“Some will take refuge in the old cliches that humans are different from other animals. But when did a difference justify a moral prejudice? When did those with black hair have a right to mistreat those with red hair…or even those with blue or purple hair…Surely the crucial similarity that men share with other animals is the capacity to suffer? Regardless of the number of legs or the woolliness of our fur, we can all suffer… – Dr Richard Ryder
This is a Bengal tiger, who was once free as a cub. He was discovered in the luggage of an animal smuggler and since been living in a cage, in captivity, away from all those who love him and will love him. What made me write this post was a BBC feature story I came across about tigers in Thailand. No one seems to bother to plan a place for these rescue creatures to roam freely. Once these tigers are rescued from smugglers, they are held in captivity forever, in cages that barely have room for them to freely move about, play and frolic. These tigers go from being captured to being saved and back to captivity. There is so much more the relevant authorities can do to help these animals. Indifference towards their suffering, longing and misery is just as bad as cruelty to animals.
I wonder why animals don’t have the same privileges as humans. Who said we are superior to them? Who drew out a plan of co-existence in which we treat them as we wish? According to Bertrand Russel, the very simple fact that we can destroy animals more easily than they can destroy us is the only solid basis of our claim to superiority. However much we try to dress it up, that is very much the truth. We can choose which animals we want to eat, which animals we want to have as pets, which animals we want to kill and hunt for sport, and which animals we will cage without any regard for their pain.
Animals feel pain just as much as we do. If you take away a child from a mother, it will break her heart. And in the same way, a mother of a tiger cub feels the same agony. The love and tenderness of the mother for the young are not produced by reasoning, but by feeling. This doesn’t change just because they are animals. When I was watching Dave Salmoni’s documentary Into the Pride, I saw a lioness calling out for her cubs anxiously and agitated when she couldn’t find them. She was in what Dave called a lion panic. The longer it took her to find her cubs the more torn up she was. Animals have emotions too…and sometimes they are stronger than our own.
Why do we call ourselves moral creatures? We are not even kind to the members of our own species. We treat each other in the worst possible way. We kill one another, steal from one another, abuse, mistreat, disregard, betray and hate each other. Humans are not capable of loving its own kind, and that puts us in a moral dilemma rather than a moral superiority. Mark Twain once wrote:
“Man is a religious animal. He is the only religious animal. He is the only animal that has the ‘True Religion’ – several of them! He is the only animal that loves his neighbour as himself but cuts his throat if his theology isn’t straight. He has made a graveyard of the globe in trying his honest best to smooth his brother’s path to happiness and heaven. The animals have no religion. And we are told that they are going to be left out in the Hereafter. I wonder why? It seems questionable taste……Of all the animals, man is the only one that is cruel. He is the only one that inflicts pain for the pleasure of doing it. It is just like man’s vanity and impertinence to call an animal dumb because it is dumb to his dull perceptions. The fact that man knows right from wrong proves his intellectual superiority to the other creatures. The fact that he can do wrong proves his moral inferiority to any creature that cannot. I am not interested to know whether it is profitable to the human race or not. The pain it inflicts upon unconsenting animals is the basis and sufficient justification of my enmity towards it without looking further. In studying the traits and dispositions of the so-called lower animals, and contrasting them with man’s, I find the result humiliating to me.“
Animals do not exist for the benefit of mankind. They exist for their own reason. But we have atrociously twisted this fact to our own advantage. This very act makes us evil. We are a selfish species who play a foul game with foul rules. It is no surprise that we mistreat animals when we are capable of mistreating each other. There are so many instances when I think animals display worthier qualities than ours. In their book, Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors by Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan, they ask this rhetorical question:
“In actual laboratory experiments monkeys were forced to choose between electro-shocking other monkeys and doing without food themselves. Almost all of the monkeys went hungry for up to two weeks rather than shock others. These macaques, who have never gone to Sunday school, never heard of the Ten Commandments, never squirmed through a single junior high school civics lesson, seem courageous in their moral grounding and their resistance to evil. If the situation were reversed, and captive humans were offered the same deal by macaque scientists, would we do as well?”
I think we all know the answer to that.