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Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Animal Cruelty in Bolivia

Archie has been volunteering at Mallasa Zoo, which is devoted to ensuring the welfare and development of the animals that stay there. Here is his reflection on animal cruelty in Bolivia.

Animal cruelty is one of the biggest issues in the world.  It affects animals living in diverse environments and roles; from family pets to circus animals, zoos to commercial farms, and religious and cultural traditions to animals in the wild. One of the reasons that it remains such a significant problem is due to the difficulty in reporting and controlling it. With so many issues affecting humans, animal welfare can often be overlooked.  Without a voice to stand up for themselves, it is all the more important that we speak out on their behalf, and demand the respect that we ourselves would want if we were in their position. To achieve this, we first of all need empathy.

If you don’t learn empathy when you are in the early stages of life, it becomes hard to understand why you should treat animals with respect.  Cruelty to animals often doesn’t have the same reprecussions as cruelty towards humans.  You might think twice before hitting your older brother in case he hit you back.  Animals are less inclined to act in the same way, making them an easy target for anger relief.  It is hard to change this mentality later in life, which is why it is key to educate children when there younger. This is done easiest through the example of an admired role model.

Stray dogs fighting
It starts with a lack of respect for children. In some families, there is still a perception of children being objects and the property of their parents.  Some people still consider it normal to smack or beat children to discipline them.  In turn, this makes them more likely to repeat this violence toward animals. Inevitably, this may lead to some of them growing up thinking extreme incidences of violence such as ´Ponchos Rojos´, where two dogs were beheaded on a televised show, are acceptable. The incident was part of a protest, where live dogs were hung from ropes and beheaded, while protestors claimed, “this is what we will do to our political opponents”.   As cruel and hair-raising as the may be, perhaps more shocking is that the act was broadcast on prime-time TV news without censorship.  This example demonstrates how far we are from the ideals of animal respect in Bolivia.

The instance of ‘Ponchos Rojos’ has inspired other political protestors to slaughter animals as a means of grabbing the public’s attention.  The Quillacollo slaughterhouse workers are an example of this. They needed a new and modern slaughterhouse, for the meat industry of the region, but the Mayor was taking his time.  To demonstrate how serious they were about their point, they took a bull into the Plaza of the Consejo Municipal and tortured it by stabbing it with knives.  This happened in public view, will young children and families watching.  There were no reprecussions for the workers responsible, and the act led to them being given a new slaughter house.  These incidents demonstrate the extent to which animal cruelty is accepted in Bolivia.

However, not all Bolvian condone or replicate this behavior.  While volunteering in Bolivia I have been supporting staff in Mallasa Zoo.  The staff there are a true example of people who care about animals and their welfare. While volunteering there, I have supported them in coming up with ways to stimulate their minds and ensure their happiness.  This has included making devices and toys that make them have to work to find their food, and developing enclosures which provide them with toys and space.  The challenge the zoo face is that they are under staffed, and therefore find it difficult to find the time to devote to animal stimulation, which is why volunteer assistance is so important.

Unfortunately, the high regard for animals in Mallasa Zoo is not typical of animal treatment in Bolivia, however there are some signs of progress.  It was typical practice in Bolivian military training to disembowel and brutal kill living animals in order to ´teach how to kill´.  The Bolivian Government has now prohibited such acts on the grounds that it is mistreatment of animals. 

The government has also enforced world's first ban on all animals in circuses. A handful of other countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses, but the Bolivian ban includes domestic animals as well. The law states that the use of animals in circuses "constitutes an act of cruelty". Some of the animals removed from circuses as a result of this act are now in Mallasa Zoo.  The law was proposed after an undercover investigation by the non-profit group, Animal Defenders International (ADI) found widespread abuse in circuses operating in Bolivia. 

This change in the law is positive step in the right direction for Bolivia, and will hopefully encourage animals to be treated with the care and respect that they deserve.         

Written by Archie Burney
Edited by Sarah Cassidy 

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