Debate about how justified we human beings are in claiming our superiority over animals had flared up again recently because of research which shows that Sun Bears can mimic, something that was previously thought to be exclusively a human quality because of its complexity. This is only one of a string of discoveries which challenges the presumed supremacy of humankind over animals.
Mimi Bekhechi, Director of International Programmes of PETA; People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, a UK based charity dedicated to establishing and protecting the rights of all animals joins the program.
Mimi stresses the importance of the fact that we humans are becoming more aware of animals' abilities. "Every day we are learning more about animals, who they are, and the amazing things they are capable of. This story about Sun Bears is only the most recent discovery. One example that is often quoted recounts an incident that took place about 10 years ago, when Ben Pridmore, the then British memory champion, who held the world record for memorizing a whole pack of cards in under 30 seconds, challenged a 7 year old chimpanzee to a memory test, and the chimpanzee won. Chimpanzees are so like us; they will lie to their mothers when they have done something naughty; they will blame their siblings. Bottle-neck dolphins whistle the names of their loved ones when they in distress, a parrot gives her babies unique names that she will always respond to. Crows have different regional dialects, just like we do, but also use their beaks and their wings as a way of communicating. Dogs in our homes, for example, understand over 400 human words. And we don't understand a single one of theirs. The list goes on, and we are constantly learning amazing things about animals… Another thing we are learning about animals is that they mourn, just like we do. If you look at a mother cow on a dairy farm for example, when the baby is taken away from them, so that we can take the milk that is intended for her calf she mourns. It is very common for cows to bellow for days, just for the return of her baby and the babies mourn as well. It is just supremacist thinking that allows us to believe that we are more important than other animals. Of course we are not."
Mimi also stresses that we can have a major effect of the fate of animals. "We can choose what to eat and wear. Those decisions directly affect animals. When we sit down to eat; today there are so many vegan solutions, such as vegan sausages, bacon, ham, hamburgers. If we choose the vegan version, then we are literally saving an animal's life. Also, in terms of what we wear. We can choose to wear fur, wool or leather, or we choose to wear cotton, hemp, or bamboo. There are all sorts of fabrics that don't cost an animal its life. In areas like Trump and Brexit we have very little control, but in this area, we have a lot of control."
Mimi continues that we are really forcing animals out. "There is really very little space left for animals to live. We are leaving them generally very little room to set up their homes, take care of the babies, we are bulldozing all of their homes, we are building highways and skyscrapers, it's incredibly difficult to be a wild animal in this world, so I think it is important that we respect them and their right to be here, just as we have the right to be here."
Using animals for testing drugs for humans, however, is still widespread. Mimi comments. "There is no justification for this. We can't say on the one hand that they are similar to us so the results of the tests mean something for humans, and at the same time say that they are so different to us so that we can do anything we want to do to them, no matter how painful or pointless that may be. We could experiment with people and we would learn more useful information if we did, but we recognize that this would be completely wrong. It would be crazy for me to say: ‘I'm going to benefit from hurting you.' If I take your kidneys I gain, does that make it alright? Of course it doesn't. It's a terrible argument… the fact is that 90% of drugs that pass animal trials, fail human trials. It's not surprising; we are not mice; we get very little information about how a human is going to react to something by looking at what a mouse does."
Mimi sees attitudes changing fast. "20% of 16-24 year olds across the UK are currently vegetarians or vegans. That's one in five, and we have seen the market for vegan products absolutely go through the roof. So much so that Burger King just this week is trialling a vegan burger in the States. Every Pizza company here is has vegan cheese, pizzas, because there is a huge demand for these things not first and foremost for animals (although there it should be), but for our health. These kinds of diets are much healthier. You are much less likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease, several forms of cancer, from diabetes, all of those kinds of things, so there are so many reasons to leave animals off our plates."
Host John Harrison says that there seems to be a dual story going on. On the one hand, we have an in incredibly tense international security situation, and on another we have a major shift going on in recognizing animal rights, and changing what we eat and wear.
Mimi finishes the program saying: "We now know that we are the same. Looking different has allowed us to justify really unthinkable cruelty, this will change…"
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