The 10th Asia for Animals conference gets underway this coming Saturday in the Nepali capital Kathmandu, and this year’s theme is Changing Human Behaviour.
“Most animal suffering is caused by humans doing, or not doing, something,” said Suzanne Rogers, who founded the social enterprise company Human Behaviour Change for Animals (HBCA).
“The way we treat animals, the products we buy, and the entertainment we seek can all cause suffering. To help animals, we must change the hearts and minds of humans.”
Asia for Animals is a biennial event that is organised by the Asia For Animals (AfA) Coalition, which is made up of twenty organisations focused on improving the welfare of animals in Asia.
Those attending range from people working on the ground in rescue and rehabilitation organisations to animal advocates, veterinarians, scientists, scholars, and those working in education.
More than five hundred people will be participating, and there will be more than 170 presentations.
“The conference presents a unique opportunity to network, share experiences, and learn from practical workshops and plenaries with leading experts,” said the executive director of the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, Manoj Gautam.
“It has given birth to countless new partnerships and new ideas for tackling some of the world’s greatest challenges in animal protection.”
This year’s conference is hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute. The main event is from December 3 to 5, with workshops on December 2 and field trips after the conference ends. These include a visit to Chitwan National Park, which is one of the last strongholds for endangered mammals such as the Bengal tiger and the one-horned rhinoceros.
The keynote speakers include the founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) in the United States, Steven Wise; the eminent historian, environmentalist, and author Nanditha Krishna; the regional head for the Brooke India programmes, Faizan Jaleel, who works to educate the owners of working horses, donkeys, and mules and alleviate the animals’ suffering; Chu Tseng-Hung, whose persistent campaigning has improved the lives of millions of animals in his native Taiwan; and Pei F. Su, who has spearheaded numerous campaigns on issues ranging from bear and fur farming to the illegal turtle trade, zoos, and stray animal management.
Another keynote speaker will be Grace Ge Gabriel, who is the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s regional director for Asia.
The French Buddhist monk Matthieu Ricard, who is a best-selling author, prominent international speaker, translator, and photographer, will also be attending the conference.
Ricard, who resides at the Shechen Tennyi Dargyeling Monastery in Nepal, will be chairing a panel discussion about animals and happiness and speaking at the opening ceremony.
Understanding attitudes and beliefs
Changing human behaviour, Suzanne Rogers says, is not as simple as telling or showing people that animals suffer.
“To really change human behaviour, we need to understand the attitudes and beliefs that motivate people to do what they do. Then we can try to find the best ways to coax human individuals, communities, and populations towards a more compassionate lifestyle.”
Rogers says that traditional approaches to improving animal welfare have focused on providing a service, such as accessible veterinary treatment, or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits.
She outlines what she refers to as the four pillars of change in human behaviour: the process of change, the psychology of change, the environment for change, and ownership of change.
The First International Conference on Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare took place in the United Kingdom in September 2016.
From that conference, Rogers says, the HBCA social enterprise was born, “with the vision of providing resources, services, and products to build the capacity of those working in animal protection by helping them to develop an understanding of the key principles of human behaviour change and how to apply them”.
Heading for extinction
The Kathmandu conference comes just after the release of a new report that details the rate at which animal populations are decreasing globally.
The 2016 Living Planet Report, produced in collaboration with the Zoological Society of London and the Global Footprint Network, uses the global Living Planet Index (LPI) as a measure of the health of 14,152 populations of 3,706 species.
The study indicates that animal populations plummeted by 58 percent between 1970 and 2012. The prediction is that they will decrease by 67 percent by 2020.
Researchers found that the most common threat to declining populations was the loss and degradation of their habitat.
For decades, the report states, scientists have been warning that human actions are pushing life toward a sixth mass extinction.
In the face of increasingly dire predictions, there is a growing sense of urgency about animal conservation.
The delegates gathering at Kathmandu will be sharing their concerns, hopes, successes, difficulties, and analyses, and developing strategies for the future.
Rogers says that innovative campaigning is needed at consumer level to address such issues as the illegal trade in animal parts.
“We need to understand how to alter human behaviour so as to create the best messages to drive change.”
There is an increasing demand for meat, Rogers says, and habitats are being destroyed to grow the food to feed the farm animals.
“Understanding how to broach the subject of dietary change will help us tackle this.”
This is an extract from Annette Gartland’s article on Changing Times. Click here to read more about the speakers who will be making presentations at the conference, and the issues delegates will be tackling.
Featured image courtesy Wolf Gordon Clifton / Animal People, Inc.