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Human welfare depends on animal welfare

May 22, 2022 | 05:01 pm PT
Minh Thu Journalist
Suki had space around him, but he kept pacing back and forth in five steps – this was five years after being rescued from prolonged confinement in a small cage.

I first saw Suki seven years ago when visiting the Bear Rescue Center Vietnam at the Tam Dao National Park in Vinh Phuc Province.

The patch where he paced up and down had reached a point where the grass would not grow.

In most cases, bears that have been held captive in small cages and have their bile extracted by humans remain depressed and stressed for some time after they have been rescued. It was taking Suki much longer to get back to a normal life.

Today, 12 years after his rescue and rehabilitation, Suki has made progress. He walks around more and has started to climb trees.

The life of a bear descends into utmost misery when humans begin to believe that their bile delivers miraculous benefits.

Many people believe that bear bile is a perfect pain killer and their claws are very nutritious, even when there is no scientific evidence supporting such beliefs. Furthermore, there are many other solutions for the problems that bear bile and other parts are supposed to help with.

Instead of being killed summarily to serve whatever human purpose, bears have been tortured horribly. They have had their hands cut and bellies pierced. From the wound on their bellies, people continuously extracted the bile. This mutilation, confinement and extraction is one the most extreme forms of animal abuse in the world, according to the World Animal Protection, an international non-profit animal rights organization established in 1981.

Vietnam banned all forms of bear bile extraction in 2006 as it tried to bring its animal rights protection in line with global practice.

The ban was not just moral imperative to free a creature from extreme pain and misery; such actions are survival imperatives for humans. Without protecting species diversity and biodiversity, we cannot protect ourselves.

Thanks to the active advocacy of bear rescue centers, bear farming for bile collection has significantly decreased in Vietnam. Many bear owners have realized the cruelty involved and voluntarily handed over the bears to rescue centers.

Rescuing captive bears is one of the most successful animal welfare activities that Vietnam has undertaken.

A common definition of animal welfare is a state when they no longer have to suffer unnecessary pain and fear for any purpose. In a larger context, it can be said that any activity related to animals, from pets to wild animals, should fall under the purview of animal welfare.

That said, it is quite easy for us to advocate welfare for pets and wildlife, but not for animals that are killed or tamed to feed and entertain humans.

If animal welfare policies were applied to farming and slaughtering livestock, it is not just the defenseless creatures that would benefit from not being subjected to avoidable pain and fear, but also us meat eaters.

Scientists have pointed out that the fear and stress at the time of being killed cause animals to release cortisol, a major stress hormone, which will affect the meat quality that humans consume.

A study in 2016 by scientists at the Vietnam National University of Agriculture showed that raising pigs in harsh condition also cause them to release more cortisol than normal.

The biggest obstacle preventing the animal husbandry sector from engaging in livestock welfare is economic benefit. Not many people are willing to shift from a low cost model of farming and slaughtering in which animals are kept in small cages and killed inhumanely to one where they are kept on a farm and able to engage in normal activities such as walking and running before being slaughtered with methods that inflict the least pain and fear.

However, the farmers, butchers and consumers should bear in mind that the humane changes will deliver great benefits in the long term for businesses because they would be able to produce and consume healthier products.

Consumers are becoming pickier and pickier these days. The products must look good and be of high quality. If producers can guarantee that they have created that product via a humane process, they can surely win consumers' hearts without having to spend on costly marketing campaigns.

The use of animals in circuses and other activities to entertain humans must also be stopped. More and more parents and children have decided to stop watching animals performing in circuses after learning about the torture and pain that is inflicted to make them do things that are not natural to them.

Late last year, the Central Highlands province of Dak Lak, home to the country's largest elephant population, signed an agreement with Hong Kong-based Animals Asia to phase out elephant rides and several other activities that badly affect the well-being of domesticated pachyderms.

These are small steps that have to be taken to ensure animal welfare, but the most essential step is to ask: has the product I am about to buy caused other sentient beings needless pain and suffering?

*Minh Thu is a journalist. The opinions expressed are her own.

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