Like many of us, German artist Felix Jaensch began building with Lego when he was just a tot – in his case three years old. Unlike him, at some point most of us stopped. But he never did. Now 30, and with 27 solid years of practice with those finickety little blocks behind him, he’s surely earned the title of Lego Master Extraordinaire.
For the last 5 years his focus has been the animal kingdom. He tells us, “I was always fascinated by nature and biodiversity and I like to build organic forms with these angular bricks.”
If you wanted to create art, you would think hard, unyielding Lego in all its angular and geometric shapes is an unpromising material. But Felix sees it as “a great medium for 3-D art”, and his work speaks for itself. To capture the essence of the living creature using nothing but plastic Lego bricks as he has done, seems to me an impossibly difficult achievement little short of magic.
This may be my personal favourite.
Or is it this one? This pooch is so alive, I practically expect to hear her bark. See which of these awesome sculptures grabs you most.
(By the way, if you’re imagining it must take an age to build one of these, you would be right. “Small animals may be finished in just some hours, big projects can take months. But I never counted the hours or bricks which I spend on one sculpture. I often modify some details even months after I finished an animal”, says Felix.)
So, what could possibly be the sting in the tail of Felix’s amazing body of work?
Whatever merits Lego has, and it undoubtedly has many, it is still plastic – a dirty word in 2018.
I haven’t been able to discover Felix’s thoughts on the disastrous effect plastic is having in the world, but the Lego company itself does have thoughts. Earlier this year, the huge corporation, producer of plastic, more plastic, and nothing but plastic, sought to mitigate any criticism it might attract for having a business model intrinsically inimical to the environment, by announcing that it planned to make its tiny green Lego trees and plants out of real plants! Sugar cane to be precise, in place of the oil from which plastic is most often made. Good news? Or just cynically jumping on the environmental bandwagon, ‘green-washing’, nothing more than a bit of opportunistic window dressing? These are the facts:
All plastic is made from ethanol, whether extracted from oil or plants. The new Lego parts will be indistinguishable from the other bricks – that’s because they are identical
Lego trees and plants make up only a tiny tiny fraction of Lego’s output, and the rest of the bricks remain firmly oil-based
It’s true that Brazilian sugar cane has a somewhat smaller carbon footprint than oil, but in reality it is only by the slightest of margins more sustainable. Farming it on a large scale wipes out precious habitat (think Amazonian rainforest), uses up valuable resources, pollutes with herbicides and pesticides, and displaces local farmers
Either way, plant-based plastic is no more biodegradable than plastic from oil, and when broken down in small pieces will pollute the environment like any other plastic
Looking on the brighter side, Lego is, as we all know, kid-proof and virtually indestructible. When one child has outgrown it – unlike Felix who looks like he never will, and more power to him – those bricks can be passed on to others, used and re-used. Lego plastic is decidedly not – Collin’s Dictionary Word of the Year – ‘single-use’.
Meanwhile, let’s not go away thinking Felix excludes the human animal from his magnificent menagerie. Below: what is said to be an anatomically-correct human skull in Lego.
But whereas all Felix’s other animals are so intensely bright and alert they almost seem to have the breath of life in them, we humans are represented by a death’s head. Make of that what you will!
If you haven’t seen your favourite animal here, check out Felix’s Flickr account.
All designs, photos and video copyrighted to Felix Jaensch
Some of his creations can be purchased from Mochub
“There are always, due to their popularity and short life spans, many beloved dogs dying — and many families grieving.”
– John Woestendiek, author of ‘Dog Inc, The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend’
The worst thing that can befall a mother or father is losing a child, of whatever age. Even worse is losing a child to suicide. But that is what happened to photographer Monni Must. When Monni’s 28-year-old daughter Miya took her own life, left behind was Billy Bean, Miya’s young and lively black Labrador.
Naturally, Monni took Billy Bean into her care. The connection with Miya and the love of the dog provided comfort for her in her grief. But as the 10th anniversary of Miya’s death approached, and Billy by now 13, was getting increasingly frail –
“I knew that I was falling apart,” said Must. “The thought of Billy dying was just more than I could handle.”
So she took the radical step of having Billy cloned. It cost upwards of $50,000, and her family thought she’d lost her mind. For her money she got Gunni, essentially an identical twin of Billy, but a puppy version. It would be a hard-hearted person indeed who could sit in judgement.
Cloning dogs seems to be flavour of the month. It’s only a week or so since Barbra Streisand was roasted in the media after her public appearance with Miss Violet and Miss Scarlet, two clones from her beloved but now deceased Coton de Tulear Samantha.
The Guardian newspaper for one made no bones about its disapprobation. It even used the ‘t-word’, overused currency in the tabloids, but as a rule carefully avoided by the broadsheets – “AModern Tragedy” its headline read. It went on, “To own an animal is to learn about the inevitability of dying – not that loved ones can be replicated if we cough up the cash.”
Streisand’s celebrity status may have turned the spotlight on this relatively new business enterprise, but cloning other animals has been a thing for years – since 1996 in fact when the creation of Dolly the sheep made waves. It took another decade for South Korean scientists to bring to birth Snuppy, the first cloned dog.
Of course cloning is not the only form of bioengineering current. There is also CRISPR. In the simplest of terms that I can understand, it means cutting out a section of the DNA double helix (see below) with something called Cas9 – biological scissors, in effect – and replacing the removed section with a new piece of DNA- which can be just about anything the scientists want it to be.
A US company called AgGenetics using gene-editing has produced mice with coats in different colours, and unbelievably, in a variety of patterns: squares, stripes and spots. Next stop – choose your preferred colourway and pattern for your own customised dog?
China, “where genetic engineers benefit from massive facilities and little oversight,” is ‘leading’ the CRISPR field for producing customised animals.Chineselabs “are full of cats, rabbits, monkeys, and other animals engineered with this, that and the other traits.” Already on sale are micropigs, gene-edited to grow only to “the apartment-appropriate size of a corgi”, if you have $1,600 dollars to spare. A bargain compared with the cost of a cloned dog though. Also up for grabs are fluorescent jellyfish and sea anemones, gene-edited to light up your aquarium.
“How much more would owners pay for the ultimate luxury: an animal designed to specification? A zebra-striped hamster, say, or a teacup elephant? ” Anything is possible, but does that make it right?
CRISPR sits along a different branch of bioengineering from cloning. If anything, its potential applications are even more disturbing, but a discussion for another day.
So back to cloning. What are the rights and wrongs of cloning, cloning our pets in particular? Is this yet another instance of science racing ahead at such speed it’s leaving the ethics trailing in the dust?
Some of the problems, practical and ethical
If your beloved Fido or Felix is growing grey around the muzzle and a little stiff in the joints, and you have the spare cash to go down the cloning route, you may end up disappointed with the result. Yes, cloning does produce an identical twin, a newborn one of course, but some things are not infallibly reproduced. The personality for a start, but isn’t that what we most love about our pets? You will not actually be getting, as you had hoped, your fur baby reborn in a new incarnation. Even the coat may be different. Worse, there is also the likelihood of reproducing genetic flaws.
Vicki Katrinak, program manager for animal research issues at the Humane Society of the United States has something to say on the matter:
Companies that clone animals are “preying on grieving pet owners, giving them a false promise that they are going to replicate their beloved pet,” she told AFP. “Pet cloning doesn’t replicate a pet’s personality.” Incidentally adding “There is no justification for the practice.”
That you cannot count on getting the exact replica of your pet is actually the least of the concerns around pet cloning.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) president Ingrid Newkirk said she would “love to have talked her [Barbra Streisand] out of cloning,” noting that “millions of wonderful adoptable dogs are languishing in animal shelters every year or dying in terrifying ways when abandoned.”
To visit a dog or cat shelter is a heartbreaking experience. All those fur babies waiting for a loving home, and ready to love a new family right back with unquestioning devotion. Isn’t it cruelty by default to artificially create more, when there are thousands, if not millions of beautiful animals, desperate for our love and care – many of which will be euthanised because no-one came forward for them in time?
All the other problematic aspects of cloning pets become apparent when we take a look at how the process works:-
You start by harvesting cells from the dog you want to clone. You can do this before or after the pet’s death, up to 5 days after provided the corpse is kept cool. (If you’re starting to feel a little squeamish already, brace yourself. It gets worse.)
Extract egg cells from as many donor dogs as you can get hold of. (To create Snuppy the world’s first cloned dog, Korean scientists surgically removed eggs from 115 female dogs.)
Merge your original dog cells and the egg and subject the new merged entity to chemicals and an electric shock to trigger cell division. You will have to do this multiple times to ensure success – hence the requirement for all those ‘donated’ eggs.
Implant the resulting embryos into surrogate female dogs. You will need lots of them. For Snuppy, it took 120. The bitches won’t be able to object of course. You will be using all those bodies for the pregnancies and births.
Oh, and I forgot to mention, you will probably have to abort a lot of the 120 foetuses along the way. Still keen to continue?
It can still go wrong. An American cloning company’s president cited a clone who was supposed to be black and white being born “greenish-yellow,” dogs born with skeletal malformations and one clone of a male dog who was born with both male and female sex organs. If that should happen while cloning your pet, what should we do with the less than perfect?
Even after eliminating the ‘failures’, there are still a massive number of ‘surplus’ clones from which you have chosen the one or two who truly resemble your original pet. What shall we do with the rest?
The cloning industry is staying mute on what are surely two huge ethical issues.
Maybe even grieving Monni Must may have thought better of cloning Billy Bean if she’d realised what went on behind the scenes. As with every instance without exception where humans make money from exploiting animals (and often other humans at the same time) the profiteers take great pains to keep their activities under wraps. They are fully aware of what would be an absolutelynormal reaction to their exploitation/abuse – public outrage. Out of sight is indeed out of mind.
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.
That title I shamelessly borrowed¹. The story itself is so insane, I could not come up with a better. But crazy as it sounds, it is for real. Maybe we don’t know too much about King Abdulaziz Camel Festival taking place right now in Saudi Arabia. It is after all only in its second year. But it is BIG. There are 30,000 camels at the festival and one third of a million visitors.
The festival comprises 2 main events:- the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Racing, and the King Abdulaziz Award for Camel Beauty.
The Camel Beautiful
If you are going to take part in something as nuts as a camel beauty pageant, you need your camel to shape up to the ideal of camel beauty. What the judges are looking for –
the perfect height, shape and placement of the hump
full, droopy lips
a big head
But going back to that screwball title, it contains one significant inaccuracy – the camels are the innocent, injured parties here. It’s not the camels who were caught out “using Botox”. As if. The needle was being wielded by a corrupt Saudi vet at the request of corrupt camel owners. Days before the festival the man was caught red-handed performing plastic surgery on the animals. Ear-reduction surgery to be precise. Yes, we are still talking about camels. Remember what makes for the camel beautiful? ‘Delicate ears’. The same clinic was also found to have treated the 12 unfortunates with the Botox that got them expelled from the beauty pageant. As far as is known, neither the vet nor the camels’ owners were sanctioned. Just the camels.
“They use Botox for the lips, the nose, the upper lips, the lower lips and even the jaw,” says Ali Al Mazrouei, 31, son of a top Emirati breeder. Collagen fillers too. “It makes the head more inflated so when the camel comes it’s like, ‘Oh look at how big is that head is. It has big lips, a big nose’.”
Besides using Botox and collagen, some owners physically pull on the camel’s lips everyday in an attempt to lengthen them. What patient and long-suffering creatures these dromedaries must be.
Other competitors darken their camels’ coats with oil, and fluff them up with a fine comb and lots of hairspray. But as the glamorised contenders are held in a special holding pen the night before the pageant to prevent last minute tampering, the morning mists of the Saudi desert soon put paid to any fancy styling. The idea is that “by the time of the judging, prospective champions will only have their God-given beauty.” Hmm.
But why? Why go to such extreme lengths as even Botox and plastic surgery to enhance the camel body beautiful? The answer is not far to seek. As with most human interactions with other animals, so with the camel beauty pageant. The driving force behind every human activity using other animals for human ends is…. Money. In this case lots and lots of it – a pot of gold worth a staggering US$57 million, with the added incentive of raising the sale price of the winning camels by millions more.
With such riches at stake, the temptation to cheat is no surprise. Dirty tricks, as the organisers see it. For the animals, it’s abuse.
At first glance, the idea of a camel beauty pageant seems to us absurd. But if you think about it, it’s no more off the wall than the dog shows held in the West. While with dog shows, the prize money and increased value of breeding stock may be in the thousands rather than the millions, it’s still clearly enough to tempt participants into cheating.
We have dog-doping. We have dogs’ fur dyed, and chalk used to whiten fur that’s not-quite-white-enough. We even have prosthetics to alter the tilt of the ears, and muscles clipped to get the perfect set of the tail. Every dirty trick right down to murder – poor Jagger, a prize-winning red setter fatally poisoned at our own Crufts in 2015.
Dogs here, camels there. When humans sniff money, other animals get abused.
Camels in Demand
In the Gulf States camels are not wildlife. They are our equivalent of race horses and cows rolled into one. Bloodstock (if they’re racing camels/beauty pageant camels) or livestock, traditionally used for their milk, and increasingly for their meat. The Economist describes the poor creatures as being “speedy and tasty”. Unfortunate attributes to have.
The explosion in demand for camels is creating a huge boom in camel breeding on the other side of the Gulf, in East Africa. In the Sudan, the Rashaidi tribe that migrated from Saudi Arabia in the mid 19th century, are enjoying a new-found affluence raising camels for the Gulf States. Around 200 baby camels are sold each month to Saudi Arabia, and many more to the United Arab Emirates.
Egypt is already a big market for camel sales from East Africa. ‘“Thousands of camels come to Birqesh [in Egypt] each week… trucked in from as far as Sudan and Somalia,” said camel-seller Mohamed Fawzi Fahmi. Most of the camels that survive the sometimes arduous journey to Birqesh will end up meeting the food demands of Cairo’s nine million residents, while the rest can be used for farm work or tourism. Upon their arrival, the animals are sometimes emaciated or have open wounds from being packed into trucks in a long journey that does not necessarily have the best interests of the animals at heart – camels here are a commodity.’
Camels for Racing
The Rashaidi are renowned for breeding some of the world’s fastest racing camels. The camels are trained at dawn and dusk each day, racing around a track in the desert while wealthy visiting Emiratis look on. They are on the lookout for potential champions to enter in the multimillion-dollar races in Dubai, and no doubt in Saudi’s King Abdulaziz Festival Race also.
Where there is animal-racing, be it greyhounds, camels or horses, the animals suffer. They are raced too young, there is selective breeding detrimental to the animal’s health, doping and illegal betting. Criminal activity surrounds these so-called sports.
Those camels, greyhounds and horses that fail to make the grade as racers, and those ‘retired’ from racing are sent to slaughter.
Children and Robots
Just to add another touch of the surreal, since (under pressure from UNICEF) the UAE banned the use of child jockeys in 1993, the camels in training are “whipped along by miniature robots dressed in jockey silks and given orders remotely from white Toyota pickup trucks.” You could not make it up.
There is a deadly side to this though, because the ban is widely ignored. This is a passage from Death in Dubai by Ron Gluckman
ONE OF THE WORLD’S TOP JOCKEYS poses for a photo by the track. His smile says it all. Two front teeth are missing. Raji Shubir [at 6 years old] ranks with the youngest champions of the race course.
The races Raji runs are dangerous brushes with death in the camel pits of Dubai. No riches await young riders like Raji, who are stolen or bought from beggar parents in the slave markets of India, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. And fame is a foolish notion. Fans will never see Raji’s name in magazines, not even if he is trampled to death during a race or murdered afterwards by jealous child jockeys.
But die they do, kicked to death by camels or killed by rival baby riders. Such is the sad, short life in the fast lane for untold slave children shipped to the camel pits of the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Raji, whose name was changed for this article, arrived in Dubai like hundreds of other children from the Asian subcontinent. He was sold by his pauper family to a servant of an Arab lord. Raji slipped through immigration, posing as the child of the Indian servant.
This is typical, according to authorities in India, who smashed several child-selling gangs during the early 1990s. The kids are sold for as little as US$3. Hundreds more are kidnapped, often toddlers as young as two.
UAE immigration and police turn a blind eye to the baby trade that serves the sordid sports of sheiks and sultans of the oil-rich emirates. Even tales of vicious brutality are brushed aside.
A five-year-old rider was beaten to death by other child jockeys last year. But neither he, nor his six-year-old assailants, were mentioned in media or police reports. “This happens often, too often,” says a local reporter, who requested anonymity for fear of reprisal.
Seven Asian and African countries, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sudan, Mauritania, Eritrea, Somalia and India were named as the main culprits exporting child camel jockeys to the UAE. Shocking child abuse as well as animal abuse. And underlying it all – money.
Gulf States Sucking up Camels from Across the World
Meanwhile several thousand miles away in South Australia, the future of 300,000 feral camels is starting to look very shaky. The camels which originally arrived in Australia with Afghan and Arab immigrants in the late 1800s, are now being “cultivated” for a local abattoir. 25,000 so far have met their ends this way, chopped up and sent to the Middle East to satisfy the growing demand for camel meat. But the Australian Ngaanyatjarra Camel Company has not been slow to recognise the potential for supplying not only camel meat, but live animals to the Gulf States for the much more lucrative racing and beauty pageant camel breeding industry.
The Botox and Beauty Pageant is No Joke
The “sexy” camels kicked out for using Botox makes for an amusing title, but there is nothing funny about the exploitation of these innocent creatures. If there is a way to exploit them, you can be sure humans have left no stone unturned to find it.
The well-known verse from the Bible is often wrongly quoted as, “Money is the root of all evil.”
The actual quote is, “The love of money is the root of all evil.” The love of money is at the root of all the evils perpetrated on the defenceless, children and nonhuman animals the world over, camels no exception.
“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.
“Donkeys may soon go extinct if they continue to be killed.”
Abubakar Ya’u, Nigerian sand-digger
China is on a quest to buy up the global supply of donkeys.
With a population of a whopping 1.4 billion – the largest of any country in the world and bigger than the populations of North America, South America, Australia, New Zealand, and all of Western Europe combined – the country of China is one gigantic gaping mouth sucking up commodities from every corner of the planet. And in no arena of global trade is this more true than with the trade in wildlife ‘products’, legal and illegal.
Traditional Chinese medicine is the villain of this story, not only for horribly cruel practices like extracting bile from captive bears, condemning the poor animals to a life of utter misery, but also for the tiger bones, pangolin scales, dried seahorse, antelope, buffalo and rhino horn, deer antlers, penises from all kinds of animal (tiger penis being the most sought after though illegal), dog testicles, and snake bile it swallows up in enormous and ever-increasing quantities.
In spite of the exaggerated claims, there is little evidence of the medical efficacy of these ‘products’. Rhino and other animal horn as well as pangolin scales for example, are made entirely of keratin, like our own fingernails. The makers of the ‘medicine’ might just as well use their own nail clippings.
In point of fact, we shouldn’t tar all TCM with the same brush. “Reputable TCM practitioners have explicitly distanced themselves from animal-based remedies. Animal penises, for one, do not help male performance, says TCM expert Chen Shilin, of the Academy of Chinese Medical Sciences in Beijing. ‘It is merely a folk therapy,’ he says.”
But charlatans continue to cash in on the fortunes to be made from China’s folk superstitions.
And the effect on the world’s wildlife is devastating:-
Tigers An estimated 1,000 killed for their body parts in the past 10 years to meet demands in Asia. Considering there are only 3,200 left in the world, this is desperately worrying. The illegal killing of the big cats places them high on IUCN’s Red List – status Endangered
Pangolins have the unfortunate distinction of being the most illegally trafficked creature in the world, with over 1 million estimated to have been taken from the wild in the last 10 years. They too rank high on the Red List – Endangered
Seahorses It’s estimated that 150 million are traded and sold every year. This is not sustainable – Red Listed as Vulnerable
Rhinos 3 a day killed in 2016 in S. Africa alone. The Western Black rhino already extinct in the wild. White rhino on IUCN Red List – status Near Threatened
And now Donkeys???
Who would ever have considered donkeys at risk? But around the world they are in exponential decline. It’s simple economics, a question of supply and demand. With the increasing prosperity of the Chinese middle classes, demand keeps growing. As the supply of animal parts diminishes, the price for them rises. The poachers and illegal traffickers get better and better returns on their ‘goods’ and the incentive to supply intensifies – an upward spiral. For the animals though, the spiral is all down. We’ve seen it with tigers, rhino and pangolin. Now donkeys.
With the donkeys, it’s all about a substance called Ejiao, a highly-prized gelatin produced by rendering donkey hides. The industry in China is enormous. The Guardian describes it as “a global megabusiness. What was once a humble blood tonic for conditions like anemia – a claim supported by no clinical evidence – has been rebranded as a wellness product for China’s ascendant middle class, and now features in face creams, sweets and liqueurs, as well as a wide variety of medicinal preparations. There are claims it will help with anemia and acne, boost your energy, improve your sleep, nourish your yin, prevent cancer, make you look better and even improve your libido. It is billed, in short, as a miracle elixir.”
China produces 5,000 tons of ejiao a year, requiring a horrific 4 million donkey hides.
Such is the demand that China’s own donkey population has dropped 50% in 20 years, creating a vacuum that is sucking in donkeys from all over the world. “The explosion in demand had led to a surge in donkey thefts in Africa, Asia and South America.”
Donkeys in the continent of Africa are particularly hard hit. Countries in the south of the continent, unlike the north, have long had a culture of eating donkey flesh. That means the trading of donkeys from northern countries to the south is already well-established. Despite Niger, Botswana, Senegal, Mali, Burkino Faso and Gambia imposing restrictions on the donkey trade, and Zimbabwe and Ethiopia closing donkey abattoirs, these gentle creatures are still being covertly transported south. There they are slaughtered, the flesh taken and their hides shipped to China. There is simply too much money to be made for the illicit north-south trade to stop,
For those who rely upon their donkeys for their subsistence, like the sand-diggers of Nigeria, the temptation to sell their beasts of burden is powerful. Where 2 years ago you could buy a good strong donkey for 15,000-18,000 naira ($42-50), now such an animal fetches 70,000-75,000, a 5-fold increase. In 2 years. And one sand-digger by the name of Garba says he was offered 95,000 naira for his biggest donkey. He resisted the tantalising proposition, aware that his gain would only be short-term. If he did sell, it would be too expensive for him to get a replacement – it would cost him his living.
Others though, have sold, or had their donkeys stolen: “At a market in Ughelli, Delta State—the centre of the Nigerian donkey trade—hundreds of donkeys are crammed into pens under the burning sun as they await their fate. Some are skeletally thin, all are quiet.
“New animal pens are being made every month as the demand for donkey hides and meat is met with an steadily growing supply from the north.”
The only remotely good thing that can be said is that these unfortunate creatures are killed before being exported to China. This is what PETA has to say about what happens to live donkeys in that country.
“Our campaign against the live export of animals garnered new international media attention after a PETA exposé revealed the horrors of the Chinese donkey-gelatine industry. Right now, donkeys are being abused and killed so their skins can be boiled down to make gelatine for ejiao, a traditional Chinese “medicine”. The demand for ejiao is so high that the Australian government is considering facilitating the live export of donkeys to China! The gentle, sensitive animals would have to endure a harrowing journey to a Chinese facility where donkeys are hit with sledgehammers, their throats are slit, and they are skinned. PETA and our affiliates are working to prevent the live export of all animals and urging compassionate consumers never to buy products containing ejiao or other cruelly obtained ingredients.”