Animal Emotions

Do animals think and feel?

Animal protection and conservation in Asia: Animal emotions matter

A wide variety of animals are saved by amazing people throughout Asia

Last week I had the distinct pleasure of attending the Asia for Animals meeting held in Chengdu, China. Organized by Jill Robinson MBE, founder and executive director of Animals Asia, and a team of tireless workers, this meeting was an awesome and humbling experience for me and all of the other people who attended, representing 25 countries. The diversity of topics covered in lectures and in workshops showed clearly that animals in Asia are lucky to have numerous people who are concerned with their well-being. These saviors work selflessly, often in very dangerous situations, to protect the animals in whom they're interested.

The general theme of the meeting was that we need to think and act 'out of the box' to bring animal cruelty to an end. We need to concentrate on the welfare of individuals, expand the ways in which we work on behalf of other animals, and move out of our personal and professional comfort zones in order to deal with the innumerable welfare and conservation problems that are encountered. We must also work as a unified community to overcome the resistance by various stakeholders who don't care much about other animals, including national and local governments. Of course, in many poor countries for example, the situation is extremely challenging and complex because the lives of local people are directly and severely affected by the animals with whom they try to share space. This theme was also prevalent at the meeting. Simply put, we need to work for animals and for people.

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Previously I've written about my own experiences with the animals who live at the Moon Bear Rescue Centre. I focused on Jasper, an Asiatic black bear, or moon bear, who, after 15 years of being tortured on a bear farm for his bile, having been kept in a crush cage in which he could only move his head and neck for food and water with a catheter inserted in his gall bladder, has recovered and become an ambassador of forgiveness, generosity, peace, trust, and hope. When I saw Jasper last week he was sitting in water and playfully splashing it with his hind feet, lookng regal and happy, without a care in the world. He then got up and ambled over to where Jill and I were standing. I also wrote about five dogs who I helped move from the Qiming Animal Rescue Centre outside of Chengdu to the Moon Bear Rescue Centre and learned that 3 years later some are still thriving. 

Jasper was kept in a tiny 'crush cage' for 15 years.

It is essential for people living outside of Asia to know about the incredible people who work tirelessly for animals in regions of the world where animal suffering is rampant and where financial support for this work is severely lacking. Government corruption also is a problem in many regions. These wonderful people and the animals with whom they work are, indeed, the sorts of ambassadors we need as we move on to a future where rapidly increasing human populations and inexcusable over-consumption trump interests in animal well being and decimate their habitats. We wantonly 'redecorate nature' (see also) with little or on concern for the animals we're making homeless. Also consider, for example, the messages of the award-winning movie Avatar. We can't continue to ignore nature and expect any progress on the daunting problems with which we're faced. The planet is severely wounded and in dire need of healing. It's shouldn't be only about us but it usually is. 

Jasper now, relaxing on his hammock

In my previous essay I concluded 'There is no doubt that these dogs and the moon bears are incredibly lucky for having the attention of all the fine people at the rescue centre. The animals who I met and the people who help them selflessly are amazing beings. We can all be inspired by them and know that we must always keep our hopes and dreams alive. The good, the bad, the ugly, and our commitment to help those in need make us better humans. Compassion begets compassion. Through pain comes hope.'

We need to expand our compassion footprint (see also) and as move on. Compassionate conservation ( see also and) is no longer an oxymoron and lucky for the animals, there are people working hard to make their lives better who give us hope and inspiration so that the world our children inherit will be the best possible in a world that truly is not the best of all possible worlds because of our past activities. We must to re-wild our hearts and build corridors of compassion and co-existence that include all beings. We’re not the only show in town. We need to treat animals better or leave them alone. That is their manifesto

What animals feel matters to them as it must to us. We are responsible for who lives and who dies and we must take this responsibility seriously. We can do anything we want but this power does not mean license to ruin a spectacularly beautiful planet, its wondrous webs of nature, and its magnificent nonhuman residents. Those of us who can do something must do something now, not when it's 'more convenient'. Time is not on our side.

Photo of Jasper courtesy of Animals Asia. 

Marc Bekoff, Ph.D., is Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder.

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