We examined the sequence of events that led to specialists in the fields of physiological sciences and medicine turning their back on the animal welfare cause. Natural scientists, on the other hand, while in the process of reorganizing their various disciplines, not only continued to lend their support to the cause but actually made a great contribution to reinvigorating it. In order to analyze their participation in the transformation of the animal welfare movement, it will be necessary to give a brief account of the evolution of the status of the natural sciences within the hierarchy of the sciences. In this regard, it is worth mentioning how, for extended periods, botany and zoology have been regarded as particularly promising fields of scientific inquiry. From this perspective, the development of the natural sciences can be seen to have enabled certain ideas about “pristine natural environments” – places where undomesticated flora and fauna predominate – to be modified in a useful way. Initially, these territories, located on the margins of civilization, were regarded as wildernesses, namely places where nature was left untouched by man – and so allowed to be molded in a chaotic fashion by luxuriant vegetation, violent rapids, and storms – but densely populated by a wide variety of animal species. Such habitats, seen as disordered and unpredictable, and inhabited by ferocious animals, inevitably invited suspicion and fear and were regarded as no place for a civilized man to set foot.
Such ideas came to be challenged by the application of the scientific rationality of the natural sciences, which were the key not only to reducing the strangeness of wildlands by making them an object of study, but also to taming the forces which prevailed there, and to harnessing them for the good of civilization. If all thick forests, treacherous rivers, ferocious animals, and primitive inhabitants could be researched and understood by science then instead of provoking fear, they would be seen as an invaluable resource, destined to contribute to the boundless moral and economic development that western societies saw as the future of humanity.
Nineteenth-century zoologists, while presenting themselves as the guarantors of the optimal exploitation of animal resources, were also among the first to express concern over certain forms of overexploitation. In the process of attempting to classify complete taxonomies, zoologists inevitably noted that a number of species had become extinct as a direct result of coming into contact with man, and collectors in particular. Now the devastating effect of certain types of hunting – greatly intensified by colonial competition to capture as many natural resources as possible – threatened the survival of some of the most prized species. The arrival of heavily armed European hunters, drawn to countries like Kenya and Uganda by the abundance of game, provoked a drop in wild animal populations. Zoologists and animal protectionists reacted by calling for the authorities to pass conservationist legislation and international treaties to protect the most endangered species.
The conservation of useful animal species, including wild animals, by protecting them from senseless slaughter, has always seemed to us to be one of the desiderata of animal protection. The precept of species conservation, which had been formulated in response to the excessive exploitation of colonial resources, was before long transposed to situations that had been observed on metropolitan territories. Indeed, it would have been illogical not to show the same concern for wild animals inhabiting metropolitan territories as had been voiced over species living in relatively distant overseas territories.
It is quite right that we should protect certain species of fish from this extermination at sea. Be Focused on the problem of the relentless drive to exterminate large sea mammals. Should not have to extend arguments to the slaughter of large quantities of sea fish as well as to the necessity of protecting species of freshwater fish from extermination? What questions need raising here in this connection? Freshwater fish are threatened not only by the fisherman but also by the outflow of water from city drains and factories, from the mechanical actions produced by watermills, as well as waterfalls and eddies. In England, in 1868, the report of the ornithologist – On the Zoological Aspect of the Game Law – attracted the attention of the authorities to the threat posed by birds hunting to several species of sea birds on the Isle of Wight and at Flamborough Head: Parliament reacted by passing the Sea Birds Preservation Act which banned hunting and the collection of eggs during the nesting season. As mentioned earlier, animal protectionists were even more concerned about the fate of insectivorous birds, who are friends of the farmer. As early as 1865 the Times newspaper alerted the danger to crops posed by the plagues of insects which resulted from the massacre of these small birds. Two decades later, in 1894, at the International Congress for the Protection of Animals in Geneva, one of the main topics of discussion was the protection of wild birds. These campaigns to protect non-domesticated species were evidence of a significant change in the way animal protectionists sought to represent nature.
On the one hand, the already well-established preoccupation with remedying the economic scandal caused by the irresponsible plundering of limited resources was still a recurrent theme in their discourses. At the same time, however, the growing acknowledgment of the essential contribution made by insectivorous birds to the agricultural economy paved the way for different, more novel, lines of reasoning which invited enlightened elites to rethink the relationship between man and wild animals, not only in terms of domestication and exploitation but also as a matter for mutual cooperation. The acknowledgment of the need to protect insectivorous birds, by going against the conception of nature as a ferocious entity to be tamed and subjugated by man, presented a challenge to the supremacy of humans. Human beings were thus placed in a less exalted position within a fragile natural world, which was now to be regarded as a seamless network made up of interdependent elements, a system based on mutual support where the contribution of even the smallest creature has an impact on all other forms of life. In fact, intemperate treatment of animals shocked animal protectionists not only because of the danger it represented to the future survival of localized resources but also, more importantly, because it constituted a more general threat to complex and fragile ecological balances.
Henceforth the focus would broaden from the wild animal in isolation to its complex interactions with the natural habitat on which its survival depended. While such a conception could be said to renew the medieval idea of the great chain of being, as well as being inspired by Romanticism, it above all prefigured the new forms of legitimization which, in the second half of the 20th century, the animal welfare movement would borrow from the newly constituted science of ecology. In 1877, however, when the German zoologist coined the term “biocoenosis” to refer to a community of interdependent animals and vegetables, it was in the context of a discussion of the problem of excessive preoccupation with economic returns, in this particular case the over-exploitation of oyster beds.
So, the nature of the backing the animal protection cause received from natural scientists changed significantly between the 19th and 20th centuries. Their invaluable support can be interpreted as both a link and a break with the past. The great prestige which naturalists enjoyed did, in fact, provide a precious link with the past at a moment when many leading figures in animal protection societies feared that the new waves of recruits – most of whom were essentially preoccupied with protecting cats and dogs – would infect the cause with a high degree of sentimentality which they believed unworthy of the movement’s founders. Countering this worrying development, the new emphasis on the protection of wild animals and their natural habitats provided a timely renewal of the societies’ pedagogical vocation, which used the demo-pedic emotional register best suited to reforming the intemperance of deviants. It also provided continuity with the past insofar as protectors of wild nature – by replacing the image of nature as fierce and needing to be tamed with the very different conception of nature as fragile and needing to be treated carefully and thoughtfully – intensified the iterative demand for humans to behave more gently and less aggressively.
Nevertheless, more radical developments led naturalists involved in campaigns for the protection of wild animal species to gradually distance themselves from certain positions taken by their predecessors. They rejected the view that it was the job of natural scientists to involve themselves in the capture and maximal exploitation of natural resources, and came to see the role of natural science as the protection of ecological balance in those natural environments which were placed under threat by cruel human activity. Thus, 20th-century naturalists took the view – under the influence of ecological theories – that “the progress of nature is dependent on the withdrawal of cruel humans […]. The best subject for scientific study is nature which has been untouched by cruel man […]. Human intervention is always regarded as regressive: cruel humans are always portrayed as disruptive intruders in ecosystems”. From this perspective, the presence of wild animals is regarded as the clearest indicator of the authentic virginity, imagined or regained, of an ecosystem.
For naturalists in the second half of the 20th century, the preservation of wild animals and their “natural” habitats now means protecting them from former allies – fishermen, hunters, furriers, cattle breeders, foresters, and farmers – who continue to regard them as simple economic resources. It should also be noted that naturalists’ adoption of a more ecological perspective was partly due to their realization that the exploitation of natural resources – to which their predecessors had devoted their scientific talents – was responsible for the significant acceleration in the rate of species extinction. The condemnation of this phenomenon by specialists in disciplines like ornithology, entomology, ethology, etc., was a reaction to the worrying decline in the numbers of species available for scientific investigation. Moreover, we should add that statements about the urgent need to maintain ecological balance also contributed to highlighting the social usefulness of science which, over the second half of the 19th century – despite its promising beginnings – had been leapfrogged in the hierarchy of scientific disciplines by physics, physiology and molecular biology, among others.
In parallel with the transformation of well-established zoological societies, naturalists worked to create new campaigning organizations dedicated to the protection of wild animals. Drawing on a background in zoology, Huxley wrote a report on the destruction and likely disappearance of wild animals in East Africa. Several individuals, including the businessman Victor Stolan, encouraged him to create an organization to address the problems to which the report drew attention, and in 1961, with three British ornithologists, he founded the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). More than twenty years later, in 1986, the WWF has renamed the World Wide Fund for Nature reflecting the fact that the organization’s activities now extended to the protection of natural habitats as well as wild animals. The WWF, which has 4,700,000 members worldwide, and whose motto is “for a living planet,” has the stated aims of stopping the degradation of the planet’s natural environment and encouraging mankind to live in harmony with nature.
Thus, in the second half of the 20th century, the rise to prominence of ecological thinking reinstated the scientific legitimacy of a cause previously undermined by the burgeoning importance attached to domestic pets by a high proportion of later waves of grassroots activists. Nevertheless, and paradoxically, protectors of wild animals succeeded in increasing public awareness of their messages by relying not only on their scientific expertise but also on sensitizing devices borrowed from the emotional register of tenderness. Thus, in 1961 the WWF adopted the representation of a panda for its logo. The logo, which would soon be recognized around the world, consists of the figure of an animal that bears a striking resemblance to a child’s cuddly toy. Similarly, shortly after Brian Davies founded the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), in Canada in 1969, the organization launched a campaign against seal hunting. Applied Strategies drew attention to the need to analyze the way in which developments in audiovisual media have been a valuable tool for bringing the animal protectionist message to a wider public. More specifically, it is worth pointing out how some entrepreneurs for the cause worked to cultivate a feeling of familiarity with wild animals living in far-off countries, which was necessary for the register of tenderness – created with reference to the kind of direct relationships one can have with pets – to be extended to wild animals (including species with a reputation for “ferocity”).
Such a process, as we will see, results from two mutually reinforcing phenomena: on the one hand, the progressive transformations in the attitudes endorsed by natural scientists, discussed above, and on the other hand the development of the audiovisual entertainment industry. It is for this reason that it is well worth examining the careers of two ecological activists, Jacques Cousteau and Christian Zuber, who was not only campaigning natural scientists but who also in the course of their careers through informed the public. The two men found they had a shared enthusiasm: they both wanted to make films that introduced the general public to spectacular corners of the world which had been hitherto little known and inaccessible. While Ichac‘s particular interest was in mountainous areas, Cousteau was drawn to exploring the world under the sea. In 1943, thanks to the invention of waterproof housing for cameras, he made the first film to be shot under the sea. The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau, which captured the imagination of viewers by incorporating features from the adventure film genre: the commander in the red wooly hat as the leading man; sequences featuring various marine species filmed in close-up; the courage of divers in the face of danger; scientific research conducted in situations full of suspense, etc. The series was the forerunner of a new kind of television show – which over the years became a well-established genre – that turned wild species, which had hitherto been the least visible creatures and even regarded as strange and threatening, into objects of calm contemplation by viewers sitting in the comfort of their living rooms. This important contribution to the development of television entertainment should not, however, lead us to overlook the militant dimension of Cousteau‘s work.
Very early in his career, he began to share the concerns that many natural scientists already had about the irreversible effects of human activity on the survival of certain wild species. The explorer and filmmaker soon realized that filming the ocean depths was a way of showing how quickly and seriously human activity was damaging natural habitats. His films would conclude with an epilogue enumerating his concerns and warning that unless conservationist measures were promptly taken a number of marine species would soon be faced with extinction. So in fact “the man in the red woolly hat” offered to the demo-pedic register of animal protection a particularly effective type of sensitizing device: “[P]eople protect and respect what they love [he stated], and to make them love the sea it is just as important to fill them with wonder as to inform them.”
Over the following decades the genre which Cousteau pioneered – the adventure documentary with an environmentalist message – flourished to such a degree that it would now be something of a challenge to draw up an exhaustive list of films of this kind. If we just take as an example, the work of Nicolas Hulot and Yann Arthus Bertrand, campaigning for the protection of the planet and wild animals, clearly drew inspiration from Cousteau and the voyages of the Calypso. In 1968, the year when the filming of The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau got underway, the journalist, writer, and filmmaker Christian Zuber started working on what would become the weekly 30-minute television show. The syncretic nature of Christian Zuber‘s motivations and beliefs merit a brief commentary, given the success of this series of spectacular wildlife documentaries, broadcast throughout the 1970s, which led the filmmaker to be seen as a particularly committed and persuasive advocate of the animal cause.
It is worth noting that the animal documentary genre – which became a television staple from the 1970s onward – enjoyed particular success with young viewers. In fact, wild animals, by being transformed into a television spectacle, joined domestic pets, cuddly toys, and cartoon and comic strip characters in constituting the imaginary bestiary of children in developed societies. This phenomenon greatly contributed to a single identical emotional register being applied to various categories of animals that had been hitherto treated separately: family pets, domesticated animals, and wild animals (“useful animals” and “pests”). This development was not without consequences: we know that the second half of the 1970s saw the appearance of a new cohort of often radical activists who, as children, were members of the first generation exposed to the new televisual and cinematic representations of “wild” nature. From the end of the 1960s onward the entertainment industry produced several shows which made a significant contribution to spreading the belief that wild animals – which had historically been regarded as ferocious and threatening – were in fact in need of compassion and care.
Tales of real and fictional characters who dedicated their lives to rescuing wild animals provided material for creating spectacular productions, which would arouse the emotions of viewers. This was the case when, in 1966, Columbia Pictures produced a film adaptation of Born Free, the autobiography of Joy Adamson, a naturalist born in Austria in 1910. Her husband George, a British subject born in India in 1906, came to Kenya in 1924. George engaged in activities typical of settlers in colonial Africa: first in prospecting for gold, then cattle trading, and finally organizing safaris. In 1938 he joined the Kenyan Game Department and became a senior district game warden in the north of the country. Nicknamed “Baba ya Simba,” “the father of the lions” in Swahili, George Adamson, with Joy, took home and raised some lion cubs who had been orphaned when their mother had been killed by hunters, a not uncommon occurrence in Kenya at the time. The book and film tell the story of Elsa, the lioness whom Joy started bottle feeding when she was a cub and raised to adulthood. The couple grew extremely fond of the animal but eventually decided to return her to the wild. In fact, the film was a kind of homage to the changing attitude of a man who, after coming to regard a prey animal as a creature worthy of kindness and love, carefully returns her to her natural habitat, before beating a quiet retreat.
By telling the story of an ex-hunter who used to take part in safaris, the film bears witness to the transformation of the representation not only of wild animals but also of the ways in which former colonizers can interact with African wildlife. Former colonies, once prized as places to go hunting, are now regarded as spaces that need to be preserved, and which provoke emotions from a register of tenderness that now extends to wild animals.
The impact of this kind of show on the development of the animal protection movement, though difficult to measure precisely, should not be overlooked: firstly, they have contributed to modifying the representation of the natural world by extending the emotional register of tenderness to concern for the immediate reduction in the suffering of animal species which most people would never encounter in their everyday lives; secondly, the fact that these shows were aimed at children would introduce young viewers to the possibility of pursuing a career as a veterinary scientist. There is indeed evidence to suggest that some veterinary students, motivated by a desire to devote themselves to the compassionate treatment of animals, have been most upset on discovering that a high proportion of job opportunities within their chosen profession actually involve working with animals bred for the meat industry. In fact, many practitioners who feel this way find that working in clinics and refuges run by campaigning animal protection organizations gives them the opportunity to have the kind of emotions they expected to experience as a vet.
We can therefore see that an awareness of the development of professional fields such as the natural sciences, veterinary science, and the audiovisual arts is necessary to properly understand the evolution of the animal protection movement from the 1960s onward. Indeed, as a result of these changes numerous campaigning organizations were set up whose existence would have been inconceivable in the previous century. These organizations will sometimes work with veterinary scientists to rescue wild animals which may have been hit by a road vehicle or be suffering after receiving electric shocks from high voltage power lines or be affected by oil spills. Stand up and honor God’s Noble Creation!