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Cruelty to animals – By Rafia Zakaria

Courtesy: Dawn News
By Rafia Zakaria

IT has been about two weeks since a heartbreaking incident of camel mutilation came to light in Pakistan.

In that case, it was alleged that a landowner, enraged by a camel that had been foraging in his field, cut off the poor animal’s leg. The female camel was only eight months old. The camel’s poor owner named the landlord as the culprit, but said that the police were trying to protect him. Earlier, the police had arrested six suspects but said they could not find proof of the landlord’s involvement in this act of barbarity.

The case only gained prominence when a video of the maimed camel went viral on social media. The Sindh government is said to be working with an NGO to provide an artificial limb to the injured camel.

It is unfortunate that this is only one of several instances pertaining to animal abuse in Pakistan. In fact, this form of bestiality is rampant in the country. Just a little before the camel incident, an extremely disturbing video emerged of a dog being thrown from a balcony of a high-rise building, while days after it, news emerged about a man cutting off a donkey’s ears.

Taken together with the shabby treatment meted out to animals at Pakistan’s zoos (the case of the elephant Noor Jehan in Karachi immediately comes to mind), these incidents expose the depth of inhumanity that now exists in society.

Being a good human being requires speaking up when helpless and voiceless animals are being abused

Research shows that a proclivity for animal abuse is a primary indication that the perpetrator is a psychopath and likely to act similarly towards human beings. If this is true, Pakistan has no dearth of potential criminals whose complete lack of empathy for the suffering of other living beings is there for all to see.

Sindh CM orders indoor treatment facilities for cattle, street animals at three vet hospitals

There is no one in this country who has not been a witness to animal cruelty; but most of us continue to watch and allow it to happen. Dogs, known to be particularly intelligent companions for human beings, are treated abhorrently in Pakistan. While there may be notions about impurities regarding canines, that does not mean that those who subscribe to this view physically harm them. Harming living things is a sign of a sick and depraved society. All living things are deserving of respect and a peaceful existence, and the idea that an animal is deserving of ill-treatment speaks volumes of the cruelty that abounds in the human race. It is sickening to see helpless and voiceless creatures such as camels, dogs, cats and donkeys being mistreated — and everyone ignoring their suffering.

Human beings may be the most sentient creatures on the planet, but this does not mean that animals are not sensitive and do not experience emotions. It is not a question of who is more intelligent — human or animals — it’s just that there are different kinds of intelligence for man and beast. Studies have revealed self-awareness and emotions in the animal kingdom often through vocalisations and gestures. Experiments on fish have shown that they express feeling pain through rocking and hyperventilating.

Marc Bekoff, the author of The Emotional Lives of Animals, presents the case of prairie dogs, which are a kind of large rodent, like a mongoose. One day while cycling in Colorado, Bekoff saw a telling interaction. A large black-tailed prairie dog was trying to retrieve the carcass of her young one. The baby had just been killed on the road, likely owing to an accident. Bekoff saw the mother try five or six times to drag the carcass off the road, perhaps so that it would not be further crushed by cars.

The example is telling because one may not expect rodents to feel sad or grieve for their young. However, there are many such examples of even smaller animals acting in ways that do not have a simple explanation in terms of the desire to safeguard one’s own. If anything, the mother was endangering her own life to retrieve the body that no longer had any survival value to her. Perhaps a better-known example is of elephants, known to mourn their dead and to bury them.

Even tiny sea creatures have their own kind of emotional interplay. The Curious World of Sea Horses, published last year, details how sea horse couples engage in ritual dances to ensure that their reproductive cycles are synced. Other research has provided proof that elephants indeed have an incredible memory, showing that these social beasts can remember their relatives for up to 12 years just through their sense of smell.

All this is to press home the point that animals feel the cruelties that are inflicted upon them. They are also capable of experiencing fun and joy, as anyone with pets would know.

There are reams that have been written and that will be written on the glories of the natural world. It is useful to remember that there are many countries that do an excellent job of taking care of animals through stringent laws against any form of animal cruelty and through welfare projects. Take the case of Turkey, where there are no ‘stray’ animals as such, as the government takes care of all the cats and dogs on the streets and makes sure that they are well fed and not tortured or harassed, and that they have been vaccinated.

In Pakistan, too, awareness of animal rights is on the rise, with NGOs doing good work for animal rescue and rehabilitation. However, cruelty towards animals is still a behavioural trait. It is a sign of a society where nothing and no one is spared abuse. Being a good human being requires speaking up when helpless and voiceless animals are being abused. The least one can do is to record incidents of animal cruelty and proliferate them on social media so that all criminal abusers are exposed.

The writer is an attorney teaching constitutional law and political philosophy.

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