Animal rights linked to human rights

31Jul 2016
Mboneko Munyaga
Guardian On Sunday
Justice Africa
Animal rights linked to human rights

THE recent shooting to death of a lowland gorilla at a Cincinnati zoo in the US, apparently in efforts to save the life of a four-year-old child who fell into its moat,

helped to cast into global limelight the plight of animals held captive in enclosures and other containment for business, pleasure and entertainment of human beings.

The gorilla was killed because zookeepers felt the life of the child was in imminent danger and the cardinal principle is that human life takes precedence over animal life.

Secondly, one should never take liberty with game because animals often react quite differently from human expectations. Even the world’s acclaimed authority on primates, Dr Jane Goodall weighed in on the case, saying the zoo had no choice but to kill Harambe, the gorilla.

Dr Goodall though, appeared to change her stance after expressing tough words earlier against the zoo. Granted, animals are killed for pleasure and slaughtered daily for food by the millions around the world.

So, why should the shooting death of only one ape become such a big issue? Every case has its turning point and the killing of Harambe has served to highlight the morality of keeping wild animals captive in environments other than their natural habitats.

Dr Goodall would not have been the authority that she is on primates if she had studied the big apes in zoos. Instead, she sacrificed her life as a very young girl to live among the gorillas of western Tanzania and emerged indeed, as a friend, benefactor and accepted “family” member of the apes, which have a fairly complex social life, on a level and scale that no human being in contemporary memory has enjoyed.

Wild animals and plants should belong to their natural habitat. They too have rights, which are transient on them by nature that should be guaranteed and protected.

The fact that wildlife cannot enter into a social contract (to deserve the universally accepted principle for contractual obligation to protect their rights as opposed to merely protecting their lives) is precisely the reason human beings have a duty and responsibility to guarantee protection of their rights.

The primary wildlife right is to let them enjoy life to the fullest in their natural habitat. To remove them from their environment is gross violation of their rights. It condemns them to a life of perpetual torture for which human beings should be ashamed.

Most tortured animals appear to be from Africa. They include lions, zebras and giraffes. Others are elephants and rhinos, which are highly endangered even in the continent.

There’s a very big likelihood that Harambe was originally from East or Central Africa, which makes the plight of the animals in captivity, away from their natural habitat, in a way not very different from the fate that Africa suffered, first with the global slave trade and later, colonisation.

There are hardly any kangaroos in western zoos because Australia protects the rights of its marsupials perhaps more than it does for some human beings.

I think it is time for Africa to stop the exportation of its wildlife, including for medical research. Whoever wants to do so should do it in Africa under strict regulatory laws or find alternatives to primate experiments.

It is a political issue for which Africa needs to coordinate policy and the requite legislation to appreciate the fact that the suffering of its animals and other wildlife in western zoos and any other forms of captivity, cannot be divorced from the fight for broader rights in the continent for its people and all other forms of life found there.

It is also a question of using the continent’s wealth and heritage judiciously for the benefit of future generations as well. Lions once roamed freely on the plains of Europe and America but they are now largely extinct. It is a fate that could befall Africa too if the continent fails to take appropriate steps to protect the rights of its wildlife.

It is worth noting too that human rights are intricately linked to wildlife rights. Failure to protect the rights of Africa’s animals, plants, fish and insects, is the same as saying human rights too can be compromised without much ado, a trend that the continent now vehemently rejects.

That fight for the protection of human rights should be scaled up to include the protection of the rights of Africa’s wildlife.