Animal Rights Day is marked on October 4, every year, to raise the levels of awareness about the status of animals, in order to improve their welfare standards around the globe. It is an annual reminder for the rights of animals; wild as well as domesticated, with whom we share our habitat. It helps us remember that the natural habitat is as much for the humans as it is for the animals. Through increased awareness and education, we can create a world where animals can co-exist with humans and due regard is paid to their welfare. It is commonly believed that emotions are the exclusive preserve of human beings.
Similarly, like humans, animals as emotional being also form close social bonds with family and friends, who help them, cope in the struggle for survival. Many animals find love, friendship, protection and joy through their tight knit relationships with other members of their species. The distinction between the kin and non-kin within the same species of animals is equal to human social distinctions of caste and community.
Yet, we do not treat animals as emotional and social beings. When we take a lamb away from a goat, we think that the mother or the child does not suffer from the pain of separation from the family. When we chop off a pig for bacons, we assume that pigs do not endure the pain of death. Being on the top of food chain, we think it’s normal human practice to eat animals. Our human predisposition for treating animals as a source of food overrides our compassion for the emotions of the animals.
Here are some of the pictures that I have taken of animal’ life in Islamabad, to reflect on the human emotions in the animals. Some of these animals live in wild such as porcupine, pigs and monkeys, and scavenging the trash bins on the peripheries of Margalla Hills National Park. The animals, which have been domesticated over time, are found in our homes and neighbourhoods, as pets and stray animals.
The first three sets of photographs personify the bonds of family among the animals, both wild and domesticated. In the first photograph of a street dog family, a newly born puppy hugs her mother’s face, which carries the feeling of the joys of motherhood. In the second photograph of a family of street dogs, the parents and children are hugging each other to reaffirm the bonds of family through physical interaction. In the third photograph, a young monkey sniffs her mother and is about to kiss her on the lips. The maternal love and care of the infants is as crucial to the growth of a healthy monkey as it is for a human child. The routine separation of young pubs as pets from their mother can cause maternal deprivation affects the emotional development of animals as well as humans.
There are millions of street dogs in Pakistan who co-exist with humans by feeding off on the urban waste. Unlike pedigree dogs, which are kept well as a symbol of status, the fate of street dogs is gruesome, as the City Development Authority (CDA) routinely employs dog shooters to kill the stray dogs, to avoid the spread of deadly diseases caused by dog bites. According to an estimate, on an average 50,000 dogs are killed every year in Pakistani cities. The number of reported cases of dog bites, in Karachi alone, is more than 30,000 every year. Instead of merciless killing of the stray dogs in fear of dog bites, Pakistan should follow the World Health Organisation that recommends a long term strategy of catch, neuter, vaccinate and release the dogs as the only effective and humane method for dealing with rabies and stray populations. Additionally, animal rights organizations can create dog shelters for the welfare free roaming dogs in the cities.
Natural habitat for animals is shrinking with the expansion of cities. The wild animals are considered hazardous for urban population and are routinely killed. In the fourth photograph, there is a young pig feeding off the trash, where a friendly crow sits on the top. Among the wild animals in Islamabad, the municipal authorities routinely hunt down the pigs.
Even in the model city of Islamabad, the CDA holds no brief for the wildlife in the city, which gets trampled over by the speedy traffic. In the fifth photograph, a dead porcupine with blood splashed on the metalled road, apparently hit by a speeding vehicle.
The cruelty of animals is striking in the case of zoo and circus, where wild animals are caged in the most depressing and degradations conditions. Such environment creates lasting emotional distress in the animals that psychologically suffer from confinement. In the sixth photograph a young lion is caged in a moving wagon as part of the circus. There is a little signpost, which politely reminds the visitors that ‘it is a sin to hit a lion with pebbles’ – a warning of divine retribution, which goes, unheeded.
The medical facilities for house pets and farm animals exist are often rare and in poor conditions. The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act 1890— under which maltreatment of any domestic and captured animals is a punishable is rarely applied. Additionally, section 429 of the Pakistan Penal Code 1860 makes it a criminal offence to kill, maim, or render useless any animal. We in Pakistan have to go a long way in preventing cruelty against animals, as the existing laws are never applied and there had been zero convictions for crimes against animals in Pakistan.
The writer is an anthropologist, former Director of National College of Arts, Rawalpindi campus, currently working for the Center for Culture and Development (C2D), Islamabad & Vice President of the Council of Social Sciences.