Renowned photo-journalist Jo-Anne McArthur of We Animals Media has devoted nearly two decades to photographing animals in desperate circumstances – those  who live inside farms, labs and cages all over the world.  The photos that accompany this article were taken by McArthur inside industrialised pig agriculture in Europe.

 

Pigs are commonly placed around fifth or sixth in the list of most intelligent animals, higher than dogs.  They solve mazes, understand and display emotions, and understand symbolic language. Six-week-old piglets that see food in a mirror can work out where the food is located. In contrast, it takes human babies several months to understand reflection. Pigs also understand abstract representations and can play video games using a joystick.   In Nature, pigs have excellent object-location memory. If they find food anywhere, they’ll remember to look there again.  They also possess a sophisticated sense of direction, and can find their way home from huge distances away.    Like other mammals, pigs are sentient beings, who experience joy, loneliness, frustration, fear, and pain.  Despite this, most pigs alive today are kept in cruel factory farms where mothers are confined in barren metal cages so small they’re unable to turn around.  Piglets are castrated without painkillers, and sick piglets are routinely slammed headfirst into concrete floor.  These are all standard practices in industrialised pig farming.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

This pig, photographed in a Spanish farm, is a “breeder pig”.  Breeder sows are artificially inseminated and give birth to a litter twice or three times a year. She’s kept behind bars in a crate, where she cannot turn around and has trouble lying down.  When her babies are born they can suckle, but she is unable to interact with them.   

 

If there is a baby who has strayed behind her, she cannot even reach over and pick her up.  If there is a dead baby next to her, there’s nothing she can do but watch it lying there. 

 

It is common for their urine and feces to build up under captive pigs, causing them to develop respiratory problems due to the ammonia inside the farms.

 

In the extreme conditions of their confinement, pigs feel enormous pressures that can result in mental illnesses.  Some literally go insane, and frustration spilling over to violence is common.   This pig has lost an ear, most likely in a fight.  

 

A pig’s intelligence is partly demonstrated through their curiosity.  When she is inside factory farms, McArthur notices that pigs will make eye contact with her as she passes. “They’re asking questions,” she says. “They have no answers. They don’t know what happens next. They know we— humans— are the ones who hold the key. We’re the ones who move them from crate to crate. We’re the ones who take away their young.”

 

“I wish death for them, knowing that that will likely be the only release they have from pain.”

 

 

For more images see the article ‘Jo-Anne McArthur: the most important animal photographer of our time’

 

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