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In memory of Panda

Dave Neale, our Animal Welfare Director, was with us when we visited barbaric live-animal markets and wildlife parks in southern China a few weeks ago. He has kindly agreed to let me share with you here these beautiful words, which he wrote on his flight home:

All that you have is your soul

Imagine being born into an empty world, a world with nobody to comfort you, nobody to keep you warm, no hands to cradle you and nobody to provide for your instant needs, just an empty cavernous void.

As she lay on the cold, dirty, concrete floor this was all she had, she had been born into a meaningless world. Not one person knew of her existence, her mother was unable to reach her never mind provide for her needs. This was the “fate” of just one small kitten in a live-animal market in Foshan, southern China.

Her mother was crammed inside a crate with dozens of other undernourished, terrified and diseased cats waiting to be dragged out of their pitiful home to be brutally slaughtered and eaten. The cat traders lounging around the crate had not even noticed as she gave birth, her offspring had instantly fallen through the cage bars and now lay on the dirty, cold concrete floor below. Not noticed as she lay their whimpering for her mother, whimpering for the hand of kindness we all need no more so than in the first moments of our existence, whimpering for her life.

The course of this kitten’s life was heading towards death on that very floor that she laid on until we saw her squirming below the cat crate whilst we were visiting and documenting the awful conditions at this market. We picked her up, and hiding her from the traders, smuggled her back to our car. Suddenly in the space of a few seconds we had become responsible for her life. The hand of human kindness had miraculously arrived against all of the odds.

As we sat in the car trying to meet the instant basic needs of this poor lost soul, outside the cats still lay on top of each other in their crates. Dogs were being thrown into filthy pens containing other dogs with obvious signs of life-threatening diseases, lying next to motionless dogs, their worlds already reaching a miserable end. Donkeys, goats, deer and pigs all packed into filthy pens – chickens, ducks, geese and rabbits on top of each other – no room to move, no room to live.

What force led these animals to be here awaiting an end to a miserable, painful life? What led to the kitten squirming and squealing for her life on a barren, desolate, diseased floor? What leads to the numbness of a market trader allowing him to beat a terrified animal whilst we watch holding back the tears for the misery and sorrow of these poor creatures? What leads to a young boy punching a bear in the face to make it perform for an expectant crowd? What leads a human being to remove the teeth of tigers and lions, beat them into submission and remove their very reason to be alive only to parade them around an arena and pretend they are fierce beasts to be “tamed”?

There is no one answer to these questions, no words to explain why, and it is with some sadness that I write these words following a number of days visiting safari parks and an animal market in China. In a country which is rapidly gaining and building its own unique identity after years of oppression, animals are suffering a fate that animals across the world suffer – treated as commodities, factory farmed in their billions, experimented upon in their millions and abused for our gains and entertainment.

Since the start of economic reform in China in 1978, China has risen to be the third largest economy on earth with a population of 1.3 billion people. China’s sheer size means that everything about it tends to be vast and this includes the animal suffering. But hope lies from within this vast country. As the sleeping economic and political giant rapidly awakens, so does the desire to protect, respect and care for the many billions of animals that share this vast land.

As market traders abuse and torture animals for food, as performers beat, humiliate and break the spirits of animals in the name of entertainment, as people sit back and laugh at the misery and sorrow of bears made to walk on their front paws or made to “box” each other in pathetic displays of human dominion so a new generation of animal welfarists is emerging. Welfarists willing to stand up and be the voice for the animals, willing to challenge the authorities on their actions and willing to question the very people that use and abuse animals in the name of entertainment and greed. It is in this generation that we find the hope for the future of China’s animals.

For all of these animals, stripped of their physical characteristics, their spirits beaten, all that remains is their souls. For each and every one of these souls, we have to be their voice, they have lost theirs the moment they are born into this cruel, heartless world. We have to fight for the rights of the lost souls and reduce the suffering of the many billions crying out for our help, and along the way save the individuals as well. Making a difference to just one life can have repercussions that help improve the lives of millions.

For this one kitten, even our hand of human kindness could not save her life. She died after receiving the love, care and ultimately the respect from within her new world. We named her “Panda”.

To Panda, you are beautiful in every single way, your life and the lives of every other soul that enters this world only to be taken brutally and callously without meeting the hand of human kindness, is worthy of more than we can ever provide. You were loved from the moment you arrived to the moment you departed.

I found this photo of Dr John holding Panda. A perfect little soul.


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