The Use of Animals in Entertainment; Animal Fighting, Rodeos, Circuses, “Sports”, Wildlife/Hunting
Outside of the meat and dairy industries, nowhere are the direct abuses, exploitation, and killing of non-humans more overt than in animal fighting. The cruelty on display has been specifically cultivated by the participants for increased violence and profit. Animals are bred, abused, starved, and mistreated so as to produce heightened levels of aggression and pathology.
Defenders of animal fighting often argue from either a cultural relativist position or from a property rights position. Both positions reproduce anthropocentric frameworks and institutions. By arguing that all human cultural values are equal the cultural relativists risk sacrificing the ability to make normative claims and distinctions when it comes to issues of justice or exploitation in other areas, such as race, class, and gender. Arguments from a property rights perspective reproduce and serve the interests of capitalism while ensuring that the status of non-humans as commodities remains unchallenged.
Types of Fighting;, Dog Fighting, Cock Fighting, Bull Fighting, Dog-Hog Fighting
In dog fighting two dogs are placed into a ring or makeshift pit and are made to fight until one of them is either unconscious or dead. “Dogs used in these events,” writes the Humane Society, “often die of blood loss, shock, dehydration, exhaustion, or infection hours or even days after the fight.” Pitt Bull Terriers have been the breed primarily associated with the blood sport and an unfortunate side-effect has been the criminalization of the breed itself. The stigma falsely attached to Pitt Bull Terriers has led to breed specific laws which unfairly target innocent animals. It is a felony in all 50 states and possession of dogs for fighting a felony in 47. Despite its illegality and despite the disgust it invokes in the general public, dog fighting continues to be an underground form of “entertainment” and criminal profit.
The recent controversy surrounding NFL quarterback Michael Vick’s interstate dog fighting ring has brought the existence of dog fighting to public attention. We can learn a lot from it. The range of reactions to this case served to highlight the racism which still pervades US discourse. For instance, the conservative columnist Tucker Carlson had called for Vick’s execution at a time when the police officer who murdered Oscar Grant was let off with involuntary manslaughter. The MSNBC news host, Cenk Uygur, highlighted the hypocrisy in Carlson’s demand, in that it failed to question the ethical status of Caribou which Sarah Palin killed on national television. Clearly, the conservative outrage was not over animal rights, but over racial and cultural stereotypes with a prejudice in favor of domesticated and companion animals over wildlife. In the aftermath of the Vick and Grant cases, Melissa Harris-Perry, Associate Professor of Politics and African-American Studies at Princeton, discussed the legacy of racism in the United States and the intersections with animal rights:
Recall that North American slavery of the 17th and 18th century is distinguished by its “chattel” element. New World slavery did not consider enslaved Africans to be conquered persons, but to be chattel, beast of burden, fully subhuman and therefore not requiring the basic rights of humans. By defining slaves as animals and then abusing them horribly the American slave system degraded both black people and animals. By equating black people to animals it both asserted the superiority of humans to animals, arrayed some humans (black people) as closer to animals and therefore less human, and implied that all subjugated persons and all animals could be used and abused at the will of those who were more powerful. The effects were pernicious for both black people and for animals. (The Nation)
As it stands, this commodity status of non-humans is still one of the main justifications for their exploitation at the hands of their owners. This is what allows Clinton Portis from the Washington Redskins [sic] to argue that, “it’s his property; it’s his dog…If that’s what he wants to do, do it. People should mind their own business.” The treatment of animals as commodities denies and deprives them of their right to live healthy and happy lives. On one level, it is easy to oppose dog fighting. It is harder to locate and stand in opposition to the social, cultural, and economic systems and prejudices which reduce all non-humans—and, as we have seen, even humans—to the level of disposable objects.
In cockfighting two roosters are placed in a ring and made to fight until one cannot continue. According to the ASPCA, “the roosters often wear knives or artificial gaffs—long, sharp, dagger-like attachments—that transform their natural spurs into knives for maximum injury.” These injuries can include punctured lungs and lacerated eyes; the violence is so severe that the losing rooster often dies as a result. While cockfighting has a history dating back thousands of years, today it is part of an underground economy in the United States. Human captors breed, abuse, and traumatize roosters so as to heighten levels of aggression and pathology; they then place wagers on their lives in the hopes of making money. Cockfighting is currently illegal in all 50 US states and a felony in 39 (Humane Society). Internationally, however, cockfighting continues to be legal in many countries with varying degrees of public opposition. Because chickens fall under the category of food rather than companion, their abuse in these situations is often taken less seriously than in dog fighting.
In US popular culture cockfighting is often treated as a joke and used in conjunction with derogatory images of non-white, low income communities. What is seen as a barbaric practice thus becomes linked with racializing narratives of often exploited communities. The most recent example of this was the second season of the HBO series, Eastbound & Down, in which the main character, Kenny Powers, “transcends race” by getting cornrows and becoming a professional cock fighter. We may laugh at his failures, but the show plays to ethnic and national stereotypes of animal abuse in order to get those laughs. As one Huffington Post columnist put it, “it’s funny on a TV show because it is depraved… calm down.” How does this depravity translate the cultural status of Mexicans for US audiences? If we oppose animal abuse, we have to be socially conscious enough to realize that those who tacitly agree with certain positions might use those positions to unwittingly further class-based, ethnic stereotypes.
In Spring of 2011, South Carolina passed a law making cockfighting a felony; at the same time they tabled a bill that would make domestic violence a felony. This erupted in a controversy that highlighted the contradictory attitudes toward animal cruelty and criminal domestic violence. The state of Oregon just passed legislation which would allow the victims of domestic violence to file restraining orders to include pets. The Humane society points out that, “violent abusers often target their victim’s animals as a means of maintaining control over their victim;” because of this, “many victims of domestic violence stay in abusive relationships out of fear for their animals’ safety.” Legal battles such as these demonstrate how ending animal cruelty and other matters of social justice cannot be separated.
The name of this blood sport is somewhat misleading. The animal rights group SHARK, is not far off when they claim that, “bullfighting is not a fight at all. It’s a systematic torture killing that pits a gang of armed thugs against a lone, frightened, and wounded animal.” It is a spectacle in which a bull is sacrificed in a celebration of human mastery and control over nature. Over 250,000 bulls are killed each year in these events. This body count does not recognize the horses that are injured and killed.
What happens in a bullfight? The bull is isolated in a dark stall in order to induce a state of confusion. This may last for days and involves “prepping” using various techniques of painful sensory manipulation. When finally released into the ring, picadors on a horse will stab and tear the flesh of his neck, shoulders, and back with spears and hooks. The goal is to cause so much blood loss, pain, and exhaustion that the bull will be weakened and unable to defend himself. Once the bull has been sufficiently weakened, the matador descends with other toreros to confuse the injured animal by using capes and luring him around the ring in order to stab flags into his back. It is in this portion of the “fight” where the matador gets to express his style, putting on a flashy performance which flirts with danger but ultimately re-establishes the image of human mastery. Finally, the bull is so confused, tired, and in so much pain that he fails to dodge the blow of the matador’s sword. Matadors regularly miss stabbing the bull in the heart and hit the lungs. Most bulls die coughing; with blood spurting out their mouths and noses, the matador stabs them in the neck. The dead bull is then drug out of the ring to the sound of people cheering.
While the “performance art” of bullfighting is still practiced in Spain, France, Portugal, Mexico, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Peru, it is waning as a cultural event. Many cities in Spain itself have moved to outlaw it, and Latin American countries such as Argentina and Cuba rejected it as a legacy of Spanish colonization in their struggle for independence. In May of 2011 Ecuador voted overwhelmingly in favor of banning bullfighting. The indigenous majority of the population still views the blood sport as a European tradition enjoyed by privileged cultural elite.
In dog-hog fighting, or “hog baiting,” hunting dogs are placed in rings with captured and de-tusked wild pigs. The stated purpose of these events is to train, simulate, and showcase the skills which dogs need to hunt boars. In a typical match a dog chases a scared and already injured pig around a ring. The goal is to bite the pig on the face, around the neck, or by the ear in order to incapacitate it. The animals are then broken up and another dog is brought in to repeat the process. The pigs often suffer lost eyes, lost ears, and life-ending infections. Despite the claims of supporters that the practice is necessary to train hunting dogs, it is routinely organized as a form of family entertainment. As HSUS director, Ann Chynoweth, put it “it’s just another form of staged animal fighting that belongs in the same category as dogfighting and cockfighting, both of which are illegal in most of these states.”
A news story which aired undercover footage of the fights helped expose this cruel form of entertainment to a wider public. It led to raids, which included one of one of the largest hog-dog fighting promoters in the country, as well as to subsequent passing of legislation throughout the southeastern United States outlawing the practice as a blood sport. While the ethical questions surrounding boar hunting and the use of dogs to hunt boars are rarely, if ever, raised in these discussions, there is a shared basis of opposition and a recognition that the practice of siccing dogs on captive pigs for human entertainment constitutes an act of cruelty with no tangible benefit to humans or animals.
Aside from bullfighting, in which the goal is to murder the bull every time, nowhere is the spectacle of violence against animals more celebrated than in the rodeo. Those who defend rodeos argue that they exist to showcase skills which are necessary on a cattle ranch. All one has to do is watch a video or read an account of a rodeo in order to see that no one, even those ostensibly charged with “caring” for cows and horses as commodities for the market, would rationally treat them this way. Unfortunately, the animal agriculture industry is not rational. Or, perhaps, a better way to put it is that it is hyper-rational—it operates according to a logic of commodification and abstract value applied to flesh through a relationship of instrumentality—and what it lacks is a humane form of reason based on recognition and the shared ability to suffer.
In the animal agriculture industry, animals are mistreated and abused all the way to the slaughterhouse, and the rodeo is one expression of the inner logic of domination at the heart of the industrial economy. In rodeos young calves are strangled with ropes, chased, and terrorized before being yanked violently to the ground. Young male horses have their legs pulled out from under them while running at full speed. Bulls and horses are made to appear dangerous, wild, and full of blind rage; in reality they are in incredible amounts of pain. All of this is arranged so that human captors can appear heroic. The simulated rebellion of the animal is repeated in a ritual designed to ensure the image of successful human control over nature. It desensitizes audiences to images of violent capture, and it ultimately works to normalize relationships based on coercion and brute force.
“There’s no way that you can create a humane rodeo,” remarks Dr. Peggy Larson in the Hard Copy 1996 investigative report on abuses and public relations lies by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA); “as a veterinarian, having participated in rodeo, and having cared for rodeo animals, I feel that rodeo is an organized and systematic abuse of animals that’s being merchandized as family entertainment.” The animal abuse is one side of the issue; the other side is that some people actually enjoy watching other sentient creatures in pain and fear. Events like the rodeo serve to produce and perpetuate cruelty in daily life.
Because domesticated cattle and horses are not native to North America rodeos exist in many of the former frontiers and territories colonized by Europeans. Latin American countries share the practice with the United States and Canada, yet opposition to the spectacle of animal cruelty exists in each. What is often neglected is the gendered nature of the competition, which is undeniably masculinist. When two women attempted to disrupt a rodeo in Chile out of protest on behalf of the animals, one of them was roped like a steer, or a calf, or a colt, and dragged out of the arena with her friend running behind her. In every country and every culture, there exist people who stand up in defense of animals. To argue that it is a matter of cultural values, in effect, erases these voices.
Steer Busting/Steer Tripping/Steer Roping
The name of this event has been changed multiple times because it is so infamous. Usually held in the early morning and out of public purview, young steers are brutalized and shocked in cages before being released into the ring. A man on a horse chases after the young steer. A rope is thrown around the horns and upper face, usually resting over the eyes. It is then left to dangle down one side of the steer while the rider moves to the other. The man yanks, simultaneously tightening the rope around the cow’s eyes and head while tripping him from behind. The steer is pulled forward and flipped head first into the ground. This results in severe neck injuries, eye injuries, and broken limbs. The incapacitated steer then has his legs tied by the man on the horse to the cheers of the few who are present.
In this event young calves are brutalized and shocked in cages before being released into the ring. They are then chased down by a man on a horse who throws a rope around their neck and yanks it back as hard as possible. The more dramatic the jerk backwards and fall are, the greater the crowd cheers and the more points the man on the horse scores. This is pure abuse of young animals simply for the sake of entertainment.
In team roping, two men on horses are released after an injured and terrified young calf. One man throws a rope around the neck of the calf while the other throws a rope around his hind legs. The two cowboys then pull in opposite directions at the same time. At high speeds this amounts to lifting and jerking the calf off the ground, dislocating joints, crushing windpipes, and causing severe neck injuries. There is no heroism or danger or higher purpose in this activity. Two men on horses attacking one defenseless, injured, and frightened calf is not heroism; it is abuse. To condone it in the name of an imagined or invented tradition makes a mockery of that tradition.
The rodeo industry claims that animals have been “bred to buck.” The implicit assumption in this claim is that if they have been bred to act this way, then their behavior is natural and un-coerced. There is nothing natural about being prodded, hit, electrocuted, and having a painful “flank strap” tied around your genitals. The only thing “natural” about bucking is the spontaneous attempt by the bulls to escape the pain, agitation, and stress caused by the strap and the rider. In another shallow display of heroism, the animal is reduced to a prop by which the rider demonstrates his or her ability to maintain control.
Big Loop Horse Roping/Horse Tripping
“Horse tripping,” or “big loop horse roping,” is similar to team roping on calves but practiced on young colts. In these events a colt is chased around a ring by two men on horseback. All three of the “participants” are moving at high speeds. The first rider throws a rope around the colt’s neck, cutting off oxygen, while the second throws the rope around the front legs. When the second rope is thrown the legs are literally pulled out from under the galloping colt. With his neck in a noose, the young horse topples to the ground face and head first; the head, neck, and spine injuries they often sustain can be life-ending. Despite the claims of rodeos that they showcase skills needed for ranch life, opponents of rodeos claim that no rancher would ever treat a horse this way. “Big loop horse roping,” says Scott Beckstead of HSUS, “is abuse of young horses in the name of sport and entertainment.”
The rodeo industry claims that animals have been “bred to buck.” The implicit assumption in this claim is that if they have been bred to act this way, then their behavior is natural and un-coerced. There is nothing natural about being prodded, hit, electrocuted, and having a painful “flank strap” tied around your genitals. The only thing “natural” about bucking is the spontaneous attempt by the horses to escape the pain, agitation, and stress caused by the strap and the rider. In another shallow display of heroism, the animal is reduced to a prop by which the rider demonstrates his or her ability to maintain control.
In 2005 the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) produced an official list of “humane rules” which members were supposed to abide. Since the release, the advocacy group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) has documented uncountable number of violations of these rules. The official “humane rules” themselves barely stand up to scrutiny. SHARK offers a point-by-point analysis of the PRCA’s hypocritical rules on their website.
Circuses continue to attract families with the promise of exciting tricks performed by elephants, tigers, and lions. Like other forms of entertainment which use animals, a successful circus will make the most artificial and coerced arrangements appear natural. This “natural order” of animals performing at the suggestion and direction of human ringmasters hides a much more grim reality outside the ring, where the animals are beaten, prodded, pulled by bullhooks, and held captive under miserable and unhealthy conditions in a permanent state of transit.
These captive, exotic animals are forced to do things they would never do naturally, often under great duress and pain. They spend hundreds of thousands of hours each year in transit, alone in cages, and chained in poorly air conditioned vehicles (1). Even the USDA went after Ringling Brothers—the world’s largest circus production company—citing them for numerous violations of the Animal Welfare Act (2). Violations which include:
Improper handling of dangerous animals
Failure to provide adequate veterinary care to animals, including an elephant with a large swelling on her leg, a camel with bloody wounds, and a camel injured on train tracks
Causing trauma, behavioral stress, physical harm, and unnecessary discomfort to two elephants who sustained injuries when they ran amok during a performance
Endangering tigers who were nearly baked alive in a boxcar because of poor maintenance of their enclosures
Failure to test elephants for tuberculosis
Unsanitary feeding practices
These are individual cases, but from them we are able to see a pattern of abuse and brutal, instrumental treatment at the hands of the circuses and their employees. It is the circus itself, as an institution, which reproduces these cruel conditions year after year. Even to those who would have the animals be treated as valued performers we must ask if the elephants, tigers, and lions, ever chose to be in this position.
The exploitation of animals in entertainment sometimes crosses forms of entertainment. For example, the recent film Water for Elephants, which ostensibly denounces the cruel treatment of circus elephants, has come under criticism after footage surfaced of animal handlers mistreating and abusing the star elephant during the making of the movie. One of the first non-human animals to appear on film was the circus elephant Topsy. In 1903 Thomas Edison captured Topsy’s death by electrocution. The short film was titled Electrocuting an Elephant (video). She was being executed because she had killed three of her “trainers” at the Forepaugh Circus in Coney Island’s Luna Park. The newspaper reported that she killed the last man after he fed her a lit cigarette. The case of Topsy illustrates the inhumane condition of animals reduced to objects of entertainment in both life and death.
Like dogfighting and cockfighting, the racing of animals puts serious physical and mental stress on the “athletes.” The real cruelties, however, happen off the tracks in the breeding, treatment, and transportation of dogs and horses. Animal racing is an entertainment and gambling industry that exists solely for the profit of people. As such, the animals get treated as commodities. Those who support animal racing routinely argue that it would be against the interests of owners and industry breeders to mistreat their product. It is not the token winners, but the vast majority of losers—as well as those who are never picked to compete—which bear the weight of disregard and neglect. They become the externalized costs of the racing industry.
Approximately 50,000 greyhounds are bred each year specifically for racing but only 15,000 will actually race. The rest will be prematurely “retired,” which means that they will be used for breeding, put up for adoption, or destroyed. The Greyhound Racing Association claims that 90% of their dogs are successfully adopted but there is a near constant stream of reports documenting mass killings, electrocutions, criminal neglect, and euthanasia of mistreated and diseased dogs. The Greyhound Protection League estimates that between 1985 and 2005 over 600,000 dogs were killed: “184,604 puppies judged to be inferior for racing and 421,129 after their “careers” ended, usually by 4 years old” (Boston Globe 8/22/07). In one year alone, 1992, between 42,000 and 58,000 dogs were bred only to be killed, all for the purpose of gambling and quick entertainment. It is a cruel irony that the spectacular violence of dogfighting is attacked in the media when the much more systematic exploitation and killing of dogs in racing industry goes virtually unnoticed.
The late 80s and early 90s were a high point of greyhound racing and it should come as no surprise that The Simpsons offered a critical commentary on the culture of dog racing in their first Christmas special. After losing the family’s Christmas money, Homer visits a dog track only to bet on the losing dog, Santa’s Little Helper. Homer and Bart watch as the owner abandons the losing greyhound and end up taking him home to become a companion for the family. In real life, the vast majority of racing dogs aren’t as lucky, and people rarely see what happens to those who do not win. To learn about adopting a greyhound, visit adopt-a-greyhound.org.
Greyhound racing has been on the decline since the mid-90s but it is still legal in sixteen states. Because there are no federal laws regarding the “sport,” there is little oversight as to interstate trafficking of dogs from industrial breeders to trainers to the tracks. Racing is seen and treated by many as gambling issue when it should be seen as an issue of animal cruelty on par—if not worse in size and scale—than dog fighting.
The racing of horses for gambling and entertainment also carries serious consequences for the “athletes.” While spectators witness horses routinely sustaining life-ending injuries on the tracks, rarely is the activity called into question as a systemic and abusive system in which the lives of non-human participants are calculated so coldly. The logic of those who support horse racing follows that of dog racing. They argue that if the animals are worth so much then it would be against everyone’s interests to treat them inhumanely. The truth is that the horses are treated as status symbols and are disposed of as soon as they sustain injuries which are too severe to continue. Losers, old horses, and horses which are deemed unfit to race are rarely put to pasture. Because of the costs, many are sold to overseas equine slaughterhouses to be killed and have their bodies processed for meat and other materials.
Racehorses are bred so that their bodies fit the designs of their investors. Over the years, the size and weight distribution has left the legs and ankles especially vulnerable. Carrying over a thousand pounds on four “human size” ankles at high speeds is a catastrophe waiting to happen, yet it continues because the competition between owners and investors demands it. The bodies of racehorses are further manipulated with steroids, painkillers, and other drugs to increase performance at the expense of health. The New York Times reported that out of a thousand racehorses, over 60% tested positive for steroids and 17% for multiple steroids. John Nerud, a hall of fame trainer, even acknowledges the damage that drugging is doing. “They give them to all these young horses at the sales,” he says, “and they develop muscle while they don’t develop their bones” (Ibid.)
The two most recent high profile racing deaths of horses illustrate the hypocrisies and contradictions which surround the activity. Barbaro, the winner of the 2006 Kentucky Derby, became a media spectacle when his front legs fractured just weeks after winning. He was eventually euthanized. “Certainly,” said Barbaro’s co-owner, “grief is the price we all pay for love,” as if Barbaro’s condition was somehow a natural occurrence, part of the existential tragedy of life and death. Sentiments like these, while no doubt genuine, serve only to mask the un-sentimentalized deaths of countless horses in the racing industry. When Eight Belles, a female horse, raced against males in the 2008 Kentucky Derby, she finished 2nd only to shatter her two front ankles. She was put down on the field in front of over 150,000 spectators (not counting television viewers). ESPN quoted Eight Belles’ trainer as saying, “losing animals like this isn’t fun. It’s not supposed to happen.” It’s not supposed to happen but it does, and it isn’t fun for the horses either that the owners, co-owners, and trainers claim to love. “This isn’t about one death,” remarked a NYTimes op-ed piece, “this is about the nature of a sport that routinely grinds up young horses.” As long as these “accidents” continue to be treated as accidents and not as part of the activity itself, horse racing will continue to disavow its cruelty.
A great deal of Animal Rights discourse has concerned itself with domesticated animals. Unfortunately, this has often meant that the threats facing wildlife are neglected. Just as capitalism tries to externalize as much of its costs as possible, any creature, activity, or object considered not economically viable is excluded as a useless excess. In this regard, arguments for the welfare of non-humans as commodities find themselves easily integrated into both popular consciousness and the rhetoric of the animal industries. The situation of wildlife highlights this contradiction between the recognized systematic destruction of animals for profit and the unrecognized destruction of animals as “nuisances,” unwanted excesses, or “unintended consequences” of the industrial economy.
This is due, in part, to the inability to conceptually grasp and adequately represent the deaths caused by events like the BP Deep Water Horizon, as well as the daily “slow violence” of the global economy that is responsible for the planet’s sixth mass extinction. The biologist E.O. Wilson has suggested that half of all species currently on Earth will be driven extinct by the end of this century. While it may be easier to empathize with companion animals abused for entertainment, or farm animals in a confined feeding lot, the preservation of Earth’s ecological integrity demands that those who take seriously the ethical status of non-humans come to grips with the industrial economy when they offer solutions (be they consumerist or otherwise.) At the same time, to say that global capitalism is anthropocentric gives it too much credit; it assumes that it actually exists to serve human needs rather than the profit of an opulent minority. As a framework for exploitation it renders both human and non-human life available for exchange in the marketplace. The effects of this exchange, however, are markedly asymmetrical and predicated on the boundary of species. Therein lay its anthropocentrism.
Hunting and Fishing
The main reason that people hunt in the United States is for sport. Historically, the practice pre-dates the domestication of animals and their incorporation into the economies of human settlements, but today the justifications offered by hunters tend to focus on either food or some notion of population control. Of the latter, the justifications often serve to mask the interests of expanding human settlement and development of “uninhabited” places. When it comes to food, given the amount of land and resources already devoted to food production, there is little reason for further encroachments to kill and eat animals which have either evaded or been pushed out of their native habitats. If the desire is to encounter forms of non-human otherness in their own terrain there are ways of doing this without needing to shoot, wound, capture, trap, or kill. It is important to acknowledge that hunting groups have played an integral role in the history of conservation; however, we must ask if the purpose of conservation is to protect the animals themselves or merely to protect our perceived right over their lives and bodies.
Animal Rights and Indigenous Rights
One of the largest ongoing debates in the progressive/ radical animal rights community has been the issue of First Nation peoples and their right to territorial and cultural integrity. This includes the ability to hunt and fish in accordance with tradition and economic needs of the communities in which they live. The survival of human communities depends on the survival of non-human communities. In 2002 an unprecedented event occurred. Over 70,000 dead Chinook salmon washed up on the banks of the Klamath River in Southern Oregon and Northern California. This happened because dams from upstate had lowered the water level to such an extent that there was simply not enough for the salmon to survive. The water was being used to irrigate crops. This fish kill devastated numerous indigenous communities who rely on the salmon for culture, food, and economy. The agricultural and ranching interests benefited.
This incident not only highlights the unacknowledged costs of industrial food production on wildlife and non-domesticated animals, but also the impact that energy intensive modes of production have on traditional economies and forms of exchange. By demanding that indigenous communities give up hunting or fishing animal rights activists may very well be participating in the same colonial practices they would otherwise oppose. The incident also exposes two different ethical orientations on the part of those who care for animals, the environment, and social justice. One orientation values the lives of individual animals. It believes no human can or should claim privileges over the bodies of non-humans. The second ethical approach values the preservation of the species over individuals and promotes the conditions which the species needs in order to maintain itself as a healthy population. The role of humans in the second approach would be to encourage the conditions of flourishing rather than a ban on taking their lives. Elaborate philosophical systems can be—and have been—built around each orientation but the true test is on the ground in concrete situations where real lives and interests are at stake.
Spring Bear Hunting is an example of a “population control” measure aimed at reducing the number of “nuisance” bears commonly seen as encroaching into areas of human settlement. Hunters go out and shoot female mother bears as they are teaching their cubs where and how to hunt so that they can eventually procure food for themselves. The cruel irony of this is that by killing the mothers, the cubs never learn seasonal food patterns and end up wandering into human settlements attempting to find food. This practice actually increases incidents of bears in “human territory” because it does not allow them to pass on knowledge to the next generation. As such, it is an unnecessary form of violence and destroys what might justifiably be considered a culture, defined as a set of knowledge and experiences which orient the bears to their world and to each other.