I stopped buying Lush products a while ago, largely because of this issue (I didn’t want to give money to charities that use fear-mongering, hand-wringing anthropomorphism to actively fight biodiversity), and their treatment of the Little Fireface Project only solidified this. Now Lush has sponsored a conference whose end goal is essentially dead elephants, whether they want to admit that or not.
I’m sure they wouldn’t admit it, but their goals- no captive breeding, no zoo care- are hugely problematic from a conservation standpoint because- let’s face it- there’s no way to ensure elephant survival in the wild at this moment in time. Not when there’s such a global demand for ivory, and not when their habitats are so valuable to developers, timber companies, and mining companies.
This of course brings up a really salient ethical issue- if elephants can’t survive long-term in the wild, should we be “ark” breeding them, trying to preserve them in captivity for future generations? Unfortunately, that’s not the question these groups ask. Their “solution” is to just take the elephants from “bad” captivity (zoos) and put them in “good” captivity (sanctuaries).
However, these sanctuaries aren’t actually all that safe for elephants.
They’re not the African savannah minus people, where the elephants can just run free. There’s still barns. There’s still fences. There’s still tuberculosis- zoos can have that too, but zoos have better vet care and actually train the animals to participate in their own healthcare- which means that vet checks are less stressful. Sanctuaries, even the ones that do some vet training, still can’t really disinfect their grounds, and they can’t get rid of that TB bacteria- which can stick around for absolute ages. There’s still risks, and I don’t think these free the elephants people actually realize that. It’s like with cetaceans- the answer isn’t “free ‘em all,” nor is it “captivity is the ONLY SOLUTION.” Animal conservation, especially for species like elephants that have a pretty good wild population, is all about middle roads. There’s got to be a middle ground, and animal rights totally misses that. They’re so obsessed with the idea of “freedom” that they don’t actually stop to think about what freedom really means for these animals. Humans are the most successful invasive species anywhere in the world, and we’re not just going to go away because a bunch of animal rights activists think it’d be good. Even if they do successfully get elephants out of zoos, what good will that do? It won’t stop poaching, it’ll just make good science more difficult to do.
But animal rights people don’t actually care about science. They might think they care about individual animals, but they’re totally missing the point at a species/ecosystem level. Closing zoos will do absolutely nothing positive for wild animals- if anything, it’ll just make things worse. But that’s what these groups want- they still think zoos are animal jails and are willfully ignorant about the actual science of animal conservation. It’s not just about warm fuzzy feelings and the souls of animals- it’s about making logical, rational decisions to protect genetic diversity in these animal populations. Putting all those “poor abused zoo animals” in sanctuaries is not how this is done, and if you refuse to understand that despite the piles and piles of evidence, if you’re fundamentally anti-science, if you really think that feels are more important than reals… well, you’re part of the problem, then, aren’t you. It’s 2018. We’re wreaking havoc on our environment and our ecosystems, and without the careful application of scientific processes and knowledge, we are going to lose these things. We are going to lose the rainforests, we are going to lose millions of species- but hey, at least poor Dumbo got to live out his final years suffering from tuberculosis while somebody who thinks elephants actually talk to them dictated his care.
“But what, at the end of these three, informative, tear filled, days, did we all come away with?
Did we put together a white board filled with bullet points and action steps on how to free every last one of the elephants around the world that are rotting away before our very eyes?
Nope, not even close.
But what we did achieve is something, in my view, even more important.
We listened to the elephants.”
We listened to the elephants. This is not science. This is not conservation. This is homeopathy at best. It’s not how you “save” elephants. How you save them is through careful captive breeding, making actual efforts to preserve wild elephant habitat with a minimum of human interference, studying their reproduction, diseases, biology, and other things that can impact reproductive success, and work with local communities doing boots-on-the-ground work to help develop sustainable infrastructure and jobs so that elephant ivory is less appealing to the communities that coexist with elephants. Taking elephants out of zoos and putting them in sanctuaries is not at all how to preserve a species.
Elephants are not people. They have extremely different needs, and to assume that a bunch of people who “heard the call of the elephants” but have… no actual scientific, medical, biological, or relevant zoological experience can somehow know how to conserve them better than people who actually study them is fucking ridiculous.
Which is why I’m still not gonna support Lush.