As vegans we view all animals as equal, but, as news reports about the Harambe the gorilla killing, the media doesn't agree with us.
The shooting of a gorilla in a Cincinnati zoo recently sparked outrage both in the press and on social media.
Before Harambe’s death, we had the media storm over Cecil the lion and, as before, vegans point out that thousands of animals die every day in the meat industry and many are hunted or culled too, yet their deaths pass silently by for most people.
The fact that the animals killed in both cases were endangered species raises the profile for a start, and add to this that a child was involved in the Harambe case and you have a sure-fire story. Animals and children always raise emotions, as do certain animals. Usually these animals are exotic, cuddly or rare. However, cows, sheep and pigs will rarely be seen in such a light – they are viewed as products rather than living beings. It’s easier this way for those who consume them to distance themselves from the thought of eating something that lived. This is why many vegans will say “make the connection.”
Obviously, soon after the deaths, Facebook memes comparing the grief over one animal to the loss of thousands for meat appear. Celebrities soon jump on the bandwagon and they are criticised for being hypocritical for eating animal flesh themselves.
Personally, I find the whole process of collective grief or outrage strange. It is certainly something the Media thrives on and it will always strike a chord with those of a sensitive disposition. Of course, when an animal is critically endangered a death can throw the future of that species into doubt. At a time when more and more animals are going extinct this is something we should not take lightly. It doesn’t mean we value one life above others, it means we value the ecosystems as a whole, because extinction has a knock-on effect that is detrimental to all wildlife and upsets the natural balance of these areas.
In the case of Harambe, the question around how ethical zoos are was thrown into the spotlight once again and the captive breeding of animals. As a vegan, I never like to see animals in captivity, but I do think the tragic story provides an opportunity to question society’s differing reactions to the abuse of different species of animals. I think, in the case of primates, they are viewed as close relatives to humans, so the natural instinct is to feel for them. But society has conditioned people to see certain species in a different way. Therefore, from an early age, we learn to view a cow as part of the foodchain and a dog as a companion – hence the outrage of dog eating festivals. Therefore, I think the key to making more compassionate adults comes from vegan parents educating the young on issues of animal equality and the rest of us pushing the same message wherever possible.
Until the message gets through that all animals feel pain then the discrepancy in how differing issues of animal abuse are portrayed will not change. There almost seems to be a hierarchy of animals in the minds of many, and people fail to realise how important they all are to maintain a natural order and keep the environment healthy. Plus, there’s the obvious fact that all beings deserve to live free from pain and abuse. But while we have some animals seen as pests (rats and mice), some as food (cows and sheep), some as a threat (sharks and crocodiles) and some as companions (dogs and cats) the mentality of mourning some and not caring about others will prevail. Challenging this mindset is a huge task, but not insurmountable, as the huge growth in veganism proves.