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Animal protection without racism

It can be tricky to talk about issues that may attract *the wrong crowd * and derail an important and worthwhile conversation. Here's a great example of Karman Wong (a long time ambassador for World Animal Protection) working to further the organization's awareness and advocacy goals while noting that xenophobia, hate and racism have no place in the discussion. We love working with clients like World Animal Protection who are dedicated to improving the lives of animals (with sensitivity and understanding of cultural nuance) around the world.

OPINION: Animal protection without racism

By: Karman Wong, KPW and Melissa Matlow, Word Animal Protection

Why would anyone want to eat a peacock? A baby crocodile? A snake?


With Chinese eating habits in the news due to COVID-19, the way these questions are sometimes asked, and the answers given, have taken a disturbing tone. Discussions quickly degenerate into “us” versus “them” dichotomies, righteous claims to “our” moral, sanitary, and dietary superiority, and “their” barbaric backwardness.  

Assumptions rooted in xenophobia and racism are thinly veiled, if at all. Recent data collected by the Angus Reid Institute found that a majority of the Chinese Canadians they surveyed experienced racist behavior directed at them, as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. 

Just take one example, from earlier this month in Mississauga, when a person directed an anti-Asian, racist tirade at employees at an Asian supermarket. 

Villainizing an entire culture or continent certainly isn’t the way we prevent a future outbreak.  

People concerned with the treatment of animals and the threat of emerging pathogens need to approach the issues with an understanding of the facts.  

When it comes to eating wild animals, this is rooted in Chinese culture and history. In a society that’s seen rapid gains in wealth and lifestyle, wildlife consumption has become a status symbol.

China’s culinary thrill-seekers are often after more exotic fare, and it’s helping to drive the legal (and illegal) wildlife trade.

Wildlife markets are different than “wet” markets, also known as “farmer’s markets.”

Dozens of wild species may be sold at any given time. There are no health inspections. Animals suffer in tiny, noisy, filthy spaces.

Stress and terror weaken their immune systems, leaving them less resistant to disease. Then they are killed, and the next victim moved into the basket or cage, with any pathogens left behind.

Alarmingly, three-quarters of emerging human pathogens originate in animals, mainly wildlife.

If the needless suffering caused in wildlife markets isn’t convincing enough to ban them, humanity’s self-interest should be.

While people may disagree on whether animals should be eaten, used for medicine, or kept as pets, it should be common ground that they shouldn’t be kept in conditions that cause suffering and create greater risk of another deadly viral outbreak.

The cruel and dangerous treatment of animals is a global problem, and isn’t just about food.

In Canada, there is a robust (and insufficiently controlled) legal wildlife trade for meat, fur, entertainment and exotic pets. There is little in the way of tracking or inspection, even across our national borders.

Animals sold online or in pet stores and exotic pet expos are trucked across the country in mobile petting zoos to schools, birthday parties, and long-term care homes — a practice that leaves some disease experts aghast. 

We know that curbing the wildlife trade is the most effective way to prevent future pandemics. We can avoid terrible human and economic costs in the future if we take action now. Canada needs to lead.

Canadians need to call on our own government, and on governments around the world, to crack down on the wildlife trade. 

But calls in the form of misleading, insensitive, and racially-targeted comments are hurtful and unhelpful.

They set back the progress of those working to protect animals and stop the wildlife trade. They also serve as a stark reminder that even Canadians of Chinese origin who have lived in North America all their lives may still be considered “other.”

The animal welfare and human health issues presented by the wildlife trade are real, and urgently need to be addressed.

Those who base their arguments on stereotypes and caricature are simply using the issue as cover to condemn what, in their deep ignorance, they see as a greater threat – people who don’t look like them.

This pandemic has forced the world to reflect deeply on what it means to live in a global society.

But we won’t prevent the next outbreak until we recognize the causes are rooted in our relationship with animals, nature, and each other. 

Wong works in media and communications and is an Ambassador for World Animal Protection. 

–– Matlow is  campaign director of World Animal Protection Canada, supporting advocacy to end wildlife trade internationally.


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