It’s another animal-rich day in the news. NPR’s morning edition tells us, “Drugs That Work In Mice Often Fail When Tried In People,” the Los Angeles Times has an article explaining why men hunt big game and how social media shaming can deter them, and the New York Times, unfortunately, has two fluff pieces on the Ringling Bros. circus.
But first a correction: I was grateful to get some emails letting me know that I had left “not” out of the sentence, “I greatly respect Farm Sanctuary’s choice NOT to buy animals, when there are so many in desperate need available for free — as explained in my previous DawnWatch alert about the steers http://tinyurl.com/l96po2o .” And again, for those who missed it, the Gentle Barn’s differing choice, the willingness to buy some animals, is beautifully explained towards the end of the article I sent: http://tinyurl.com/ltservp . But let me repeat that my hope is that DawnWatch subscribers, instead of weighing in on that argument, might take the opportunity offered by it to widen the discussion with a letter to the editor making whatever point feels right about, steers, diet, animal cruelty and our treatment of other species. I know some of you already did that. Thank you! And warm thanks to those of you who are reading carefully enough to pick up that slip. I am honored by
your attention to the details of these posts for animals, and will always do my best to live up to it, for animals’ sake.
The National Public Radio piece about the downside of experimenting on mice aired this morning, April 10, on the national show, Morning Edition, and is available on line, to listen to or read, at Shots, “the online channel for health stories from the NPR Science Desk,” at http://tinyurl.com/mjnd8ag . It makes clear that mice are not furry little humans and that the scientific industry’s acting as if they are is behind much failure in medical testing. The story doesn’t address the ethics of experimenting on animals in the way we might like, but it raises an issue that is part of a strong, all-encompassing, argument against animal testing, and should be acknowledged. Positive feedback for animal issue coverage leads to more of it. You can thank Shots for the coverage at http://tinyurl.com/kwoj5kn or thank Morning Edition (especially if you heard it there) at http://help.npr.org/customer/portal/emails/new , choosing “Morning Edition” from the pull-down menu. I thank Jerry Simon
elli for making sure we all knew about it.
The Los Angeles Times story, by Amina Khan, is titled “Why men aspire to kill big game; Trophy hunting is steeped in biology, scientists say, but public shaming could deter such behavior.” (Page B2.)
It tells us that according to findings published in Biology Letters, “pricey big-game hunts are meant to show off men’s high social status to competitors and potential mates.”
The article offers a fascinating discussion, which includes these lines:
“With big guns and professional guides often helping them find targets from a safe distance, big-game recreational hunters aren’t spending a lot of physical effort hunting their quarry, compared with our ancestors, and they aren’t risking life and limb in the same way either. But they are spending lots of money to kill the animals, they’re choosing species typically not eaten and they engage in display behavior — having photos taken next to their fallen prey.
“The overall effect emanates a costly signaling behavior: Look at me! I can spend this much on an expensive activity I don’t really need to do to survive. I would make a good mate, ladies — and you other males stay away from my turf, if you know what’s good for you.
“Social media has amplified the hunters’ ability to signal their perceived social status…
“But social media is a double-edged sword. Just as it might fuel enthusiasm for big-game hunting, it also opens hunters up to shaming by critics (as Cecil’s hunter, Walter Palmer, discovered).”
You’ll find the full article on line http://tinyurl.com/k23gumz
I’m not a big fan of social shaming, because as representatives of animals I think it’s important that we don’t come off as bullies, and because numerous persuasive psychological studies have shown that when people change, that change is far more likely to be permanent if the people feel they have chosen to change rather than been bullied or shamed into it. But I am a big fan of keeping an open mind with regard to various tactics. And, again, most importantly, I encourage the use of a story such as this as a jump off point for letters looking at the bigger picture — not only on why men (and some women) big-game hunt and whether shaming them will stop them, but about the animals involved and our relationships with other species. The Los Angeles Times takes letters at firstname.lastname@example.org
Finally, the two New York Times Ringling fluff pieces. Both by Lizette Alvaraz, the first, on page A2, is titled, “The Greatest Family on Earth.” It opens with:
“When I used to think about circus life, I imagined that the thrills I saw inside the ring concealed a lonely existence: moving from one place to another with little, if any, connection to anything but the show itself. What I found in my two days backstage with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey — as it prepped and performed in Fairfax, Va., just outside Washington — was quite the opposite.
“It was an especially poignant time to visit the circus. Ringling, the largest circus in the world, will go dark for good on May 21, and the performers and crew members were openly grieving the decision to close.”
The article is about the big happy family that is Ringling Bros, and how it is being torn apart. The word animal appears only in these lines:
“Hanging out with the staff members was eye-opening. But getting so much behind-the-scenes access wasn’t easy. Opposition from animal rights activists has made Ringling cautious about granting reporters such access.”
Alvarez explains that she was granted access only once she explained what kind of article she intended to write.
The full article is on line at http://tinyurl.com/m5vfpnm
The second article, on page A14, much longer than the first, is titled, “Ringling’s Artists Prepare for Final Bows”
”’Damn everything but the circus!’ –E. E. Cummings
“It began in 1871 as P. T. Barnum’s Grand Traveling Museum, Menagerie, Caravan & Hippodrome, back when Prussia was still a kingdom and Jesse James was robbing banks. It survived the Depression, two world wars and the new media of its time, including radio, film and television.
“But on May 21, the world’s most historic circus, Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey, will shut down after failing to sufficiently dazzle the children of the smartphone age and to overcome the fierce opposition of the animal rights movement, which does not want to see animals in the circus.”
“Backstage and from the bleachers during a four-day run in Washington, the frenzied spectacle of today is still rooted in its 19th-century traditions, with a dash of the modern mixed in. Clowns flop. Trapezists fly. Wild animals jump. Contortionists bend. Horses gallop. Tightrope walkers wobble.
“But ticket sales, which had been declining for a decade, plummeted last year, when the elephants left the ring for the last time. Feld Entertainment, which owns Ringling, spent years battling animal rights groups and accusations of elephant abuse. The circus never lost in court; it won a total of $25 million in two settlements from two major animal rights groups and beat back allegations that it had mistreated elephants with chains and bullhooks. But a surreptitious 2009 video showing heavy-handed tactics against the elephants and a powerful online campaign helped dampen enthusiasm for the circus, even as Ringling moved to revamp its practices.”
I know that many people on this list know that, “The circus never lost in court” is misleading, given that the rulings had to do with standing rather than guilt, and that the circus has paid fines for animal welfare violations.
Alvarez tells us, with regard to training, that it used to be cruel and “Today’s animal rights groups raise the same issues. They say animals simply don’t belong in captivity.” Then she informs us that “Beatty’s whip, pistol and chair are long gone” and that all the animals are trained with positive reinforcement.
If you have seen the videos — and it is hardly only one — and you know how hard our movement had to work as we attempted to ban the extraordinarily cruel elephant bull hook, considered vital for training (with those bans, in just a few cities, causing Ringling finally to topple) you will find the article hard to read. But it’s at http://tinyurl.com/kdjubku and I do hope you will read it and respond. I highly recommend that you breathe a little first. Let’s not just swallow Ringling’s bait whole. At the risk of overemphasizing the point I will note that we are being painted as “fierce” and as depriving people of family and fun; the last thing we want to do is reinforce that stereotype. So let’s try to send letters that speak with love and strength for animals, rather than against the circus or the paper.
The New York Times takes letters at email@example.com , asking that they include your full name, address and phone number. If you choose to write, please be very careful not to use any phrases I have used in this alert. The New York Times doesn’t want to see different versions of the same letter, but wants to know your response to the article.
I send this piece out in honor of my dear friend Cliff Kaminsky, now deceased, who took heartbreaking undercover video of circus elephant trainers whacking elephants with sharp bullhooks, with absolutely no provocation, as the animals stood still, bound in chains. While Ringling tells us that was the exception, and I hope that is true, he didn’t have to film for months on end, but rather just for a few hours, in order to get that footage. Ringling is soon to close. Let’s keep pushing to make sure the days in which any elephants or any other wild animals are held captive and subject to abuse, for human entertainment, soon come to an end.