Editorial feature: National character & the quality of compassion
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, April 2005:
National character & the quality of compassion
Josphat Ngonyo of Nairobi, Kenya, in 1999 founded Youth for
Conservation to clear poachers’ snares from the Kenyan national
parks. In 2004 Ngonyo helped to create the Kenya Coalition for
Wildlife Conservation, including YfC, which persuaded Kenya
President Mawi Kibaki to veto a bill heavily backed by Safari Club
International and USAid that would have reopened sport hunting in
Kenya, after a 27-year hiatus.
Novalis Yao of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, in 2000 formed Monde
Animal En Passion, in response to conditions at the Abidjan National
Zoo, once among the best in Africa but now a neglected ruin. While
Yao cannot yet claim big victories, he has continued his efforts for
quite long enough to confirm his dedication, under diffficult
conditions, and has managed to build a small but visible animal
welfare movement where formerly there was none.
Educated, outgoing, articulate, and multilingual, both
Ngonyo and Yao could have sought personal fortune elsewhere long ago,
had this been among their ambitions.
Instead, their common goal is to improve African treatment
of animals. Ngonyo and Yao emphasize wildlife conservation, because
the people of Kenya and Ivory Coast have unique opportunities to
conserve rare species and enjoy the benefits of ecotourism, but they
are also concerned about dogs, cats, and livestock, and can
explain to anyone who will listen how improving the treatment of
animals tends to improve the treatment of woman and children too.
As Yao put it, in conversation at the 2003 All Africa Humane
Education Summit in Cape Town, recognizing the rights of animals
where women are still routinely traded for cattle will automatically
raise the status of women, because women have only the status of
Ngonyo and Yao each won a scholarship to attend the recent
Compassion In World Farming international conference on animal
sentience in London.
Unfortunately, at almost the last minute Ngonyo was refused
a visa and Novalis was given an appointment for a visa interview only
after the conference had already started. Stumbling over
stereotypes, British visa application reviewers could not
believe–as one of them wrote, in similar words–that accomplished
African gentlemen care enough about animal welfare to fly to a
conference in England and then promptly return home to projects that
pay them little or nothing.
Strong appeals on their behalf from CIWF and other animal
groups did not help.
Who cares in Vietnam?
At the CIWF conference, polling data presented jointly by
the International Fund for Animal Welfare and CIWF challenged any
pretense by the British to moral superiority over the Vietnamese,
Chinese, and Koreans in basic attitudes toward animals.
The British infrastructure of pro-animal laws, institutions,
and educational media is much farther developed, reflecting a
200-year head start. Neither Vietnam, China, nor Korea had the
political stability, the freedom of speech, press, and
association, or the economic wherewithal to host an organized
pro-animal movement of any kind until very recently. The oldest
humane organizations they have are respectively less than five, 15,
and 25 years old.
Yet in all three nations, latent support for pro-animal
activity appears to have wanted only the opportunity to develop.
A MORI poll commissioned by IFAW with help from One Voice of
France and the Royal SPCA of Great Britain in late 2004 asked 1,000
Vietnamese, 1,000 Chinese, and 1,000 Koreans to indicate how
strongly they agreed or disagreed that humans have a moral duty to
minimize animal suffering as much as possible.
A CIWF-commissioned MORI poll in early 2005 asked the same
question of nearly 1,946 British citizens.
77% of the Vietnamese respondents strongly agreed; 16%
The next highest level of strong agreement, 58%, was in
Britain. 43% of Koreans strongly agreed, as did 30% of the Chinese.
Overall, 92% of Vietnamese respondents, 92% of Koreans,
91% of the British, and 90% of the Chinese accepted a human moral
duty to minimize animal suffering.
Asked if the law should require humans to minimize animal
suffering, 75% of the Vietnamese strongly agreed, along with 60% of
the British, 31% of Koreans, and only 19% of the Chinese. But the
gaps narrowed with general agreement added in.
92% of British respondents endorsed the use of laws to
reinforce the human duty toward animals, as did 90% of the
Vietnamese, 78% of Koreans, and 77% of the Chinese.
The data can be challenged. The Vietnamese and Korean
samples were not proportionately weighted by age, region, gender,
income level, and educational attainment of the respondents. The
Chinese data was collected from Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, and
Chengdu, a representative set of cities, but was not otherwise
balanced. Accordingly, the data is not verifiably representative of
each nation. It is also possible that some respondents told the
pollsters what they thought the pollsters wanted to hear.
Yet there are also external indicators that suggest the data
could be correct.
For example, 55% of Vietnamese and 47% of Koreans are
Buddhist. Buddhism recognizes a moral duty to prevent animal
suffering, albeit much circumvented.
Commented IFAW and CIWF in a joint press release, “The
surprisingly strong pro-animal stance of the Chinese, Vietnamese and
South Korean public is in stark contrast to their governments’
actions on animal welfare. There is only minimal welfare legislation
in South Korea, frequently flouted. In Vietnam there is none.
Although China has wildlife protection laws, Beijing decided in 2004
to delay introducing legislation protecting all animals.”
The lack of legislation, however, hardly means nothing is happening.
On March 10, for example, the Vietnamese Ministry of
Agriculture and Rural Development and World Society for the
Protection of Animals jointly announced that they had agreed in
February to “establish a national task force for phasing out bear
bile farms.” The agreement “outlines government plans for
registering and microchipping all bears in captivity and phasing out
bear-breeding on farms, and for strengthening the ban on taking
bears from the wild,” the announcement said.
WSPA is also to develop a bear rescue center in Cat Tien National Park.
Representatives of 22 Chinese wildlife parks and zoos on March 12
agreed at a conference in Kunming, Yunnan province, to discontinue
feeding live horses and cattle to captive lions, tigers, and other
big cats. Three more institutions, among a total of 30-plus,
reportedly signed on within the next week. Thus the agreement will
apparently start with promised compliance by two-thirds or more of
the Chinese wildlife park and zoo sector.
Once common in the U.S. and Europe, live feeding as
entertainment at accredited zoos ended by 1960, and was last
documented in the U.S. at the non-accredited Steel City Petting Zoo
in Florida, closed by the USDA in 1996.
As in the U.S. and Europe, live feeding is on the way out in
China because surveys discovered an adverse response from the public.
Zoo operators promoted live feeding initially because attendance
around the big cat cages peaked at feeding time, when the cats were
most active. Many zoos found a secondary revenue source in selling
poultry to visitors, to be thrown to the big cats, or in charging
an extra admission fee for visitors to watch big cats killing large
But such practices tend to attract warped thrill-seekers,
who have little actual interest in animals, and typically drive away
people who care about animals. In particular, live feeding scares
away children–and their parents. As overall attendance declined,
zoo management eventually learned to poll and pay attention to the
feelings of non-visitors and one-time-only visitors, albeit with
Also as occurred in the U.S. and Europe, Chinese zoos and
wildlife parks appear to be seeking a compromise that will let them
keep their sadistic clientele while winning back families and animal
“The agreement refers only to large livestock, specifically
horses and cattle,” e-mailed Royal SPCA East Asia senior program
manager Paul Littlefair. “It does not mention other species,”
Littlefair said, “so we should infer that pigs and goats, as well
as poultry, rabbits, and mice, will continue to be used.”
“As positive as it sounds, there are parts of this story
which are not as black and white as they seem,” agreed Animals Asia
Foundation founder Jill Robinson. “We spoke with a China Wildlife
Conservation Association official who clarified that, ‘The
agreement among the wild animal parks is an industry self-discipline
protocol, not a law.’ Reports stating that reserves or zoos that
break the pledge will lose their operating licenses are not accurate.
“As there is no law or official regulation to protect animal
welfare in China, industry self-discipline is currently the only way
to regulate wild animal parks,” Robinson continued. “We are advised
that a zoo management regulation might be enacted later this year,
which may include content about animal welfare and possibly
protection of birds and small animals.”
By then the Chinese zoos and wildlife parks may learn, as
their western counterparts did, that there is no compromise between
promoting and prohibiting cruelty that will satisfy people who have
decided for themselves that cruelty is offensive.
Live feeding at zoos, also recently reported in Egypt, is
only one issue exemplifying a cross-cultural and almost universal
ethical dilemma. Asian, western, and Islamic cultures have in
common that they are challenged, stressed, and even destabilized by
spreading recognition that cruelty to either animals or humans is not
wrong only when done for amusement, or as part of producing food
and clothing, but inherently wrong, in any context.
Throughout history, and perhaps throughout our evolution,
leadership has derived from the capacity of dominant individuals to
inflict suffering upon unsubmissive subordinates and outsiders.
Legal justice emerged to help limit and direct cruelty, not to ban
Even in ethically advanced societies, which have halted
public executions and torture, dispensing justice remains
inextricably linked to meting out punishment. Punishment is still
linked to dominance displays that chimpanzees could understand. The
use of rehabilitative treatment in place of societal revenge is just
a few generations old, and so imperfectly developed that
recidivism–the tendency of criminals to repeat crimes–still
sabotages most attempts to use it. Prolonged incarceration under
harsh conditions and the death penalty remain politically popular
because they at least protect society from recidivism.
Ethical and compassionate people tend to favor the most
restrained applications of punishment that promise to prevent crime,
yet are unable–so far–to devise methods of justice that succeed
without making anyone suffer.
This dilemma is not newly recognized. The
Hindu/Buddhist/Jain and Judeo/Christian and Islamic morality systems
each have addressed it through the centuries by distinguishing in
different ways between transgressions against specific individuals or
institutions, which tend to have tangible effect, and
transgressions against the stability and well-being of collective
society, which may have only potential cumulative effect, for
example gambling, intoxication, fornication, blasphemy, and
Transgressions against individuals and institutions are
usually prosecuted here-and-now, if the offenders can be
apprehended. Trial and punishment for transgressions against the
social order may be reserved for the judgement of a deity. The
punishment may be as severe as eternity in hell or reincarnation into
a much lower life form, but the actual infliction of suffering is
deferred, in recognition of the limited human ability to see what
harm actually results from misdeeds which have no obvious or
In general, with many exceptions specific to time and place,
the Hindu/Buddhist/ Jain morality systems allocate to criminal law
what has material definition, and to karma, or the fate of the
individual soul, whatever is not materially defined. Sins without
specific material consequence tend to be punished by public
approbation. This may circumscribe social and economic standing for
generations. Nonetheless, Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain societies
rarely seek to prevent sins other than material crime through the use
of criminal penalties.
By contrast, the Judeo/Christian and Islamic religions are
actually based on extensions of the use of criminal law to try to
prohibit activities which may harm the soul. Especially in
Judeo/Christian societies, the social strictures upholding morality
may be weak or inconsistent, but laws exist to govern a broad range
of conduct rarely formally regulated under Buddhism and Hinduism.
The Hindu, Buddhist, and Jain religions have recognized a
moral obligation to prevent animal suffering for more than 2,500
years, and have encouraged charity toward animals.
Yet, even though the early Buddhist rulers Asoka of India
and Arahat Mahindra of Sri Lanka enacted national animal protection
laws before 250 B.C., animals in southern Asia have chiefly been
protected by custom and public opinion.
Where time, outside cultural influence, and the pressures
of poverty have eroded the meaning and moral force of the ancient
pro-animal teachings, there have usually been no enforceable laws to
restrain the ruthless.
Live markets, eating dogs and cats, wildlife poaching and
trafficking, cockfighting, and other abusive practices have
persisted for centuries as the vices of conquerors and affluent
oligarchs, whose ability to command public cruelty has defined their
Mosaic law, codified even earlier than Hindu, Buddist, and
Jain teachings, prohibited a variety of practices harmful to
animals, and prescribed kosher slaughter to try to minimize the
suffering of animals who were to be eaten. Though Mohammed
incorporated most of the same teachings into Islam, only hallal
slaughter has received comparable emphasis, much separated from the
original context. Mainstream Christian theology all but excised any
concern for animals within a generation of separating from Judaism.
Paradoxically, because the laws of Judeo/Christian and
Islamic cultures have always addressed personal morality as well as
actual crime, the distance in Judeo/Christian and Islamic nations
from culturally recognizing a virtue in kindness to animals to
proactively prohibiting cruelty toward animals has usually been
remarkably brief. In some nations, including modern Israel, which
started without a secular humane law, the transition has occurred in
less than one human lifetime.
Our own time, in the west, is seeing the gradual
redefinition of cruelty from a subject of only lightly reinforced
personal morality, to a subject of criminal law. This proceeds
largely from growing recognition that cruelty toward animals erodes
Also important and gaining momentum is increasing recognition
of animals as sentient beings, who like humans possess what Bill of
Rights framer Thomas Jefferson termed “certain natural inalienable
rights.” While most humans stop short of conceding to animals the
rights to life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness, a right to not
be tortured is perhaps more broadly accepted for animals than for
battlefield enemies and convicted criminals.
That animals may have moral standing comparable or equal to
that of humans has been accepted in Asian philosophy to some extent
for thousands of years. Yet hardly anyone, human or animal, has
enjoyed legal rights to the extent that westerners recognize them.
The change underway in Asa is the transformation of
theocracies, including Communist goverments opeerating as
quasi-state religions, into secular states which recognize
individual rights. The challenge for animal advocates is to ensure
that individual rights are extended to nonhumans, as well as people,
so that newly conferred human rights do not license and perpetuate
cruelties that most Asians disapprove of, do not participate in,
and might otherwise prohibit as recognition spreads that cruelty can
be banned by use of democratic law.
Claimed rights in conflict
The conflict between the extension of secular human rights
and the effort to establish basic animal rights is especially intense
right now in South Korea.
The underlying public issue is the demand for dog meat by
older men, the most privileged class in an oligarchic and
patriarchal society. If the dogs suffer in death, the consumers
believe [contrary to science], their meat will become suffused with
adrenalin, and have aphrodisiacal value.
Less discussed, also causing horrific suffering, is the use
of a tonic for older women made by boiling cats alive.
These practices have long had the social status, or lack
thereof, of vice. The providers of dog and cat meat are an
underclass, shunned by most people yet protected from expulsion from
society by their role in catering to the rich and influential. Only
about 6% of South Koreans either eat dogs and cats or work in the dog
and cat meat industry, but the consumers include President Roh
Moo-hyun, many other prominent politicians, and the owners of big
businesses, including some of the largest news media. This is
approximately the same status that sport hunting has in the U.S. and
While British hunters seek ways around the recently adopted
national ban on most forms of pack hunting, and are organizing in
opposition to an anticipated drive to ban captive bird shoots, U.S.
hunters rush to enshrine a “right to hunt” in state
constitutions–usually succeeding, despite their diminished numbers,
just as British hunters forestalled efforts to ban foxhunting for
decades after opinion polls first showed majority support for a ban.
In South Korea, where dog and cat meat sales have nominally
been banned under an unenforced law since 1991, the current guise
for trying to legally preserve the industry is a “consumer
protection” bill approved on March 9 after five months of review by
the cabinet-level Ministry of Office for Government Policy
“The Korean government is presenting their attempt to
legitimize the dog and cat meat trade as a combination of protecting
dogs and cats with protecting public health and the environment,”
explained International Aid for Korean Animals founder Kyenan Kum.
“You cannot protect dogs and cats while developing a policy to
hygienically control dog and cat meat production. The Korean
government has long argued that to reduce cruelty to dogs and cats in
the process of slaughter, they have to legalize the dog and cat meat
industries–but if they genuinely wanted to reduce the cruelty to
dogs and cats, all they had to do was to strengthen and enforce the
existing Animal Protection Law.”
While the dog-and-cat-eating debate raged, the Buddhist nun
Jiyul Sunim completed her fourth hunger strike since February 2003 in
defense of the endangered Mount Cheonseong clawed salamander and 29
other protected animal species, whose habitat she believes will be
jeopardized by the construction of a railway tunnel. Her first
strike lasted 38 days, her second for 45 days, her third for 58
days, and her fourth for 100 days. Each strike followed a broken
promise by government officials, resembling some of the long series
of broken promises about protecting dogs and cats.
Toward the end of Jiyul Sunim’s most recent hunger strike,
her caretakers turned away a visit from President Roh Moo-hyun.
Jiyul Sunim may be no closer to saving the clawed salamander
et al, despite her exposure of political mendacity, than
dog-and-cat meat industry opponents are to removing it from
government protection. The South Korean government has already
heavily invested in building the tunnel. Far more than the 6% of
Koreans who eat dogs and cats are likely to use it, as it involves
the most traveled intercity route in the nation.
What Jiyul Sunim has achieved is a dramatic reminder to
Korean officialdom that the 47% of Koreans who practice Buddhism are
supposed to protect all animal life, no matter how humble, and that
many of the 49% who are Christ-ian share an essentially compassionate
if confused outlook.
Jiyul Sunim’s hunger strikes might not have been undertaken
and might not have won so much public sympathy if the species at risk
had not been endangered, and if the threat had been cruelty rather
“Civilized eating habits”
Around the world, meat-eaters especially would like to
maintain a “comfort zone” distinction between the global acceptance,
in principle, of a species’ right to survive and the rights of
individual animals to not suffer. Throughout Southeast Asia, major
branches of Buddhism have struggled for millennia to rationalize not
observing the strict vegetarianism taught and practiced by the Buddha.
Still, a nation whose conscience can be awakened by the
plight of a salamander and the protests of a previously obscure rural
nun may not be far from recognizing an urgent moral duty to end the
dog and cat meat industry. Certainly the IFAW/CIWF poll data
Across the Yellow Sea from the Korean peninsula, in southern
China and Vietnam, no laws exist against dog-eating, even on paper.
Vietnamese consumption of dogs, especially in the north, rivals
Korean consumption. Vietnam forbids eating cats and snakes,
appreciating their role in controlling rodents, but China eats more
dogs than the rest of the world combined. Guangdong, the only
Chinese province where cats are often eaten, probably eats more cats
than the rest of the world–and these are only two of the species
suffering in the Guangdong live markets.
Yet there are hints that the Chinese and Vietnamese federal
governments are fed up with the commerce. The live markets of
Guangdong and northern Vietnam have in recent years spread Sudden
Acute Respiratory Syndrome and repeated outbreaks of the deadly avian
flu H5N1. They are depleting wildlife throughout Asia and even in
parts of the U.S., where trappers are close to extirpating turtles
to meet export demand.
Though the live markets of Guangdong have documentedly sold
dogs, cats, and wildlife since the mid-14th century, their growth
to present scale and prominence is relatively recent, reflecting the
societal economic growth of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
The live markets are visibly cruel, attract foreign criticism, and
are a frequent embarrassment to Beijing officials, who find the
markets difficult to defend.
On November 2, 2004, the Chinese federal health ministry
banned the slaughter and cooking of civets for human consumption, to
promote “civilized eating habits,” reported the state-run Beijing
Daily. The ban could have been packaged as a disease control
measure. As Associated Press observed, “The announcement came a
week after the government said 70% of civets tested in Guangdong were
carrying the SARS virus.” Yet the announcement strongly indicated
that civets are not believed to be the still unknown original host of
With Guangdong civet consumption abruptly curtailed. Cuc
Phuong National Park near Hanoi, Vietnam, made a show of the export
of three breeding pairs of Owston’s civet to the Newquay Zoo,
Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, and Paradise Wildlife Park in England.
This was a conservation measure, on behalf of an endangered
regional civet subspecies. But, like the Chinese ban on
civet-eating, it was also a gesture of recognition that some
decision-makers saw the horrified global response to the massacre of
tens of thousands of civets in the 2003 SARS control effort, and had
perhaps had the same feelings about it.
Dog meat farms spread rabies
Other animals raised for the Guangdong live markets are still
massacred in the name of disease control. China has tried since
early 2004 to limit the culling of chickens and ducks by promoting
vaccination, and has enjoyed relative success, compared with other
nations which have had widespread cases.
But even though China is familiar with vaccination,
officials are responding quite differently to canine rabies, in a
manner mixing traditional Communist heavy-handedness toward dogs with
hints that the goal might be to put some dog meat producers out of
business–if only to protect others, who may be in greater political
On March 15 the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that
there were 244 reported human rabies cases in western Guangdong in
2004, up 41% since 2003; that all dogs were being killed within a
2.5-kilometre radius of any village where rabies occurred; and that
60,000 dogswere killed in 2004 to contain rabies outbreaks.
The initial public statements blamed rabies, and the
killing, on careless petkeepers. ANIMAL PEOPLE pointed out through
ProMed, the moderated online forum of the International Society for
Infectious Diseases, that dogs are not often kept as pets in
Guangdong, but that Guangdong is the hub of the Chinese dog meat
industry, and that dogs raised for meat are exempt from the
anti-rabies vaccination requirement that is stringently enforced
against individual petkeepers.
These are points that ANIMAL PEOPLE has made repeatedly in
Reaching deep into China, ProMed was among the many online
information sources that cracked official secrecy about SARS and
avian flu several years ago. Perhaps the ANIMAL PEOPLE response had
something to do with the revised version of the Xinhua News Agency
release that was distributed just a few hours later.
This time an unnamed official with the Guangdong Provincial
Bureau of Health “said that poor oversight of dog-raising, increases
in the number of unregistered dogs, and fewer dogs being vaccinated
all have contributed to the spread of the epidemic.”
It was the first known admission by the Chinese government
that producing dogs for the live markets has a role in perpetuating
the recurring Guangdong rabies outbreaks.