Many animals suffer unspeakable cruelties as people don’t understand that animals have rights, let alone the importance of having those rights. Lieza Swennen, the CEO of Lilongwe Society for the Protection and Care of Animals (LSPCA) and also an animal welfare activist responded to the six questions explaining animal welfare situation in Malawi.
1. In your understanding, what justifications do you bring up for animals to have rights?
In our beautiful world, surely animals have the right to live a life free of pain and suffering. Just because us humans are at the top of the food chain, it doesn’t mean we are the only ones with rights. All living things make up a balanced ecosystem and within this system all things have their rightful place and earn the necessary consideration and respect for that place and balance. Animals are sentient beings! They do not have a voice, us humans need to protect them and give them a voice and this is where the concept of animal rights is rooted.
2. Opponents of animal rights argue that animals do not think or reason on their own so much that they need no rights. Do you share the same sentiments?
Most certainly not. It is our responsibility as inhabitants of this planet to ensure all living things, most certainly animals, are protected and we do this as it is our responsibility to ensure future generations are handed the proud and responsible care of our ecosystems, which include our companion, work, wild and food animals. The basic principle of equality does not require equal or identical treatment; it requires equal consideration. All animals have the ability to suffer in the same way and to the same degree that humans do. They feel pain, pleasure, fear, frustration, loneliness, and motherly love. Whenever we consider doing something that would interfere with their needs, we are morally obligated to take them into account.
3. What does your institution do to help promote animal rights in the country?
The LSPCA is the oldest Animal Welfare organisation in Malawi. We deliver much needed veterinary care to companion and farm animals who would normally never receive any care. We work closely with all members of our community in Malawi to help people understand the sentience of animals and bring an understanding of the 5 Animal Freedoms to every person, young and old, in Malawi. We are a trusted partner of the government of Malawi through the Department of Animal Health and Livestock Development, the Malawi Police Services and the Lilongwe City Council to ensure the Animal Protection Act of Malawi is enforced and we provide input for necessary change in the country’s policy and legal framework environment. Our Humane Education focuses on the interconnectedness of humans and societies, our environment and our animal world.
4. As an institution, what forms of cruelty towards animals can you say are common in the country?
Physical abuse, communication wounds and neglect are often cases we see at the LSPCA. The current transport of live animals, roadside sale of live animals and slaughter procedures all contribute to animal abuse and cruelty in Malawi. Donkeys for instance suffer from wounds inflicted by whipping the animals as they do not respond well to being attached to a cart with a yoke. A donkey’s strength lies in its chest and therefore needs to pull a cart in a harness as opposed to what’s happening in Malawi, where donkeys are pulling a cart by being attached through a yoke meant for oxen, who have their strength in their necks! Often animlas are expoited for breeding or culling with no regard to their wellbeing from birth to death. Responsible pet ownership is needed to protect dogs from having multiple litters, which in effect will control the dog population. Most dogs roam and live a fairly miserable life, with little care and do not die a natural death in Malawi. Dogs are being killed on the road in large numbers every day! This is not the fault of the dog, but that of the owner. Often people are oblivious of the cruelty they inflict on animals and it is our task to ensure our fellow Malawians open their eyes and ears to the plight of animals and the daily abuse and suffering they endure under our hands.
5. Where and when do people draw a line between upholding animal rights and enjoying the products from the very same animals; i.e meat, skins, etcetra?
It is an age old question – can one use animal products and eat meat as well as uphold the rights of an animal? The answer is yes (for some, for vegetarians and vegans is is a No!)We can eat meat and still be advocates for animal rights. Most meat eaters want animals to be treated as humanely as possible, and many of them take part in efforts to stop animal abuse just as vegetarians do. In this day we have become disconnected from the meat we buy in a supermarket, off the back of an overloaded bicycle and from a very unhygienic market stall. We have very little connection with the animal and the meat we eat in today’s world and increasingly so we are eating Animal Rights activists lobby to ensure we the public are supporting animal rights – just because we don’t know these rights does not mean they should not be upheld.
6. What existing punitive measures are in place for those who violate animal rights?
Malawi law protects the rights of animals. Both the Court and the Malawi Police have powers to act on offences of cruelty, such as overloading, beating, kicking, torture or inflicting pain on an animal. If a person is found guilty of violating the Protection of Animals Act (1970) Cap 66:01, such a person is liable to a fine or to imprisonment