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.

Human arrogance takes lion’s share

Now this may seem like a cliché but our grade of humanity is also gauged by how we treat animals and nature. A 2 year old giraffe named Marius – knowing his name is perhaps pointless but it humanizes the story and makes it look even more appalling-… so Marius has been killed by Copenhagen zookeepers. His flesh was then thrown away to lions. And as if it was not enough : when the animal’s body was cut up, a large public was present, among which a substantial number of children.

The reason brought up by zoo officials, was that Marius’ genes were well represented among the captive giraffe population in European zoos… OK. We have enough of your kind, so die… to state it simply and brutally. How could they not think about this before? I mean : is there no birth control for giraffes or other captive animals? Is this the way they feed lions and big cats now? Euthanasia appears as a standard measure in all zoos when space is lacking or when genes are unremarkable.

So the question is : do we still need zoos? Defenders may claim that animals die anyway in their natural environment, that even though they are locked in cages,  they are being fed and taken care of. True but they are free in their native surroundings. Freedom does not fill stomachs but it sure fills the soul.  But animals do not have a soul, right? Or do they?

Whether despised or put on a pedestal, animals are mirrors of the state of our society. The way we treat them says a lot about the shape of our mind. It reveals much about our connection to our environment. And most of all, it has a huge impact on the state of humanity.

We, humans, always thought we were at the top of the food chain, which rightfully  makes us so arrogant, so superior. Sometimes the animal is given a subhuman status ; sometimes, it is just another object to serve our purposes. In both cases, we think the whole universe is revolving around us. We must have control over everything, all creatures must be brought to heel. Call it anthropomorphism. Call it dehumanization.

Two years ago, neuroscientists signed the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness, in presence of Stephen Hawking. For the first time, some knowledgeable humans admitted that animals have consciousness.  When will we, as humans, raise our consciousness?