Monday, 26 September 2016

CITES: Questioning the Priorities.

I gather the delegates at the current CITES conference are divided on the issue of elephants. Some say that the best way to stop poaching is to maintain the legal trade in ivory, while others argue that the ivory trade should be banned altogether.

This goes over my head (or perhaps ‘under’ would be the better preposition) because the word ‘poaching’ troubles me. It stems from the notion that human beings have the God-given right (literally) to hold sway over the lives of animals and exercise that right according to their human will, no matter how shallow and senseless their reasons might be, and so long as the person doing the killing is sanctioned by whatever individuals or agencies consider themselves entitled to do the sanctioning.

And so all the talk is about statistics. It’s about what percentage of the elephant population has disappeared over the past so many years. It’s about the fact that the world is running out of elephants. Well, the world ran out of mastedons, sabre toothed tigers and duck billed platypuses a long time ago. Is that important? Maybe it is, but only marginally. In reality, we like to laud our concern for species diversity simply because it pleases us to so do. It makes us seem important, and some go so far as to believe that it makes us seem caring.

I don’t believe either. The whole debate is about controlling the numbers simply because we care about numbers and control. It reminds me of that ranger from some American national park who talked about the local grizzly bears in terms of ‘we’ve calculated that we can allow the hunters to harvest such-and-such a percentage of them.’ And there’s another word that disturbs me: ‘harvest.’ The bear isn’t a sentient being, it’s a crop. And we choose to regard it as a crop simply because a lot of human beings like killing things just because they can. I suppose it makes them feel important.

So what would happen if I stood up in a CITES conference and said:

We shouldn’t be talking about statistics. What we should be talking about is the ethical dimension, because human beings pride themselves on having a higher mind. The whole question should be about compassion, not numbers. Elephants are living, sentient (and quite emotional) beings which have more right to their life than some bozo in Manhattan or Maidenhead has a right to have an ivory trinket holding pride of place on his bloody shelving unit.

I’d get laughed off the podium, wouldn’t I? I’d be told that I was just being foolishly sentimental.

I don’t think I’m being foolishly sentimental. What I’m doing is questioning why this so-called superior species allots more importance to numbers and control than it does to ethics and compassion.

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