“Good photos speak a thousand words and can change hearts and minds.” Jo-Anne McArthur, 28th February, 2013
Early this year, I had the honour of co-hosting a presentation by Canadian photojournalist and animal rights campaigner, Jo-Anne McArthur. The event was the idea of my friend and fellow Melbourne Pig Save (MPS) campaigner, Karina Leung.
We first became aware of Jo’s work through our connection with Toronto Pig Save (TPS). Toronto is Jo’s home town, and she is an active member of TPS. They have used many of her photos in their promotional material, and kindly adapted some of them for MPS. One of Jo’s images adorns our t-shirts, with the caption: “I am someone . . . who wants to live”.
Jo has been documenting the plight of animals on all seven continents for over ten years. Her online documentary project, We Animals, is internationally celebrated. More than eighty animal organisations, including Igualdad Animal (Animal Equality), Sea Shepherd and the Jane Goodall Institute, have benefited from her photography.
Here’s We Animals’ Mission Statement:
“We Animals aims to raise awareness, through art and photojournalism, that non-human animals are sentient beings with moral significance, and deserve to live free from exploitation and suffering in the food, clothing, experimentation and entertainment industries.”
This article provides a small glimpse into the world of animals explored in minute yet extensive detail by Jo. Her images connect us profoundly with the beautiful but often long-suffering animals she examines through her work.
I recalled Jo’s February presentation a couple of months after the event. I was at Richmond station in inner Melbourne on the way home from work, waiting for my connecting train. I was looking south along busy Punt Road, thinking of the horrible urban sprawl that we confront every day. Then I noticed some beautiful eucalyptus trees, just to the left of my line of view. Sitting on a branch was a bird, seemingly without a care in the world, although in reality she may have been busy foraging for food. I am not a bird watcher (my vision is not keen enough for that) and have no idea what type of bird she was, but my over-riding thought in watching her was that she was free.
I immediately remembered the tortured look in the eyes of a sick and stressed Bald Eagle in one of Jo’s photos. That poor bird was living her life within an enclosure at a Canadian zoo, with no opportunity to soar through the heavens, basking in the glory of the gifts bestowed on her by nature.
Here’s how Jo described the experience of seeing the long-suffering bird:
“In 2008, I went across Canada photographing zoos for Zoo Check. I focus on birds in this slide show, because people go to zoos to see giraffes and gorillas and such. They don’t go to see birds; they’re so overlooked and live in such small cages. I can’t even take looking at this picture; it’s just too depressing. People would just walk by this bird; there’s no reason to keep this bird in captivity.”
Why is that sort of torture accepted by society, and even encouraged?
Another of the many images that have stayed with me since the presentation is of the magnificent, dignified chimpanzee Mandy, who suffered for decades in the medical research industry.
Here’s what Jo said about Mandy, and this particular image:
“Her name is Mandy. This is the first time she has ever been let out of her cage. She was also used in research, the way Ron was at the same place, and they did not know if Mandy was ‘wild-caught’ in Africa or if she had been bred ‘in cage’, living her whole life in the cage. But you always know when they are let out finally at a sanctuary, because the ones who have always been in a cage don’t go outside, and the ones who have been outside before run out into the sanctuary.
So, they opened the cage door, and with bated breath watched, and she ran down into the reeves, and she touched everything she could, and she went down there and she sat in the middle of the tall grass and felt the breeze on her face and was touching the bull rushes around her, and this is that moment. This is what she was doing there.”
You can see more images of Mandy here.
We also learnt more of the bear bile industry. The We Animals website explains that, in Asia, tens of thousands of bears are kept in tiny cages for their entire lives so that their gall bladders can be tapped for bile and used in medicine. They are barely able to turn around in their confined spaces.
Jo described a very moving experience with this wonderful sun bear in Cambodia.
“This photo is misleading. He looks like a tremendously sad bear, and he was at one point. He was used for bear bile for four years before he was rescued. He started producing lower quality bile while he was still caged and what they did was cut off his two front paws. In Vietnam that’s a delicacy for bear paw soup. So he was missing his two front paws. This photo was taken after his rescue, and like Ron who you met earlier, who preferred the company of humans, this bear also preferred the company of humans. He had a whole sanctuary to play in, but he just stayed inside. He saw me and started begging for his favourite treat, which is pineapple jam, and that’s why he’s looking so depressed. You know how dog’s put on that sad ‘gimme a treat’ face, that’s what he’s doing, and I got too close to the cage. I wasn’t supposed to, but I was taking his portrait and they’re very fast, and he grabbed me and he pulled me in really quickly, and I could have been a goner. I was in danger but he just wanted to play, he just wanted to grab me and I was in his arms very briefly . . . He’s one of those animals who solidifies for you what you’re doing, and you keep them in your heart. He’s one of these bears that I keep with me in my heart and who I think about often.”
“I told this story in an interview once, and an artist in New York City heard it and this is her rendition. She painted the story. I cried so hard when I saw this. It says, ‘How is it possible that can you love me, a human, after your paws were cut off to make soup?'”
It’s important to note that many of Jo’s images portray wonderfully happy experiences. Just like us, non-human animals love to have fun, and here’s a great example. It shows a chimpanzee who has been rescued from the horrors of the medical research industry, enjoying his new life at a sanctuary in Florida.
So what were some key messages that I took from that moving and thought-provoking presentation in February?
Some people may learn of the bear bile trade and cringe in horror. However, that industry is intended to improve human health, much like the medical research industry that causes millions of animals to live their lives in painful, monotonous and isolated horror. The efficacy of both trades is open to question.
Some people may also be appalled at the practice of removing bears’ paws for a supposed soup delicacy. However, what about the mutilation of animals in other forms of food production, such as pork, ham and bacon, where piglets are castrated, have their tails docked, ears notched and teeth clipped to the gum line, without anaesthetic? Or the practice of removing calves from their mothers within a day of being born, so that we can benefit from the lactation process and enjoy the distraught mother’s milk? They are just a few examples; the full list could fill many pages.
What right do we have to deny these beautiful, dignified animals their liberty and well-being? Why should non-human animals pay the price for supposed human benefits?
The fact that we have the power to exploit other animals does not mean we should. It’s our choice.
Let’s hope for an enlightened world in future, when humans put their inflated egos aside, and allow other animals to savour the lives that they have evolved to live. I’m confident that Jo-Anne’s images and campaigning can play a significant part in achieving that goal.
Thank you to Philip and Trix Wollen of Winsome Constance Kindness Trust for providing space at Kindness House in Fitzroy for Jo’s presentation, and to Coalition Against Duck Shooting and Anna Gordon of Sea Shepherd Australia for assisting with the arrangements.
Liz Marshall’s documentary featuring Jo-Anne McArthur, “The Ghosts in our Machine“, has been released in Canada, and is likely to reach Australia during 2014. It is due for release in the United States during the fall (autumn) of 2013.
The first We Animals book is due for release in late 2013.
For information about bear bile farming and how to help end it, please visit the website of Animals Asia.
To help chimpanzees rescued from the medical research industry, please visit Save the Chimps.
Sheree Boyd, Illustrator