Animal Rights (AR) is a general concept covering a wide spectrum of philosophies. It has deep historical roots, including a reaction to industrial urban development in the 19th century. The Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was created at this time, followed by Humane Societies throughout Europe and North America. More recently, in the 1970s, AR activists became influential in reaction to the sealing (see Seal Skin Directive) and fur trapping industries.
Many different groups exist, concentrated in urban areas and developed nations. At one end of the spectrum, the World-Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and Greenpeace stress environmental protection and conservation, maintaining ecological processes and genetic diversity, but accept the sustainable use of wildlife and ecosystems, although they do not favor commercial harvesting. The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), formed in 1969 in reaction to the seal hunt, takes the position that it is immoral for humans to impose suffering on animals. Further on the spectrum, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) was formed in 1980, on the philosophical foundation that "animals are not ours to eat, wear or use for entertainment." They do, however, allow that humans may have pets. At the far end of the spectrum, the Animal Liberation Front feels justified in threatening and harming humans in retaliation for perceived animal harm, and has taken responsibility for letter bombs and terrorist attacks in Europe and North America, and actions such as releasing animals from a cancer research laboratory and causing millions of dollars in vandalism damages.
The philosophy has been transformed over time, from an ethic of respect and rights for animals to be expressed as a matter of individual conscience, to a political, often militant activism aimed at ending "speciesism"—the domination of animals by humans. Some are opposed to a scientific/rationalist/anthro-pocentric approach to managing global ecology. Nature is deemed to have value in its own right, not just for human benefit. Conflicts and issues are moved away from scientific research, data or analysis, then infused with values and ideology, to dwell on moral and ethical differences and political action.
Ironically, the environmental values of Native Americans were used as a touchstone, and Greenpeace's foundation philosophy drew on an "ancient Native American Indian legend" about the Warriors of the Rainbow. (This "myth" has been used several times by different groups, with the identity of the native group changing often, indicating slight knowledge of the actual native cultures.) The negative response by native peoples to the antisealing campaign meant that they became a "political problem" and the AR movement began to critique native lifestyles and ethics. For instance, many Aleuts were subjected to hate mail, threats, and harassment, as well as legal challenges by humane societies and negative media coverage, when they sought to continue the Pribilof Island fur seal harvest.
After its modern beginning with the antisealing campaign in 1969 (see Seal Skin Directive), the AR movement went on to attack fur trapping. Both campaigns were aimed at deterring consumers and establishing trade barriers against the pelts and products.
Relatively immediate effects were felt by sealers and trappers. A subsequent campaign against whaling focussed first on commercial whaling, but has affected indigenous peoples as well. Among Arctic countries, Canada and Iceland have withdrawn from the International Whaling Commission (IWC), although Iceland has since rejoined. Norway and Iceland continue to whale for commercial purposes. Inuit in Canada, Greenland, the US (Alaska), and Russia continue to whale as they have traditionally done, for subsistence purposes and small-scale trade. Some indigenous peoples have been able, with difficulty, to protect their rights to hunt small whales despite IWC pressures, but others, like the Faroese and Japanese, have not.
More recently, there has been some AR pressure against the harvest of caribou because of fears about antler sales to Chinese and Korean pharmaceuticals, and against Inuit participation as guides or outfitters for sport hunters. Moving the focus southward, campaigns have been launched against grizzly bear sport hunts, use of animals in research and, more recently, against meat-eating. This may reflect the growth and evolution of a school of thought, but also the need for the continued in-flow of monies to support the AR organizations.
A key tactic of the AR movement is to focus only on selected parts of a problem, and to create and use simplistic images: the antisealing campaign portrayed sealers as brutal thugs clubbing "babies"; the antifur campaign portrayed trappers as living archaic, rough lifestyles out of place in the modern world. Fur users were portrayed as cruel, ignorant, frivolous, destructive, and stupid. Animals are portrayed in anthropomorphic terms. Exaggerated and wrong information is frequently used in AR campaigns. While Greenpeace and IFAW eventually became aware that the Inuit seal hunt was not commercially oriented and did not focus on harp or hooded seal pups, neither attempted to clarify this nuance. Stephen Best (IFAW) claimed that 240,000 seals were being killed annually in 1989, although this was three times the government quota and he could show no data to support the claim. In the campaign for the proposed EU fur ban, species have been pronounced as "endangered" when they are not. The concept of the "precautionary approach" has also been used to close down some whale and seal fisheries, based on claims that scientific knowledge regarding their management is "uncertain," even though the populations are abundant.
The concepts of "subsistence" and "tradition" are an important part of the conflict. They comprise values of economic, social, cultural, and spiritual dimension. Subsistence provides food, clothing, and materials, but it also requires special skills, knowledge, and resourcefulness. It promotes cohesiveness, pride, and sharing in aboriginal communities. For many people, the use of animals is a key, traditional, part of their livelihood, whether it provides food and other materials or cash income; it all helps to provide for the survival of the family and community. The essence of tradition comes from their relationship with the resource (such as skills, harvesting activities, consumption, and sharing relationships within the com-munity)—not the particular technology used to catch it. In most cases, money earned from the harvest of animals or fish is used to support further subsistence activities, which in turn support cultural values. Thus, the line between money and nonmonetary income is blurred, and between economy, community, and culture, with each critical to the other, and ensuring continued survival for northern people. In Greenland, for instance, hunters are seen as a crucial part of local economies, who provide country food to communities and those unable to hunt, and thereby maintain Greenlandic values.
While some AR groups are willing to accept native peoples' use of renewable resources, it is deemed acceptable only if it provides food and skins for the family and community, not if there is commercial sale of skins or other animal parts—making money from the use of animals is anathema. The luxury aspect of furs cements their disapprobation. "Subsistence use" is thus acceptable only when it conforms to a southern perception of what is traditional and necessary. This ignores the fact that traditions change and societies evolve (Europeans no longer plow fields with oxen). For instance, when Canadian and Greenlandic Inuit attended the European Parliament as part of the Canadian and Danish delegations, they were dismissed by AR activists such as Stephen Best of IFAW, because they "wore fancy suits and wristwatches" and blended with government officials and industry spokespersons.
Some AR critics have questioned whether Arctic peoples can truly be traditional if they live in modern houses. Others have argued that Inuit are motivated, as are all wildlife harvesters, by greed for money or by boredom. Neither argument, nor others like them, recognize that other cultures can be different than European ones, nor that other parts of the world may face different realities than urban centers in Europe and North America.
The difference in worldviews is cast into sharper relief by a number of attitudes that native peoples bring to their harvesting practices, which are either disregarded or not understood by AR activists. Native peoples believe that animals give themselves to humans for their use and survival, and, importantly, that a lack of respect from humans will make animals avoid being harvested. Furthermore, they know from their experience and traditional knowledge that the world/environment/life is sometimes harsh, and requires steely action in order to survive.
Ironically, the Inuit at first sympathized with some parts of the AR position on the Newfoundland seal hunt—typically, the Inuit use rifles or harpoons, hunt adult seals, and use them for food. Later statements and misrepresentation regarding native culture, however, were deeply offensive to the Inuit and others, and there remains little sympathy now.
The AR campaigns have had a significant impact on public opinion, government policy, and Arctic communities, although whether these impacts will endure is questionable. With their bold public relations tactics, simplistic arguments, and choice of ethnic groups far removed from the political "core," AR groups were able to influence public awareness and to diminish markets to some extent. However, the Malouf Commission in Canada found that 75% of the public in Canada supported trapping and sealing, and would continue to do so as long as the harvest was sustainable and as humane as possible. Seventy-five percent of the global fur market is in Europe, and these markets have been revitalized in recent years. The long-term public impact thus seems impermanent, and it may be that we will see additional campaigns in the near future to regenerate public antipathy.
The AR activists have also had significant impact at the government level, especially in international organizations that are not burdened by national government obligations to respect their citizens' needs. Thus, the EU was lobbied to ban sealskins and then furs. In fact, the latter were not banned because of the substantial interests of EU members in fur farming, and the sealskin ban was amended to specify seal pups so as to meet Denmark's concerns about Greenland's adult-seal hunt (this was ineffective because the market did not differentiate between adult and pup pelts). An exception to this was the Aleut fur-seal harvest in the Pribilof Islands, which was shut down by the US government, both in response to the market devaluation of pelts and to satisfy a number of domestic interests, as well as the US Humane Society, Save the Seal Inc., and Greenpeace. The IWC was the forum used to attempt to end all whaling. Membership of the IWC suddenly blossomed; to the 14-17 nations who were long-term members, about 20 other nonwhaling countries were added who could then sway the votes. With the NGOs there as observers, and sometimes as funders of small countries' attendance, those governments with shaky environmental practices at home could improve their image by voting against whaling at the IWC. A similar technique has been used at meetings of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to manipulate votes in the direction desired by nongovernmental organizations.
By becoming members of organizations such as the International Standards Organization (ISO), or the Federal-Provincial Committee for Humane Trapping in Canada, antiharvesting activists have been able to ensure that standards are defined so that they are hard or impossible to meet—and that the goalposts are kept moving. In both these cases, it became apparent that when a set of standards for humane traps were close to being agreed on by all members of the committee, the AR representatives would be removed by their organizations and replaced with stronger advocates. As made clear by Patrick Moore of Greenpeace, in a presentation to the Malouf Commission regarding the anti-sealing campaign:
It wasn't primarily a question of wildlife management or economics or politics or science or any of the other things they tried to argue their way around. It ... came down to a question of morality.
In a host of international agreements such as the Convention on Biological Diversity, Agenda 21 of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, The World Conservation Strategy, the UN International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and the International Labour Organization Convention on Indigenous and Tribal Peoples, indigenous delegates and their states have ensured wording respecting sustainable indigenous use of renewable resources. Despite having signed the agreements, some governments and international actors continue to act against such use.
The AR campaigns have had a profound impact on Arctic communities, undermining economic self-reliance, food security, dignity, and cultural identity. Repeatedly, observers record social breakdown, drinking, suicide, outmigration, and the breakdown of effective community institutions as effects from the antisealing, antitrapping, and antiwhaling campaigns. Occasionally however, the response to the campaigns has generated stronger native organizations and community-based management, such as the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission, the Inuit Circumpolar Conference, the Fisheries Joint Management Committee in the Inuvialuit Settlement Area of Canada, and the Greenland Home Rule Government's comanagement of whaling.
The loss of sealskin income was estimated to have destroyed 60% of the annual income of most Canadian Inuit communities in the mid-1980s (see Seal Skin Directive), and Greenland Inuit livelihoods were also devastated. The price of sealskins dropped from a high of $23.65 in 1976 to below $4 in 1978/1979. The income of $1.5 million to Inuit communities in the Northwest Territories and Nunavik dropped by nearly 85%, causing immediate declines in harvesting activity, and therefore in country food availability. In the Pribilof Islands, the sole economic mainstay of the islands was lost with the fur seal harvest. The antifur campaigns have had a serious negative impact on the fur trade in Canada, although the markets have recently revived again after a long depression: wild and ranched raw fur sales there dropped from around $800 million in the mid-1980s to as low as $350 million by 1988, although they had climbed back to $450 million by 1996 (see Trapping). In the past year or so, they have rebounded another 25%.
From a northern native perspective, the campaigns against resource harvesting are often seen as representing the interests of rich, urban, well-fed people, who have destroyed their own immediate environment and now want to save others: rich people who have a secure livelihood, but do not understand that other people do not. They are one more way in which the urban European cultures are attempting to subjugate and colonize, if not wipe out, native cultures. The colonial attitudes are clear in statements such as that by Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Society:
this is an era of changing social values ... [T]raditions will be broken, people on both sides will be hurt but it is a part of natural human evolution [S]hould social change within the context of one social group be restricted by the result it will have on another social group, especially in light of the fact that such social change is perceived ... as being progressive?
Larry Merculieff, an Aleut, said that "any attempts to stop [the seal harvest] through misdirected emotionalism of people who do not live with nature as closely as we do can only be viewed as violence against us—and the seals." As Finn Lynge despaired: How can aboriginal hunters and trappers ever hope to have their voices heard and their viewpoint understood across this immense gulf of cultural alienation, misinformation, and plain ignorance?
Ironically, by removing northern peoples' traditional ties to the land and resources, the Arctic may become subject to different, more severe impacts. The US withdrawal from the International Fur-Seal Treaty left the seals without international migratory protection, open to pelagic killing, and without international scientific monitoring or research. The Pribilof Island communities are now caught up in the industrial fishery in the Bering Sea. And the Fur Seal population is showing a drastic decline in numbers. In the final irony, pollution and overconsumption in the urban south are likely to have a more profound impact on the quality of the Arctic environment and the survival of its wildlife than hunting and trapping ever did, through the transport of contaminants and the demand for non-renewable resources.
See also Hunting, Subsistence; Seal Skin Directive; Trapping; Whaling, Subsistence
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