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ENVIRONMENT MORALITY

PETA should tell lions to stop eating antelopes

If animals are not ours to do all these things with, whose are they?

As part of a research to study blood, bone and brain spatter patterns in order to improve their understanding human deaths by shooting, a group of academics in New Zealand shot five pigs in the head from a close range with a semi-automatic hand gun. They published the resulting study in July.

The organisation People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Protests (PETA) subsequently dropped letters of protest at the involved institute and universities, claiming the procedure was inhumane, unethical, unnecessary and an act of cruelty against animals. The researchers, the letters say, should have used mannequins and computer modelling instead.

Founded in 1980 by Ingrid Newkirk, PETA advocates the cessation of all human use of animals and animal products. Its slogan states that ‘animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.’ Ingrid founded the organisation after reading Peter Singer’s book ‘Animal Liberation’, which was published in 1975.

So, if animals are not ours to do all these things with, whose are they? PETA would have us believe they are not for anyone. However, nature belies this. A sizeable chunk of my country, Kenya, is covered by over 40 National Parks and Game Reserves. In these vast sanctuaries, predators and scavengers kill and consume their prey on a daily basis.

They don’t give a thought to the pain of their victims, having no knowledge of sedatives, anaesthetics or stunner guns. And they are way less wasteful with the animals than we are. Hyenas don’t even leave the hides, hairs and hooves for other uses. They eat it all.

Some of the game reserves in Kenya are also inhabited by people. The most famous one, the Maasai Mara, is the shared home of the pastoralist Maasai community and what is arguably the world’s finest collection of wildlife. Every now and then, wild predators come into conflict with the Maasai.

The family of a friend of mine once lost an entire flock of goats to a leopard which crept into the pen at night, killed all the goats, and consumed part of only one. A hyena consuming parts of its victim while the victim is still alive is the norm, and they hunt in packs.

Isn’t this what PETA calls unethical? Why then doesn’t it go dropping letters of protest at the dens of lions and the lairs of hyenas? If anything, I am sure the activists have watched with relish documentaries from National Geographic and Discovery chronicling the carnage.

And I am yet to see a group of lions telling their fellow lions to stop killing and consuming their prey. Perhaps it’s time we had a Lions for the Ethical Treatment of Antelopes (LETA) organisation. Maybe we would resurrect Cecil the Lion to be the secretary.

Ingrid and her fellow activists claim animals are aware of their rights, but don’t ask them to respect the rights of their fellow animals. Why should we humans then be the only ones bound to respect these rights?

In his book, Peter Singer says ‘the abuse of animals won’t stop until we stop eating meat.’ What about carnivorous predators? Shouldn’t they also stop? Why should they have the right to eat meat while we don’t? One might say we are omnivores and can survive on plants. Tell that to chipmunks, bears, sloths and, clamp your nose, skunks. They are also omnivores. And also to Mongolians. They don’t seem to have very many edible plants in the steppes.

The Maasai believe that all cows in the world belong to them, and they treat their cows with the utmost affection. But they still routinely kill the animals without a hint of remorse for food. In fact, they also have the curious custom of drawing blood from the jugulars of live cows and mixing it with milk for a very wholesome drink. To tell a Maasai that, for that reason, he doesn’t love his animal, would certainly earn you immediate derision and probably a little well-earned round of beatings.

Our tendency to be kind to animals doesn’t derive from any inherent qualities possessed by the animals but rather from our own. We are capable of empathy and affection towards fellow humans, and naturally feel like extending that to the things we like. But this doesn’t place an obligation on us to do so. For instance, liking your car doesn’t oblige you to service it. You service it for your own good, so that is serves you well.

It is possible to be cruel to animals, where wanton injury is unnecessarily inflicted upon an animal, like incessantly whipping an injured, underfed and tired donkey whose cart is stuck in a rut until it pulls it out. However, calling that inhumane would be stretching the definition of that term a bit too far. It might be cruel, but the word inhumane has ‘human’ in it, a fact evident even to the non-linguist.

PETA might not want to admit it, but protesting for certain shows of kindness to animals masks our desire for a comfortable and painless world. It has reached a point where the elimination of pain is used as the determination of the morality of some of our society’s greatest errors, like execution by lethal injection.

In the final analysis, pain will always exist in this world. Otherwise the sense of touch would be rendered redundant. But our aversion to it should never provide an excuse for us to subject people to personal views devoid of rationality. As life in Africa would teach anyone, men ought not to cringe at every sharp object, and even less so from one which is preparing their food.

The researchers did well to sedate the pigs before shooting them, as they clarified in response to PETA’s accusations. But it would have been just as well if they hadn’t. The animals would still have died just as quickly and produced the same, if not better, spatter patterns. After all, criminals don’t sedate their victims before shooting them, and mannequins don’t have brains.

Feature image: Source unknown.

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