I have studied population trends for several decades of both human and nonhuman animals. One thing is certain: as the human population has experienced geometric increase and growth, so has the number of animals slaughtered and killed annually. I set up a Google Alert to apprise me of any articles about overpopulation only to find that the articles all related to animal overpopulation. There were articles related to the overpopulation of shelter animals, of deer, of rabbits, of birds and even bugs, everything but human beings, this even as many animal species are in danger of extinction. I guess it is all in your perspective. And truly we are experiencing an ongoing problem with the high number of shelter animals that are killed day in and day out for lack of a decent home. I have been posting photos and articles about some of these animals and have been astounded at the reasons these animals become available: the owner does not have time any longer for him or her; the owner has had to move; the owner does not have the money to care for him or her; he or she was found abandoned on the street; the owner is getting divorced. Domesticating animals has really left millions of them high and dry, unsafe, hungry, injured, vulnerable and alone. We have used them and then, when we get tired of them or they are inconvenient or a burden, we toss them aside like yesterday’s news.
The commodification of animals takes many different shapes. There are the billions that are slaughtered for food every year, that are killed for their fur, and that are used in entertainment — the list goes on, but you probably already have a good idea of how long the list is. Today’s podcast is going to look at a very bizarre form of animal commodification: animals as decorations or ornaments, and like the holiday ornaments that get put away after the holidays end, so these animals get obliterated when they become too numerous, or their decorative value diminishes, or they get scapegoated because of someone else’s irresponsibility.
The first group of animentals I want to look at today are the Mute Swans of Chesapeake Bay. Chesapeake Bay is the largest estuary in the United States. For decades, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has been involved in a deadly game of eradicating the Mute Swans, alleging that they pose a threat to the ecosystem. I guess they are not considered part of the ecosystem because they are targeted as being non-native birds. As a non-native human being, I grow rather weary of this point of origin nonsense. Where would I belong? Am I too non-native? I am first generation born in this land as was my husband, as is my grandson. The birds may have been brought over by Europeans two hundred years ago to grace the waterways; in short, they were kidnapped and dragged here against their will and now, two hundred years later, we are going to tell them they do not belong?
The most recent statistic I found about the swans was that the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has already killed over 4,000 of the birds in cruel and terrible ways. Celebrities have tried to save them from photographer Nigel Barker of America’s Top Model fame, Guns N Roses guitarist Slash, to television’s Montel Williams, all to no avail. Despite placing cruel and possibly dangerous tight colors on the necks of the birds with GPS devices, despite their labeling the birds non-native and therefore worthy of extermination, despite trying in various ways and failing to build a case that the swans pose any threat to anyone, the swans continue to be mercilessly killed year after year.
There is another twist to this story, which takes us back to the same old tired horrific story. There is a link between the slaughter of the mute swans and the slaughter of pigs, cows and other animals for food. It seems that factory farms upriver are sending 500 million tons of waste into the Chesapeake Bay every year, along with some sewage treatment plants, creating dead zones and threatening the very life of the Chesapeake. But the folks who own those farms have a lot of money and a lot of power, and they are very invested in making the swans the scapegoats for the problems of the Chesapeake, so no one will look to see what is really going on.
It is not just the Mute Swans that are under attack, for when animals become objectified, they become property and “things” rather than individuals with feelings, the sentient beings they are, things are bound to go awry.
One of the other problems for the rabbits on the University of Victoria campus is that they land in the gray zone that Susan Vickery spoke about, where they are not really wild animals but in so classifying them, they may be killed in ways that would be illegal were they classified as pets. The University has been known for the rabbits, the rabbits have graced their calendars and have been a draw to the public, but when the University grew tired of them, or they became too numerous, they became the brunt of many cruelties. Some locals have jokingly placed recipes for rabbit stew on their posts and others have suggested they serve as a way to eat locally. The rabbits and the Mute Swans are only part of the picture, with flamingos, black swans, ducks, peacocks, and numerous other animals often purchased to grace a small body of water or grass in hotels, housing developments and resorts. Many times, the birds may have their wings clipped so they cannot leave, making them vulnerable to predators and unable to live a normal life. The habitat is usually inappropriate for the animals. Like gardeners without green thumbs, the animals’ caretakers may need to restock frequently to keep up the facade that the business wishes to project.
Animals originally imported as animentals who have escaped to form wild breeding populations in the western US include snapping turtles, water snakes, Himalayan tahr, doves, parakeets, parrots, and many others. Ornamental aquatic animals are part of an international business which places many animals of all kinds in inappropriate and unnatural habitats with little chance of survival and virtually no quality of life.
As an abolitionist, I know the best thing I can do for these animals is to maintain a vegan lifestyle and encourage others to do the same. As more vegans exist in the world, the use of animals as ornaments will become intolerable. Meanwhile, if I see animentals in any facility, you can be sure I will be speaking to the management about those animals and letting them know that not all the public appreciate their attempt at creating a false and destructive environment for fellow earthlings. As our voices become louder, these disturbing practices will die out.
Elizabeth Collins of NZVeganPodcast recently said that it will be a wonderful day when being human means being vegan. That day is getting closer with each blog post, podcast, tweet and lecture. Adam Kochanowicz recently created the iVegan ap so that vegans can shop more easily. Adam has generously made the ap free of charge so that it can reach the most people. He also has some wonderful brochures available online at vegan.fm – look for the links on Veganacious.
There is another blog I wanted to mention, too – one created by Nathan Schneider. Vegan Abolitionist has some excellent articles on it, including one I just linked to on a forum that was lauding Veggie Pride parades. Nathan saved me a ton of time because his article had all the salient points listed in clear and concise manner. You can find Nathan’s blog at vegan-abolitionist.blogspot.com.
New on Veganacious is Veganacious/Recipes. The recipe blog is accessible via the top navigating buttons on the veganacious blog, or you can go directly to veganacious.com/Recipes.
Another new project which will be a long time developing is the Vegans Directory. This directory is at vegansdirectory.com and will display international vegan businesses. While it is only in the preliminary stages, it will eventually allow interactive use, with comments and a rating system for the businesses. If you know of any vegan businesses you would like to see included, please contact me at babs (at) animail (dot) com.
Music in this podcast was from Nabi Camara’s M’Soumbulle, highlighting his wonderful expertise with the balafon.
Montel Williams – Stop Killing the Chesapeakes Mute Swans
Animal Voices – Bunnies on a Deadline
iVegan on iTunes
Vegan FM brochures
Nabi Camara – music
The Vegans Directory