Pioneers in Animal Advocacy
The struggle for animal rights is more than 2000 years old. Between 800 BC and 450 BC, the likes of Hesiod, Pythagoras and Empedocles campaigned for the humane treatment of animals in their writings. After that Leonardo Da Vinci, Thomas More, William Shakespeare, John Locke, Alexander Pope, Jean Jacques Rousseau, Voltaire, John Oswald, Charles Daubeny, Robert Burns, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Lord Byron, and Percy Bysshe Shelly were among the ranks of those who continued this campaign – each promoting animal rights in their own unique way.
Pioneering Law Makers
Between 273 BC and 1822, there were a few isolated lawmakers who managed to pass some laws in an attempt to reduce cruelty towards animals – sometimes as a specific focus and sometimes as a part of the job. They were Emperor Asoka, Thomas Wentworth, Nathanial Ward and Richard ‘Humanity Dick’ Martin.
It was in India between 273 and 232 BC that Emperor Asoka passed the first known legislation to protect animals. Emperor Asoka was a Buddhist and a vegetarian in accordance with the nonviolent doctrine of ‘ahimsa.’ In the course of making this doctrine a guiding force in the law of the land, he made provisions for medical treatment of the people, he had wells dug and trees planted for the benefit of humans and animals, he promoted kindness and abstinence from killing fellow living beings, and he specifically forbade the slaughter and offering of living beings (including animals) in sacrifice.
Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford
Zoom forward 1,400 years: The place was Ireland, the year was 1635, and the unlikely legislator was Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford.
The law Wentworth passed was entitled “An Act against Plowing by the Tayle, and pulling the Wooll off living Sheep”. This law made it illegal to plough or work horses by the tail, and to pull off the wool from living sheep, instead of shearing or clipping – with one of the justifications of the law being the prevention of cruelty to animals, a concept that had previously not been employed in British law. Wentworth was an unlikely proponent of this legislation because by all accounts he was much more consumed with the intrigues of politics and the pursuit of power than with making a difference in progressive causes, so either this was an aberrant issue of compassion for him or he saw some way to profit from pushing it through. Either way, it was a momentous event in the advancement of animal rights. Unfortunately for Wentworth, his avarice eventually angered bigger players, and subsequently landed him in the Tower of London where he remained until his execution in 1641.
Cut to North America just five years later. Nathaniel Ward was a Puritan who fled England in 1634. He was educated to be a barrister and raised to be a minister in his father's footsteps, and he pursued both with passion. In 1941, while residing in the colony of Massachusetts, Ward wrote “The Body of Liberties,” which was the first code of laws established in New England. It was a fairly progressive code for its day and was based on the premise that justice and law are necessary for liberty to exist.
‘The Body of Liberties’ also addressed animal rights. It contained the first anti-cruelty law in the United States - “Off the Bruite Creature” – which not only forbade "Tirranny or Crueltie" towards domesticated animals, but also mandated rest for livestock during long-range cattle drives.
Colonel Richard "Humanity Dick" Martin
Almost 200 years later, back in Ireland, an politician known as Colonel Richard "Humanity Dick" Martin added his name to the list of significant contributors to the cause.
Richard Martin was born in Dublin, Ireland. His nickname ‘Humanity Dick,’ given to him by his friend King George IV, was not frivolous. Martin was a humanitarian, and he was greatly disturbed by the manner in which animals were treated by their guardians. Via persistent campaigning and with the help of numerous influential friends he contributed heavily to the passage of the "Act to prevent the cruel and improper Treatment of Cattle" on the in July of 1822. The act outlawed the cruel treatment of “…Horses, Mares, Geldings, Mules, Asses, Cows, Heifers, Steers, Oxen, Sheep, and other Cattle…”. Offenders could be fined a sum between Ten Shillings and Five Pounds. Those unable to pay could be imprisoned for a period of up to three months, without bail.
His contribution did not stop with legislation. Martin was present at the formation of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in Slaughter’s, a London coffee shop, in June 1824. Throughout his life, Martin worked hard at abolishing bear baiting and dog fighting, both of which he found abominable. It was however only in the year after his death, in 1835, that the Cruelty to Animals Act was passed in London making both bear baiting and dog fighting, amongst others, illegal. In spite of this Act, the cruel ‘sport’ of dog fighting enjoys a large underground following, so exposing dog fight syndicates is high on the agenda for many of the animal rights organizations today.
Pioneering Animal Rights Organizations
Animal rights campaigning has changed a lot since Col. Martin’s day. Dissatisfied with the results of animal rights advances achieved by working within the legal and judicial systems, independent organizations have formed to advance the cause through more aggressive means. Two of these groups will receive our attention next.
Habitat Integrated is one of those quiet organizations that works unfalteringly and without much in the way of a budget to combat one of the most heinous animal sports still in existence today – bear baiting.
Inayatullah Chaudhry, the founder of Habitat Integrated, was a conservationist by profession. As Chief Conservator of Forests in the Punjab Government, and wildlife game warden he watched, over a period of 40 years how the wildlife if Pakistan was disappearing. It was his concern around the near extinction of some of the bear species that led him to take up arms on the side of the WSPA and WWF to try and save these awe-inspiring animals. He was instrumental in assisting these two organizations in their exposé of bear baiting in the Punjab and Sindh regions.
After the viewing shocking footage and reports on bear baiting in the media in 1993, Chaudhry realized that this horrific practice was far from over. He teamed up with Dr. Mohammad Ashraf and a few of his former colleagues to establish Habit Integrated. When the bear baiting legislation so desperately sought by Chaudhry was passed, he found that it was not sufficient to resolve the problem, that it could not eradicate bear baiting completely, and that it merely made the fight against this inhumane ‘sport’ worse. The result of legislation was the same as with dog fighting – the activity simply went underground.
It was a monumental obstacle course right from the start. Chaudhry’s research led him to identify a whole chain of people involved in bear baiting: wildlife dealers, trainers, baiting event hosts, and spectators, to name a few. The event hosts were mostly influential feudal landlords who sought to demonstrate their social standing and to win votes from their rural constituencies. Chaudhry decided to work with these feudal lords first, as they were clearly the ones paying for the events, but most of them refused to stop the practice. Through the few who did agree, Chaudhry learned the identities of bear baiters in Sindh and Punjab. These impoverished gypsy baiters or qalandars were initially unwilling to cooperate, as bear-baiting was a livelihood they were unwilling to relinquish, but Chaudhry persevered.
He decided to find alternative employment for the qalandars. To this end, Habitat established a training center for qalandar women where they were taught a variety of handcrafts. However, this novel attempt at career retraining didn't really have a long-term effect, as many of the trainees preferred their former gypsy life and the excitement and freedom the vocation of bear baiting afforded them.
Habitat Integration’s efforts did not focus solely on the baiters, but also on the government. A major breakthrough was made when, in 1997, the government eventually granted land to be used as a bear sanctuary in Kund Park, located on the junction of the River Kabul and River Indus at Attock. Kund Park provides sanctuary to the bears confiscated from qalandars and bear dealers. It also serves to create awareness with the public around animal rights.
Chaudhry died in April 1999, leaving his son Khalid to bear the Habitat torch. Their battle far from over, Habitat continues the complicated mission of removing bears from unnecessary human influence. The organization believes that severing these ties is the only way to completely eradicate bear baiting and to safeguard the continued existence of bears in the wilds of Pakistan.
Habitat’s gentle, collaborative and holistic approach to the problem - working with conservation bodies, the government, and the bear baiting supply chain alike - may still result in success, but it's an ongoing battle.
Not all animal rights organizations have that level of patience though. Some are extremists, and when the word ‘extremist’ is used, the outrageous Ingrid Newkirk and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals organization immediately come to mind.
Ingrid Newkirk was born in 1949 in England. She spent much of her childhood in India, before moving to the USA with her father. She became involved with an animal shelter in 1972, which set the course of her career going forward. She eventually left the shelter to take up the position of animal-cruelty investigator for the county. Rising through the ranks, Newkirk finished her Public Health Commission career as Head of the Office of Animal-Disease Control in 1980.
That was the year that Newkirk and Alex Pacheco, who originally worked with her at the shelter, founded PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals). From the outset, PETA meant business. Newkirk’s actions swung between extremism and fanaticism. Her controversial methods have included flour-bombing fur designers and wearers such as Julien Macdonald, J Lo and Paris Hilton; breaking into laboratories; serving a dead raccoon to the Vogue magazine editor, Anna Wintour; and spraying fake blood-soaked money over an audience at the Parisian Fur Fair. This is just a small sampling of the exploits of Newkirk as part of PETA. The radical stance of the organization attracted the attention of the FBI, who has been investigating them for some time now. PETA even features on the FBI’s list of domestic terrorist organizations, something Newkirk is not perturbed about in the very least.
Despite Newkirk’s extremism, PETA is the largest animal rights organization in the world today, and the inroads they have made in terms of campaigning for animal rights have been substantial, including:
- Closure of the US Department of Defense wound lab, where some of the wound experiments entailed firing missiles into dog and goats.
- Ban obtained on the shooting of dogs and cats in the US Department of Defense wound lab;
- Persuaded major cosmetics companies, including Avon and Mary Kay, to stop animal testing of household products and cosmetics via the efforts of their Compassion Campaign;
- Convinced McDonald’s Corporation, and later on several of the large supermarket chains, to requirement that their suppliers adhere to the humane treatment of animals during raising and slaughter;
- Secured the first ever conviction of a scientist on charges of cruelty to animals as the result of a hidden-camera investigation in the Silver Spring research laboratory.
Via these successes and many others, PETA – and Newkirk in particular – have earned a reputation as forceful pioneers who have been making a substantial impact – both in combating institutionalized cruelty to animals and in raising public awareness about animals’ plight. While many may question their methods, there's simply no denying what they've accomplished.
These are only some of the many awe-inspiring pioneers who have made it their lives’ work to protect animals. There are many more quietly going about their business every day while making a difference, usually for no or little compensation or recognition. Their only reward in most instances is the knowledge that they have made the world a better place.