time the humans who lived with animals passed down their own evolving animal-loving genes to their descendants.
Meanwhile, the nomads found themselves an easy living without the trouble of making animals a part of their daily lives, by raiding the others’ settlements and stealing theirs. Animal-lover of animal-unlover, whichever group we fall into, that is very likely how we came to be. With apologies to John Bradshaw for squeezing what takes a book to explain into an ever-so-slightly oversimplified couple of paragraphs!
Now back to Massimo & co and their window into the brain
Their project set out to measure and compare the levels of empathy towards other humans and towards nonhuman animals in 3 different groups: omnivores, ethical vegetarians, and ethical vegans. By ethical we mean those who are veg*n for the animals rather than say, simply for their own health.
All the participants were first given an ‘Empathy Quotient’ survey to complete. Social cognitive neuroscientist Claus Lamm’s definition of empathy might be useful at this point:
“When we are confronted with another person [human or nonhuman] – say, someone in pain – our brains respond not just by observing, but by copying the experience. Empathy results in emotion sharing. I don’t just know what you are feeling, I create an emotion in myself.“
Next, using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging) they showed the different groups images of human suffering and animal suffering, and monitored their brain activity to establish exactly what was happening inside these people’s heads.
The results of the fMRI:
The veggies and vegans showed more activity in empathy-related areas of the brain to images of both human and nonhuman suffering than the omnis
The veggies and vegans responded more strongly to the animal suffering than the human suffering
The vegans responded more strongly than the veggies to animal suffering
The veggies reacted more strongly than the vegans to human suffering
The omnis reacted more to the human suffering than the animal suffering
Both vegans and veggies showed reduced activity in the amygdala, which means that they were trying hard to control their emotions. Especially the vegans
All of which corresponded with the results from that preliminary EQ survey.
The study does leave some questions unanswered. For example, wouldn’t it be important to know which nonhuman animals appeared in the images? Were they dogs, cats, rats or hens? If they weren’t companion animals, might not cognitive dissonance have come into play for the omnis? After all, veg*ns don’t hold exclusive rights on loving animals, do they?
Cognitive dissonance – a brief excursion into the secret that enables our crazy species to both love animals and eat them. This is how it works:
In our Western culture we are socially conditioned to see animals as falling into specific groups defined entirely by how we humans relate to them, and how useful they are to us. We absorb this way of thinking completely unconsciously from our mother’s knee, and everything we encounter throughout our childhood, books, movies, games, toys, advertising, reinforces the construct.
So we have:
Wild Animals with whom we have little contact
Utility Animals who ‘work’ for us – horses, donkeys, farm and police dogs and so on
Food Animals – cows, pigs, sheep, hens
Animals for entertainment– racehorses, greyhounds, circus animals, animals in zoos and aquaria
Animals for ‘education’ – animals in labs, zoos and aquaria, in schools and universities
Companion Animals – pet dogs, cats, hamsters, budgies etc
And let us not forget
Vermin – this category can be made to emcompass any species from buzzards to badgers that humans discover reasons for finding ‘a nuisance’
What makes veg*ns different, is that they have broken down and demolished this construct. To them it matters not whether it is a woodlouse or a wolf, a chicken or a cheetah. A life is a life, and each and every one matters and has a right to live free from harm and exploitation. But might it not make a difference which animals’ pics were shown to the omnivorous participants? As they remain captive to that social conditioning which compels them to allot a category to different animals, some animals might matter to them more than others.
That aside, it’s no surprise that omnis responded more to human suffering than animal, or that for the veg*ns it was the reverse. The interesting finding was that the veg*ns were more responsive to suffering overall than the omnis. Yet most veg*ns including me, started life omnivorous.
So do the study’s results mean we were born with an innate empathy that turned us into vegans, or did becoming vegan make us more empathetic? Who knows.
If we fail to imagine what animals might be feeling, ” we could do a great deal of harm, and put suffering in the world that doesn’t need to be there”
Philosopher Janet Stemwedel
One thing the findings do, is cast doubt on how effective it is for animal advocates to try ‘converting’ omnivores by showing them images of the misery endured by so many animals at human hands. The response might fall disappointingly short of a ‘road to Damascus’ experience. The research shows that for some, seeing is not necessarily feeling.
But it isn’t only written in the genes. The brain has plasticity – it is capable of being moulded. So let’s take the hopeful view and assume that becoming vegan helped make us more empathetic. And that omnivores may have more of those nomadic raiders’ genes with an animal-disconnect. But they are also profoundly conditioned, as we all are or have been, in their attitudes to nonhuman animals by the prevailing norms of our society.
Do you love animals but still eat them? Here is one eloquent, passionate man who may be able to change your mind. Philip Wollen, tearing down those malignant social norms – so inhumane towards nonhuman animals, and indeed, so disastrously damaging for humankind and the planet itself.