Wildlife and animal rights

Asia for Animals: ‘We need compassionate courage and fearless altruism’

The 10th Asia for Animals conference got underway yesterday (Saturday) in the Nepali capital Kathmandu with a series of workshops followed by four presentations on the subject of Animals and Happiness.

The French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who is a best-selling author, prominent international speaker, translator, and photographer, spoke about the cruelty that happens to animals “far from the eyes and far from the heart”.

Ricard describes the human race as “the main predator on earth” and speaks about the need for more altruism “to solve the challenges of our times”.

We need, Ricard says, “compassionate courage and fearless altruism”.

Altruism, Ricard told a packed conference room at the Yak & Yeti hotel, “is not a goofy, Utopian, luxury concept”. It is, he says, a pragmatic way of addressing the challenges we face.

“We need to enhance cooperation. We need sustainable harmony. We need to do more with less.”

There needs to be more social justice, less inequality, and better treatment of other species, Ricard says. “We need more caring economics.”

Social wealth, financial wealth, and environmental wealth all need to be put on the same level, he adds.

“We need local commitment and a sense of global responsibility. Altruism is based on understanding interdependence.

“We are not separate entities that can build happiness in a little bubble of self-centredness. We are deeply interconnected.”

Ricard, who resides at the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal, highlighted the intelligence and consciousness of animals and birds. Eating meat, he said, was “ethically incoherent”.

He pointed out that sixty billion land animal are killed for meat every year, which is seven million animals per hour. One thousand sea animals are killed annually, which is 115 million per hour.

Talking about climate change and greenhouse gases, Ricard said that methane was ten times more potent than COand it mostly came from industrial farming.

Ricard does have hope, however, and he says things are changing. He cites the example in France, where the civil code has been changed to alter the status of domestic animals, who used to be categorised as “moving furniture”, but are now recognised as sentient beings.

“Cultural change is happening,” Ricard said, “but will it be fast enough?”

Ricard dismisses the idea that people should not be devoting their time to caring about animals when humans are dying in wars.  “What’s wrong with including animals in the circle of benevolence?

“To stop harming them doesn’t take much CO2 and energy. You just stop.”

‘Happiness is misunderstood’

The executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Manoj Gautam, talked to conference attendees about the massive decline in vulture populations in Nepal, and setting up vulture feeding sites to protect them from toxic carcasses.

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 .

Gautam says that our economic models are failing and happiness is misunderstood. The well-being of humans, he says, depends on existing, thriving nature.

Manoj Gautam with Jane Goodall.

Kate Atema from the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) presented the fund’s “Measuring what matters” report and talked about how safeguarding animal welfare leads to positive outcomes for communities, building connections and fostering resilience.

“Animals contribute in so many ways to our happiness,” Atema said. Animal well-being isn’t just for animal lovers; it’s for everyone because when animals do well, we all do well.”

Science has proved that spending time with animals is good for our physical and mental health, Atema points out.

“We also know that animals serve as vital sources of friendship, social connection, and even feelings of safety for some of the most vulnerable members of our communities.”

Atema cites a case in Dominica in the Caribbean where the growth of the whale-watching industry has not only been of economic benefit, but has also contributed to community vitality and education, which are measurable factors in a community’s happiness.

She also cites the case of workshops conducted in Bosnia-Herzegovina, where roaming dogs have been a source of conflict. The community spent time building common ground, and agreeing to work together on humane solutions, Atema says.

“Much to everyone’s surprise, before they even saw impacts that they could measure on the dog population, the community members reported higher levels of optimism, community engagement, confidence in their local government, and social capital following the workshops.”

Pets increase social contact among owners, and can facilitate emotional bonding at the individual and neighbourhood levels, Atema points out.

In her presentation, Kimberly Wells (pictured left) from the Brooke India animal welfare charity spoke about the plight of working horses and donkeys, and about the importance of listening to communities and understanding what happiness means to them.

She spoke about the brick kiln industry in south Asia, where horses, donkeys, and mules work alongside men, women, and children in dusty, polluted, hazardous conditions in temperatures that reach 50 degrees celcius.

“Recognition of what equines do seems to have been forgotten across the world,” Wells said.

The subjects of today’s workshops included advocating for animals through social media, effective strategies to help farmed animals, and building confidence and encouraging innovation in animal welfare education.

The main conference presentations begin tomorrow with a talk by the Abbot of the Thrangy Tara Abbey Nunnery, Khenpo Chonyi Rangdrol, entitled “Protect the Earth. Live Simply. Act with Compassion” and a presentation entitled “Animal Protection: the Human Element” by Suzanne Rogers, who founded the social enterprise company Human Behaviour Change for Animals.

Other presentations tomorrow include “Animal Welfare Campaign Strategies on a Shoestring Budget” by the executive director of The Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), Anna Cabrera, and “Change How We Teach, To Change How We Behave” by Pei Feng Su, who has spearheaded numerous campaigns on issues ranging from bear and fur farming to the illegal turtle trade, zoos, and stray animal management.

The founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) in the United States, Steven Wise, will talk about the NhRP’s battles to win legal personhood for nonhuman animals, and the Senior Director of Volunteer Engagement at the Humane Society of the United States, Hilary Hager, will speak about compassion fatigue and building resiliency. 

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 are participating in the conference, and there will be more than 170 presentations.

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