Many countries in Asia don’t come off well in discussions about animal protection, though humans around the globe bear responsibility for our endless atrocities against animals. Still, Asian traditional medicines and dietary preferences get the blame for lots of horrors, including:
- torturing moon bears for their bile;
- killing off elephants for their tusks;
- slashing rhino populations for their horns;
- slaughtering sharks to eat their fins;
- brutalizing dogs and cats for fur and meat;
- endangering whales in violation of international law to eat them;
- and hunting tigers to use their genitals in medications.
There is more, but I’m depressed enough already.
Here’s the good news: individuals in these countries are taking up the fight to protect animals.
The stereotype that several Asian countries, and China in particular, are the root of countless evils for animals makes the following fact surprising: there are more vegans and vegetarians in China than in the United States — 50 million versus 30 million. That growing meat-free population could help make a dent in statistics like the four million cats China’s residents eat each year.
The Chinese trend against meat-eating is particularly heartening because many of the veg folks are motivated by concern for animals and are taking action to implement and spread their values. In one recent example, Chinese animal rights activists launched a huge effort to put an end to an annual dog meat festival last month.
South Korea also has a home-grown animal protection movement. In 2010, activists raided a covert dog farm and rescued as many dogs as they could. Then they went back and persuaded the owner to relinquish the remaining dogs and raze the farm’s buildings.
Even people who are not risking arrest like the South Korean rescuers or changing their diets like the Chinese vegetarians often care about animal welfare more than international headlines might suggest. An insightful initiative against ivory in China was based on the realization that locals weren’t stubborn or indifferent to animals’ suffering; they were just lacking key information.
In Chinese, the phrase for ivory literally means “elephant tooth.” This gave consumers the impression that elephants dropped their tusks the way other species like humans and, notably, sharks, shed and replace their teeth. People assumed that ivory suppliers collected and sold discarded tusks while the elephants went on about their lives without injury.
So the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) launched a publicity campaign to raise awareness that the only way to get ivory is to kill elephants and remove the tusks from their corpses. IFAW achieved striking results: the number of people who said they definitely would not buy ivory doubled, and their primary reason was the slaughter of elephants.
Activists in Hong Kong are reducing local demand for shark fin soup. “Several hotels offer discounts, cheaper room rates and other incentives for couples that choose not to serve shark fin at their wedding celebrations,” and “campaigners persuaded Citibank Hong Kong to withdraw a promotion offering new credit card holders discount on a shark fin dinner.”
There is no denying that Asian consumers are responsible for the misery, death and possibly even the endangered status of countless animals — or that all of us, in every country, make choices and assumptions that cause just as much horror. But the image some animal advocates may have of Asia as a hidebound monolith on animal issues is wrong. Determination is growing among many Asian residents to save animals by changing their countries’ habits and shedding light on the grisly consequences if they don’t.