Dear Animal Person,
Those of us in northerly regions are now in the midst of winter, a season of darkness. As the nights grow long and the temperature drops, it becomes easier to succumb to darker feelings kept at bay by the sunlight of warmer months. This is true now more than ever; the magnitude of animal and human suffering worldwide seems to increase daily, and thanks to modern communications, so too does our awareness of it.
Yet winter can also be a season of hope. Cultures throughout the Northern Hemisphere have established celebrations of light that coincide with the season’s onset, from Christmas to Diwali to Hanukkah. While the spiritual and cultural significance of these celebrations may otherwise vary greatly, all share a common message: No matter how overpowering the darkness seems, the light can and will triumph so long as we keep it alive in our hearts.
Nearly three years ago, at the end of December 2013, ANIMAL PEOPLE entered a long season of disappointment and dismay. Various longstanding internal conflicts over policy and practice erupted forcefully, and the situation quickly escalated past a point of no return. One of our co-founders, who had served as editor of Animal People News for twenty-one years, ultimately resigned to start his own project, and those of us who remained with Animal People were left in a state of crisis, unsure of the path forward.
Yet after many months of struggling with options, the vision that had first guided the creation of the ANIMAL PEOPLE newspaper appeared to us again with new clarity: a call to raise awareness of animal suffering in the general public, and assist, guide, and empower activists working to alleviate it.
When ANIMAL PEOPLE was founded in 1992, a print publication reporting current events in animal protection worldwide was the best means of fulfilling our founding mission. But the world has changed drastically since then. The Internet Age has greatly democratized the spread of information – empowering individuals from every background to share their own knowledge and perspectives with the world through blogs, social media posts, and online pictures and videos – but it has also put both great and small newspapers out of business. We realized that the fulfillment of our founding vision lay not in creating another print publication or adding our voice to the chorus of views already competing online, but in creating a platform where all people who care about animals could express themselves on a level playing field, stimulating conversation and constructive debate over how best to advance the animal protection cause.
Thus was the ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM born: our new online platform for people who care about animals, where activists and others worldwide can share information and perspectives on animal rights, welfare, and conservation issues:
We publicly launched the ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM a little over one year ago, in September 2015, and since that time it has flourished. We have published hundreds of articles from over eighty authors, from countries on every continent except Antarctica, in a broad range of formats and covering an enormous diversity of topics. To give just a handful of examples, the FORUM now hosts:
- Firsthand accounts of rescue missions to save dogs from the Philippine dog meat trade
- Challenges to scientists offering cash awards for the development of alternatives to animal research
- Books on the humane treatment of animals in Islam, available for free download in English and Arabic
- Progress reports on humane education programs for Chinese schoolchildren
- Calls to action for campaigns against culling of stray dogs in Mauritius
- Opinion pieces arguing for breeding restrictions as a kinder alternative to breed bans such as the one recently passed against pit bulls in Montreal
- Photo galleries revealing the conditions of stray dogs and cats in Turkey
- Short stories written from the perspectives of dairy cows and lab rodents
We are grateful to those who have submitted material to the ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM so far. To those who have not written for the FORUM, we invite you to do so, so that your knowledge and ideas may help to further the animal protection cause! To begin participating on the FORUM, click “Create An Account” on the right-hand menu, or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly register an account on your behalf.
Besides publishing content submitted by users on the ANIMAL PEOPLE FORUM, we have developed additional resources to further the cause of animal protection. These include
…our photo library on Flickr, containing thousands of animal-related photographs from our archives, amassed over decades, which are now publicly available free of charge under Creative Commons. If a writer needs an image to illustrate a story on the FORUM, or if images are needed in activists’ own campaigns and projects, this is a phenomenal resource;
…our online exhibit Beyond Human: Animals, Aliens, and Artificial Intelligence, which explores current scientific evidence for animal intelligence and consciousness, its relevance for understanding intelligent machines or alien life forms we may encounter in the future, and the ethical dilemmas posed by sentience in non-human beings. I first developed Beyond Human as a graduate student, for my Masters thesis, and have regularly updated it since to showcase the latest scientific discoveries in animal intelligence, astrobiology, and artificial intelligence research; and
…our online repository of articles and back issues from the ANIMAL PEOPLE Newspaper, currently under electronic re-construction. Though now out of print, the newspaper remains invaluable for understanding the history of the animal movement and various issues within it, and we look forward to offering our full collection of archives at newspaper.animalpeopleforum.org.
Most recently, we launched our own channel on YouTube, and a new video series, Animal People World News. Inspired by news shows such as BBC World News, it offers succinct reports of the highlights of current events involving animals worldwide, in 10-12 minute episodes aired approximately once per week. Although ANIMAL PEOPLE’s work has always extended far beyond news reporting, it remains essential to interest and involve the general public in humane concerns. Animal People World News provides a convenient means for people online to receive highlights of new developments in animal rights, animal welfare, and what is being called “compassionate conservation.”
Besides Animal People World News, we offer a variety of other types of video on YouTube as well, including a short interview I recently recorded with Dr. Jane Goodall in Nepal, and the animated film “Yudisthira’s Dog,” which retells the story of an ancient Hindu king famous for his kindness toward a dog. With your support, we hope to be able to expand our range of video programming in the future.
However, none of our current projects would be possible without the devotion and dedicated work of the ANIMAL PEOPLE team. Our founder Kim Bartlett continues to serve as president, and Patrice Greanville as web publisher. Before ANIMAL PEOPLE’s beginning in 1992, Kim and Patrice worked together at the now defunct Animals’ Agenda magazine. Before Kim joined the Animals’ Agenda as editor in 1986, she spent her early adulthood as an animal activist in Texas – where attitudes about animals were, in her description, much like those in developing countries today. I grew up in the ANIMAL PEOPLE office, and became ANIMAL PEOPLE’s Executive Director in June of 2015, after serving as a board member for several years prior.
We are also pleased to introduce our two newest employees. Anita Mayangpuspa, our social media coordinator, is in charge of our Facebook and Twitter accounts, and brings twelve years’ experience with animal welfare projects in Indonesia. Dylan Forest, our online archivist and photo editor, manages our photo library and newspaper repository, while also working toward a graduate degree in anthropology at the New School in New York City.
Finally, ANIMAL PEOPLE continues to provide direct support to certain animal protection projects around the world, as funding is available.
We have co-sponsored the Asia for Animals conference series since its debut in Manila, Philippines in 2001. We are playing an active role in planning the next one, to be hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute in Kathmandu, Nepal in October 2017.
One of the top goals for Asia for Animals 2017 will be to mobilize opposition to animal sacrifice at the next Gadhimai Festival in 2019. Held every five years, the Gadhimai Festival takes place in and around a small temple outside the Nepalese town of Birgunj, close to the border with India. During each of these two-day festivals, hundreds of thousands of animals – including water buffaloes, goats, pigs, chickens, and even rats – have been brutally killed.
Although in its total death toll Gadhimai is dwarfed by the industrial slaughter of animals for food, its significance lies not just in numbers but in the public example it sets: that cruelty toward animals is not only acceptable but sacred.
Because we believe that public acts of cruelty set the floor for what is considered morally acceptable in private, ANIMAL PEOPLE considers the elimination of cruel public rituals like Gadhimai – as well as bullfighting and other spectacles of violence – as priorities for humane action.
Just as it was a necessary step on the path to human rights that public executions, with their “cruel and unusual punishments” be banned, it is a necessary step in the progression of animal rights that public torture and killing of animals be forbidden, regardless of the cultural pretext.
In the year prior to the last Gadhimai sacrifice in 2014, ANIMAL PEOPLE provided financial support to Nepalese activists for public awareness work against the festival. In the days prior to the last Gadhimai in 2014, we sponsored patrol teams along the India/Nepal border to enforce an Indian court order banning transport of sacrificial animals to Nepal for Gadhimai. Our support helped to greatly reduce the number of animals slaughtered compared to the 2009 festival.
Because of international protest and growing disapproval of the festival within Nepal, in July 2015 a member of the Gadhimai Temple Trust issued a statement that there would be no more sacrifice of animals from 2019 onward. Organizations that had protested against the sacrifice declared “Mission Accomplished,” celebrated victory and moved on. However, there have been disconcerting signs that the sacrifice may yet continue. Even if the Gadhimai Temple itself refrains from sacrificing water buffaloes, this will not necessarily prevent celebrants from slaughtering smaller animals on their own. We are presently coordinating with Jane Goodall Institute Nepal in researching the matter and developing a campaign strategy going forward.
During my recent trip to Nepal I inspected the Gadhimai Temple first-hand, recording footage of the site and interviewing Mangal Chaudhary, the head priest in charge of the sacrifice.
In an uncanny coincidence, my visit fell on the main day of Tihar, the Nepalese equivalent of Diwali, the Hindu festival of lights during which the goddess Lakshmi is believed to travel the world bestowing prosperity. Visiting the site of such darkness during a celebration of light made for a strange contrast. More unsettling yet, about a week prior I had acquired a small traditional mask of Lakshmi, which I was keeping in my camera bag. Just after finishing my interview with Mr. Chaudhary, I opened my bag, and found that the mask had cracked in half.
Was this an omen, or merely the result of placing a brittle object in a bag full of electronics? Either way, that the goddess of light fractured in the location of so much cruelty and death reminded me of an important truth.
When we celebrate light in the presence of darkness, we must not do so passively. If we merely take for granted that goodness will prevail, this is not enough – after all, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” We must actively fight for the light, putting forth the blood, sweat, and tears necessary to ensure that the vision of a compassionate future for all creatures is someday brought to fruition, and not swallowed up in the darkness of ignorance, apathy, greed, or sadism.
At ANIMAL PEOPLE we know this very directly, for without tremendous effort and dedication we never could have rebuilt ANIMAL PEOPLE from a state of abject disappointment and near collapse into the project it has subsequently brought forth. But we also know that we never could have done this without the generous aid of all the generous souls who have donated to ANIMAL PEOPLE through the years.
With your continued support, we are confident that we can expand our work further and accomplish far more for animals in the years ahead. Our financial situation is precarious, because we refrained from fundraising these past three years until the new centerpiece of our work was on solid footing.
Won’t you please help us now in fighting for the light, by sending ANIMAL PEOPLE a donation today? We cannot go forward without your help.
We hope to hear from you soon, and meanwhile wish you the brightest of new years.
For the animals,
Wolf Gordon Clifton, executive director
P.S. Our ability to fulfill our mission depends entirely on the generosity of our supporters. Please let us know that you still support our work with a donation today!