Animal Person on Knut
Several readers have written, asking me how I feel about Knut, the polar bear cub being hand raised by people at the Berlin Zoo after his mother rejected him. They wonder how I feel about suggestions that killing him would be better than having him raised by humans (other orphaned animals have been killed by lethal injections by zoos, it is not an uncommon practice).
First of all, at the foundation of animal rights and abolition is nonviolence. I would never advocate the killing of a healthy dog, cat, polar bear cub, chicken, cow, or child. They are all sentient beings with a right (in my opinion, not a legal right) to a free life of their own.
Second is the reality that the world isn’t really going according to my opinion, therefore there are such places as zoos, where animals are held captive and not permitted to live their lives as they wish. Whether a mother of another species adopted Knut, or humans adopted him (i.e., cared for him as a cub), someone was going to have to do it. The obvious downside is that Knut isn’t going to learn how to be a polar bear the way he would if he were being raised by one of his kind.
The optimal situation would be to release him into the wild, but polar bears are dying in the wild as it is, and Knut might not have the skills to survive, as he is being raised by humans. And there aren’t any true polar bear sanctuaries (the bears are solitary most of the year, and live on snow and ice where most people don’t live), although I did find one that includes a swim-with-the-polar-bears-attraction, which I’d hardly consider a legitimate sanctuary (it’s basically a zoo, just like where Knut is now).
What’s interesting to me, is that killing animals who cannot fend for themselves is not uncommon in zoos, but no one seems to care. I don’t think Knut should be killed, but what makes him so special? Why does he deserve to live (according to the zoo)?
In my perfect world we’d phase out zoos, beginning with NOT BREEDING ANY MORE ANIMALS. That’s the core of the problem. No, the next phase wouldn’t be killing the animals in the zoos, it would be providing them with a place–either in the wild or in a real sanctuary–where they could live out their natural lives with dignity. We could start by relocating the elephants, big cats, and marine mammals, all of whom desperately need to be in their natural habitats, which are far larger than any zoo could provide.
There are reasonable, incremental steps toward the abolition of all of our uses of animals. Stopping the breeding is usually the first step, thereby preventing quandaries such as which baby animals should be killed, and which ones should be allowed to live.