Posted by lisagbrown on April 30, 2009
According to MSNBC, the Egyptian government has ordered the slaughter of the country’s 300,000 pigs, in order to prevent an outbreak of the swine flu. Many farmers are refusing to carry out the proposed slaughter, at least until the goverment develops a plan of compensation for losing their livelihood.
“We remind Hosni Mubarak that we are all Egyptians. Where does he want us to go?” said Gergis Faris, a 46-year-old pig farmer in another part of Cairo who collects garbage to feed his animals. “We are uneducated people, just living day by day and trying to make a living, and now if our pigs are taken from us without compensation, how are we supposed to live?”
However, the government issued a statement saying that farmers are permitted to sell the meat of the slaughtered animals, so no compensation is necessary. Egypt was among the hardest hit nations during the recent Avian flu pandemic. The country’s extreme reaction to the swine flu is likely a result of lingering memories of the bird flu’s impact.
Posted in Animal Welfare, Animals, Ethics, Food Animals, Public Policy | Leave a Comment »
Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009
My blog entries are inspired by many things: movies, books, news stories, and sometimes, conversations. Recently, someone asked me “how we can know that animals have emotions?” As I began to answer, I was reminded that nearly a year ago I wrote a blog post called Can Animals Think? That post was also inspired by a conversation. On the surface, these two questions — “do animals have emotions” and “can animals think” — are very similar. And on reflection, I realized that at their core each of these queries is rooted in one larger, more philosophical question — how can we prove anything about animals if we can’t ever get inside their heads?
The obstacle of inhabiting the mind of another species is one that has long been a source of both friction and inspiration for animal studies scholars. We may never have the technology to know what is inside the mind of another species, but we seem to forget that we can’t achieve such a feat with other humans either. Yet we rarely cast doubt on the ability of other humans to feel emotions or to think. The only way I know for sure that a person is happy, sad or thoughtful is if they tell me they are, or if I manage to read their behaviors well. And with the absence of language, there is no reason not to similarly interpret some animal behaviors as emotion, as well.
There is a wonderful story about Washoe, one of the first chimps to be taught sign language. The popular event has been recounted many times — One of the women who worked with Washoe had been pregnant and then was absent for a few days. Washoe was upset with the woman for her apparent abandonment, and did her best to ignore and snub the woman upon her return. However, when the woman finally got Washoe’s attention, the woman signed to her, “my baby died.” Washoe, who had lost several babies herself, simply signed the word “cry.”
Rarely has something occurred in human-animal communication that so clearly and evocatively lays to rest the question of whether animals experience emotions. Further still, this example demonstrates Washoe’s ability to empathize — that is, she appears to experience, understand and expect the emotion of her human friend, because Washoe herself had experienced a similar tragedy.
We humans rarely trust her own interpretive skills when it comes to animals, accusing ourselves and each other of anthropomorphism (assigning human qualities to nonhumans), so one reason why this story is so important is because Washoe herself tells us what she is thinking and feeling. We do not have to guess.
There are examples of emotion all around the animal kingdom — mourning in death, laughter in play, fear, jealousy, affection, pride. Some people argue that what we perceive as emotions in animals are merely behavioral manifestations of instinct. But couldn’t we say the same for own behaviors and emotions? If we are to assume that what we perceive as animal emotions are merely instinctual behaviors, then we must turn the lens back upon ourselves. We don’t know to what extent our behaviors are driven by instinct, but that doesn’t make the emotions we feel any less powerful, palpable, or real.
Posted in Animal Behavior, Animals, Human-Animal Studies, Identity, Primates, Theory | 2 Comments »
Posted by lisagbrown on April 19, 2009
Mine: Taken By Katrina, is a new documentary by filmmaker Geralyn Pezanoski, about the effects of hurricane Katrina on human-animal relationships. The film follows a number of individuals who try to reunite with their animals after the natural disaster, and the tragic conflicts between people who have newly adopted the lost animals, and the original families who were separated from them.
Ever since hurricane Katrina occurred, the animal studies community has been teaching about the impact the disaster had on the way Americans think about relationships with companion animals, the intersections between race, class, and human and animal welfare, and also the way the government deals with animals during a natural disaster. This film is a way to bring this message to a broader audience, and has the potential to completely transform the way Americans understand the complicated, essential bonds between humans and animals.
Mine is already receiving attention and accolades, having won the audience award for best documentary at SXSW 2009. The film is showing on Saturday, April 25th and Sunday, April 26th at the Independent Film Festival Boston. (For tickets, go to IFFBoston.) For more information, visit Mine: Taken By Katrina, and watch the incredibly powerful trailer below.
Posted in Animal Behavior, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Cats, Dogs, Ethics, Film, Human-Animal Bond, Human-Animal Studies, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 2 Comments »
Posted by lisagbrown on April 7, 2009
The March/April 2009 issue of Art Ltd. is all about art that comments on environmental issues. While the whole magazine is a wonderful exploration of contemporary eco-art, of particular interest to me was the cover story about mutant animals. These pieces explore the ways that human relationships with animals (wild animals,in particular), can be confused, irresponsible, and at times adversarial. As editor in chief George Melrod says in his article,
Whether examining genetic modification or the commodification of the environment, whether investigating the unintended consequences of technology or the subtle power struggles implicit in interpersonal relationships, we can always set forth animals to make our case for us, calling them to the stand like so many injured furred-or-feathered witnesses for the prosecution. That these creatures don’t always understand their own malformity or plight only makes their tales more arresting, their situation all the more poignant. In some cases, these hybrids seem perfectly at ease with their eccentric anatomy. Often, however, their defects or dislocations do not seem to their benefit; rather these alterations seem detrimental, capricious, parasitic, imposed on them, or just plain wrong. In their disfigurement or displacement, these creatures do not seem like happy travelers on the Darwinian flow chart toward biological adaptation and collective self-betterment; rather they seem to be the result of a more malignant, distinctly unnatural selection.
Read the entire article at Art Ltd. or pick up the issue at your local bookstore.
(Above: Misako Inaoka, Green-pin Bird, 2006)
Posted in Animals, Art, Conservation, Human-Animal Studies, Photography, Representations, Theory | 1 Comment »
Posted by lisagbrown on April 3, 2009
Just over a year ago, I wrote a post about Allison Argo’s Crash: A Tale of Two Species, a film about shorebirds and horseshoe crabs. I’m happy to say that Allison’s unique perspective on animals is back, this time on behalf of frogs. Frogs: The Thin Green Line premieres this Sunday, April 5th, at 8PM on PBS (check your local listings). As Allison explains in this sure-to-be stunning visual feast, dozens of frog species have completely disappeared over the last decade. This film is both her love letter to these strange amphibians, and also a murder mystery. Where have they gone? And what does their disappearance mean for other frogs and other animals … and for us?
Check the PBS website for a remarkable preview of this film.
Posted in Amphibians, Animal Welfare, Animals, Art, Conservation, Ethics, Extinction, Public Policy, Representations, Television | 1 Comment »