Bloggers are Dictators, and Which Animal Rights are Right?

expat life Pretoria wildlife parks petting baby animalsToday, readers, I would seriously like your input. Not about today’s Zimbabwe elections and whether or not Dictator Mugabe will continue his rule (although you’re welcome to state your opinion there as well). No, I thought in light of today’s elections, it would be a good time to discuss my recent thoughts on blogging dictatorship.

Benevolent or not, bloggers are usually dictators. We set up a little plot of web”land,” in some cases (like mine) pay for premium services or our own URL, and set about creating our own little version of utopia (or perhaps, dystopia.)

We control what content to share with our readers, who is allowed to comment, and whether or not to delete comments that we deem inappropriate or offensive.

South Africa expat life day trips Pretoria

Kurt and Mister Growlypants

The difference, of course, between a dictatorship and a blogging dictator is that readers can leave a blogging dictatorship at any time.

Knowing this, the “benevolent dictator” hopefully controls content and comments with the best interest of the health of the blog, and the knowledge of the readership we believe we have.

Until yesterday, I have always thought of my blog as more democratic.  I give my (regular) readers free reign to post in opposition to what I’ve written. Of course I have readers with differing opinions, but generally I have found your comments, when in opposition, to be framed in an educational manner, and with knowledge of my blog and my previous postings. I have friends and family on both extremes of some issues, and I’ve been impressed at the thoughtful comments from both.

Lion and Rhino Reserve Krugersdorp South Africa

Mom and baby white rhinos

Yesterday I received a new comment, which I chose not to allow. I didn’t delete it, because there are parts I agree with, and the comment is directly related to my own internal dialogue about animal rights.

I didn’t allow the comment is for several reasons, the first of which are: because (a) the person has never commented on any of my posts before, and to the best of my knowledge has never read any of them, so I don’t feel rushing to judgment on a one-off post is the right way to make an introduction; (b) they specifically called out “zoos” in the complaint against yesterday’s caracal kitten posting, so I didn’t feel they actually clicked the link on the Lion & Rhino Reserve to read about their conservation ethics or learn about their programs; (c) their comment was too generalized, and too black and white of a condemnation of the selfishness of humans.

However, I do believe what they had to say warrants discussion among my regular readers, so I’m actually giving them a generous amount of argument in the form of using it to create an entire blog discussion. However, for the sake of protecting the author from my loving readers who tend to be a little protective of me, I’m not going to name them.

Here’s the start of our discussion:

Leave it to me to be the party-pooper. Forcing animals that are not domesticated to interact with humans is cruel. Were these animals kept with their mothers as babies or bottle-fed so they would be more easily held? And what will happen to them when they are too old to be cute, cuddly money-makers for the zoo? If they don’t live out their lives in a cage, they will be killed.

Humans are all about how wonderful the interaction is for them. Very few think about what the interaction is like for the animal.

Now, I’ll respond first…

Lion and Rhino Reserve Krugersdorp South Africa

Traveling Marla feeding “Marla the giraffe” (Yes I’m sticking to it!)

Before you jump to judge it, if you’re on the other end of the spectrum, please note that I actually agree with the premise, if not this specific argument.

But as I mentioned above, although I agree with the premise that animals can be mistreated and zoo conditions are not often the best for a wild animal, this commenter doesn’t understand me or the blog, and more importantly, they didn’t try to use their comment to educate, or allow for any consideration of the uncomfortable grey area that game reserves and zoos create empathy and passion for wildlife in people who will otherwise never have access to afford to travel to see such animals, and that some of these reserves and zoos are doing a much better job of educating the public in conservation than a voice reaching out in condemnation to a choir ready to respond in kind.

I am, honestly, openly, torn on the issue of animal rights when it comes to the reserves, parks and other animal tourism places here in Africa. Part of me is of a balls-out mentality: free every animal, let humans fend them off again the way we did when the world was much more “wild.”

Lion and Rhino Reserve Krugersdorp South AfricaAnd with that, part of me relishes the irony that if we reset that animal clock by several hundred years, many of those in the extreme animal rights camp would be eaten by a wild animal while just surviving daily life, or too busy taking care of a family and trying to survive nature to be out championing animals.

Yet in this same brain I can’t stand a caged animal. This same Lion and Rhino Reserve reintroduces cheetahs to the wild. They work hard to keep those cubs in a separate location so that they have no human interaction and the cheetahs are being bred to repopulate an endangered species in the wild. YET, and this is a huge “yet”, in the animal creche, there are other fully grown animals kept in cages far too small for a good quality of life. The reserve protects a rhino population, roaming freely in the reserve, while two giraffes are in a yard-size enclosure.

Full “animal rights” to me means allowing animals to be wild again, with no human interference. (Refer to above, with you screaming and dying by wild animal attack.)

Where and what is the balance of management, of education, of access?

expat life Pretoria South Africa

deliciously dirty 😉

As a side note, but not at all unrelated, here is something horrific I just heard from a new African friend of mine: Because they have learned that elephants are so intelligent and so family-oriented, when “culling” a park (“culling” means reducing numbers, which can mean relocating, but often means killing) they now cull an entire herd of elephants together, as a family unit, because they found it was more cruel to kill only some of them. Elephants can go absolutely crazy when they lose a member of their family. They mourn intensely and remember indefinitely. (Sounds like me.)

Having any kind of “control” of wildlife means management. Zoos, reserves, and parks are not the only place animal management takes place and animal rights are to be considered. In our human-centric world, animals must also be “managed” to protect people, livestock, and farms from wildlife.

Who decides each situation of animal “management”? Do you know? I certainly don’t, but I know if I were an animal rights activist, I would make it a point to know, and to be having my conversation in those venues.

Frankly, friends, I don’t see an easy answer, and I certainly don’t see improvement coming in the form of criticism without suggestion, or black/white without the reality of the gray in the middle.

Lion and Rhino Reserve Krugersdorp South Africa

So, let’s open the debate with readers who know me, know this blog, and who, frankly have quite different opinions from each other. You, dear readers, are hunters and vegans, bleeding heart liberals and strong-armed conservatives. And you are also thinkers who blur those lines from time to time and have more to you than one opinion.

I actually think the commenter has more to her than one point of view, but sometimes when you become a champion of something, passion outweighs pragmatism, and it’s also difficult to remember what those in the majority (us average Janes) are like pre-enlightenment.

So, readers…enlighten me. Educate me. As I prepare to receive my loved ones and friends from back in America, shall I tell them we can’t, or shouldn’t see the wildlife of Africa because they’re not in a wilderness setting? Not everyone can travel to Kruger, and the chances of seeing *all* the animals in one week span there isn’t likely. And isn’t it each visitor’s own decision on whether or not to have cub interaction?

And the schoolchildren in urban areas who would not otherwise have access to wildlife, do you think seeing a photograph of a caracal cat will create the kind of empathy or love for that animal that interacting with one would?

zoos in South AfricaWhat about those elephant rides? As a horse-rider myself, I didn’t feel an emotional distinction between riding an elephant and a horse. I was impressed that we were told in advance that the elephant rides may not happen if the elephants didn’t want to be ridden. And one, in fact, didn’t, so only one of the elephants was ridden. The handlers seemed to always use peanuts to work with the elephants, though I don’t know if that was the rule when tourists weren’t around.

And anyone who has ever seen a horse broken knows that no matter how many years of domestication, every horse is still wild until broken for riding. While horses have been domesticated far longer, but does that make riding a horse right, just because it’s been done for so long? Is it that different? What about riding a camel?

I’m actually not trying to be incendiary.

I’m trying to think, and consider, and weigh the world I live in with my eyes and my heart, but also an open mind that believes all life, like love, or marriage, is compromise.

Well? How about them apples for today’s discussion? Please do comment today, even if it’s only to say “Geez, Marla, STFU already and get back to the lighter posts!” And yes, I will consider new commenters on this discussion, if they are level-headed, educational, and respectful of other posters.

Love, Always, Marla

20 Comments on “Bloggers are Dictators, and Which Animal Rights are Right?

  1. This is good practice for when you’re a famous writer, Marla! Everyone has an opinion, and people will judge you without knowing you at all! (AT ALL! I was tempted to go all defensive for you..but won’t. You are very capable of defending yourself and I know you know exactly who you are and I know you know when people don’t understand you at all!) With regard to animal rights, I’ve can see more grey and middle ground as I’ve aged. I can only express this way – I still cringe every time I see a dead raccoon on the road and every time wish cars didn’t have to kill any animals, ever. I feel for animals and never does it not hurt my heart to see a dead animal in the road. But, I try to be realistic. I wouldn’t be able to hunt, ever, but would fiercely protect others’ choice to hunt, because I believe in freedom and choices. I used to think being kind to a dog meant never ever putting them in a crate but have learned, as I’ve had various dogs, that crates aren’t cruel for dogs when I’m away from home during the day. I learned that for my fearful dog, a crate was his best comfort when I wasn’t home. But, I get judged about that when I tell people I crate my dog during the day. I was admonished by the front desk receptionist at the vet when I told her after a verification by the vet that the dog was showing signs of aggression that I was returning a rescue dog within the week tryout period because I didn’t want an aggressive dog with a five year old and was told, “maybe I just should just never get a dog then.” I could not be vegan or vegetarian, but support people who make that choice even though I’ve been preached to by some I’ve known about my choice to eat meat. I found my recent discussion with animal activists friends about neutering my dog ironic. I was trying to get an educated answer about if it really was best to neuter my dog who truly, really, had no chance whatsoever of creating a litter accidentally and found that the most passionate arguments for were to absolutely put this dog through neutering because of the horrors of overpopulation – even when there is absolutely no chance it will occur. We decided to go through with it for health reasons but the arguments were so extreme! So if every single dog on this earth is neutered, how do we get more puppies??? People will still want dogs! And, why do people have to feel guilty when they choose a responsibly bred dog instead of a rescue? I see both sides of these viewpoints, and support people’s choice to stand on one side but am very uncomfortable with the extremes and absolutes and believe there has to be a boundary between protecting animals and inflicting your beliefs on others and taking away freedoms and choices. I believe in fighting against cruelty to animals, and there should be no tolerance for it but am uncomfortable with the black and white, one size fits all mentality.

  2. “free every animal, let humans fend them off again the way we did when the world was much more ‘wild'”…while this is a romantic notion and commendable on face value, the truth is that humans always have, and always will, win in the competition between man and animal, or man vs. nature in general for that matter, which is precisely why we have zoos and preserves, etc….in the race for dominance, man allows no quarter to animals…ahhh, alas, we can wish it otherwise all we want, but it won’t change the ugly reality, just consider the plight of the american wolf, as but one small example 🙁

  3. Zoos, reserves, or whatever else may have some bad but there is plenty of good. If left to nothing but the wild many of these animals would no longer exist. I wonder what this person thinks of cockroaches, ants and mosquitoes. They are living, breathing creatures. Are their rights less than that of a cheetah? Why? Who are we to decide how others should feel?

    That said trying to argue for or against is almost pointless. I have a REAL opinion on the matter but I choose not to share it because no matter what my opinion won’t change nor will the person who feels so strongly the way they do about zoos.

  4. Naturally I don’t have any answers, just more complications (I think that’s demanded of me in my job description, actually). Great post, these are incredibly complex and important issues, and well handled as usual (also, I agree that you treated the comment respectfully and did not ridicule the commenter, although I understand why she might feel hurt).

    Two random side-notes: (1) have you listened the radiolab podcast on zoos? It’s difficult and beautiful and painful and sweet – i.e. it handles the topic pretty darn well, in my opinion. http://www.radiolab.org/2007/jun/04/

    (2) A few years ago, I taught the book ‘The Warriors’ by Sol Yurick. There’s a scene early on where these gang kids from Coney Island are lost in a cemetery in the Bronx, and they’re terrified about crocodiles and other wild animals, because they have no context for understanding *anything* about wildlife or a non-urban world, and it always made me so sad – it’s such a clear and artless illustration of how little of the world has been opened to them. I do believe intimate interaction is essential for fostering empathy, and the reality is that zoos and such are the only ways a great many urban kids are ever going to interact with any wildlife, which makes them a fantastic opportunity. One that needs to be handled carefully and respectfully, of course, because it’s still a fraught trade-off – a human’s potential empathy for an animal’s freedom – but I believe it’s so important for people to have their worlds expanded in a way that encourages them to care for *all* life.

    And thanks, by the way, for expanding my world with your posts and reflections <3

  5. HOLY FRIGGIN’ CRAP!! Hey, here’s an idea sis, why not try to be a little more provocative next time! You already KNOW my opinion, but since you seem to be encouraging all opinions…
    Lifetime carnovor here, and NOT ashamed of it! Hunted all my life, strongly feel hunting a properly managed wildlife pool is more beneficial to the preservation and health of a species than trying to protect every living animal. Big brain, advanced technology= top predator! I look at it this way, If you believe in Creation, God gave man dominion over all other creatures to use and do with as we please…If you are a steadfast evolutionist, humankind evolved along with all other species and arrived here as the top predator! Either way, makes perfect sense to me that we can decide as “individuals” weather we choose to kill or not kill based on our own needs.
    Personally, I don’t feel killing simply for pleasure is good, and therefore “I” don’t.
    Who is to say that “you” are right and “I” am wrong, or vice-versa?

  6. Since my comment was the one you deleted yesterday but held up to ridicule today, I hope you will have the decency to, at the very least, leave this comment for public review.

    That having been said, congratulations on writing a post whereby you justify your own actions and make yourself out to be my victim. You do it quite well.

    But we come back to the issue of the animals. Animals are creatures that should be able to live out their lives the way nature intended them, and not the way that man desires them to. That includes living in cages or zoos, or rescues, if you prefer to consider your place that.

    I do understand that humans are opposed to killing animals, so sometimes when people make mistakes with animals, we’re required to clean up their messes and give those animals the best life possible.

    But to purposely create such an existence for an animal is, in my book, nothing less than cruel. Dogs and cats are domesticated animals. I see no photos of domesticated animals on your blog post. What I see are animals you seek to bend the will of to meet your needs.

    And while I haven’t been here before, you may rest assured, I will be back.

    • Well, I am sad that you feel my post was skewed against you. I did specify that I did not delete it, but just sisn’t approve it. I actually thought I gave your comment so much more consideration than if I had just let it slip into obscurity in the previous post.
      I’m also sorry that you are reading my posts in the darkness that you do, as they are always written with compassion.
      I don’t know that you are a person with whom an argument would be helpful, and you definitely haven’t read my posts about domesticated animals, which I suppose I also bend to my will and yet my animals always seem so happy.
      Anyway, I do appreciate that you have caused me to open the dialogue about animal rights. I was hoping you might make me see things in a different perspective, but honestly, your hostility toward me and lack of understanding for what I was trying to accomplish make that difficult.
      Sincere and honest well wishes to you and the beautiful things you are working to achieve with animal rights.
      Love and respect,
      Marla

    • I think you’re reading hostility into the original post that isn’t there, and kind of escalate things in your reply. The conversation doesn’t really need to have that tone, if it’s to be a productive conversation.

      Each person will have their opinion on what would be best or right for animals, and what constitutes cruelty in a subjective sense. Setting these aside, I feel it would be most productive to focus on more objective results and indicators.

      As to cruelty, we can only really measure it in terms of the health and behavior of animals in captivity. Not every zoo or preserve is up to standards, but there are plenty of examples of good facilities. If an animal is healthy and behaving in a manner that is not harmful to it, how is that cruelty?

      And even if you go with the assumption that good treatment as outlined is cruel, there’s a larger picture. If we want to preserve animal populations and habitats, the only way to do so is to deploy emotional, political, and economic forces towards that end. This has to take on a mass dimension in democracies (for the most part, barring wealthy patrons) and as it’s an emotional issue, it helps to galvanize that support by putting people in close proximity to otherwise wild animals so they can learn, appreciate, and be fascinated by them. Seeing films and pictures just doesn’t create the same impact. So even if we accept the assumption that treatment even in good facilities is cruel, a small number of a larger population suffers to help ensure the survival of the larger population by being accessible to the public to engender support for conservation and respect for nature. I think this has utility even if we assume cruelty, which I do not, generally.

    • If you find an open dialogue about your comment, which did include at least a portion of the original comment, to be a portrayal of you as a villain, and as ridicule, I can’t help but wonder how you would react to actual ridicule.

      When you choose to post your thoughts onto someone else’s blog, you choose to open yourself up to any response. There is no blog commenter bill of rights. And, in this forum, no one has attacked you.

      What happened here was an honest reaction and a thought process asking others, including, obviously, you, as this comment has been approved, to respond to the ideas you generated. As Marla pointed out, she could have approved your comment and let it slip through notice. Instead she acknowledged you and opened your thoughts up to a real debate.

      You say, “congratulations on writing a post whereby you justify your own actions…” Yes. As people capable of cognitive thought, we all justify our own actions on a daily basis. This comment is you justifying your actions.

      Hopefully you have a blog of your own where you are free to air as many opinions in whatever form you so choose. Someone else’s blog is not that forum. No one here is a victim, and no one here claims to be. Also, you may want to re-consider your closing threat. Telling a blogger you will be back to their blog isn’t a punishment. It’s a good thing! Engaging dialogue is one of many things Marla’s readers come here for. I hope you enjoy reading, because Marla’s posts are always well thought-out, engaging, and entertaining.

  7. Hi Marla,

    I find this discussion very engaging… ok, a confession first I am not an “animal rights activists”, in the popular sense of the term, but I do come from a country (India,incidentally) where, if you see the zoos, they are a little better than prison… There was a time, I still remember, when I was four years old and my uncle used to take us cousins to the Calcutta (now Kolkata) zoo and we would happily throw “channas” ( fried lentils) in the cages of the Tigers, just to watch to them growl… that’s cruelty, trust me, that is… So while growing up I had this perspective that WILD ANIMALS SHOULD NOT BE CAGED FOR THE EDUCATION OR THE AMUSEMENT OF GENERAL PUBLIC…but then the idea of natural reserves and wild parks changed my perspective, India has some good natural reserves, and so far I have only been to two of them… but the way animals are kept in natural reserves is something I would support… although I don’t know how much illegal poaching takes place in these natural reserves… when I came here, it was the first time I visited an wildlife park… there’s a difference between the two… unfortunately I so far only been to two of them, but the animals here are reared in what I call a “cosmetic natural surrounding”… Although I still believe that wild animals should be kept where they always belonged, but if there are conditions that can be made congenial and healthy for the growth, prosperity and development, of wild animals and also aid and educate the general public about these amazing wonders of nature, I wouldn’t be really opposed to the idea… after all to borrow WWF’s catch line, “it’s their world too..”

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Sreerupa. I think the bad zoos, be it from underfunding, undercaring or undereducation, are what give us these overwhelming feelings of guilt, concern for those mistreated animals, and call to action. And I think supporting (financially, physically and in writing) the places that are doing it better is maybe the best course of action for those of us who have the resources and flexibility to do so.
      I’m so encouraged by each of these thoughtful comments.

  8. I have my own conflicts about this. I also made sure to post from my own email, rather than the blog email, because Leslie has opinions about this that are most likely very different. I definitely understand that many zoo environments are unpleasant for animals. Sometimes it makes me sad to go to a zoo, because large animals are kept in very small habitats, and their resulting lethargy is thick in the air.

    However, I also agree with SW222 in some ways: isn’t some attempt at preservation better than nothing? In an ideal world, all animals would be free in their own habitats, doing their thing, happy and free. But we don’t live in an ideal world. Animals are mistreated in some zoos, reservations, habitats, etc. Not all animals are mistreated in all zoos, reservations, habitats, etc.

    Humans are a species given natural cognitive abilities, as SW222 was saying. These abilities allow us to destroy and to attempt to save. Not all our attempts to conserve are commendable, but let’s not write every animal reservation off in one swoop, either. (Not that I’m saying you were doing that.)

    I’ve gone off on a bit of a tangent, so, to sum up, I guess I just think some effort at conservation, even if misguided or not ideal, is good. “What can we do to improve our conservation efforts?” is a better question than “What can we do to destroy every form of zoo, reservation, habitat, etc. without scrutiny?”

    • Also a good argument. I love the two questions at the end, and I think that’s the right way to live in the gray. I think it’s easy to get caught up in activism and idealism, but moderation and realistic pushes are often more effective than one, unattainable gesture.

  9. As a sort of disclaimer or way to provide context to what I’m going to say, I can’t claim that there’s some ‘right’ way to approach the treatment of animals because I don’t subscribe to any notions of cosmic rights or wrongs. Just human utility and preferences, and the systems and laws we create and recreate to frame and direct our actions.

    Now that that’s out of the way, two thoughts.

    The first is that if we did the ‘reset’ that you mentioned, it would be more likely to lead to mass extinctions of animals and more disruptions to ecosystems than it would be to lead to the deaths of blog commenters. Before humans decided that nature was worth preserving in some fashion and in some places, we’d wipe out anything that could either compete with us for resources or threaten us. We don’t even need gunpowder to do a good job of that, though it sped up the process later on. The removal of most large predators in North America and Europe being an example.

    The second thought just expands on this one. Our brains and the tools and systems they allow us to fashion are our natural advantage, rather than a cheetah’s speed or an elephant’s strength and size. They allow us to outcompete any other lifeform on Earth. One can argue about how natural our sense of sentimentality and empathy with non-human life is, but if we were to behave in the usual, natural animal competition sense, we’d end up destroying a lot more than we already have. It’s really only by our restraint that ‘nature’ survives to this day, in my view.

    And since it’s this restraint that keeps things in check between humans and the rest of the Earth, I’d argue that zoos and wildlife preserves are ‘good’ things in that they provide utility to us if we value nature because they can increase sentimentality and empathy for other life in direct, face-to-face ways that people would otherwise not be exposed to. They can also offer refuges for life we have damaged greatly, and in some cases help build up populations in captivity that can then be reintroduced.

        • Ah! It listed you as a new poster. I should have recognized you by your extremely mad arguing skills. If I could write that well, my blogs would be much shorter. 🙂

          I do hope there will be comments in opposition, because I do want to see what everyone has to say on this subject. It’s hard with my amount of empathy not to feel guilty every time I see a cage.

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