“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Gandhi
TORONTO – I’ve covered 14 wars in my time, and seen human suffering and poverty around the globe. But one of the sights that haunts me the most was in China.
On the back of a tiny pickup truck, I saw a cage into which at least thirty adult pigs had been crammed, lying one on top of the other. As my car passed, the pigs looked at me with terror and resignation in their intelligent eyes. I shudder to this day thinking of those desperate, suffering creatures being taken to the slaughter.
Last week’s UN-sponsored conference at Doha on preserving the world’s endangered species showed once again that we have failed miserably and shamefully as stewards of our fellow living creatures.
Fish don’t vote. Neither do tigers, polar bears, sharks, elephants or any other endangered animals whose plight was addressed at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species in Doha.
Because wildlife has no political clout, nations around the world continue to destroy entire species until none are left. So much for enlightened humanity at work in the 21st Century. Animals remain commercial commodities.
An admirable effort by the United States to protect the gravely overfished Pacific bluefin tuna, the supreme sushi or sashimi delicacy, was voted down by the conferees after intense lobbying from Japan and other Asian nations.
A two-thirds majority was required to make specific new international laws protecting animal life. America’s vote held no more weight than that of Fiji or Bolivia.
Another laudable effort by the United States to protect Arctic polar bears by banning their hunting was also defeated – thanks in good part to Canada and Greenland. The US warns that melting sea ice caused by global warming threatens the already endangered bears.
Canadians like to think of themselves as a humane, enlightened nation and good global citizens, which they mostly are. But not when it comes to animals. Canada is increasingly viewed in more enlightened European nations as a backwards, brutish country because of its politician’s grotesque defense of slaughtering baby seals, allowing the use of hideous leg traps to capture fur animals, encouraging the hunting of black and grizzly bears, and now blocking a ban on hunting polar bears, a clearly endangered species. All to win the votes of small numbers of fishermen, sport hunters, and native Inuit people.
Canadian conservatives from Alberta share the same retarded notion with their Republican soul-mates that massacring helpless, defenseless animals with high-powered weapons is somehow manly and patriotic. It’s not. It’s cowardly, uncivilized and shameful in our day and age. Trophy hunting and killing bears should be banned. So, too, shooting corralled animals for sport.
All those who think hunting is a fine sport should see the gripping film, “Predator,” which gives a sense of the terror felt by hunted animals.
Most nations abuse animals, but China, which I enormously admire in many other ways, unfortunately remains a major malefactor.
Last week came reports that 11 rare Siberian tigers had starved to death in a commercial Chinese zoo. Tiger paws are served at nouveau-riche Chinese banquets. Dog and cat meat is routinely offered in restaurants in China, and sometimes in Korea and Taiwan.
Japan and China have long opposed efforts to end the ivory trade. Their continued covert importing of ivory threatens the already fast-dwindling number of African elephants. The same holds true for Africa’s horned rhinos. Both magnificent creatures are being massacred for knickknacks.
Fortunately, an attempt by Tanzania and Zimbabwe to resume selling their stocks of ivory was rejected. But so long as Asian demand for ivory remains high, elephant herds will be relentlessly slaughtered by poachers.
Steady encroachment into elephant habitat by African villagers is another major problem. Elephants can be wildly destructive to their own habitat. Being chased by an angry bull elephant, as I was in Botswana, is a memorable and shaking experience.
Only African governments can stop these human encroachments. Unfortunately, most are unwilling to anger citizens for the sake of elephants even when the great creatures bring in tourists.
Meanwhile, China and Japan continue to fight efforts to protect the dwindling number of sharks, dolphins and whales. Only one minor shark species was afforded protection at Doha.
Shark fin soup is a staple of Chinese weddings. It’s purely for showing off. Shark’s fin has almost no taste and there is no proof it has stimulative powers. Shark fin soup is on my gastronomic black list, along with fois gras and veal, both the products of gross cruelty to animals.
Sharks seem doomed, just as the once seemingly limitless North Sea cod, Dover sole, and caviar-producing Caspian sturgeon. Woe betide the species that becomes a delicacy, or supposedly low-calorie meal, like sushi.
Nations with important fishing fleets, like Japan, China, France, Spain, Portugal and Poland, strongly oppose protecting maritime species.
Even the European Union, the world’s leader in defending animal rights, has failed to curb its rapacious fishermen, who thwart all efforts to lessen their depredations by violent strikes and blockades.
These marauders will continue to fish until no fish are left. Then they will demand government compensation for their stupidity and greed.
Factory fishing ships with advanced electronics once used to hunt submarines are literally hoovering up large tracts of the world’s oceans, and raping coastlines of unstable or war-torn nations unable to protect their littoral waters, like Somalia and Angola.
The last time I went skin-diving in the Mediterranean, I was horrified to see not a single fish over finger size. It was an underwater desert.
Politicians are unlikely to say no to hunters or fishermen in all but a few enlightened countries.
It’s up to consumers who care about the planet’s living creatures and environment to make their power felt by avoiding products from nations that are notorious abusers of animal and maritime life. The EU has already begun boycotting Canadian furs because of its loathsome seal hunt.
After the grim, predatory Bush/Cheney days, it’s very encouraging to see the United States again acting as a good world citizen.
At least here, the Obama administration is beginning to make a difference.