Tuesday, March 20, 2007

I don't get animal rights radicals

This had my jaw on the ground.
Berlin Zoo rallied to the defense of Knut, a three-month-old polar bear cub, Tuesday, rejecting demands that the animal be allowed to die after being abandoned by its mother.

The fate of "cuddly Knut" has gripped the German capital since his birth in December. Rejected by his mother Tosca, the cub was adopted by a zookeeper who moved into the animal's enclosure to care for him round the clock.

Some animal rights campaigners think this will humanize the bear too much and want the zoo to stop saving young animals.

"Hand-rearing a polar bear is not appropriate and is a serious violation of animal rights," Bild newspaper quoted animal rights campaigner Frank Albrecht as saying.

"In fact, the cub should have been killed," he added.

Fortunately, the zoo's response was the German equivalent of "don't be a stupid git."

Better off dead?

I'm a moderate where animal rights are concerned. Our cats, Marlowe and Mehitabel, were abandoned kittens adopted from no-kill shelters. I support strong anti-cruelty legislation. I eat meat, but I try to avoid feed-lot meat and buy free-range organic meat whenever possible. I support some animal testing and research for drugs, but oppose its use for vanity products like cosmetics (the skin-care products that Clever Wife makes are all tested on me). I'm a strong environmentalist and preservationist. I believe in hunting for meat, but not for trophies. I find PETA offensive and counter-productive.

I've run into this argument before that states any interaction with animals that changes their behavior is by definition cruel and a violation of an animal's rights. This seems to be the argument that Frank Albrecht is making above. Death is better than domestication is how the argument goes and so the zoo should kill abandoned babies, even when they belong to endangered species.

There are a number of good counter-arguments to this position, including the above mentioned "don't be a stupid git." Why should we believe that Albrecht's concept of an animal's rights in any way resemble the rights that the animal would ask for if it could conceive of such an idea and communicate it to us? All life is governed by a drive to continue, as an individual and as a species. If we could communicate, in any meaningful way, I think most animals would put the right to live at the top of their list of rights. I'm sure they would also object to someone else deciding whether their life is worth living. This is not the same as deciding whether they live. Animals regularly decide that other animals will not live. They make this choice, not because they have made a moral/philosophical judgment that the other animal's life is not worth living. They make it based on the determination that the other animal is more valuable to them as supper than as scenery.

Marlowe and Mehitabel are asleep on a chair in the other room. They are well fed, well groomed, warm, dry, and safe from predators. Their life expectancy is more than twice what it would be in the wild. In exchange for this, we have made some modifications to their behavior that leave them slightly behaviorally stunted and kitten-like. They are more sociable than most adult cats in the wild. Okay, we also took their gonads. If they could communicate, I think they would say they would like to go outside and chase birds more often. I am quite sure they would not say that they would rather be dead than suffer the unspeakable cruelties that I inflict upon them.

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