Updated: May 29, 2022
“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creatures through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren; they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth” – Henry Beston, The Outermost House (heard in Earthlings)
This topic is the reason veganism cannot be classified as a diet, but rather a lifestyle or ideology. And it sounds pretty hard, I admit – you shouldn’t wear expensive leather, or take your children to the Melbourne Zoo or get drunk at the Melbourne Cup, or run with the bulls if you’re lucky enough to visit Spain. But once you understand the animal cruelty associated with these acts, the choice not to becomes simple and uncompromised.
Animals as Clothing
Leather can be made from the skin of farm animals such as cows, pigs, goats, and sheep, whereas suede, commonly referred to as “inside out” leather is almost solely derived from cows hide and is particularly difficult to avoid. Many a time I’ve looked up a style of shoe and think I’ve got a cruelty free product, only to find a suede foot bed. Exotic animals such as crocodiles and kangaroos, or even dogs and cats, who are often slaughtered for their meat and skin in China and then exported around the world.
Because leather is normally not labelled, you never really know which type of animal, or from which country it came from. Most leather comes from developing countries such as India and China, where animal welfare laws are either non-existent or not enforced. In India, workers had been known to break cows’ tails and rub chili peppers and tobacco into their eyes in order to force them to get up after collapsing from exhaustion and continue to walk great distances to the slaughterhouse. Buying leather directly contributes to factory farms and slaughterhouses because skin is the most economically important co-product of the meat industry. Leather is environmentally un-friendly; on top of the environmental cost the animals life incurs in the production of any meat product, in the production of leather there is also the pollution caused by the toxins used in tanning the product (a form of preserving the skin to stop it decomposing). In my experience, purchasing synthetic leather and vinyl is cheaper and lasts longer.
People ask me why wool isn’t vegan, as sheep need to be shorn, don’t they?
Well, firstly if sheep were left alone and not genetically manipulated, they would grow just enough wool to protect themselves from temperature extremes. Their fleece provides them with effective insulation against both cold and heat. In Australia, where more than 50% of the world’s merino wool originates, wool is big business. An ever-present risk to the welfare of wool-producing sheep in Australia is the prevalence of farms without adequate shade or shelter. As many as 15 million lambs also die from exposure every year, most within their first 48 hours of life.
Shearing is stressful for sheep as they are ‘prey animals’, fearful of human handling. Annual shearing subjects them to noise, forceful and often rough handling, separation from the flock, and cuts from the sharp shearing blades regularly occur. Shearing during the winter months is common, and particularly in southern Australia newly shorn sheep will suffer and some will die during cold, wet and windy weather. So the question is, will you take off a sheep’s jumper so you can wear it instead? Even though there are other materials you could wear to keep warm in winter?
Shearers are usually paid by volume, not by the hour, which encourages fast work without any regard for the welfare of the sheep. Careless shearing leads to frequent injuries and workers use a needle and thread to sew the worst wounds shut, as always, without any pain relief. Strips of skin and even teats, tails, and ears are often cut or ripped off during shearing, as represented in the viral campaign by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). The campaign features I Killed the Prom Queen guitarist Jona Weinhofen holding a lamb covered in blood and open wounds. There is also evidence of similar abuses to those seen in slaughterhouses – animal rights investigations of more than 30 shearing sheds in the America and Australia uncovered shearers punching, kicking, and stomping on sheep and other heinous acts that defy belief. I've found cotton “knit” cardigans made by a local clothing company! Woollen alternatives are available to those who seek them.
Down is the layer of soft and tiny feathers closest to a bird’s body. For ducks, geese and other birds, it keeps them warm during winter months. Most down sold in products in Australia comes from China, a country with little regard for animal welfare. Down is most often ‘harvested’ through a process called ‘live-plucking’: struggling geese and ducks as young as 10 weeks old are held down, potentially having a wing or leg broken in the process, and then have their feathers ripped out by the roots. Their delicate skin is often torn during this violent de-feathering. This ‘harvest’ can occur up to six times a year, leaving the bird’s chest red and raw, until the traumatised birds are fattened up and sent for slaughter. I wrote about my down-alternative quilt made of cotton and polyester, purchased from Harris-Scarfe, in a previous post. I had bought a Kathmandu goose down jacket to travel in a European winter prior to going vegan. Today I gave it to my mum as I don’t want to be seen promoting this unethical fashion by wearing it.
There are various animals used in the fur industry. Mink, foxes and rabbits (particularly fluffy Angora rabbits) are the most frequently bred, but also squirrels, badgers, wallabies, possums among others. Eighty-five percent of the fur industry’s skins come from animals raised in ‘battery’ cages, as heinous as battery hen cages. The fur industry also employs wildlife traps to catch millions of wild animals. Traps, including steel-jaw leg hold traps and body-gripping traps are devices that inflict great and prolonged pain.
“Fur is worn by beautiful animals and ugly people” – Anonymous
Animals as Entertainment
I remember when I was younger, my first experience of animals as entertainment – a rodeo. My ex-stepfather took us to our first rodeo and verbally abused the animal rights protesters out the front of the venue, which says all you need to know about him as a person… Before entering the ring for their event, such as the calf roping, bareback horse and bull riding, steer wrestling and roping or barrel racing, cows and horses are often prodded with a electrical prods, spurs (from the riders boots), and bucking straps, so that the pain will rile them. Watching this was a horrible experience – I did not identify the cowboy as a brave man and pitied the animals. Even as a ten year old, the concept of a rodeo – where grown up men beat up animals – was pretty strange.
This year has been the year of greyhound. In the face of insurmountable evidence that the greyhound industry is cruel, exposed by fantastic journalism within the Four Corners report Making a Killing aired on ABC last year; the Premier of NSW, Mick Baird, said he was going to shut the industry down. Until he went back on this last month after, one can only assume, after receiving a payoff.
Tomorrow is the Melbourne Cup. Most people celebrate this public holiday with alcohol, expensive clothing and gambling. There’s not much consideration of whether these horses actually want to race in “the race that stops the nation”. Racing as a two-year-old puts the horse at particular risk of injury because at this age the skeletal system of these animals is still immature and not ready for the hard training and physical stress of the racing world. Regardless, the lure of the very high stakes for the two-year-old races mean many owners push trainers to have their expensive animals compete.
In 2014, Admire Rakti collapsed shortly after the race, dying from a heart attack and Araldo suffered a shattered leg and was put down. The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses claims since the Melbourne Cup fatalities in 2014 to 2015 at least 115 horses have died on Australian racetracks. Remember what happened last year? Red Cadeaux did not finish, suffering a suspected fracture in the left fetlock, a joint above the hoof similar to an ankle in humans. Red Cadeaux was euthanised weeks after receiving surgery, due to complications from the injury. The race last year was on at my partner’s house – I remember the screens going up as the two horses that ended up dying were shielded from the camera and crowd, covering the brutal reality of the sport. When a horse breaks a leg or shoulder the bones may shatter into many pieces, making it impossible for a vet to repair the bone. Even when recovery is possible, it is unlikely the horse will be able to race again. Therefore, race horses rarely retire but are instead discarded as “wastage”. Studies have shown almost 40% of racehorses leave the industry each year in Australia due to poor performance, illness or injury or behavioural problems. I wonder how many more will die in the race tomorrow and in the days, weeks and months that follow…
Horse Drawn Carts
Horse-drawn vehicles are supported by the City of Melbourne and operate within the CBD and surrounds. However, this industry has been banned in several cities around the world and is about to be prohibited in New York. The horses are permitted to work in temperatures of up to 37 degrees (there is no minimum temperature), for up to 12 hours a day 3 days a week; 7 hours days 5 days a week or every day of the week for 5 hours a day, with a 20 minute rest required every two hours. However, like all industries involving the use of animals, the horses’ welfare is frequently compromised in the pursuit of profit.
Hunting and Fishing
Recreational game hunting and fishing is inherently cruel as there is an extensive period of suffering. We know that game animals (and their offspring) once shot can escape and suffer a slow death in the wild. Wild fish can take up to 15 minutes to die out of water.
Exotic animals in circuses are routinely subjected to months on the road confined in small, barren cages. These animals are forced to live in enclosures denying them opportunity to express their natural behaviour and their training is often based on fear and punishment. As circuses play no meaningful role in education or conservation, the lifelong suffering of these animals continues only for the sake of a few minutes of entertainment. Living conditions in circuses cause severe stress and frustration to non-domesticated animals, leading to abnormal behaviour such as pacing by big cats, head bobbing by elephants or mouthing cage bars. These behaviours are scientifically acknowledged as indicators of an impaired welfare due to the inability to cope with unsuitable living conditions. Exotic animals are not part of the “traditional” circus. If you wish to attend a circuses that don’t fund and spectate animal cruelty, you can visit non-animal circuses when they come to a town near you; Cirque du Soleil, Circus Oz, The Flying Fruit Fly Circus and Zirka Circus.
Zoos and Aquariums
“The only creature on earth whose natural habitat is a zoo is the zookeeper” – Robert Brault
Whilst some zoos may contribute in small ways to conservation projects, the vast majority of animal species in zoos are not on the endangered list, and the ones who are will likely never be rehabilitated to their natural habitat. Zoos exist for profit. Hence, when there are surplus animals for an enclosure, animals are routinely killed. The incident with 17 year old gorilla Harambe being shot dead at Cincinnati Zoo when a four year old boy climbed into the enclosure earlier this year symbolises a zoo keeper’s willingness to kill animals in captivity. Animals in zoos and aquariums across the globe have been documented displaying signs of anxiety and depression, and are often medicated for such conditions. In fact, psychological distress in zoo animals is so common that it has its own name: zoochosis. Zoochosis can include rocking, swaying, excessively pacing back and forth, circling, twisting of the neck, self-mutilation, excessive grooming, biting, vomiting and copraphagia (consuming excrement).
The documentary Blackfish showed the traumatic experience of captive orcas at marine parks including Sea World in America, especially those taken from their families in the wild and forced to perform for the ‘entertainment’ of crowds. Blackfish shares the story of Tilikum, who was captured as a baby in the waters off the coast of Iceland and has been implicated in the tragic deaths of several human ‘trainers’ in the three decades since, understood by zoochosis.
In Australia there are no orcas in aquariums or marine parks but there are sharks and dolphins for which the same stereotyped behaviour has been seen. On the sub-tropical Gold Coast, Sea World Australia displays several captive polar bears, who are adapted for freezing Arctic conditions. Facilities like Sea World Australia often attempt to use ‘environmental enrichment’ to prevent boredom and the potential negative psychological effects of captivity on polar bears. However, experts note that this can never be sufficient for their needs, which includes traveling great distances.
Bullfighting, Elephant Riding and Tiger hugging etc on Holiday
It is just as important to boycott zoos and marine parks overseas as it is to do so in Australia. Animals Australia also suggest the following practices to travel kindly:
Ride bikes, not elephants; Elephants undergo cruel training practices, involving long working hours, confinement, chains and stress. I’m saddened to confess I have ridden an elephant in Nepal – it was not a pleasant experience, seeing the scars behind the creature’s ears and hearing the sound of the pic-axe hitting its skin, feeling empathically its sadness being chained to a pole.
Don’t pay for photos with wild animals; baby tigers and monkeys aren’t born to perform or to pose for photos. They are often taken from their mothers in the wild and can be chained up when not ‘working’, have their teeth removed, are often drugged and trained cruelly to make them compliant. I’ve seen tourists in Thailand getting photos with monkeys in nappies and chameleons on leashes.
Memories (not animal parts) make the best souvenirs; ivory, fur, turtle shell products, or animal skins and pelts are not only difficult to get through border protection but are the produce of suffering and death.
Celebrate culture – not cruelty; cock fighting, dog fighting, bull fighting and rodeos have all been defended as being ‘culturally important’ but these forms of ‘entertainment’ can cause extreme stress, pain, and even death to animals.
Animal Cruelty in the Name of Science
I thought that animal cruelty in the name of science, like that shown on Earthlings was mainly occurring in America. However, the practice of using live animals to teach surgical skills is being replaced by alternative technologies in America but continues to occur in Australia. Australian government figures show that more than six million animals including baboons, dogs, cats and native mammals are being used every year in Australia for medical research, experiments and surgical skills training. The 2013 figures revealed the biggest number of animals used was mice, with more than a million subjected to tests and experiments, while 6000 dogs and 1500 cats were also used. Victoria was the second biggest user of animals in experiments and surgery training, using 1,084,507 animals. New South Wales used a total of 2,699,532 animals. Helen Marston, chief executive of Humane Research Australia, said Australia was ranked the fourth highest user of animals for experiments in the world, behind China, Japan and the US. She said this was because governments overseas were offering incentives to research institutions that used technology as opposed to live animals for research.
In April 2016, Alexandra Sedgwick made a video about animal use at Deakin University in Geelong where she studied (where I too studied). She had a meeting the morning of Friday 29th July with the Dean of Science to ask Deakin University to end the cruelty but he did not attend. Alexandra has started a campaign called Cruelty Free Labs Australia, you can support her incredible work by following on Facebook.
Thanks for reading,
References and Resources
Animals used as clothing: http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-used-for-clothing/
Greyhound racing: http://animalsaustralia.org/issues/greyhound-racing.php
Making a Killing four corners greyhound racing report: http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/stories/2015/02/16/4178920.htm
Horse Racing: http://animalsaustralia.org/issues/horse_racing.php
Melbourne Cup 2015: The deadly moment a nation has forgotten: http://www.smh.com.au/sport/melbourne-cup-2015-horses-for-courses-as-spring-racing-carnival-in-full-flight-20151030-gkmul9.html
The Coalition for the Protection of Racehorses Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/coalitionfortheprotectionofracehorses/?fref=ts
Boycott Melbourne Horse Drawn Carts: https://www.facebook.com/MelbourneAgainstHorseDrawnCarriages/
Calls to Stop Anima Testing at University: http://www.theage.com.au/victoria/calls-to-stop-animal-testing-at-university-20160728-gqfwux.html
Support Alexandra Sedgwick’s amazing initiative – Cruelty Free Labs: https://www.facebook.com/CRUELTYFREELABS/?pnref=lhc