In the end, it is about the propinquity between animal rights and public health, writes DOUGLAS RASBASH
The treatment of animals varies widely across the African continent where the relationship between humans and animals is deeply intertwined with culture, tradition and socioeconomic factors.
While it is true that cattle often hold special status in some African societies, it is an oversimplification to suggest that chickens and pigs are universally treated poorly. The diversity of animal rights in Africa reflects the continent’s rich tapestry of traditions, values and practices.
In this feature, we will explore the complexities of animal rights in Africa, considering regional variations and the factors that influence the treatment of animals. That animal rights, public health and the environment are intertwined is also recognised.
Cattle have traditionally held a special place in many African societies, symbolising wealth, prestige and cultural heritage. In communities like the Maasai in East Africa, cattle are considered a measure of a person’s status, and elaborate rituals surround cattle ownership and care. These animals are often well-taken care of and play a vital role in the livelihoods of these communities. They provide milk, meat and leather, as well as being used in traditional ceremonies.
While cattle are celebrated, the treatment of chickens and pigs is more diverse. It is important to recognise that Africa is a vast continent with numerous distinct cultures and traditions. Therefore, the treatment of chickens and pigs varies considerably from region to region.
In some African societies, chickens and pigs are indeed treated poorly due to a lack of awareness about animal welfare, poverty, or the prioritisation of other basic needs. However, it is important to avoid painting an entire continent with a broad brush. In many regions, chickens and pigs are valued for their contributions to food security and economic sustainability.
The treatment of animals in Africa is heavily influenced by socio-economic factors. In regions where poverty is pervasive, the welfare of animals may be compromised as people struggle to meet their own basic needs. In more affluent areas, animals are often treated with greater care and respect. Cultural and traditional values play a significant role in shaping attitudes towards animals. Different communities have their own unique practices and beliefs regarding animals, which can range from reverence to exploitation.
As African societies urbanise and modernise, there is a shift in the treatment of animals. In urban areas, where space and resources are limited, animal welfare may be neglected; whereas in rural settings, traditional practices often prevail. Education and awareness initiatives have the potential to improve animal welfare in Africa. Efforts to inform communities about the importance of humane treatment of animals and the benefits of sustainable animal husbandry can lead to positive change. The economic value of different animals can influence their treatment. Animals that provide valuable resources, such as poultry and small livestock, may be better cared for due to their contribution to food security and income generation.
Humane animal husbandry
Efforts to improve animal rights in Africa should consider these regional variations and address the underlying factors that influence the treatment of animals. Education and awareness programmes, along with sustainable and humane animal husbandry practices, can contribute to better animal welfare across the continent. The path towards improved animal rights in Africa requires a balanced approach that respects the diversity of cultures and traditions while promoting ethical treatment of all animals.
Many believe that the COVID pandemic was started from a crossover or zoonotic virus from bats to humans in the flesh market in Hunan China. So it is incumbent to look at the animal rights from another and perhaps more contemporary viewpoint. The rights of animals and the rights of people are interconnected in various ways, reflecting a complex relationship between human and animal welfare. While there are distinctions between the two, there are also important correlations as both share common ethical, environmental and practical considerations.
First let us appreciate that many people believe in the ethical principle that animals should be treated with kindness and respect, recognising their capacity to suffer. This sense of compassion and empathy for animals can extend to a broader moral framework that encompasses human rights as well. The advancement of animal rights often parallels progress in human rights. As societies become more aware of and sensitive to the mistreatment of animals, they may also develop a heightened awareness of social justice issues related to human rights.
The well-being of animals and the health of ecosystems are closely connected. Biodiversity and the health of natural environments are critical for human survival and quality of life. Efforts to protect and conserve animal species can have direct implications for human sustainability. The treatment of animals, particularly in agriculture, is linked to greenhouse gas emissions, deforestation, and resource depletion. Addressing animal welfare issues can be crucial in mitigating climate change and protecting the planet for both animals and people.
Zoonotic disease outbreaks
Many infectious diseases, including COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2), originate in animals and can be transmitted to humans. Proper animal welfare and husbandry practices can reduce the risk of zoonotic disease outbreaks, benefiting both animal and human populations. Various strains of influenza viruses can be transmitted from birds or pigs to humans, leading to seasonal flu outbreaks and occasional pandemics. Rabies is a viral disease that can be transmitted to humans through the bite or scratch of an infected animal, typically dogs or bats.
The Ebola virus can be transmitted to humans from infected animals, such as bats and non-human primates. It is believed that the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) originated from a simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV) in non-human primates and crossed over to humans. Hantaviruses are transmitted to humans through contact with rodent urine, faeces, or saliva, and can cause severe respiratory illness.
The bacterium Borrelia causes Lyme disease burgdorferi and is transmitted to humans through the bite of infected ticks, often carried by small mammals. West Nile Virus is primarily transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes which acquire it from infected birds. Salmonella bacteria can be transmitted to humans through consumption of contaminated food, often originating from infected animals, including poultry and reptiles.
Brucellosis is caused by the Brucella bacteria and can be transmitted to humans through consumption of unpasteurised dairy products or contact with infected livestock. Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease transmitted to humans through contact with water or soil contaminated with the urine of infected animals, such as rodents and livestock. Anthrax is a bacterial disease that can infect humans through contact with infected animals or their products, such as hides, wool, or meat. Coxiella burnetii, the bacterium responsible for Q fever, is transmitted to humans through inhalation of contaminated aerosols from livestock environments. The quality of animal products, such as meat and dairy, can affect human health.
Ensuring the well-being of animals in the food production system is essential for producing safe and nutritious food for human consumption. Many communities rely on animals for their livelihoods, such as through farming, fishing, and animal husbandry. Protecting animal rights can contribute to the economic well-being of these communities. In many regions, wildlife and animals are essential for tourism, which can significantly contribute to local economies.
Preserving these animals and their habitats is vital for both economic and cultural reasons. All living beings are interconnected in ecosystems, and the rights of animals are essential for the balance of these systems. The health of ecosystems and the conservation of species can directly impact human well-being.
In summary, the rights of animals are not isolated from the rights of people. They are intertwined through ethical, environmental, and practical connections. Recognising the correlations between animal and human rights can lead to a more holistic approach to ethics, environmental stewardship, and social justice. This understanding underscores the importance of respecting the rights and well-being of both animals and humans in order to create a more just and sustainable world.
The story of animal rights, health and welfare is deeply interwoven with that of humans that have depended on animals. This symbiosis has been both successful and disastrous over the eons.