In this, the first of our Q&A series, prolific scientist and author Marc Bekoff, Professor Emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, answers our questions.
Marc, the list of your accomplishments and awards over many decades is very long, and includes groundbreaking work that has advanced our understanding of animal behaviour and sentience, as well as ethical behaviour towards animals, and protection of their rights. Is there any particular facet of your work that you feel most attached to?
Thanks for your kind words Sandra. There really isn’t a single facet, but if I had to select one it would be for people to use what we know about the emotional lives of nonhuman animals (animals) on their behalf. I’m tired of people, including researchers, those who are responsible for developing laws and regulations against animal abuse, and others who ignore what we know about sentience and pain and suffering in other animals and make the choice… for they are making choices… to intentionally harm and kill animals when it’s not necessary.
Why should we care so much about other animals, when there is so much human suffering in the world?
Because caring for other animals and caring for humans go hand-in-hand. The One Health Approach is but one that stresses it’s essential to pay attention to the plight of non-humans and humans. Your readers can read about the One Health Approach and other approaches here: Why People Should Care About Animal and Human Suffering
It’s difficult for me to imagine that there is a more viable and hopeful way to move into the future in an increasingly human-dominated world than one that helps humans to appreciate and acknowledge that humans, other species, and the natural environment are inextricably linked. I hope that as time moves on more and more people globally will adopt this collaborative and multidisciplinary approach that works locally, nationally, and globally, and accept that we humans are just one of the gang, all of whom must work together for a better future for all beings and their homes.
Many people say they love animals, but still eat them. They may even know that farmed animals often lead lives of terrible suffering before they are slaughtered for our food. What is going on here, do you think? Is it the weight of tradition or culture? Is it a refusal to think deeply about the issues? Can a preference for a particular flavour in our mouths really outweigh the only life an animal will ever have?
I’m not sure what’s happening for everyone who chooses to eat other animals and animal products when they know they’re causing pain, suffering, and death. It could be tradition or culture, or a lack of caring, or their ability to deny what is in front of their very senses, namely, that they are consuming pain and suffering as part of their meal plans. They have the ability either not to care or to deal with the dissonance between what they say and what they do, and it’s something I simply cannot understand.
In your long career, what are some of the greatest revelations you have personally experienced as a scientist, and as a human being?
I really have no idea how to answer this question. I’ve studied many wild animals and always have been impressed with their unique individuality and personalities, and also their rich and deep emotional lives. If anyone doubts this and they’ve chosen to live with a dog or other companion animal, then they’re not paying any attention to the individual with whom they’ve chosen to share their homes and hopefully their hearts, and it’s a lose-lose for all involved.
The premise of this website is that within less than a decade we will not be, in the Western world at least, raising and killing other animals for food, and therefore slaughterhouses will close. Do you agree with this timeline?
Frankly, it seems a bit optimistic for me, but if it were up to me I’d like to see these changes within the next few minutes. I know this will not happen, but we must keep putting out the message that the intense pain and suffering that so-called “food animals” endure before they’re brutally killed is reason enough to stop eating other animals and animal products right now.
What would you like to see happen for animals in the next five years?
Using what we know on their behalf and putting an end to harming and killing them because it’s so easy to do. There really is no reason for humans to continue killing other animals by the billions each and every year for our benefit.
Thanks for your time today Marc.
Marc is professor emeritus of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder. He has written or edited more than 30 books, the latest being The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce), Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do, and Unleashing Your Dog: A Field Guide to Giving Your Canine Companion the Best Life Possible (with Jessica Pierce, February 2019).
In 2009 he was presented with the St. Francis of Assisi Award by the New Zealand SPCA. His homepage is marcbekoff.com