Animal rights

From ferreter to animal-rights champion

I was sitting quite still at the typewriter when a plump mouse emerged from under the fridge and crossed the kitchen floor, moving by monorail. Conscious suddenly of another presence, the mouse paused and cast a speculative and I thought conciliatory eye over me. His fur was a rich chocolate, his eye beady with interest. Catriona — thank God! — was in the room above reading the paper. I heard her laugh out loud. ‘This woman!’ she called down. ‘She’s totally amazing!’ ‘Oh yes?’ I said. ‘In what way amazing?’ ‘She’s had all her toes cut off,’ she said. ‘She’s a cousin of the Queen.’ I looked at the mouse

Boris’s animal rights laws could come back to bite him

Boris Johnson wants to beef up animal rights. The new rules will include a ban on importing stuffed heads as hunting trophies, and possibly on fur as well; a mandatory microchip for every cat in the kingdom; no more exports of live animals for slaughter; a ban on keeping primates as pets; and, most bizarre of all, a law requiring government to accept that animals are sentient and feel pain and angst like the rest of us. This looks odd. There was no extensive pressure except from a small fringe for any of these measures. To most traditional conservatives, animal rights conjure up unattractive visions of young men in dirty

Call of the wild | 19 April 2018

One of the prettiest pieces in the V&A exhibition Fashioned from Nature is a man’s cream waistcoat, silk and linen, produced in France before the revolution, in the days when men could give women a run for their money in flamboyant dress. It’s embroidered with macaque monkeys of quite extraordinary verisimilitude, with fruit trees sprouting all the way up the buttons. And what we know is that they were derived from the Comte de Buffon’s Histoire Naturelle, générale et particulière, of 1749–88. As Edwina Ehrman, curator of the exhibition, observes in her introductory essay, ‘choosing monkeys from Buffon’s publication… to create an embroidery pattern for a waistcoat reflected the fashionable

Inside the animal mind

Whatever the government decides about post-EU regulations on animal sentience, the Greek biographer and essayist Plutarch (died c. ad 120) was fascinated by the comparisons between man and beast and, almost uniquely, argued for the ethical treatment of animals. Some earlier thinkers contended there was a ‘kinship’ between men and animals because animals had flesh, passions and (being alive) souls. Therefore man should neither eat nor sacrifice them. But then Aristotle (d. 322 bc), who invented the discipline of biology, stepped in. He agreed that animals had desires which caused them to behave in certain ways that looked human, but denied that this was evidence of the ability to reason.

Barometer | 14 September 2017

Selfie-worth The animal rights charity Peta dropped a case claiming that a macaque which took its own photo was entitled to the royalties, rather than the camera owner (but only after the photographer agreed to donate a quarter of the royalties to animal charities). — The idea of animal property rights was advanced by Australian philosopher John Hadley in the Journal of Social Philosophy in 2005. He suggested animals be granted rights over territories and human guardians appointed to represent them in court. — There are issues still to be reconciled, however: what of non-territorial animals, and those which dispute each other’s territories? Would cats be expected to resolve differences

Animal crackers

The other evening I was driving back in heavy rain from my pilates class when I noticed something rather upsetting in the gated road that goes through our estate. I stopped and got out of the car for a closer look. Yes, as I feared, it was a dead duck. Some bastard had squished her flat. What made me more upset still was that I could see her mate — a mallard drake — swimming forlornly in the ditch next to the road. I loved those ducks like Tony Soprano used to love his ducks. Especially the stupid way they waddled blithely across your path, forcing you to slow down

The clean and the unclean

In 1991, Moby folded the theme from Twin Peaks into a remix of his dance track ‘Go’ and a diminutive, teetotal, vegan Christian abruptly became the American rave scene’s first pop star. He was not the obvious candidate: one critic dubbed him ‘techno’s crazed youth minister’. As a showboating entertainer in a culture sceptical of stardom, and a somewhat sanctimonious puritan surrounded by hedonists, he put a lot of noses out of joint. On one early online rave forum the phrase ‘Go away Moby’ became a mantra. In his first memoir, Richard Melville Hall (nicknamed Moby due to his famous ancestor Herman) unpicks this paradox with an unusual degree of

Diary – 9 June 2016

When an old friend X came to dinner in London, I sampled what it must have been like during the American Civil War, when families were split asunder from aligning on opposite sides of the Mason-Dixon. Lo, this warm-hearted, well-read, intelligent Midwesterner is backing Donald Trump. This was my husband’s introduction to X, whose electoral preference clearly queered the first impression. Our threesome didn’t talk long on the matter. The disconnect being so absolute, there was little to say. X is the only Trump supporter I wittingly know. But I was chilled by the difference between this and countless heated-but-civil suppers of yore, at which a dinner guest plumped rambunctiously

There will be blood | 17 September 2015

If you don’t want to spend hundreds of euros on a good seat, the best place to watch the Palio di Siena is by the start. For my first time — decades ago — I arrived early in the apron-shaped Piazza del Campo and sweated out the long afternoon as a tide of tension rose. By early evening, when the horses and jockeys finally entered from the courtyard of the towering Palazzo Pubblico, 50,000 spectators ached for release. I clambered on to a temporary fence for a better view. A Sienese woman who was maybe 19 hauled herself up and, for balance, grabbed me from behind. As the jockeys embarked

The Tooting poisoner and the relentless rise of the urban fox

Cowering in the corner of a pet shop, I edged towards the door to try to escape as a stranger yelled at me. The man’s face was so puckered up and puce with anger that I feared I was moments away from being beaten to death with a ball-thrower or ham bone. I had only popped in to buy some dog food for the spaniel and now the spaniel was hiding behind me as a fellow customer shouted abuse. The lady who owned the pet shop was trying to appease the shouting man, who had his own dog with him, a scrappy little terrier who looked as terrified as the

Do your patriotic duty and shoot wild boar

It’s 15 years since I first wrote an article about the threat to the nation of the wild boar; but only now, following the death of a driver in a collision with one of these fearsome beasts on the M4 in Wiltshire, is anyone taking any notice (and not very much notice at that). The government is planning to introduce the same kind of road warning signs for wild boar as those that already exist for deer, horses, toads and ducks. ‘Road safety in the context of wild boars is an emerging issue that needs to be addressed,’ says roads minister John Hayes. ‘The addition of a warning sign for

I believe in animal research. But it’s time to draw a line

Imagine, for a minute, that you’re a frog — a pro-science frog. You’re so pro-science that you’ve decided to donate yourself to it. You sign the consent forms, climb into the barrel and await your fate. It’s all quite exciting, you think, as you travel the bumpy road to the lab. A huge sacrifice, but a chance to expand the shores of human knowledge. You might be part of a cure for cancer, or the common cold, or help to eliminate polio. Finally you emerge — and for the first time, a doubt does too. You’re in a lab, sure, but instead of scientists, there are children everywhere — all

Why we should let Faroe islanders hunt whales

In Tórshavn, capital of the Faroe Islands, I met a man who first helped his father kill a whale with a sharp knife when he was eight years old. The spouting blood soaked his hair and covered his face like warpaint.  He remembered the warmth on his skin, a contrast to the cold North Atlantic in which they stood. These days we assume that people who kill whales and dolphins must be bad. Flipper and his cousins are our friends, and notwithstanding that unfortunate business with Moby-Dick, those who pursue whales for their flesh must be terrible human beings. We know now, as Herman Melville did not, that cetaceans are

Since I moved to the country, I’m on the side of the squirrel-killers

What is the correct expression to wear, I wonder, when you’ve just caught a squirrel in your squirrel trap? Guilt? Pain? Sorrow? Fear at the possibility of a 3 a.m. knock at the door from the boot boys of the RSPCA? The expression you definitely shouldn’t wear, apparently, is one suggestive that you might have taken any pleasure in poor, sweet, bushy-tailed Mr Nutkin’s death. This was the mistake made by Defra secretary of state Owen ‘Butcher’ Paterson, who was revealed over the weekend to have upset visiting Tory colleagues by showing pictures of himself cheerfully posing with the decapitated victims of his Kania 2000 squirrel traps. ‘I’m not sure what

Will the Guardian and the Independent kill the Grand National?

Over the past few years a new trend has emerged in British journalism. Our trade has become over-run with reporters or columnists who are not quite what they seem. They pretend to report objectively on events. In practice the true loyalty of these campaigning reporters or columnists is not just to their readers. Sometimes covertly, sometimes furtively, they also further the agendas of political parties and interest groups. This confusion of loyalties is a notorious problem at Westminster, but is now spreading beyond the political desks of national newspapers. Last weekend’s reporting of the Grand National was a very troubling example of the muddling of categories between straightforward reporting and