Am I Not An Animal?!

Am I Not An Animal?!

Am I Not An Animal?!

This is the question that author and ecologist Dr. Carl Safina asked at the symposium curiously titled, “I am not an animal!” held in Atlanta, Georgia and sponsored by Earth In Transition. In Defense of Animals (IDA)  attended, represented by Dr. Toni Frohoff, our Elephant and Cetacean Scientist. The event was designed to explore the idea that at the core of the modern human’s increasingly destructive relationship with our fellow animals is a deeply-rooted psychological desire to tell ourselves, “I am NOT an animal!”

Leaders in the fields of psychology, ecology, philosophy, humanities, law and advocacy discussed how we can apply insights to environmental and animal protection efforts. Primary questions of exploration were, “How have we come to the point where we have entered a Sixth Mass Extinction of species that could ultimately include our own?” and “Why are we humans unable to come to grips with what’s happening and change our behavior?”

Attorney Steven Wise deftly explained how the legal system treats nonhuman animals as “things,” as it once did with slaves, women and children. He spoke about the lawsuits of the Nonhuman Rights Project, which seeks to have certain animals recognized as “legal persons” with the fundamental right to bodily liberty.Wise also shared details behind-the-scenes about a new film, “Unlocking the Cage,” that documents his work as well as that of others to obtain legal liberty for our fellow animals.

Dr. Lori Marino discussed The Whale Sanctuary Project, of which she is president, and which may be the first sea-side sanctuary for captive dolphins and whales released from their exploitation in dolphinaria.  IDA’s Dr. Toni Frohoff is on the Advisory Committee for this project that will finally provide cetaceans with a certified sanctuary, as currently, cetaceans are the only species for which a sanctuary doesn’t exist.  The sanctuary would offer an environment that both maximizes well-being and autonomy of each individual and also is as close as possible to their natural habitat. Cold-water species such as beluga whales and orcas will likely be the initial focus. When feasible, rescued dolphins and whales might be returned to the wild if individuals meet certain criteria indicating likelihood of successful reintroduction to the wild.

We also noted that the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Maryland, received a unique Honorable Mention on IDA’s list of Ten Worst Tanks for Dolphins & Whales for announcing plans in 2016 to move the eight dolphins held their facility to a seaside sanctuary.

Times are changing for our fellow animals in myriad ways that are sometimes horrible and other times encouraging.  But until we come to see other animals as “someone” rather than “something” and can finally, and collectively, acknowledge that “I AM an animal!” with comfort, we still have very far to go. You can learn more about the conference here.