Chinese water dragon (Physignathus cocincinus) at the Lithuanian Zoological Garden | Photo: Lietuvos zoologijos sodas, license: CC BY-SA 4.0

Anthropomorphism is the greatest threat to animal welfare

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When it comes to setting standards and rules, treating animals like humans does not lead to acting in the animals’ best interest.

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Note: Animals are not humans, even though humans are biologically counted as animals – they are classified as a species, for instance. This does not have to be contradictory, as there are many differences even amongst animals: i.e. lions are not dolphins. So, if the goal is animal welfare, then there is no point in asking ourselves how we would feel in place of the animal – although the opposite standpoint is also quite popular because it is supposedly so empathetic. However, projecting oneself into an animal is neither empathetic nor animal-loving, it is disrespectful. Respect for animals means respecting them as they are and not how we would like them to be.

This also means admitting that chimpanzees can be incredibly brutal and act unethically. It also means admitting that rape is an accepted part of everyday life among dolphin populations. Likewise, we have to accept that lion prides do not ask moral questions when they hunt. Probably the most blatant anthropomorphism lies in the demand from animal rights activists to feed carnivores a vegan diet. They actually imagine contributing to animal welfare with this approach. So, this kind of animal cruelty is actually accepted within the animal rights industry, as imagining that animals are just like humans matches the movement’s ideology.

However, true animal welfare begins when we allow for those needs of animals that are not accepted by the animal rights industry. The allegation that animals want “freedom” is equally abstruse as the imposition of veganism: there is no freedom in nature, so animals never experience it and have no abstract notion of it. Moreover, the definition of “freedom” is a philosophical debate – from the definition to the different theories and all the way to the representation in the real world. But this is not a need that animals have. The needs of animals can well be defined scientifically. This is why zoos and aquariums are constantly researching how to make the life of animals under human care as well as in nature as good as possible. Animal welfare means research and not getting lost in anthropomorphisms.

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