Friday, July 6, 2007
Time to apply the Golden Rule to other species
July 5, 2007 : 10:04 AM ET
Best Friends News
What if an elephant believed humans were created to live in a small cubicle for life specifically to entertain all their elephant friends?
What if a pod of dolphins thought it would be fun to trap a couple of kids and forced them to perform tricks for their dolphin families and buddies for the rest of their natural lives?
And what if a couple of chimpanzees decided the couple of humans standing nearby would make great subjects for medical experiments?
That would be wrong, wouldn’t it? So why is it OK for humans to trap elephants, capture dolphins and force them into captivity and deem apes perfect fodder for medical experiments?
According to Dr. Lori Marino, the answer is simple: Because we don’t think of other species as our equals. As a result, we are in danger of looking at the extinction of nearly 16,000 species.
So what’s the solution? That’s simple, too: Think differently.
“We have to step outside ourselves to get a better view of what we’re doing,” she said. “Otherwise, we’re effectively going to continue killing off the planet.”
Lori is a senior lecturer in neuroscience and behavioral biology at Emory University. She teaches animal welfare, brain imaging and comparative neuroanatomy – the study of the similarities and differences between species.
She recently gave a presentation at Best Friends on trans-species psychology, an emerging discipline developed by Lori’s colleague Gay Bradshaw. TSP recognizes that all species undergo the same dynamics, emotional pain and joy, and social experiences most people currently understand as uniquely human.
“We have to change the way we think of other species,” Lori said. “It shouldn’t be, ‘What are they?’ but ‘Who are they?’ The more we connect ourselves, the less likely we are to do them harm.”
Lori focused on cetaceans, elephants and chimpanzees: how their lives would play out naturally and how humans intervene to alter – actually damage – their natural life course. She noted that on a general level we share complexity, individuality and higher order continuity with the other species. We have large complex brains, self-awareness, long childhoods and individual roles to play in society. So do dolphins, whales and elephants. We have the capacity to love, play, help each other, baby-sit each other’s children and learn from our elders. Ditto the dolphins, whales and elephants.
If we’re so similar, who are we, as humans, to decide how they live their lives? How would we respond if we were the ones held in captivity, relocated without reason or poached for entertainment?
“This is where we must begin,” Lori said. “These creatures are our equals. We need to start treating them the way we would treat our fellow human beings, and it all begins with changing the way we think.”
If we thought differently, maybe we wouldn’t engage in drive hunts for dolphins. We wouldn’t force them into shallow waters, throw nets over them, kill some and save some for trainers because we’d know we wouldn’t want that done to us.
“Dolphins are very social creatures. They form families and social groups. They hold fins to express affection the way we hold hands,” Lori said.
She explained that dolphins engage in cultural traditions – activities handed down by elders like strand-feeding and sponge-carrying. How different is that from a mother teaching her child how to use a spoon and fork? Male dolphins get together to engage in synchronized swimming and diving, much in the same way young boys get together to play sports. And if a baby dolphin is taken from his mom too early, he likely won’t survive because he needs her to learn how to be a dolphin. Just like baby boys and girls couldn’t survive without their moms.
If we thought differently, maybe we wouldn’t treat chimpanzees as medical experiments.
“We share over 98 percent of our DNA with chimpanzees; they are our closest living relative,” Lori said.
Just like us, chimpanzees live in groups that sometimes stay together, sometimes break apart. The “head honcho” chimps enjoy being groomed by their peers, the ultimate expression of respect. They like a comfortable bed of leaves to sleep on every night. They fight, wage war and make love.
And then the humans come in, take them from their families and friends, and put them in cages with concrete slabs for our own purposes because we don’t think we’re pulling them from a social fabric, from love, from comfort.
If we thought differently about other species, maybe we’d think twice about moving elephants from one place to another. And this point is particularly interesting because we often move them because we think it’s in their best interest, in the interest of conservation.
“My colleagues have shown that male elephants look to older males to learn how to be successful adult males in their society,” Lori said. “Without an adult male around, the younger elephants experience abnormal development and hyper-aggression.”
If an adult male is relocated and leaves young males behind, there’s no way for the youngsters to learn how to behave. The orphans form gangs and grow into angry, aggressive and dangerous adults. Much like young boys who don’t have a father figure to look up to.
Lori then quoted some frightening statistics. Last year, the Chinese River Dolphin became extinct due to human activities in its habitat. Currently, there are nearly 16,000 species of plants and animals running a very high risk of extinction. In the 1900s, 10 million elephants roamed the plains of Africa. Now there are less than 500,000. The worldwide population of all the remaining great apes (chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas and orangutans) could fit into a football stadium. And a great deal of this decline can be directly traced to the behavior of humans.
So where do we begin to change this ominous trend?
“Let’s start with the children,” Lori said. “Let’s teach them to understand our place in the universe is the same place as all living creatures. Let’s teach them not to make the mistakes we made.
“And it’s not too late for us. We need to make the changes within ourselves. There’s no time like the present.”
More information may be found at the following websites:
International Association for Animal Trauma and Recovery http://iaatr.org/
Kerulos Centre for Animal Psychology and Trauma Recovery http://www.kerulos.org/
Act For Dolphins – Stop the Dolphin Slaughter in Japan http://green-alien.com/ACT/
Project R&R-Release and Restitution for Chimpanzees in U.S. Laboratories http://www.releasechimps.org/
Written by Amy Abern
Posted by Nathan Nobis at Friday, July 06, 2007