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Jessi examines what the term "Animal Lover" means and discusses the difference between Animal Welfare and Animal Rights.

Includes questions about elephants and the bullhook, PAWS and the Butte fire, and a ban on exotic animal performances.

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Welcome back to Animal Wonders! I'm Jessie, and I'm a huge fan of animals! If you're watching, you probably are too.


The thing is, different people have different concepts of what being an animal lover is. There are zoologists, biologists, wildlife educators, pet owners, rehabilitators, and many more labels of people who love animals in different ways. As a person who loves animals and wants to educate about and with them, I'm often confronted with confusing terminology that we have available to describe what it really means to love an animal.

Today, I want to explore two phrases that sound similar, but they have very different applications in the real world: animal welfare and animal rights.

Animal welfare is focused on the well-being of the animal. It supports humane treatment through the use of regulated care-taking practices, medical care, and an attention to physical and mental health. Animal welfare is based in the idea that humans are responsible for animals and their care. They should be treated well, abuse and neglect are wrong, but they can be used for research and food as long as their care is good and needs are met.

Animal rights emphasizes that animals should have the same rights as humans, and they should never be used to benefit humans, which includes food, clothing, entertainment, education, research, and pet ownership. Animal rights is based in the idea that animals should be able to live life free of human interference and exploitation.

Now to me, both of these ideas seem to have pros and cons, but let's see how they hold up in the real world. When I was a teenager, I was confused about the difference between the two, and I thought all animal lovers felt the same way that I did. I finally came down on the side of animal welfare after researching how the two sides would handle a situation with a baby polar bear.

A mother polar bear lived at the zoo and gave birth to a cub. She then died of complications from that birth, and the cub was left motherless. Animal rights activists were reported saying that zookeepers shouldn't interfere with the cub, while animal welfare activists said they wanted to care for the cub, to save its life and attend to its needs.

This was the first time that I encountered people that would rather see an animal die than have them live in captivity. This was when I decided that I was a supporter of animal welfare. In the years since, I've come across many gray areas with difficult and complicated situations.

Here's another real-life story. PAWS is a sanctuary in California. They take in elephants from zoos and circuses, and they give them a place to live out their life in larger spaces, away from the entertainment and education world. Recently, a fire in the area has caused great concern about an evacuation plan for the animals.

Zoos and other animal facilities are required by the federal USDA regulations to have an evacuation plan in place in case of a disaster. State regulations also require an evacuation plan for most animal facilities, but sanctuaries are exempt from this regulation in California. The loophole for the federal regulation is that an evacuation plan must be written and displayed, however, a facility isn't required to take action if they deem it unnecessary.

The fire is so close that it's visible from the elephants' home and ash is falling. Because of the serious danger that the elephants are in, Have Trunk Will Travel (another elephant facility) offered their assistance to transport the elephants to safety until the fire was under control and they could return home.

Here's the catch: In order to transport the elephants, Have Trunk Will Travel needs the use of a specific tool. The tool is called a bullhook. The bullhook is a metal tool that looks kind of like a fire poker, with a straight point and a hooked point. It's an aversive stimuli that causes discomfort. Speaking in training terms, it's a positive punishment followed by a negative reinforcement. Meaning, giving something bad and then taking away something bad so they feel good.

When applied to the sensitive areas of an elephant, they move away from the discomfort. Once they move away, the bullhook is removed. This is how the handler communicates what they want. It's a similar idea to the bit when riding a horse. If misused, the bullhook and the bit can cause pain and injury. If used gently, it can cause discomfort and annoyance.

The use of the bullhook is highly controversial in the animal care world, and PAWS is strictly against it. Instead, they firmly uphold the policy of "protected contact," meaning there is always a barrier wall between the elephants and a human. However, they do not have a system in place to load their elephants in a trailer while maintaining protected contact.

Since Have Trunk Will Travel uses a bullhook to work "free contact" with their elephants, PAWS refused their offer to help evacuate their elephants to safety. Instead of moving the elephants to a safer location, PAWS has deemed it unnecessary, and they're relying on their in-home fire prevention system to keep the animals safe

Whether the fire is contained or not, the issue is the same. What is considered appropriate handling procedures when dealing with a serious situation where animals in the care of humans are put in danger? Does the life of an animal outweigh the use of a tool that causes discomfort? And is the bullhook an appropriate tool to use for everyday handling of an elephant if it means they can be cared for free contact? So where is the line drawn between the ideas of animal rights and animal welfare in real-life situations?

I've been thinking a lot about this lately because a new ordinance was just passed in our local city. The ordinance bans wild and exotic animals in public performances. Don't worry, there's an exemption for organizations like Animal Wonders who use animals for education. The ordinance is intended to ban performances like circuses that use elephants and big cats exclusively for entertainment.

Many people who oppose the ban on exotic animals and want to see elephants remain in the traveling circus call the supporters "animal rights activists" and "PETA people," PETA being an extreme animal rights organization. However, many of the supporters were actually based in animal welfare ideas. They want to see animals cared for in captivity. They just don't want to see them exploited and used only for entertainment.

Which brings me to my main concern about the term "animal lover." It's such a broad term that it can cause confusion, and cause people to lump all animal lovers together. This assumption can lead people in positions of legal power to accidentally make decisions that they don't support. And someone whose beliefs may fall more in line with an animal welfare mindset might get confused, like I did with the polar bear cub when I was younger.

Thanks for joining me today. I'm really interested in hearing your thoughts on the issues that we discussed today, so please leave a comment below and let me know how you feel about everything we've mentioned today, and what being an animal lover means to you. But remember, this is a hot topic and can illicit emotional responses, so be kind, try to see others' opinions, and examine all the angles.

If you'd like to learn more about animals, you can subscribe to our YouTube channel Animal Wonders Montana. If you have any questions for me, you can find me on Twitter, Tumblr, and Facebook. Thanks guys!