Help Animals everywhere!

The history of civilization is closely associated with domestic animals. In the early days of human communities, around 10-12,000 years ago, a few large mammalian and bird species were domesticated which have enabled humanity steadily to rise from primitive conditions to life of higher quality. Large domestic animals made possible the move from hunting, gathering and shifting cultivation to more settled life styles. How have domestic animals played such a key part in the development of human community? What are the special contributions of animals to human well-being? Animals release people from the hard labour of heavy field work; animals make possible the transport of natural resources and farm products to other communities for barter or sale; animals provide animal fat and protein for improved nutrition; animal milk enables infants to survive and grow when quantities of human milk are insufficient; animals provide leather, wool and horn for clothing and shelter; animal fat is used for lighting; dried manure from large animals is fuel for cooking and heating; animal power is used for extracting water from the ground and from rivers for domestic use and for irrigation; animals contribute to improved and integrated farming systems on cropped land; ruminant animals harvest natural vegetation that would otherwise not enter the human food chain; throughout human history, riding animals was the fastest way to travel over land until the invention of the railway in 1829 - only 170 years ago. The domestication of animals was the first step to improve the quality of life through science and technology. Today the majority of people in the world still depend upon animals for these services and, without them life, even in the simplest societies, would disintegrate again into the slavery of food production. The major advances in European civilization leading to trade, industrialization, the application of science and the development of market economy capitalism were possible because animals had first freed a proportion of the population from the daily routine of food production. Following further applications of science and technology throughout Europe and North America over the last 150 years, the majority of people have been set free from work on the land, leaving only 5-10% to farm. This fact can be traced back to the first step of domesticating animals. Freed from the necessity for each family to produce its own food, advanced societies have become immensely creative and modern life has become utterly different. Today, one has only to visit rural areas of Africa, Asia and Latin America to see the contrast with the West and the significant contribution of domestic animals. Closer to home, east of the heart of Europe, in many of the 14 new States of the former Soviet Union where the infrastructures of society have collapsed, one can also see the vital role of domestic animals permitting rural people to survive and to maintain human dignity in the current conditions of great poverty. For thousands of years everyone was in touch daily with domestic animals. Since animals are a resource of such great value, it is easy to understand why people have held them in high esteem and have sometimes regarded them as sacred. People live in close contact with their animals. Usually each family has a few. Owners give animals food and care to ensure their health, longevity, ability to serve and to reproduce. Their value is recognized at special celebrations including birth, marriage and death. Animals are wealth and are used both for savings and as currency. The status of a family or community leader is often recorded by numbers of livestock owned. In some parts of Africa today, a bride is given in return for livestock. In India, Hinduism, the major national religion, holds the cow in special honour and sees a link between the life of domestic cattle and human life. In Moslem society, sheep and goats are vital for religious obligations. In early Jewish periods, before AD 70 when Titus destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem, animal sacrifices were a central part of individual and community worship. Domestic animals have greatly influenced community rituals and values in most early societies. We need to distinguish traditions and rituals of life from values. Traditions and rituals are often beautiful and they mark for us the pattern of life, but they are rarely essential and we have dropped many of them from life in the West. In contrast, community and public values in a society, as the name implies, are extremely important. Every society has values. Values determine the direction a society takes. Values enable a society to survive and advance - or they cause its decline. Values lie at the heart of a society and determine the goals people will work to achieve. Values direct activities. Values allocate resources in a society and thereby shape its nature. The values of Western society today are vastly different from those of Europe centuries ago. Values today are focused upon material prosperity, upon economic growth, upon GNP and upon the rights of the individual to do what he or she prefers with the rewards of labour and investment. In a democracy, society's values shape government policy and legislation. Many thoughtful people today are deeply concerned that our current, narrowly focused values in Europe do not provide sufficient care for the environment and for animals and further that they define Quality of Life solely in material terms for immediate consumption. What has this to do with domestic animals? In my view, the historic inter-relationship of animals and people deeply influenced the way people see life-giving society its world-view. The new Western values and world-view have come about partly because of the lack of daily contact with animals and the natural environment. In rural society domestic animals provide the most personal and intimate connection people have with nature, due partly to the fact that humans and animals live and work together in daily contact. The fact that a person owns individual animals leads to a personal commitment to care for them. When people accompany cattle, sheep or goats into the natural environment for grazing they realize that animals and human communities are parts of the whole natural order. People without animals are lost in slavery. Domestic animals need society for protection. Neither can live in a broken environment. Excessive use of one component, for example over-grazing leading to depleted vegetation, places human life and animals at risk. We are enough like animals to be kept humble; we are enough different from animals to be aware of our unique responsibility as "husbandman" of the natural world. Thus, the values of simpler societies for thousands of years were based upon a holistic view of life. Community embraced all individuals and every-one knew that each component of life is integrated and that life functions as a whole, like an organism with inter-dependent parts which must be sustained for life to continue. In the West we have lost this world view. We discovered that by focussing upon one component we can make it more productive, but in our enthusiasm we forget the balance of the whole. It is the danger of reductionism. In earlier societies, the intimate dependence upon domestic animals gave more appreciation of the whole environment and helped society to realize that life is entwined with all the natural resources of the world. Although it is not so self-evident, the West today is still dependent upon natural resources. One cannot take endless quantities of everything without upsetting the balance and eventually precipitating a collapse that will reduce quality of life. The earth is in dynamic equilibrium. In tribes owning large herds of cattle, sheep or goats the dilemma and tension are well known. The attractions of larger numbers of animals to ensure that some survive periods of drought have to be balanced against overgrazing and poorer quality animals. Those who prefer more and more animals nearly always lose. We, in the West, need to ponder the deeper implications of the lost relationship of Western civilization with the environment, with domestic animals, with each other in our communities and with other societies on earth. 1 believe better understanding of these relationships is a key to our future options. Thinking more about where we have come from will help us to draw up a balance sheet of what the West has gained, what we are in danger of losing, and where we are going.


Morgyann Powell



No comments yet.

join the discussion

Recent signatures

  • username

    Emily FitzpatrickUnited States

    11 months ago
  • username

    EmilySouth Africa

    11 months ago
  • username

    Orlando J BaezUnited States

    11 months ago
See more

Petition highlights

There are no highlights yet.