21st February 2016
Yesterday we began our 2016 fundraising endeavours at Stirchley Spring Vegan Fair. It was a wonderful day, with over 1000 visitors coming along and we wish to personally thank Kevin from Midlands Vegan Campaigns for organising the event. We look forward to attending the proposed Summer Vegan Fair at the same venue later this year!
As always we met some amazing people and found so many new kindred spirits that empathise with our cause. We got to catch up with friends and acquaintances and lots of familiar supporters kindly came over to wish us well and drop off a donation or two. A regular visitor to our stall even gifted us some vegan cheese, we’ll be tucking into that later! In the end we raised a fantastic £120.48 towards the rescue’s work.
However a worrying trend seems to be creeping into this normally moral and compassionate section of the community, something that until recently we had only encountered in other circles – the belief that captivity is better than the wilderness.
The notion that someone within such an animal welfare centred niche in society could sincerely believe this to the extent of feeling the need to argue the point in public, while surrounded by hundreds of animal rights supporters/activists and steadfast vegans, boggles my mind. This person was so insistent and confident in their own self-righteousness that the “discussion” only came to an end when they were politely dismissed. Later in the day another visitor also extolled the virtues of reptile and parrot keeping as harmless.
We are all individuals in this world and all have our own minds and, therefore, opinions. This is great, we love free will! However it does mean that we can’t all agree with each other all the time. That in itself isn’t necessarily an issue if we’re all being civil except when the point being argued is completely immoral and scientifically baseless.
So, lets’ set the record straight.
You cannot create a 100% accurate miniature rainforest in a glass tank. Oh yes you can plant it, maybe even with native plants from your country of choice, and equip a mister to increase humidity. You can install heating and lighting to increase the temperature and simulate sunlight.
BUT, just because it looks beautiful and we THINK it looks like a rainforest it still isn’t the same.
What about soil chemistry and microorganisms? Yes, we can put a few species of detritivores in the tank to keep it clean but this is nothing compared to the thousands that could inhabit that same floor space in the rainforest.
What about weather cycles? Yes, we’ve installed heating, lighting and an automatic mister or “rain machine” but we all know that when we step out the door in the morning that the weather will fluctuate throughout the day. The wind will blow, the temperature will rise and fall, the sun may be blotted out by clouds, it could rain. And what about the changing seaons?! No matter how hard we try we cannot replicate these natural daily variations with 100% accuracy in captivity.
What about food? Sorry folks, a wild insectivore is not going to live on store-bought, mass-bred, crickets. They don’t trudge off to little hidden supermarkets at the weekend and fill their trollies with plastic tubs of bugs for the rest of the week. No, they’ll eat pretty much anything that will fit in their mouths! The variety they get is unsurpassed and not only fills their bellies but fulfils their natural desire to hunt and forage. The same can be said of carnivores and herbivores; their diet will be far more varied and enriched in the wild. Food sources/prey items will also vary from one season to the next and show subtle changes in different part of any given animal’s habitat and/or territory within that habitat.
"But what about predators?!" What about famine and drought?! Well, my answer to that would be that nature can appear cruel in our emotive eyes but it is just that; nature! We don’t persecute lions for eating zebras in the Masai Mara Reserve, rounding them up in corrals so that they cannot hunt. We may not like to view the bloody spectacle of a predator on the hunt but it is nothing more than the food chain playing out as nature intended, how it has been happening unabated for millions of years. Fair enough, we don’t like the idea of a tigeress taking a young fawn from it’s mother (no one wants to see Bambi get hurt) but that could be how she feeds her own cubs that day. She is only doing what it is in her naturel to do; feeding herself and her family. Famine and droughts happen and they are devastating but they are all part and parcel of the natural world. Don’t underestimate the resourcefulness of some species, they will do all that they can to survive and many have special adaptations in order to cope in these harsh times. As humans living in a “developed country” we have removed ourselves so far from our roots that this is a concept many find hard to grasp. We live in centrally heated houses. We buy our food from shops, pre-prepared and hygienically wrapped, most likely imported from the other side of the world. It could safely be argued that we no longer adapt to our environment, instead we create an artificial one to suit our needs and have very little concept of seasonality. We no longer have to tackle drought and famine in the same way, perhaps we should look to recent and ongoing famines and droughts in the developing world to gain perspective and empathy.
"But, but what about stress?!" Animals die of stress in the wild! Well yes and no. If we’re talking about the stress put on the body by environmental pressures then yes that does happen. We humans suffer from that to in our own way too, it’s called living! None of us have a completely worry and stress-free life, but our survival instincts keep us going; find food, seek shelter, find cohorts, make babies. Those urges connect all living things. However, when we mean the tremendous stress put on wild animals caused by being caged in a less than natural environment, being exposed to artificial light, experiencing unnatural day-night cycles, being handled by people, feeding on artificial diets, being “on display” when all they desire is to hide away…then no, the stressors cannot be compared accurately. Those stressors are being imposed on that animal just because it is a captive, it is our doing. In my view it is far better for an animal to live out its days (however short) in its natural habitat than it is for it to die prematurely in captivity due to the neglect or ignorance of its keeper.
"But, but, but I’m helping conservation of this species by having this animal as a pet!!!" No, just no. Stop right there. I won’t elaborate on this here for fear of doubling the size of this already lengthy piece but I promise I will right about it properly soon. In short having an exotic pet does not help conservation in any way shape of form except to illustrate population decline through over-exploitation.
Stereotypic behaviours are only ever seen in CAPTIVE wild animals, not their free-living peers in their natural habitat. I always feel that this is particularly poignant in the case of parrots, those stunningly beautiful, tropically coloured, birds seemingly drawn up in our dreams. We’ve all seen amazing footage of whole flocks of macaws gliding through the rainforest, their multi-coloured wings almost luminous against the green surroundings. So what do we do? We put one in a cage in our living room. We clip it’s wings so it’s can’t fly away. We take away this highly intelligent animal’s gift of flight and it’s social group of cohorts to be replaced by wooden toys, bells and mirrors. Macaws in particular are considered to have the same intelligence level as a four year old human child and the emotional capacity of a two year old human child. Is it any wonder therefore that so many macaws and other parrots become so mentally damaged that they resort to self-mutilation by pulling out their own feathers when kept in this barren, unstimulating, environment? These harmful behaviours and others like them are only seen in CAPTIVE wild animals with similarly self-destructive patterns commonly recorded in mammals, reptiles and amphibians.
I could go on and on here but the bottom line is that these WILD animals evolved over millions of years to live in their natural habitat, not a tank or a vivarium in a human home. In housing a captive wild animal we may think that we are being kind or giving it safety but in fact we are stripping away everything that made us fall in love with it in the first place – the very fact that it was a wild creature, perfectly adapted for it’s natural habitat.
Supported by Ladbrook Insurance, a specialist animal charity insurance provider.
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Meet the Owner-Operator, Clare Barnard BSc.(Hons)
Clare is a research scientist and PhD candidate at the University of Lincoln where she is studying wildlife conservation and the direct impact of the exotic pet trade on wild animal populations. She will be working from the Laboratory of Evolutionary Ecology of Adaptations. Clare has also been honoured to become part of the Global Amphibian Biodiversity research team.
Clare has almost 20 years professional experience in the husbandry of exotic animals a specialism in the genetics of British herpetofauna. She has worked with wild Adders (Vipera berus) and endangered Natterjack Toads (Epidalea calamita) under Natural England license conditions. Clare has worked as a zookeeper and within private collections including her own. She lives in rural North Warwickshire, on-site at Grace's Rest, with a whole host of animals!