Thursday, November 17, 2011

Global Inspirations on Animal Exploitation

Three days after arriving back from my week in Taiji filming the beginning of the 2011 season where I focused mainly on the captivity aspect as thankfully no dophins were captured during my time, our planed landed in Kathmandu, Nepal. I feel as though I have been sitting idly by while I am able to occasionally get a glimpse at my facebook updates on Taiji.

With sporadic internet connections and even more sporadic and often flickering electricity I had not even been able to post my last blog update. My fellow guardians sent me messages just days after I left saying the slaughter had begun. I could do nothing but cry. I was sat in an unfamiliar room, with even more unfamiliar people, enduring an incredibly tense situation of clashing cultures in a country where I can speak only the minimal of the language, suffice to say knowing I had missed the chance to show my true anger and share those feelings with close friends brought me to a tipping point.

Through uncontrollable events and innumerable tense situations Mohan (my husband) and I resigned to the fact that a life back in Canada was imminent. We began to plan immediately and have been eye-ball deep in immigration forms ever since. Because of this drastic change of plan our return trip in March to Taiji will be improbable (as there is the possibility of being separate for up to nine months with an unthinkable amount of work to do in the meantime). We are instead planning for a month at least in October or November of the 2012 season. I will be living in a familiar city and will be able to fundraise properly this time around so my trip is not cut so short.

After leaving Japan I admittedly felt a niggling hatred for the Japanese culture, constantly listing all of the animal rights violations and environmental catastrophes that culture is responsible for, and it is a lengthy list indeed. I felt blinded to all that was around me for some time until I woke up and looked around. This is not a Japanese issue, this is a human issue.

In Australia I saw mass factory farming everywhere I went with cows covered in deep, open facial and leg cuts, I witnessed men hacking apart snakes just because they could (and not because they were poisonous or “dangerous” as many use an excuse, most were completely harmless, non-venomous species), I saw drivers purposely swerve towards birds, rabbits, and ‘roos. I watched in shock as people kicked dogs and threw rocks at cats.

In Thailand even for being in the country for a day I saw massive amounts of starving street dogs and cats. Everywhere were mass amounts of meat shops, of all kinds as in every country.

And now in Nepal I have seen at this point at least three thousand street dogs, and just a handful of cats, who remarkably look quite healthy. The dogs however are covered in mange, most have large bleeding facial wounds from fights due to overcrowding and competition over food. Many walk on only three legs as the fourth has been mangled and disfigured from being hit by passing vehicles. It is difficult enough for a human to avoid being crashed into twenty times a day let alone a dog who blends in well with its environment (predominantly grey and brown…). Hundreds look like skeletons with fur, curled up against cement stairs as residents casually step over their limp bodies without a glance. If you so much as look at a street dog in Nepal it will jump to the side, being so used to being kicked or screamed at must be a tiring existence. Needless to say many have seemingly given up and simply take to lying in mounds of garbage, occasionally looking up at a passing scooter as more garbage is tossed their way. Of course, I have seen Nepalese citizens doing this exact same thing.

Aside from the `domestic` animals there are the once wild and should-be-free beings. As Nepal is a great country flaunting numerous endangered and dangerous animals the only way to truly `see` these grand species is to jump on to backs of the elephant slaves and traipse into the jungles. After a long and emotion conversation I have my husband convinced that it is more important to see fewer wild animals and not support such a cruel industry than it is to throw away our morals, jump on an elephant and see actual wild elephants deep in the jungle. I would rather pay a driver and only see more accessible parts of a jungle or pay a guide and a guard than participate in such a thing. That being said, we did pay about a dollar (60 rupees) to go into the Elephant Breeding Centre of Chitwan National Park.

On first glance this looks like an interesting place, all the guides hovering over westerners like the vultures they are tote how great the breeding program is. They spout numbers of calves born, how at ten each morning the mahouts (`drivers`) take the elephants into the jungle for a few hours to feed, and just how happy these animals must be to have people taking care of them. So for a few moments we were convinced, then I got a bit closer. Chains do not equal happiness. Chains do not equal freedom. Chains do not equal voluntary action. I walked around the centre once, feeling my heart beat faster as I became more and more angry. I watched the gawking tourists as they exclaimed how beautiful the elephants were, how cute the calves were and how great the program was. Every single of them reminded me of the ignorant people at the Taiji dolphin resort and museum. They all paid out of their pockets at the chance to touch and see these exotic and rare animals close up. And just as in Taiji they pay because they feel safe. These massive animals could easily kill those people if they were free and with good reason too. An animal who has both front legs chained together, to a pole, or in the case of the bull elephants both of these options, does not feel like a threat. These beings are broken. Those elephants that did not currently have a calf were exhibiting the exact behaviours shown by every circus elephant, every animal in prolonged captivity. Head swaying, pacing, any repetitive motion they can do with such confined mobility. Videos of such behaviours are posted below.

The calves are removed from their mothers at only two to four years old where they are then `trained`  by meals of being pulled by ropes attached to adult elephants, subjected to fire conditioning, isolation to break family bonds, and then chained to a wood post or the remainder of their lives. Some arguments for allowing this to continue are the possibility of some calves being released to live and breed with the wild ones thus continuing the species. To draw a comparison with the dolphin molesters of Japan, it really does not negate all the cruelty, the slavery and torture if one in every few hundred are released back into the wild. After all I have seen that happens in the waters of Taiji, not an ounce of forgiveness would be given if they released a few dolphins now and then.

The majority are still subjected to a life of human servitude and oppressive obedience. The elephants of the Chitwan breeding centre are littered with machete scars on their knees and feet, shoulders and behind the ears. Yes an elephant’s skin is incredibly thick, but as I watched the largest bull go from powerful swaying and trumpeting out of musk to standing to a complete standstill with bulging eyes as a single tiny man held a machete against his leg I knew the trainers there go deep enough to instil a memory of pain.

There was a five month old calf that the trainers called over for the tourists to touch (while I felt angry stabs of remembrance of the tourists petting (read: molesting) enslaved dolphins in Taiji). I squatted down and watched, trying to look at this calf and simply enjoy his life and momentary freedom as he was still small enough to man handle and did not yet requires being chained. While all others were groping and pulling him towards them for a better feel I stayed silent looking through my lens. It was only when he came directly towards me and wrapped his tiny trunk around my wrist holding it for just a few moments, looking at me directly, that I realized that sometimes we need to acknowledge non-human animals understand our pain at seeing their pain. They have an understanding beyond what we are willing to think them capable of.

There are also the cart ponies and ox carts that make a compassionate and consciously awake person seethe. Small, delicate appearing ponies pulling carts of up six to eight people on gravel and dirt roads for endless hours. Most of them bore scars of whips, all had fading and fresh wounds from the repetitive rubbing of harnesses, some had split lips from bits being yanked too roughly, which I find remarkable that so few had these as the roads they are forced to walk on are constantly filled the average traffic of Nepal (which to those having not visited this country, or India for similar reference,  is an absolute frenzy of blaring horns, zero lane control, massive pot holes, free running street dogs, and despondent pedestrians wandering aimlessly). 

The topic of animal sacrifice in Nepal is another blog entry entirely as it is so rampant one cannot escape its constant presence.

What saddened me most in seeing these particular acts of cruelty is that the people of Nepal use elephants, oxen, ponies, etc solely for their livelihood, and in reality it is not many people involved (not that livelihood is ever an excuse for animal abuse and exploitation). The most alarming part of seeing all this is not a single passenger on these animals were Nepalese. All but several were white westerners trying to participate in the "native culture". Little do they know that most Nepalese, and especially the mass Hindu population despise these acts. I felt incredibly ashamed when most people assumed I too would be participating. Seeing western people "ooh and aww" over the majestic elephants while ignoring the chains or exclaiming how "neat" the oxen were with the ropes through their noses was beyond sickening. Every person I was able to catch the eye of who were being transported on the ox or pony carts gave the exact expression in return to my look of disgust: shame.  

Animal abuse. Animal exploitation. Animal slavery. It all amounts to the same thing, a global issue of human ignorance. Everyone must start in their own country to try and both prevent and eradicate existing animal rights issues. Not to say going to another country is bad, I am an obvious advocate and participant in that option, but if you are not able to stay in Taiji for a few weeks to document, if you can't come to Australia to protest the grotesque cattle farming, or if you can't come to Nepal to protest the captivity of endangered species, then put your efforts into your own community.

For the next year or so I will need to focus on the community where I grew up. I know there are many groups established and many issues to be fought that I was not aware of until after I left Ontario, but I am returning with a fresh outlook and more passion for liberation than I thought possible.

Let your community be your inspiritation, no matter which part of the world you're in at any given time. 

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