Animal Rights and Wrongs

Matilda is the hen who laid an egg four times the size of a normal one. Together with the weird case of chickens running loose in Regional Road, Marsa, as well as that of Lima, the runaway circus zebra chased by a posse of police cars for forty minutes in Atlanta, these are stories that raise a smile.

Not so the “cat”alogue of other animal stories that have hit the headlines during he past couple of weeks.

First we had Beppe Bigazzi suggesting that, as he had done in his youth, we sample cat stew, since the meat is succulent, white and tender. Then we had the disturbing e-mail that did the rounds, showing two Milanese, stiletto-heeled women torture a dig (I could only watch 5 seconds into it, until I realised what was happening). Later came the news that Dawn Brancheau had been dragged into the Shamu Stadium exhibition pool by Tilikum, the killer whale. He had already been noted as acting out of character, and was apparently perturbed when her long ponytail swished against his face.

This morning, Lilian Maistre had a veritable deluge of calls when one of her guests spoke about “garden pests” and how to be rid of them “correctly and sensitively”, whatever that implies.

In each case, and not only in the latter one, there were people who think that their point of view is the only correct one. And interestingly enough, it is not only the “tree hugger” brigade that put in its two cents’ worth.

It is a well-known fact that some people will eat anything. Calling frogs and snails grenouilles et escargots does not make them any more attractive to me. Horsemeat is considered a delicacy in some eateries – and given the national predilection for rabbits, we may as well call ourselves bunny boilers, albeit not because of the usual reasons.

Limpets, sea urchins, snakes, crabs, termites, lobsters, wild boars, kangaroos, ants, emus, crocodiles, dogs, cavies, pigeons, oysters, and octopuses, although considered “unclean” in Judaism, are considered finger-licking good by some.

However, what irritates me is that some people who do eat other living creatures think they can – because of their own moral (not religious), nutritional, ethical, or “cuteness” standards, dictate what others may eat, or not.

Take the furore that obtained over the Bigazzi incident, for instance. It so happens that a law passed in Italy in 1991 made eating cat-meat a crime punishable by up to 18 months in prison. Francesca Martini, the Italian Under-Secretary for Health Affairs, happens to be an animal rights activist. So she came out, guns blazing, saying that Bigazzi’s comments were “…offensive to the growing number of people who care about the way we treat animals.

Moreover,” she added, “it was ‘shameful’ for an employee of the state broadcaster to recommend such a ‘despicable’ notion”.

However, Ms Martini did not think to mention that it is not that something is illegal which makes it “not nice”, just as it is not because something is legal which makes it acceptable. Are not sheep and rabbits as cute as cats, if not more so? In countries where venison is “just another item” on the bill of fare, no one thinks of mentioning Bambi and Rudolph. Duck à l’orange is not usually called Jemima on the restaurant menu, is it?

So what is it, exactly, that makes eating milk-fed veal and live sea-urchins just fine, but the mere mention of cat-stew intolerable?

After Ms Brancheau was killed, some hacks did their best to dig up news items where people had been killed in similar incidents by elephants, bears, tigers, and other animals, supposedly trained to be docile. What they failed to realise, again, was that the animals they mentioned had one thing in common. They were captive wild animals who ought never to have been captured and used as amusing playthings for the paying public.

The least said about the sadistic women whose empty lives led them to such depraved depths of unspeakable cruelty, the better. What they did is far, far worse that slaughtering an animal for food – although this, as we know, is not always done humanely.

A number of the barrage of calls to Radju Malta this morning came from people who say they have the dignity of animals at heart. That is why they complained about slugs and snails being trapped by saucers of stout beer and then “disposed of”. That is why some of them said they do not eat meat yet, interestingly, not one of them cited wastage of resources for this.

Their arguments, as vegetarians, also slalomed around an important issue.

People who have pocket-handkerchief gardens know that there are biological ways to control slugs, aphids and whitefly. But how many farmers would be ready to breed ladybirds or boil elder leaves on a commercial scale? So the probability is that on the way to “saving animals” and “being green”, the lettuce and tomatoes and potatoes and carrots eaten today have cost the lives of thousands of vermin.

Are the lives of these worth any less than those of Tom and Tabby, Skippy and Kermit?


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