Asia for Animals: Changing Human Behaviour

The 10th Asia for Animals conference gets underway this coming Saturday in the Nepali capital Kathmandu, and this year’s theme is Changing Human Behaviour.

“Most animal suffering is caused by humans doing, or not doing, something,” said Suzanne Rogers, who founded the social enterprise company Human Behaviour Change for Animals (HBCA).

“The way we treat animals, the products we buy, and the entertainment we seek can all cause suffering. To help animals, we must change the hearts and minds of humans.”

Asia for Animals is a biennial event that is organised by the Asia For Animals (AfA) Coalition, which is made up of twenty organisations focused on improving the welfare of animals in Asia.

Those attending range from people working on the ground in rescue and rehabilitation organisations to animal advocates, veterinarians, scientists, scholars, and those working in education.

More than five hundred people will be participating, and there will be more than 170 presentations.

“The conference presents a unique opportunity to network, share experiences, and learn from practical workshops and plenaries with leading experts,” said the executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Manoj Gautam.

“It has given birth to countless new partnerships and new ideas for tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges in animal protection.”

This year’s conference is hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute. The main event is from December 3 to 5, with workshops on December 2 and field trips after the conference ends. These include a visit to Chitwan National Park, which is one of the last strongholds for endangered mammals such as the Bengal tiger and the one-horned rhinoceros.

The keynote speakers include the founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) in the United States, Steven Wise; the eminent historian, environmentalist, and author Nanditha Krishna; the regional head for the Brooke India programmes, Faizan Jaleel, who works to educate the owners of working horses, donkeys, and mules and alleviate the animals’ suffering; Chu Tseng-Hung, whose persistent campaigning has improved the lives of millions of animals in his native Taiwan; and Pei F. Su, who has spearheaded numerous campaigns on issues ranging from bear and fur farming to the illegal turtle trade, zoos, and stray animal management.

Fur farming

Another keynote speaker will be Grace Ge Gabriel, who is the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s regional director for Asia.

The French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who is a best-selling author, prominent international speaker, translator, and photographer, will also be attending the conference.

Ricard, who resides at the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal, will be chairing a panel discussion about animals and happiness and speaking at the opening ceremony.


Understanding attitudes and beliefs

Changing human behaviour, Suzanne Rogers says, is not as simple as telling or showing people that animals suffer.

“To really change human behaviour, we need to understand the attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to do what they do. Then we can try to find the best ways to coax human individuals, communities, and populations towards a more compassionate lifestyle.”

Rogers (pictured left) says that traditional approaches to improving animal welfare have focused on providing a service, such as accessible veterinary treatment, or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits.

She outlines what she refers to as the four pillars of change in human behaviour: the process of change, the psychology of change, the environment for change, and ownership of change.

The First International Conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare took place in the United Kingdom in September 2016.

From that conference, Rogers says, the HBCA social enterprise was born, “with the vision of providing resources, services, and products to build the capacity of those working in animal protection by helping them to develop an understanding of the key principles of human behaviour change and how to apply them”.

Grace Ge Gabriel (pictured left) will be giving a talk entitled “Change Behaviour to Reduce Ivory Trade in China”.

Ge Gabriel began her career in the media, but, after documenting the rescue of nine Asiatic black bears from bile extractors, she gave up her career in television to commit herself to protecting wildlife.

She is now one of Asia’s leading voices on animal protection, and has been the driving force behind the IFAW in China for more than two decades.

We all need to look into our own lives and see what we can do to change what we are doing to animals, Ge Gabriel says.

“In order to protect species, we have to change people’s behaviour at every link on the trade chain.”[tweetquote]

As IFAW’s regional director for Asia, Ge Gabriel has spearheaded numerous campaigns to reduce the commercial exploitation of wildlife, improve legal protection for animals, and change consumer behaviour.

The little owl, Athene noctua.

She established China’s first raptor rescue centre and set up anti-poaching operations to save the Tibetan antelope. She has worked to protect the habitat of China’s last remaining population of Asian elephants, and helped to develop China’s first Animal Welfare Law.

Ge Gabriel works closely with practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine  to encourage the use of plant-based alternatives.

A survey by IFAW in 2007 found that 70 percent of Chinese people were unaware that ivory came from dead elephants.

Ge Gabriel launched a widescale education campaign to inform people about ivory’s true cost.

An independent assessment found that the campaign reached 75 percent of the urban Chinese population, and had a positive impact.

When people who had bought ivory in the past were asked about their future intentions, the number who said they might buy ivory in the future reduced from 18 to 8 percent, and those who said they would definitely no longer purchase ivory increased from 33 to 66 percent.

China recently announced a domestic ban on the ivory trade.

Ge Gabriel says that sustained behaviour change can only be achieved when ivory possession becomes socially unacceptable.

“Criminalizing the ivory trade, combined with vigorous enforcement and meaningful penalties, stigmatises ivory consumption.”

Personhood for animals

Lawyer Steven Wise, who has been working for decades to obtain personhood for nonhuman animals, and recently brought a case on behalf of three captive elephants – Beulah, Minnie, and Karen –  will be talking at Kathmandu about the NhRP’s legal battles.

These include the ongoing habeas corpus lawsuits brought by Wise and his team on behalf of four chimpanzees: Tommy, Kiko, Leo, and Hercules.

Wise says that the NhRP’s first elephant rights case is grounded in “abundant, robust scientific evidence of elephants’ autonomy”.

He cites the elephants’ ability to choose how to live their “emotionally, socially, and cognitively complex lives”.

Minnie the elephant at Commerford Zoo. Photo by Jennifer Fermino for Animal Defenders International.

Wise points out that, in the habeas corpus petitions, the NhPR is seeking personhood for the animals, not human rights.

There are many entities, Wise says, that are not human, and not even alive, but are considered to be legal persons. They include corporations, ships, partnerships, and a river in New Zealand.

In Argentina, an orangutan named Sandra and chimpanzee named Cecilia have both been granted personhood.

There was another landmark judgement in Colombia in July this year when a bear named Chucho was granted a writ of habeas corpus. However, the writ was overturned by judges in another court.

Steven Wise, as seen with Teko in the documentary “Unlocking the Cage”, which will be screened at the Kathmandu conference. Photo courtesy of Hegedus and Pennebaker.


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Animals in religion, and in education 

Nanditha Krishna will be taking part in a panel discussion entitled “Religion: A Blessing for the Animals?”, which will be moderated by the executive director of the Animal People Forum, Wolf Gordon Clifton.

Clifton will also be giving a talk about the impact of belief systems on human-animal relationships entitled “Casting Off the Great Chain: How Cosmology Affects Human Treatment of Animals”, and a poster presentation about “Compassion for Animals in Confucianism”.

Krishna’s article “Slaughter for Science”, written in 1978, resulted in a ban on the export of rhesus monkeys from India.

Since then, she has spoken out against numerous forms of cruelty, ranging from animal sacrifice to dolphinariums and Jallikattu (bull taming).

One of Krishna’s passions is integrating animal welfare and nature into the education curriculum. She founded the “Kindness Kids” programme, which educates children about food and the environment; the pet therapy programme for children, Dr. Dog; and nature education programmes for teachers and students.

She is the author of Sacred Animals of India, published in 2010; the editor of the journal of environmental education, Eco News; and publisher of the Journal of Indian History and Culture.

Alleviating the suffering of working equines

The presentation that Faizan Jaleel’s will be giving at AfA Kathmandu is entitled “Human Behaviour Change for Sustainable Animal Welfare – Experiences of the Brooke Hospital for Animals India”.

The region Jaleel covers is home to more than one million working horses, donkeys, and mules. Since 1992, the Brooke India team has been working to educate equine owners and alleviate the suffering of their working animals.

Jaleel prioritises the development of local solutions. “I take great pride in seeing the poor, often marginalized equine owners become more confident and educated,” he said.

As a result of Brooke India’s work, the practice of “firing” donkeys in Maharashtra has stopped. The traditional technique of burning wounds or ailments using a heated iron rod causes a great deal of pain, and was used to deal with a host of problems ranging from colic to eye infections and lameness.

A follower of Islam, Jaleel believes that eating meat in today’s world, where there are  numerous alternatives, is not in line with the teachings of Islam, and he seeks to promote vegetarianism and a compassionate lifestyle.

“Ignorance is a crime,” Jaleel said. “Seek knowledge and be an informed and compassionate being; that is what we ought to be – all of us!”

Animal protection in Taiwan

Chu Tseng-Hung, who is also known by his Buddhist name Wu Hung, was one of the founders of the Life Conservation Association, which was a major driving force in the movement that led to the passage of Taiwan’s Animal Protection Act.

In 2000, he founded the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST).

Wu Hung has worked to expose and denounce cruel customs and practices such as the “divine pig” contest, in which pigs are force-fed for years before being publicly slaughtered without prior stunning.

He has also campaigned against Taiwan’s fur and bear bile trades and against “mercy release”, in which captive animals are “freed” to engender good karma. The practice leads to the deaths of thousands of animals, and damages ecosystems.

“The Taiwanese have an inherent respect for animal life,” Wu Hung said, “but modernity and materialism have caused the old value system to deteriorate.”

At the Kathmandu conference, Wu Hung will be giving a talk entitled “From ‘Crying Life’ to ‘Strategic White Paper’” about changing behaviour to achieve a better welfare policy for farm animals in Taiwan.

Changing mindsets

Pei F. Su will be talking about “changing how we teach to change how we behave”.

She says that, after working on the issue of animal welfare in China and other Asian countries for more than twenty years, she felt that the movement needed to take political, social, and cultural contexts into account.

“The direct transfer of a western model of activism to Asia would not work,” she said. “We wouldn’t be able to change people’s mindsets to the necessary extent.

“I realised that we needed to take a different and more strategic approach to the problem.”

In 2006, Pei co-founded ACTAsia, an organisation that confronts the root causes of animal suffering in China. She believes the best way to end cruelty is through education.

ACTAsia works with grassroots advocates across China, helping them become more effective. It provides animal welfare training for veterinarians, and trains teachers to deliver humane education.

The organisation’s “Caring for Life” programme has reached more than 51,000 children across China, and has taught them how to become more compassionate towards animals, the environment, and each other.

Manoj Gautam with Jane Goodall.

Safe feeding for vultures in Nepal

Manoj Gautam, who has been working to protect the vulnerable animals and people of his country since he was a child, will be taking up the “Changing human behaviour” theme in his presentation on the last day of the Kathmandu conference.

Guatam has led hundreds of rescue and confiscation missions, saving thousands of animals, including snakes, owls, parrots, and bears, from the illegal wildlife trade.

In 2002, he founded Roots & Shoots Nepal, bringing awareness of the importance of compassion to thousands of schoolchildren.

In 2013, he became the executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, which amalgamates wildlife conservation with animal welfare.

Guatam strives to integrate conservation and animal welfare into people’s daily lives. When he heard about the huge numbers of vultures dying in the Nawalparasi district as a result of eating poisoned carcasses, he came up with the idea of “vulture restaurants”, or Vulture Safe Feeding Sites, where villagers can dispose of carcasses that are safe for the vultures to eat.

Vultures are the main consumers of carrion in Asia. They clean up the environment, clearing it of tonnes of animal carcasses that would otherwise be left to rot.

The birds had been getting sick and dying because they were feeding on the carcasses of cattle treated with the drug diclofenac, used for treating inflammation.

Vultures that feed from carcasses of animals who have diclofenac in their system die rapidly from liver and kidney failure.

Diclofenac is now banned as a veterinary drug in Nepal, but cattle are still being given a version of the drug that is intended for humans.

Photo by Manoj Gautam .

Guatham is critical of the way his original idea for safe feeding sites has been adapted by others into a system he never envisaged, which consists of feeding centres for elderly or sick livestock that have been sold or donated by local people.

The animals are fed and cared for, and when they die, the carcasses are offered to the vultures.

“I am not a big believer in this version of vulture feeding centres,” Gautam said. “I believe in making things easier for people to participate in, not complicating the process of conservation.

“My idea was to bring the key to conservation to the general public, to slightly tweak the existing practice of carcass disposal to make it safe; to make it easy for everyone to make a difference.”

Gautam says the key to changing human behaviour is making the process of change as easy as possible.

“By creating these cattle shelters, outside organisations took away a role that could could be a part of villagers’ daily lives, and they created shelters that now need donor money.

“They are making the local people feel detached from their own role in vulture protection.”

Another problem, Gautam says, is that none of the cattle shelters have more than forty animals at any one time, and there are not enough carcasses for the vultures, so they still have to feed on what is available elsewhere.

“What is needed is for the carcasses of the animals that are in the communities to be disposed of safely. We just need people to be sensitive about which carcasses they dump, and which they don’t, so that the vultures are not harmed.

“We need to make people feel that they have a responsibility; that they have a role to play.”

NGOs, Gautam says, need to be catalysts. They need to be introducing new ideas and lobbying for better initiatives, not taking on tasks that can be dealt with better at community level.

Gautam, who is also the co-founder and president of Animal Welfare Network Nepal, led the campaign to bring an end to the Gadhimai festival – the world’s largest ritual slaughter of animals.

He has also been working in western Nepal to save the last remaining Ganges river dolphins from extinction. After he discovering that their aquatic habitat was being destroyed by a chemical pesticide used for poison-fishing, he lobbied hard and secured a national ban on the chemical.

Protecting animals in the Philippines

The executive director of The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Anna Cabrera, will be giving a presentation entitled Animal Welfare Campaign Strategies on a Shoestring Budget, and co-running a workshop about advocating for animals via social media.

Cabrera was part of the team that lobbied for the passage of the Philippines’ first anti-cruelty law, the Animal Welfare Act, in 1998 and she later spearheaded the successful campaign for increased penalties and jail sentences for offenders.

The rescue and rehabilitation of animals, Cabrera says, are not only for the sake of the animals themselves; they are also a tool for changing people’s behaviour.

The PAWS Animal Rehabilitation Centre in Quezon City is not only an animal shelter; it also serves as an education centre, a training centre for volunteers, and a media resource.

By starting with empowering people to help the animals with whom they are most familiar, the PAWS team hopes to improve the welfare of other animals in the Philippines, including those used as livestock, work animals such as carriage horses, and marine mammals.

PAWS has successfully lobbied against the use of “tambucho-gassing” (the use of vehicle exhaust fumes) to kill unclaimed dogs in city pounds.  The practice is now banned.

Cabrera has been vocal in her condemnation of the cruel use of animals in the making of the Filipino films “Oro” and “Balangiga”, and is now actively lobbying for the humane treatment of animals in the entertainment industry.

She is also the coordinator for the Animal Asia Foundation’s Dr. Dog programme in the Philippines.

Saving mountain frogs

In one of the conference sessions about conservation, the award-winning batrachologist¹ Biraj Shrestha will talk about saving mountain frogs in the Manaslu Conservation Area.

There are 7,529 known amphibian species across the world and more than 2,000 of them are listed as endangered.

Eleven frog species are endemic to Nepal.


In a recent interview with Shristi Shrestha, Biraj Shrestha said that a rapid change in land use, resulting in less agricultural land and more concrete structures, had had a very negative impact on frog habitats. There was also, he said, an excessive use of frogs for vivisection.

“There has also been an alarming increase in the use of pesticides in the fields, and this is affecting amphibians like frogs,” he added.


“Wetlands are drying up rapidly and the ones that are left also have fallen prey to pollution. Rapid deforestation and urbanisation contribute to the decline in frog populations, along with the notorious effects of climate change.”[tweetquote]

A packed agenda

Among the myriad other issues that will be raised in Kathmandu will be the promotion of Vegetarianism and Veganism. Trent Grassian from the School of Social Policy, Sociology, and Social Research at the University of Kent will be talking about this in his presentation, and Shweta Sood from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO) will be speaking about building vibrant vegan grassroots communities.

There will be several presentations about changing the elephant tourism industry in Thailand, and one about protecting sharks by creating livelihoods for those who hunt them.

The session about animals as companions will include a talk by the FOUR PAWS veterinarian Anca Tomescu about changing negative attitudes towards stray dogs in Romania.

In another session, speakers will be talking about how to reduce the demand for pangolins and rhino horns, tackling the illegal trade in slow lorises, and the role of zoos in combatting the illegal animal trade.

Ending The Dog Meat Industry In South Korea, Human Behaviour Change as a Rabies Elimination Strategy, Compassion Fatigue and Building Resiliency, and Local Government Partnerships for Street Dog Management in India are the titles of just some of the other presentations.

Heading for extinction

The Kathmandu conference comes just after the release of a new report that details the rate at which animal populations are decreasing globally.

The 2016 Living Planet Report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, uses the global Living Planet Index (LPI) as a measure of the health of 14,152 populations of 3,706 species.

The study indicates that animal populations plummeted by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The prediction is that they will decrease by 67 percent by 2020.

Researchers found that the most common threat to declining populations was the loss and degradation of their habitat.

For decades, the report states, scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life toward a sixth mass extinction.

“Given our current trajectory toward the unacceptable conditions that are predicted for the Anthropocene, there is a clear challenge for humanity to learn how to operate within the environmental limits of our planet and to maintain or restore resilience of ecosystems,” the report states.

Photo by Suzanne Rogers.

Driving change

In the face of increasingly dire predictions, there is a growing sense of urgency about animal conservation.

The delegates gathering at Kathmandu will be sharing their concerns, hopes, successes, difficulties, and analyses, and developing strategies for the future.

Rogers says that innovative campaigning is needed at consumer level to address such issues as the illegal trade in animal parts.

“We need to understand how to alter human behaviour so as to create the best messages to drive change.”

Understanding the human element, Rogers says, will help organisations working on animal conservation to address the true causes of population decline, which differ hugely depending on species and location.

“There is an increasing demand for meat, and habitats are being destroyed to grow the food to feed the farm animals. Understanding how to broach the subject of dietary change will help us tackle this.”[tweetquote]

Rogers says conservationists need to avoid making assumptions about why people do, or don’t, do things.

“We need to deliver messages that resonate with people, and accompany them in their journey towards change.”


  1. A person who studies amphibians.