For anyone who has ever seen the YouTube video of Christian the lion or read the story of Alex the parrot, there is no question that animals of all sorts display an unequivocal range of emotions. They dream, they love, they hurt, and they shake with terror when frightened. Yet we continue to set ourselves apart from them, to see ourselves as different or special. But dolphins have sex for pleasure. New calladonian crows use tools. Meerkats and hymenopteran insects are arguably more altruistic than we are. Unharmed rats empathise with the pain inflicted on fellow rats. Elephant mothers will stay with their dead infant for days, sometimes even weeks, after the herd has left them. And chimpanzees are capable of partaking in such prolonged, violent interactions with neighbouring troops that one can only call it warfare. Surely, even a lowly fly thinks itself special or different from every other creature it encounters. So are we really that unique, or is it simply a matter of perspective?
Now we know that even insects are capable of feeling pain. With the growing body of evidence that science and animal psychology has provided about the behaviours, intelligence, and feelings of animals, it has become increasingly less acceptable to treat them poorly. But they still are. The number of times I have personally heard someone regard the life of their goldfish with less value than that of their newest electronic gadget is testimony to that.
It is so easy to become overwhelmed. There are dogs and cats in shelters that need rehabilitation, walks, and love. There are mammals in China that are skinned alive for their fur, and endangered creatures of all types whose habitat dwindles by the day. There are whales in peril from Japanese whaling ships, and hundreds of thousands of fish and reptiles that die for no purpose at all every day as a result of indiscriminate trolling and long lining. How can one person alleviate all the nightmarish things we do? So many times I have been tempted to give up, close my eyes, and care no more. Perhaps in the devastation we cause worldwide, we really are unique.
Ignorance is bliss. There is an absolute plethora of information available in any media type you wish that will inform you of how animals are suffering and struggling today. But in our society, it is so easy to avoid this information, especially when you know that you will undoubtedly walk away from whatever you learn feeling depressed. So you can stay ignorant, be jaded, and be happy. Or you can open your eyes, and become aware. This is always the first step. There will be much that you can do nothing about. But if everyone picks just one battle, I daresay we could make a difference. It doesn’t have to be a large battle, it doesn’t have to change your existence. Just call the appropriate authority when you see cases of abuse or neglect. Set up monthly donations to a cause you find worthwhile. Spend one afternoon or evening a week volunteering or writing letters, rather than lazing about your couch. I hate preaching, and I think that’s what I am doing. But it’s only because I care, and because I don’t want the future for animals to be as bleak as I imagine. So pick your battle. Who’s with me?