A walk down memory lane

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Animals are reflections of our own humanity

sans-titre-numerisation-20-copierMahatma Gandhi said that the greatness of a civilization is measured by the way we treat animals. The quote is still topical, even if the images presented here, are from 1906 French magazine “Je Sais Tout”. Photos of Trump sons proudly showing off their trophy hunting in Africa to recent slaughterhouse scandals in France, respect for animal condition is far from being obvious in our societies.

In the early twentieth century, animal welfare sounded like a joke. While in the US, the caption goes in every movie (“no animal were harmed”), intensive livestock farming deprives cows, chicken or pigs of any consideration. We are so inconsistent. In 2015, animals are granted new legal status in France. French parliament admits that animals are “sentient beings”. Which is not so amazing when you think that animals can always be sold and exploited. Besides, it does not affect our traditions like bullfighting, hunting with hounds, ritual slaughter and so on. Of course, we have come a long way. In 1906, it was quite different.sans-titre-numerisation-15

The animal was just a thing. A thing without a soul, without sensitivity, even without that ability to feel pain. The captions are awful, proving that sometimes humanity is either ignorant either inhuman. The man is proudly posing between the carcass of an elephant and a baby elephant playing with the rifle. “The little elephant is considered as the most intelligent animal. However, the instinct did not warn it that the gun was used to kill its mother. sans-titre-numerisation-16He sniffs the head, not understanding.” The cynicism of the author of these lines was probably less important than his ignorance.

Meanwhile, in slaughterhouses, progresses were achieved to reduce animal sufferings. In Germany, cows were shot instead of being hammered. In a museum of the early twentieth century, visitors could see the body of a young Botokudine woman from Brazil. Captured in 1841, she arrived in London to be exhibited as a “freak“. She only survived a few months. Her body was kept in alcohol so she still could be exhibited. At the same time, the Bronx Zoo in New York was locking an African man in a monkey cage…

To love humanity, it is necessary to know how to regard, without offence, its weaknesses and its vices.” (Silvio Pellico, 1834) Indeed we must.

Humanity is part of animality

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Humanity is also measured by the way we are treating animals and nature. I am increasingly persuaded. For centuries, we have thought that we were at the center of the universe and therefore deserved all attention. Why does human think he or she is the elite of creation, the chosen one? Because we are on top of the food chain? Because we have a conscience… Do we? Really? Because we think and have consciousness?
Animals are capable of developing a thinking process too. Many researchers are supporting this fact. Like environmental writer Carl Safina in his book, “Beyond Words: Now Animals Think And Feel”. Crows are known to elaborate sophisticated tools to achieve their ends. Chimps are said to have a highly developed political intelligence. Most scientists agree on the fact that animals have intricate mental abilities. Primates, corvids and cetaceans display elements of culture. Some are even able to learn how to communicate with us. A chimpanzee has successfully been taught to use sign language and when she saw a swan for the first time ever, she signed “waterbird”. Some parrots do not just mimic words they hear but put them together to form sentences, indicating that they actually understand (“The Animal Mind” by Jeffrey Kluger).
What is intelligence? Now this is a tricky question because there is no single answer. What is giving us the right to be better than any other species? Actually nothing. A human being is an animal just like any other. Maybe he is the cruelest one of all. Maybe he is also the most dangerous of all. The only one able to shoot himself in the foot and destroy his planet.