YATIN VARMA

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated – Mahatma Gandhi

Animal Rights are rarely discussed in Mauritius unlike in many other countries where the fight for animal rights is a relentless one, always attracting a lot of attention both of the public and the media. Assuming the issue not to be a vote catcher, politicians seldom debate the idea. To acknowledge its importance, create awareness and sensitize public opinion further, Mauritius needs to follow India where Article 51A(G) of her Constitution makes it a fundamental duty upon every citizen to protect wildlife and have compassion for all living creatures. Furthermore, our Animal Welfare Act 2013 needs to be amended for animals to be legally recognized as sentient implying they are able to perceive or feel things. A similar approach was adopted in New Zealand when its Animal Welfare Act 1999 was amended in 2015 to legally recognize animals as sentient. Likewise, Article L214-1 of France’s code rural et de la pêche maritime recognizes animals as sentient by stating : « Tout animal étant un être sensible doit être placé par son propriétaire dans des conditions compatibles avec les impératifs biologiques de son espèce ». The United Kingdom was the first country in the world to implement laws protecting animals and its government has publicly stated that animals are sentient beings, not merely commodities and confirmed its commitment to the highest possible standards of animal welfare.

Sections 8 and 9 of the Animal Welfare Act 2013 and the Animal Welfare (Experiments on Animals) Regulations 2017 allow vivisection which is the practice of performing operations on live animals for the purpose of experimentation or scientific research. The British Union against Vivisection and the National Anti-Vivisection Society raised the alarm bells about the situation in Mauritius. They went to the extent of reporting that Mauritius is one of the biggest suppliers of laboratory monkeys in the world and have accounted baby monkeys being torn from their screaming mothers to be tattooed, pregnant monkeys manhandled and pinned down in terrifying routine procedures and screaming monkeys being swung by their tails. Local authorities shamefully hid under the blanket of silence. Undoubtedly, these are unacceptable and cannot be tolerated in a civilized country. Through the Drugs and Cosmetics Rules (Second Amendment) 2014, animal testing for cosmetic products is prohibited in India. Furthermore, India banned dissecting and experimenting on animals in schools and colleges in 2012.  Campaigns by Safe Animals from Exploitation (SAFE) and the New Zealand Anti-Vivisection Society led to the introduction of the ban of testing of cosmetics and party pills on animals. In January 2019, the Australian Government announced the implementation of the ban on cosmetic testing on animals for July 2020. Vivisection amounts to cruelty towards animals whereby they are purposely made to endure pain and suffering. If we are to respect animal rights, this obscure practice should be banned altogether in Mauritius.

Deer hunting with hunting dogs

Deer hunting with hounds or hunting dogs is a cruel sport of barbaric nature which is authorized by virtue of The Native Terrestrial Biodiversity and National Parks Act. Professor Patrick Bateson, Britain’s pre-eminent animal behaviour scientist published a study in 1997 on the welfare of hunted deer.  Reflecting on his findings in The Times he wrote, inter alia, “Red deer are not equipped with sweat glands in their bodies. They overheat when chased and their muscle fibre type is not adapted for endurance running(….) The pattern of the data suggests that the hunted animals are extremely frightened as they try to escape”. Germany banned hunting with hounds, way back in 1934. The Indian Wildlife Protection Act prohibits the hunting of any wild animal for sport. Hunting with hounds has been banned in the United Kingdom by virtue of the Hunting Act 2004. Although it will be unpopular among a certain local aristocracy, the brutal sport of deer hunting with hounds should end. Like elsewhere, many animals in Mauritius are slaughtered for food and religious purposes. The Humane Slaughter Act in the United States defines the guidelines by which animals should be slaughtered. France provides for « Lorsque les circonstances imposent l’abattage d’un animal, celui-ci doit être pratiqué par un procédé assurant une mort rapide et éliminant toute souffrance évitable ». Mauritius needs to ensure legally that, whenever required, animals are slaughtered as rapidly as possible with the least pain. Likewise, docking (cutting or removal) of dog’s tail unless for medical reasons, ear cropping or removal, cliridectomy and other acts of animal mutilation should be prohibited like in the United Kingdom, Australia and New Zealand.

The number of stray dogs and cats in Mauritius is clearly intolerable. This shows little respect for animal rights, detrimental to the health and safety of the public and does not augur well with our tourist industry. Section 41 of the Animal Welfare Act caters for stray dogs but does nothing to deal with the problem. Consequently, little is done to control stray dogs. If captured, the way these animals are treated and ultimately killed is clearly inhuman. The Mauritius Society for Animal Welfare, local authorities and the Protection of Animals Welfare Society (PAWS) need to be empowered and provided with the necessary facilities and assistance to help solve this acute problem. Pet shops have mushroomed in recent years with no adequate legal framework. France has an elaborate set up at article L214-6-1 of the “code rural et de la pêche marine” with specific provision as regards health and sanitation. Such sensitive commercial activities need to be inspected and supervised by some central authority. Furthermore, animals cannot be exhibited in show cases where they are exposed lengthily to the sun, to excessive heat or cold with insufficient aeration and excessive light. The Animal Welfare Act in the United Kingdom even raised from 12 to 16, the minimum age for buying a pet without parental accompaniment.

Animals have the right to live free from human abuse and exploitation. This right needs to be respected and defended in all circumstances to show the greatness of our nation and its moral progress.