By Barry Kent MacKay, Director
For those of us deeply concerned about the welfare of all, even those animals who belong to a different species, it is ever so easy to be depressed by the magnitude of ignorance and bias we face. But I want to say as one who has been working in various parts of the animal protection movement for a long time, there is progress. We do make inroads. Just recently we have seen, here in Ontario, in rapid succession, the Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry (MNRF), re-introduced the spring bear hunt and then with almost no warning severely curtailed the hunt by limiting participation by non-resident (read American) hunters who are the main killers of bears in Ontario; take away the proposal that would have opened up still more killing of wolves and coyotes and reduce the number of tags issued to hunt moose, all infuriating to the Ontario Federation of Anglers and Hunters (OFAH), and the Ontario Outfitters, both of whom are screamingly angry. It looks good on them.
In the past we’ve bemoaned the fact that MNRF acts as though its sole constituency, the only Ontarians who matter to them, are the consumptive users, and while these unexpected changes may not seem like much, they are baby steps that didn’t previously occur, and the world’s fastest runners all started with baby steps. Years, decades, of fact-filled, carefully constructed reports and scientific studies have seemed, in the past, to be ignored out of the political expediency of keeping OFAH happy, so much so that even these tiny victories should be celebrated. We don’t go away; we don’t give up; we do have two of the greatest attributes of humanity on our side: compassion, and logic, the latter attached to an ability to ultimately discern the truth.
Just recently we had a major newspaper publish AnnaMaria’s wonderful op-ed piece citing the government’s own figures to show that the number of human/bear conflicts have increased, dramatically, following implementation of the spring bear hunt. And while there are numerous ways to interpret the hard data, the fact is the hunt itself is not working to do what its supporters claim it does, and our views are beginning to be seen as mainstream.
We have stopped or prevented all but one lingering government-funded cull of cormorants, at least that we know of, from Ontario east and possibly elsewhere, but what I find even more exciting, is the fact that the Americans have finally awakened to the cormorant culls down that way and are starting to fight back. There has even been a court decision critical of the “science”, or lack thereof, employed by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to justify the massive, and cruel slaughter of cormorants in Oregon, and a major American animal protection group, SHARK, has documented the cruelty.
Again I emphasize, not only is it important to recognize animals as individuals but also to break this whole, deeply imbedded concept that animals are mere objects to be killed as a simple solution to any real or perceived problem, period. They are after all a “renewable resource”. There are two pieces of federal legislation we are now supporting that help move us forward. Yes, they’re opposed by all the usual animal use industries, with all the usual scare tactics and misinformation, but even if they fail, there will be more.
We have held the line on Mute Swans and Canada Geese. We were sideswiped on Mourning Doves, when Ontario’s population was added to the list of species that could be killed by sport hunters, but so far all’s well on Grey Seals, and Zoocheck, with Wayne McCory involved, stopped the Alberta horse cull…no mean feat.
We have also had wonderful success in the B.C. interior, protecting Mule Deer. All my adult life I’ve been arguing that it is a mistake to think deer are stationary, and already our contribution to the study in B.C. has borne fruit, thanks to a huge degree to Liz’s tireless effort, and the “on the ground” wonderful work by our friends out in B.C., has demonstrated that we were right all along.
Without going into detail for obvious reason, I promise you that we are very, very slowly, but very, very definitely, making inroads into the concept so cherished by the management types and their huntin’, trappin’ and shootin’ constituents that we are all only urban Bambi-lovers with no knowledge of wildlife whatsoever, when in fact, we again and again prove otherwise. We have “off the record” contacts and sources we would never have dreamed of having twenty or more years ago.
The Snow Geese are a great example as the things we predicted years ago, can be seen up front to be true. We said that the opening up of far more hunting of this wonderful bird, with spring hunting, virtually limitless bag limits and use of electronic calls allowed, would not result in enough being killed to reduce their population, and we have been proven to be right. We also said that their burgeoning numbers would not be what puts the arctic ecosystem “in peril”, and again we’re right, with concerns about the geese looking absurd when measured against the real threats the arctic faces.
Much else is happening and on all fronts, not just wildlife, and everywhere, not just Canada. Costa Rica just tabled legislation to outlaw hunting and trapping; Kenya burned its ivory, not the first African country to do so in spite of crushing need for the money sale of the ivory could have generated.
Back home, we know that the east coast seal hunt is withering.
I am not talking about the failures…they are too numerous to mention, yes, but they also refer, for the most part, to areas where we…Animal Alliance and organizations like us…have not been very or at all involved. Where we are tightly focused we often are making progress.
And so yes, I’ve cherry-picked examples, things I’ve worked on or am familiar with, to be sure, but I draw upon the fact that human “civilization” as constituted in the current era, is a remarkably new phenomenon, and just as a child’s progress of concern tends to move from self, to mom, to parents, to family, to community, country, species and so on, so does civilization expand, as the recent welcoming of refugees from Syria, or the outpouring of aid to the victims of various catastrophes such as the Fort McMurray fire demonstrate, we are very capable of caring, of broaching barriers, not building walls.
And even as I typed this, the New York Times published an article entitled “Fishes Have Feelings, Too” and a column entitled “The Humane Revolution. Meanwhile, Toronto’s Globe and Mail published, on May 14, an informative editorial on empathy for other species.
We’ve seen things happen in just the last few months that, when Animal Alliance started up, I could only dream about, such as Ringling Brothers finally removing “performing” elephants from its circuses, Sea World stopped breeding Orcas and will do more to rescue and rehabilitate marine mammals, and while it was not much, at least here in Ontario the Wynne government got up enough nerve to ban the import, export, breeding, buying or sale of Orca whales to be confined in aquariums or zoos. A modest beginning, but much more needs to be done. Big chain restaurants and grocery stores are moving steadily forward in at least limiting the sale of meat and dairy to that obtained from relatively humane sources. Meanwhile food producers seem to be falling over themselves to produce innovative, and healthy, processed food alternatives to meat and dairy, making them available to the mass market.
Cities like Toronto and Chicago are no longer indifferent to the plight of millions of migratory songbirds hitting tall structures during nocturnal migration and are seeking to encourage more bird-friendly buildings.
We still have to work hard. There is still an acceptance of cruelty that is disconcerting to caring people. The strenuous objections to Bill C-246, the Modernizing Animal Protections Act, sponsored by Liberal Member of Parliament, Nathanial Erskine-Smith show that the struggle is very uphill. Although the bill in no way interferes with such “traditional” forms of animal abuse as those associated with so many industries – the fur industry, farming, zoos and so on – they have all ganged up against it with a massive campaign of lies and misinformation and outright scare tactics. There is no way that the Prime Minister, who once posed with his family while all were bedecked with coyote skins for a Christmas card and then seemed puzzled that people might find that offensive – will support it. But in fact, Canada is and remains out of step with western Europe, and even the U.S., on animal protection legislation, and in fact, in spite of that, there can be, and is, progress. We are a hideously violent and destructive species, yes, but we really do have a better nature and it really can, and does at times, prevail.
Despair gets us nowhere. But work, works, so let’s keep working.