Animal Rights vs. Animal Welfare

What is to become of a misplaced great cat?  Too domesticated to be returned to its natural habitat and too lethal to be saved from exile, has a 300 pound Tiger or Black Panther or an aging Lioness any rights as an exotic beast in our suburban world?

If so, who should speak on its behalf and what should they say? With our eyes we see a need to respond with empathy and courage to frame these questions into philosophical terms, and with our hands we lift and carry the load of tasks required to mediate between our highest aspirations and practical action.

A contentious dissonance exists between two directly related yet discreet sets of philosophies and actions surrounding merciful care for animals.  No, I am not referencing political parties, but they are clearly in opposition with each other.  These groups are known as the New Age Animal Rights Movement and the Old School Animal Welfare Group.

Followers of the New Age Animal Rights Movement (AR’s) believe that all animals own their lives, and that their most basic interests – should be afforded the same consideration as the similar interests of human beings. The AR’s actually believe that animals are on equal ground as humans and that ideally no animal should be held captive because that would be a violation of its’ rights as a living organism. This is their highest aspiration and a stark one at best. Animal Rights activists have also attracted criticism including from within the Animal Rights Movement itself, as well as prompted reaction from the United States Congress with the enactment of the "Animal Enterprise Protection Act” (amended in 2006 by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act).

Animal Rights activists, express a philosophical ideology of intent to reshape human attitudes and actions toward animals in general. Their main objective seems to be a complete abstinence of people interacting with animals including for food, research, shelter, by-products of any sort including: touching, caring for and petting them. Even using animals in traditional educational programs seems to be tabooed for their preferences. The Animal Rights people seldom if ever have any animals under management.

Another side of the issue is carried by the Animal Welfare Movement (AW) which seeks immediate, workable solutions to meet that specific animal’s dire circumstances.  Reshaping a cultural norm regarding species equality is certainly an admirable undertaking; providing veterinary care for a de-clawed panther casts our debate in a simpler liberation.  At Tiger Creek Wildlife Refuge we land squarely in the Animal Welfare camp.

On an hourly basis, 365 days a year, we provide quality care for a variety of rescue cats and in so doing exemplify the very heart of the Animal Welfare ethos: immediate, practical care solutions to the heart-rending needs of these amazing creatures. This is our practical action, a working possibility of reprise for endangered species that have been pushed to the brink of extinction.

The dictionary defines Animal Welfare as: the physical and psychological well-being of animals.  Animal Welfare Science uses measures such as longevity, disease, immune-suppression, behavior, physiology, and reproduction through husbandry management. The term Animal Welfare can also mean human concern for animal welfare or a position in a debate on animal ethics and animal rights. The Animal Welfare thought is that animals are unable to enter into a social contract, and thus cannot be possessors of rights, a view summed up by several experts including the philosopher Roger Scruton, who writes that only humans have duties, and therefore only humans have rights.  A parallel argument, known as the Animal Welfare Position, is that animals may be used as resources so long as there is no unnecessary suffering; they may have some moral standing, but they are inferior in status to human beings even though we have dominion over the animals and that we are to exercise stewardship and great care over the animals. This in turn makes it our duty as the guardians of these great cats to provide the best care and quality of life that is possible with applied conservation strategies to guarantee their existence in future generations.

However, extremist have reshaped certain beliefs that form a cult-like religion at best. Seems most of the actions being taken by the Animal Rights activists all too often have done so without considerations for the existing animal population and certainly leaving no room for conservation ex-situ (in captivity).

As a species, humankind has subdued every predator on earth. Save one: ourselves. Will we meet the challenge of great cats by finding a language of cooperation and within our hearts will we seek to preserve all of the species that we have been entrusted to care for, or will we sit idly by while the Animal Rights Movement suffocates our beloved beasts with legislation and no consideration for those who do take the time to provide proper and imminent care for great cats?