Leave it to the aristocracy to stir the proverbial pot just to make sure everyone is listening to what they have to say. For some things we just react with a frown and a nod acknowledging that the rich and powerful play on a different playground then the rest of us. However, when it comes to animals we draw the line.
Recently, Princess Michael of Kent, married to Prince Michael a cousin of Britain’s Queen Elizabeth, raised the ire once again of animal activists over what she reportedly said about animal rights. “I’m a great animal lover and I’m involved in a lot of conservation, but animals don’t have rights. They don’t have bank accounts. They don’t vote. We have obligation. We have obligation to animals, but to say they have rights? They don’t have rights. You only have rights if you pay your taxes. You earn your rights.” Ironically, as perhaps she forgot, the royal family doesn’t pay taxes either. Does that negate their rights?
Previously the Princess came under fire from animal rights activists for her special affinity for fur coats. Now she is questioning the need for animals to have rights. It’s always sad, but amusing, when the aristocracy amongst us feel the need to place themselves above everyone else. Of course there are many people throughout the land, be they rich or poor, who echo these same sentiments the princess does of animals not having rights. Animal activists believe otherwise, but then again we see the world differently with animals holding equal value on a shared earth.
According to the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), “Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.” For too long we never considered the impact of our actions on the animals involved intrinsically in our lives as a source of food, fashion, health care and show. “For whatever reason, you are now asking the question: Why should animals have rights?” Maybe because it’s the right thing to do.
“Supporters of animal rights believe that animals have an inherent worth—a value completely separate from their usefulness to humans. We believe that every creature with a will to live has a right to live free from pain and suffering. Animal rights is not just a philosophy—it is a social movement that challenges society’s traditional view that all nonhuman animals exist solely for human use.” It is an enlightened view in which we step beyond our own arrogance and recognize that nonhuman animals exist on no less a scale than that reserved in the minds of humankind itself.
As PETA expounds, “Only prejudice allows us to deny others the rights that we expect to have for ourselves. Whether it’s based on race, gender, sexual orientation, or species, prejudice is morally unacceptable. If you wouldn’t eat a dog, why eat a pig? Dogs and pigs have the same capacity to feel pain, but it is prejudice based on species that allows us to think of one animal as a companion and the other as dinner.” Each should have equally inherent rights that are not exploited by humankind. Apparently, Princess Michael doesn’t agree.
Certainly the comments of Princess Michael have ignited the flame on the ongoing debate about whether animals should have rights. From PETA UK, attributed to PETA UK Associate Director Elisa Allen, is their full statement about Princess Michael of Kent’s comments:
“PETA urges Princess Michael to study the subject, rather than making an off-the-cuff statement that reflects ignorance of the issue of what fundamental rights animals have, which do not include the right to drive a car or build up an overdraft. She should also exercise caution in opining at all on such issues, because her daft assessment would mean that children and certain classes of human beings are also not entitled to rights. Our understanding of who is deserving of ‘rights’ has, of course, progressed considerably throughout history. There was a time in the not-too-distant past when women were denied the right to own property, gain custody of their children or vote; black people were regarded as ‘subhuman’ and undeserving of even the most basic freedom of movement; and gay men were not only denied the right to choose a partner but forcibly castrated for engaging in homosexual behaviour. And now people are waking up to the view that legal rights should not be determined by your species any more than by your gender, age or skin colour. Princess Michael would do well to remember that our society has changed and evolved, and history has shown that the law evolves with it – and when it does, people will look back on our treatment of these animals with shame, as many of us already do.”
Many other people have also reacted to the Princess’ comments. Ricky Gervais, animal rights activist and comedian, “. . . dubbed the royal a ‘waste of space’.” Other reactions, in response to articles in Care2 and the Mirror, include:
JZX: “I’ve always been for keeping the Royal family around because of sentimental/traditional reasons, but when they say such ignorant things such as this, or are “obliged” to hunt as Harry has implied, or won’t change with the times (continue killing black bears for the Royal guards’ fur pom pom hats, fox hunting etc) I begin to think it’s time to say goodbye to the barbaric, Royal leeches.”
Heidi: “okay,,,,children don’t pay taxes either (for the most part) so I guess they don’t have rights either, right?”
Kelsey L.: “A disgusting excuse for a human being! How dare she say she loves animals! Every living thing has the right to a life free from cruelty, torture and captivity. Who is she to say otherwise? It makes me sick that this arrogant and cold hearted individual has this kind of platform. She appears to be the antithesis of a princess to me.”
Judie B.: “So, by her definition, royalty doesn’t have ‘right,’ either. When is the canned royalty hunt, where she, and her ilk, get to be herded toward the shooters for ‘sport?’”
Marcia G.: “Shaking my head. Just another example of rich with no sense of why killing for her furs might not be the thing to do. Our American rich often do the same thing. Too much money, too little feeling.”
In her defence, Princess Michael “. . . said that she believes the furore was simply an issue of wording.” She told The Huffington Post UK at Kensington Palace, “But when you use the right words, what do you mean? What do you actually mean when you say human rights? Animals don’t have rights in that sense. The word is wrong . . . We have enormous obligation to animals. I feel, personally, that humans have an obligation that we have to fulfill but when you say rights, you’re talking about something quite different.”
Perhaps her wording is subject to misjudgement, but she’s drawing a fine line in echoing what she feels is the practical approach to helping animals without complicating the matter with legal overtures. “[My work is] Helping the animals in a practical way, making sure they have room and territory, this sort of thing. You can’t start a law case on the part of the deer that’s just been killed by the cheetah. It’s just a misnomer. We need to protect animals, not go to court over them.”
Again she emphasizes terminology as the key to this discussion. “So I think that obligation is the terminology, instead of the word ‘rights’, because humans have rights when they carry our certain activities: for their country, for their family, they perform their duties . . . Rights is the wrong word in my opinion. It’s a question of wording, we are there to help support the animals and I probably do more than lots of people. Charities who support animal rights are actually asking people to show their obligation by doing fundraising or similar.”
The royal family has a mixed perception with regard to animal rights. “In theory, the Windsors love their animals. The Queen is patron of over 30 animal charities, including the Royal Society for the Protection of Animals (RSPCA) and the Labrador Retriever Club, as well as the Royal Windsor Horse Show. Her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, is also patron of several animal groups; the British Falconers Club, Cornell University Laboratory of Ornithology, and the World Wide Fund for Nature are just a few. Other members of the Royal Family also give their time to various animal rights groups.”
Ken Wharfe, writing in The Guardian, reported last year Prince William “. . . called for all ivory artefacts to be removed from the royal palaces and destroyed . . . This follows the prince’s attendance at the World Wildlife symposium in London last week. The hunting and slaughter of elephant and rhinoceros is no longer the sport of kings and the idle rich, with the exception of the Spanish royal family.” The Prince has said “. . . he ‘is even more devoted to protecting these magnificent animals for future generations’.”
While it is powerful to have royal weight to add to this cause, “. . . it’s no secret that hunting has long been an obsession with the British royals; for thousands of years they have been shooting game on privately-owned estates throughout the country.” As readers of this column well know, we abhor hunting and equate it to the murder of nonhuman life.
Just days before William spoke, he and his brother were guests of the Duke of Westminster in Spain “. . . to shoot wild boar and other animals not yet on the endangered list. This led to inevitable cries of hypocrisy, forcing his image makers at Kensington Palace to release a statement underlining his passion for endangered wildlife.”
There are those annual November shooting parties in which bred pheasants would “. . . be blasted to the ground. The sheer number of birds would blacken the sky, as they drifted to a slow death, many injured bouncing off of the roughly ploughed furrows, only to have their escape plan wrecked by excitable black royal labradors. This sickening “. . . obsession was something Princess Diana found repugnant. Requiring little or no skill, royal pheasant shoots are a pre-planned carnage of wildlife, bred specifically for slaughter.”
What do these contradictory actions, at once calling for protection for certain wildlife while at the same time killing other wildlife, mean in terms of whether animals have rights? For the royal family it is clearly a mixed signal with no firm commitment to the rights of all animals.
In stark contrast, The Huffington Post UK reported it was announced in July “. . . the town of Trigueros del Valle had become the first in the world to give human rights to animals. The Spanish town, which has a population of just 300 people, voted overwhelmingly in favour of giving cats and dog’s rights. Following a vote by the town council, pets were classed as ‘non-human residents’, giving them similar rights to its citizens.”
Said Mayor Pedro Pérez Espinosa, “Dogs and cats have been living among us for more than 1,000 years. And the mayor must represent not just the human residents but must also be here for the others.”
While reactions to this ranged from “Excellent news” to “What nonsense”, International animal rights groups have welcomed this “milestone” Declaration in which “. . . ‘all residents are born equal and have the same right to existence’ and ‘a resident, whether human or non-human, is entitled to respect’.”
Other reactions to this announcement include:
Pep Mors: “Well done Trigucros..I applaud you Message…it ask us to Accept and Respect animals…which also say’s we have to have respect for ourselves…it may be a small message to some…but it wonderfull start …we challange in small step’s and this will grow into wider strides…”if we enbrace our enemy the can’t lift arm’s againt’s us”: WELL Done there are a LOT of people that will be with you:)”
Andrea Preece: “It’s a start, animals have feeling, emotions, they rescue people, work and bring hope to the hopeless. They deserve the respect and love that you and I receive. My hope is they will stop slaughter of all animals. I am an idelist and areaslist. I know this will never be perfect but every action is a step forward. One step froward for humanity….we some at least.”
Kayleigh Marie Charman: “Although I applaud the intention behind this act, it does leave questions to what equality to humans they will actually receive. If a dog killed a cat, would it be subject to trial for murder? I love animals and am a big advocate for animal welfare, but we need to appreciate that animals are animals and do not perceive the world as we do, nor understand and follow human rules and laws.”
While this new legislation may leave questions still to be answered, it is certainly a step forward and gives hope for an evolving world. In the United States, that level of evolvement is still a long way from where it should be. Instead of being progressive on animal rights, our royalty (or as so many of our politicians like to consider themselves) continue to be regressive by supporting hunters, the NRA and anyone else that can line their pockets with gold.
For instance, there is the Instagram picture of Representative Bill Johnson (R-Ohio) congratulating “. . . a group of hunters who ‘bagged this impressive 10-point buck with a bow. Now, that’s every deer hunter’s dream come true,’” wrote Johnson. Doesn’t it just make you proud to see your politicians smiling at the sight of another dead animal taken down by the killing community of hunters? Instead of proud, how about shameless and disgusting?
If that doesn’t make you proud, how about the Associated Press story that cites the most recent data from the National Survey of Fishing, Hunting, and Wildlife-Associated Recreation? It states “. . . the number of female hunters rose from 1.2 million in 2006 to 1.5 million in 2011, a 25 percent increase. From 2001 to 2011, the percentage of hunters who were female rose from 9 percent to 11 percent.”
Said Mary Zeiss Stange, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, New York, and author of “Woman the Hunter”, “What we’re seeing is people are coming to hunting for a variety of reasons, but certainly among women and girls, it’s all the reasons that attract men, like adventure, fun, exercise, all that stuff. But I do think there is an interesting sense in which on the one hand these women and girls are conscious that they’re crossing certain boundaries that a generation ago they couldn’t.” It is so tragic to learn that not only men are animal killers, but in increasing numbers women are too. Instead of respecting animals for their existence on a shared earth, we are increasingly moving to a cultural shift in which women like men feel a demented thrill as a killing machine of these four-legged souls.
Then there’s the Texas big game hunter Corey Knowlton who purchased a $350,000 permit to hunt and kill a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia with the intention of bringing the dead animal back to the United States with him. Delta Airlines, joining a select group of other airlines, put in place a ban for transporting lion, elephant, tiger, and rhino trophies on their flights in 2015.
In allegedly denying his request to transport his “prized carcass”, Knowlton and a consortium of pro-hunting groups (what we’d call a consortium of killers) contend “. . . that’s discrimination against hunters. In a lawsuit filed Oct. 15, Dallas Safari Club, Houston Safari Club, Conservation Force, Knowlton, and others argue that Delta’s ban on big game trophy transport is unlawful, ‘robbing the species of the enhancement tourist hunting provides,’ the suit claims.” Again, how proud can we be to live in a country with people who feel discriminated against because their actions of the murder of animals for sport are questioned?
As commenter Terry Nagle put it, “If he’s got the money to sue, why doesn’t he donate some money to protecting endangered species instead of (so cleverly – what a man!) killing them? If you take pleasure in taking the life of something, and then wanting to look at its remains, you are NOT normal and you need some mental help.” We agree.
In the United States, The Nonhuman Rights Project (NHRP) is the only civil rights organization “. . . working to achieve actual LEGAL rights for members of species other than our own. Our mission is to change the legal status of appropriate nonhuman animals from mere ‘things,’ which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to ‘persons,’ who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty.” NHRP is a source of hope for both the rights of animals and for those people who care about protecting animal rights.
Living in Florida, we are constantly aware of the animals around us who share our space. However, like many parts of the country, we are a contradiction of missions to both save and protect animals while allowing their slaughter by less than a majority of the people.
Florida has just experienced an emotional ride of significant proportions caused by a bear hunt sanctioned by the state. Despite a January poll revealing sixty-one percent of Florida voters opposed to a bear hunt, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ignored the majority and approved it.
Observed Orlando Sentinel columnist George Diaz, “The bears suffered significant casualties as part of the collateral damage for encroaching on our territory, which is really theirs. The graphic pictures on Facebook last weekend left a lot of people angry with tears, venting their frustration with rants and frowny-face emoticons.”
There are those who think FWC type organizations exist to be nature’s friend, but often they are naive and so very wrong. Said Diaz, “The group thought that killing 298 bears was such a rousing success, they’re set to let everybody loose with their guns next year again.” In other words, let the murderous rampage continue denying these animals any right to live. If you think of it in that way, then maybe Princess Michael was right about animals not having rights.
Instead of figuring out how animals can co-exist with humans, “. . . Let’s execute – although the FWC prefers the word ‘harvest’ ─ those pesky critters.” We simply don’t find that approach acceptable. Animals here and abroad are worthy of having rights just like the human species they must share mutual space with. It is our job to prove “. . . we are better than the folks who are supposed to be protecting our wildlife, but have turned into its alpha predator.”
Dog, cat, bear, tiger, and so on and so forth, walk this earth just like you and me. Animal and humankind all live on the same earth and all deserve basic fundamental rights that are essential to our happiness, protection from harm, and ultimately our own survival. We can only hope as humankind continues to evolve our thinking will progress to the point that respect is granted to all species that inhabit this planet we share.