In Chapter 6, there was a comment where General Hector laid his boots on the Ivory comforter. This struck interest in animal poaching and killings. I found some statistical information on African elephants and discovered a recent study that provides the first reliable continent-wide estimates. In the last three years alone, over 100,000 elephants have been poached, with their ivory being shipped out to black markets on the Asian continent and elsewhere. In 2011, one in every 12 elephants where being poached, and in just over a decade their populations have decreased by over 64% (Scriber). The deaths of some of the more beloved and well known elephants such as Torn Ear and Satao promped officials in the US to ban the commercial sale of ivory goods (Geiling). However, it has done little to slow the criminal progress of these poachers. I expanded this inquiry to see how many other species are being pushed to the edge of extinction because of over-hunting/poaching. Overall a lot of them occur on the African continent, such as many types of feline, elephants, and rhino species (Listverse). Cheetah populations are down to 12,400, which is forcing the species into a genetic bottleneck that could affect its ability to survive later on to certain diseases and predators even if the population does rebound. However humans have gone through a similar event over 80,000 years ago where the population dwindled to around 30,000 individuals. It’s the same story with Lion species, which have decreased by 50% and are down to around 15,000. The Black Rhino population has decreased by similar percentages, with the Northern White Rhino species down to 4 individuals, with just one male left. Their species will not be able to recover from this and will go extinct within the century.
I wanted to focus on cultures that have been heavily extracting animal’s parts, and wondered why it is done on such a scale. It is predominately a result of Chinese Medicine (Steelsmith), specifically aphrodisiacs made from these larger animal species. It’s amazing how far the human species will go to attain an adequate sex drive. These animal parts are also believed to have immunity, energy, and stamina benefits. They also have an interesting approach to medicine, based on thousands of years of herbal study. They don’t quite focus on the actual illness, but find herb solutions that give better health to the body to deal with the disease on its own. Parts crushed from a rhino’s horn aren’t directly viewed as a form of Viagra, but something to help boost the body, which will in turn boost sex drive. I began researching whether or not these animal components have any qualities that benefit human health, and there may be a link. Rhino horn gives the consumers a diet with extra calcium and phosphorous, which is actually beneficial in the Asian regions it’s consumed in that have a poor diet. This added diet will help overall health and development, which will lead to better sex drive, thus reinforcing the idea that a Rhino’s horn is in essence a sex boost (Handwerk). Although they don’t have to kill these animal species to extinction, they can just simply take calcium and phosphorous supplements to have the same effect. Some other animal parts have a similar effect, but overall it’s mostly a placebo effect that certain cultures have ingrained in their societies as causing a health effect when it doesn’t.
I began researching ways to possibly limit poaching activity, and came across ideas to pool in a military just for defending these animals. To increase patrols and create legislation that prevents the sale of these goods. However, some think this is the wrong approach to it, as these methods increase the prices of said animal parts (Challender). This puts incentives on criminal organizations to go to greater lengths to get the very last member of a particular species to get a hefty payout. There are work arounds, however, such as working with these poorer communities that are at risk for these criminal activities and helping them foster a conservation effort of natural wildlife, and in the long term reduce demand through social marketing programs.
I was interested in certain cultures that happen to worship certain animals and give them a higher quality and standing than even human beings. I wondered if perhaps their cultural perspectives led them to have the opposite view towards animal life that is seen in the modern world. Many ancient societies worshipped animals as forms of deities. The Egyptians regarded felines highly, the Mycenaeans in the Mediterranean worshipped several variations of horse-like creatures, Latin American cultures had high admiration towards serpents, and in India today, cows are seen with a high status (Cook). These unique cultural ideas mostly stem from these early societies attempting to understand the world. Their spiritual beliefs revolved around these animals as a way to explain why the world around them behaved the way it did. However, there was some sort of disconnect of animal deities as humans advanced to reach higher levels of development.
This related back to the research done in the previous chapter about how humans view and classify sentience and what is considered “alive”. When we talk about ourselves, especially in evolution, one can seem to get a biased idea that we are the ultimate lifeform on the planet. When that is merely a subjective idea that we handed ourselves. Our depictions of evolutionary lineage shows our chimp cousins slowly changing into humans, as if evolution had some linear goal to achieve human sentience. It has also led to the common idea that chimps will eventually evolve to be like human beings, completely misunderstanding natural selection and the fact there is no epitome of evolution to be reached. This lead to further research into Peter Singers work, where he discusses our moral responsibility of extending rights towards animals. Singer puts forth the idea of animal equality, that human beings and its family members within the entire animal kingdom should be treated as equals. Here is an excerpt from his article “Practical Ethics”:
“The French have already discovered that the blackness of the skin is no reason why a human being should be abandoned without redress to the caprice of a tormentor. It may one day come to be recognized that the number of the legs, the villosity of the skin, or the termination of the os sacrum, are reasons equally insufficient for abandoning a sensitive being to the same fate.” (Singer)
Perhaps if modern society took this idea seriously, our aggressive and cruel forms of animal husbandry would disappear off the face of the earth. There are proponents against this idea, stating that humans have a biological need to feed off of these animal species. This statement is usually an underlying argument for the taste of animal meat itself, as many forms plant life can provide healthy dietary regiment. Through science and technology we’ve been able to find alternative methods of meat farming that aren’t as environmentally damaging and unsustainable, like in-vitro meat. It is growing animal tissue without the need of the animal actually being born. It’s highly expensive but is seen as a human alternative to current slaughtering practices (Future Food). If that’s not appealing, there’s a new burger on the market that actually tastes like meat, but is made of plants and has similar protein amounts thanks to biochemistry professor, Patrick Brown. By extracting the heme protein found in nitrogen fixing plants, is a component of hemoglobin found in blood, which gives meat its flavors (Starr). This is seen as a major breakthrough in society’s movement towards a more sustainable diet as the planet’s population continues to increase and the available resources for conventional animal farming decrease.
Scriber, National Geographic PUBLISHED August 18, 2014, Brad. “100,000 Elephants Killed by Poachers in Just Three Years, Landmark Analysis Finds.” National Geographic. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2014/08/140818-elephants-africa-poaching-cites-census/
Geiling, Natasha. “Obama Proposes Sweeping Ban On U.S. Ivory Sales.” ThinkProgress RSS. July 27, 2015. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2015/07/27/3684704/obama-ivory-trade-restrictions-united-states/.
“8 Endangered Species Still Hunted – Listverse.” Listverse. June 10, 2013. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://listverse.com/2013/06/11/8-endangered-species-still-hunted/.
Challender, Daniel W. S., and Douglas C. MacMillan. 2014. “Poaching is more than an Enforcement Problem”. Conservation Letters. 7 (5): 484-494.
Steelsmith, Laurie. “Acupuncture & Chinese Medicine Basics.” About Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine. What Is Qi? Accessed October 8, 2015. https://www.acufinder.com/Acupuncture Information/Detail/Chinese Herbal Aphrodisiacs
Handwerk, Brian. “Do Aphrodisiacs Really Work?” National Geographic. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2006/02/0214_060214_valentines.html
Cook, A. B. “Animal Worship in the Mycenaean Age.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies: 81. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://www.jstor.org/stable/623962.
“Cultured Meat.” Future Food. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://www.futurefood.org/in-vitro-meat/index_en.php.
Singer, Peter. “Equality for Animals?” Practical Ethics: 48-70. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://www.utilitarian.net/singer/by/1979—-.htm.
Starr, Michelle. “The Veggie Burger That Bleeds like Real Meat – CNET.” CNET. Accessed October 8, 2015. http://www.cnet.com/news/the-veggie-burger-that-bleeds-like-real-meat/.