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Sunday, 19 August 2018

Making the Human Connect
Written by Robert Fisk   
Tuesday, 30 January 2007

There was a front page story last year in the San Francisco Chronicle about a female humpback whale that had become entangled in a spider web of crab traps and lines. She was weighted down by hundreds of pounds of traps that caused her to struggle to stay afloat. She also had hundreds of yards of line wrapped around her body, tail, torso and a line tugging in her mouth.

A fisherman spotted her just east of the Farralones Islands (outside the Golden Gate Bridge) and radioed an environmental group for help. Within a few hours the rescue team arrived and determined that she was in such severe condition the only way to save her was for them to dive in and untangle her, which was a very dangerous proposition. One slap of the tail could kill a rescuer.

They worked for hours with curved knives and eventually freed her. When she was free, the divers say she swam in what seemed like joyous circles. She then came back to each and every diver, one at a time, nudged and pushed them gently around -- she thanked them. Some said it was the most incredibly beautiful experience of their lives.  The guy who cut the rope out of her mouth says her eye was following him the whole time and he will never be the same.   

Too few in society today know or appreciate the degree of “human” qualities many of our fellow species share with us. The whale showed an ability to express joy and gratitude, making a human connect to those

reading the story. Most do not realize that elephants, dogs, chimpanzees, dolphins and many other animals of a higher level feel a full range   of “human” emotions such as excitement, jealousy, hope, rage, anxiousness, love, fear, grief, loyalty, shame, cockiness, compassion, and peace. And one thing they surely are our equal in is in the ability to feel pain.

In a very informative and compelling article on the human effects on 

elephants worldwide recently published in The New York Times Magazine, some researchers point to a species-wide trauma in the fabric of pachyderm society. The article is entitled, “Are We Driving Elephants Crazy? Their behavior in the wild has grown strange and violent in recent years. Researchers say our encroachment on their way of life is to blame. It provides insight into the wide range of emotions these animals experienced throughout their social structure in their loss of habitat, extreme and brutal poaching, culling and general human activity. 

In MFOA’s four-year effort to end coyote snaring, it was noted that if humans did to a dog what this state allows to happen to a coyote, it would easily be considered aggravated animal cruelty. But when it was observed that their pet dogs were 98% genetically the same animal as a coyote, it made little impression on the committee members hearing the bill.

The psychological abuse and trauma animals experience that is very similar to that of humans should be emphasized at every opportunity. The more we can put a human face on their plight, the sooner the public empathy will grow in changing how animals are viewed within society. It is one thing to point out that chimpanzees are 98.6% genetically identical to humans, but it is another thing to get people to equate “human” emotions to other species.

As we find new ways to advance animal protection, it would seem making the human qualities connection and expanding the understanding of the terms “sentient beings” and “speciesism” is a tactic and strategy we should increasingly advance. An elephant sheds tears in grief as humans do. And a whale can display gratitude in ways we may not have thought humanly possible. As we gain greater knowledge of other species, I hope we escalate our efforts to increase the public awareness of the likeness with human emotions and sensitivities. Until then, I think of a bumper sticker I once saw: “Humans are not the only species on the planet, they just act like they are.”


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