"All the arguments to prove man's superiority cannot shatter this hard fact: in suffering the animals are our equals." ?Peter Singer
Just few centuries ago, mankind has collectively entered into a new epoch of sustainability challenges, the Anthropocene, a proposed geological period that begins when human activities started to have a substantial global impact on functioning of the earth ecosystem and on the total environment. The great transformation from Holocene (former to the industrial epoch marked by ecosystem stability and fairly stable climate) set in motion by the spread of farming and sedentary culture, deforestation, the 'Columbian Exchange' of Old World and New World species, Industrial Revolution at 1800 CE, the mid-20th century 'Great Acceleration' of population growth and rapid expansion of European communication power in the 19th century at a rapid pace. Growing evidences over the past decade usher that these anthropogenic markers impair the desired stability of the planet and dramatically result a large scale undesired ecological surprise at regional to planetary scale. Mankind, in the Anthropocene, is also leaving a pervasive signature on biotic environment includes accelerating rate of animal extinction and slaughtering of species at increasing rate.
Yet, our living planet is experiencing the worst spate of animal species die-offs since the loss of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. We're currently in the midst of the Earth's sixth mass extinction crisis that absolutely differs from earlier extinction epochs particularly from hunter-gatherers of Pleistocene and Pliocene era. Harvard biologist Wilson warns that 30,000 species per year (or three species per hour) are being driven to extinction. Globally, Bird Life International estimates that 192 species of known 9,865 bird species are facing extremely high risk of extinction. Scientists estimate that a third or more of roughly 6,300 known species of amphibians are at risk of extinction. International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) reckons that 9,526 invertebrate and 594 reptile species are endangered or vulnerable to extinction. Roughly 90 per cent of primates (monkeys, lemurs, lorids, galagos, tarsiers, apes) live in tropical forests are swiftly disappearing and a half of the 5,491 known mammals are declining in population across the globe. At the beginning of 20thCentury, nearly 100,000 wild tigers inhabited the earth. Nowadays, the number is between 5,000 and 7,000 worldwide. Evidence shows that 1,215 rhinos were poached in South Africa alone in 2014 - this ushers to one rhino killed every eight hours. Study findings of PNAS state that more than 100,000 elephants were killed between 2010 and 2012, and the number of elephants killed in Africa in recent years is greater than 20,000 a year, out of a population of 420,000 to 650,000.
Although mass extinction is driven by nature (e.g., acid rain, species invasion, sea level rise, erosion, cosmic radiation, volcanic eruption, forest firing and climate shift), the current crisis is almost entirely caused by us-mankind. Increasing population growth is a key driver in species threat and extinction. The human population rose rapidly from 1 billion in 1800 to over 7.5 billion today. Present population growth trends' indicate that the number of threatened species will increase by 7 per cent over the next 20 years and 14 per cent by 2050. Besides, global warming alone is pledged over one-third of the Earth's animal species to extinction by 2050 if current GHGs trajectories continue, that would have apocalyptic impact on biodiversity and alter the socio-ecological system across the globe. It is evident that animal slaughtering and emission of GHGs are intertwined. In addition, deforestation, slaughtering, smuggling, poaching, trading, water pollution, groundwater withdrawal, water projects, habitat loss, coal mining, introducing exotic species are leading anthropogenic drivers of extinction and disappearance in the Anthropocene. Besides, natural catastrophes lead to the irreversible damage of species habitat. For instance, the Sundarbans, largest mangrove forest that is home to possibly 500 Bengal tigers in which a great numbers is being rapidly destroyed by super cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Aila in 2009.
Even mankind widely uses animal and other species in medical research and experiment that lead us to discoveries to humans such as reliance of Chinese traditional medicine on Asiatic black bear and tiger poachers in India and Siberia. In a survey of WWF, traditional Chinese doctors in Korea said that bear bile and gallbladder are essential parts of their medical practice. The flesh is considered to be highly invigorating and refreshing in a medical sense, preventing colds and detoxifying the body. Besides, bears and tigers are poached for various culinary purposes. Bear paw soup is rapidly becoming the preferred dish of affluent restaurants in Japan, China, South Korea and Taiwan. Similarly, poaching and lack of conservation have made a subspecies of Africa's western black rhino officially extinct that was last seen in Western Africa in 2006. Due to continued hunting for rhino's horn, the IUCN warns, Africa's northern white and Asia's Javan rhino are teetering on the brink of extinction. This is because of powder of rhino's horn is widely used as medicine, and horn and ivory are also valued for decoration that sparks the trafficking of wildlife products.
Curbing species extinction, however, has already become a planetary demand in the Anthropocene for leaving a safe operating space for the humanity. As the animals are incapable of demanding their own rights and liberation or protesting against their condition, mankind (hold power to oppress other species) has to scale up stewardship (responsible planning, ethical use and protection of species through conservation and sustainable practices) for the equal treatment of animals. Homo sapiens has to be steward for ending the ruthless exploitation of the species and consider the value of life-a life is a life and equally valuable, whether it is a human life or an animal life. The principle of equality tells us that suffering or infliction of animals must be counted as like as human infliction. Attaining animal welfare requires human stewardship as it involves responsibility for animals and their welfare absolutely relies upon mankind.
Veterinarians act as stewards regardless of religious beliefs, taboos and stereotypes, and even responsible for ethical treatment for animal welfare. Animals must be re-classified at law as person, not property. It is inevitable for mankind to improve animal care and rearing non-human species. If humanity can insert stewardship in ethics, it will be viable in avoiding the brutal sacrificing or hunting species in different socio-religious events. Apart from upholding stewardship in ethics and practices, breaches of existing wildlife statues (laws) appear to be continued by the poachers/hunters, and thus, mankind would hardly be able to avoid an apocalyptic tragedy of the socio-ecological system.
Choyon Kumar Saha is Lecturer, Department of Sociology, Jagannath University.
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