This story occurred a couple of years ago, but the described scenario and underlying problem is as timeless as ever. During my evening shift as marine mammal surveyor on board of a ferry on route to Santander in Spain, I was forced to witness a small group of lost racing pigeons loosing their fight against the strong winds of the Bay of Biscay. I had to watch the drama unfolding, and there was nothing I could do to help. In this respect, spring and autumn surveys are known to be particularly emotionally demanding, as surveyors are regularly forced to helplessly watch the struggle of travelling and migrating birds. This situation is neither unexpected nor unique, but can be emotionally draining. At the very least, it feels very surreal when witnessing tragedies like this one on board of a luxurious ferry, where most people are busy enjoying their lives and holidays. Most of these tragic encounters go unnoticed and are missed even by keen birders and whale and dolphin enthusiasts armed with expensive gear.
“Veganism is not just a diet or lifestyle. It is a basic prerequisite for anyone who wishes to start caring seriously about animals, including humans. It is a moral and political commitment to nonviolence.” – Ken Hopes
Let us begin with what a vegan-run corvid sanctuary does not mean. It does not mean that we raise wild birds on a vegan diet. To rescue, rehabilitate and ultimately release wild birds back into their natural home environment, these animals need to be raised or fed on a diet, which resembles their natural diet as closely as possible, otherwise these animals would not stand a chance to survive in the wild. Our rehabilitation programme is based around BVZS “Good Practice Guidelines for Wildlife Rehabilitation Centres” and tailored around the individual needs of the animal concerned, which does not only include their diet, but also an appropriate hospital, rehabilitation and release aviary setup.
It is soon the time of the year again, when social media messages are piling up in your ‘virtual inbox’ advising you to check your garden woodpile for hedgehogs before you start a bonfire. And you certainly should, if you really cannot live without a bonfire wiping out a whole mini ecosystem, annoying your neighbours, causing asthma attacks and polluting the environment.
Before we look at possible answers, we should try to establish an ethical baseline we all can agree on and work with. Most but not all people will accept that it is wrong to intentionally inflict harm onto others with the exception of acting in self defence. Intentionally harming other people is morally seen not acceptable. Violence is generally not regarded as normal behaviour, as it obviously can cause harm. It seems natural to most of us to help others, who have been harmed or are about to be harmed. But what drives us to help? And where does empathy and compassion come from?
The answer to this questions depends on ethical values and how these are applied by both, the finder of a bird in need of help and the rescue or rehabber taking over its care. The need for a suitable environment, a suitable diet, to be able to exhibit normal behaviour patterns, to be housed with or apart from other animals and to be protected from pain, suffering, injury and disease are just a few very basic animal welfare standards, which should always be taken in consideration. In addition to these animal welfare standards, there are further ethical values to consider, which have to be evaluated to be able to give a thorough answer to this question.