• DAY 396: THE END

    Oct 26 2013

    Martinmango

    This year is now over.

    It has been horrific, sad, inspiring and deeply transformative. I can say with hand on fast-beating heart that you readers and supporters have helped hugely on an otherwise exhausting journey.

    It may seem strange that a year of (trying) to help animals takes 396 days but to delve into the world of suffering means the earth moves around the sun ever so slightly slower.

    The days have been long, the nights, dreaming of pigs in spanish intensive farms, longer.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    Filming myself watching the documentary Earthlings.

    In the past 396 days I have (tenuously) saved:

    16 domestic animals (dogs mainly – UK, India, Philippines)

    18 farm animals (by not eating meat)

    22 fish (as above including some interventions in Vietnam

    7 birds (it would have been more if I hadn’t killed a few. Bugger)

    12 weird and scary animals (you’ll have to read the blog)

    255 insects, slugs, snails (do these count? Well, they are sentient)

    If you want to see more about how this might not be entirely true…but actually could be, please click here

    My total haul is fairly small. I am left with a pig’s bite mark in my leg, an even larger hole in my wallet and a sadness that trails me like a winter shadow.

    But then there is Mango –  the dog who you will be glad to know is coming home from the Philippines in three weeks thanks to your support.

    Hooray!

    Mango - rescued

    Mango – rescued

    Since the beginning of this year around 65 billion animals have been consumed by humans and many many more killed by us through other means: hunting, city expansion, pollution, global warming, neglect, simple cruelty – the list goes on.

    And yet there are people working against this, so much more bravely than I ever could –  the likes of Trevor, Avis, Kartick, Gheeta, Ira, Charlotte, Liz, Julia and Alberto as well as  organisations like  Network for Animals, Compassion in World Farming and WSPA and so many more who I can’t mention here – they  show us that there is hope. I want to thank all of these people and those I can’t mention from the bottom of my heart. And then I want to thank you for your generous support – emotional and financial. But also of course Ann – who has stood by me so patiently and with so much love and who tomorrow I marry (again!) in our US wedding (her family is from America so this is where the big ceremony is)

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

    An ex-dancing bear at the wonderful sanctuary of Wildlife SOS in India

     

    My efforts during this year – misguided at times, naive at others, indulgent perhaps but always heartfelt I hope – are my own small attempt to swim against a  tide. I don’t feel I have done much but then I never expected I would. But I also feel I have done what is more important than anything. I have had the opportunity to reconnect with animals. This has been a luxury but a necessity too. My guiding mantra – which will accompany me to my grave  – is E. M Forsters:  ‘only connect’.

    That connection is most easy to make in the eyes of the animals I have photographed. Images of suffering speak directly to us in a way that logic and argument don’t. Many of us know that animal suffering is wrong. But most of don’t KNOW it deep down so that we act on it. Until we see it. Until we really SEE it.

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    The eyes have it

    Wildlife SOS

    Wildlife SOS rescued monkey

    Mango

    Mango

    bearraid-3

    A chained monkey in India

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk - seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    A stuffed leopard in unceremonious garb and elephant tusk – seized contraband at the Wildlife Crime Unit

    Galgo against a wall

    A rescued Galgo in Southern Spain

    Many people will say – why animals? What about the starving children in Syria (you f**cking wanker)?

    But , as you know, it is neither one, nor the other. It is both. We are all animals and we all suffer. But we humans have done our best to forget this, and so have denigrated the other animals to a position where we repeatedly abuse them. For that reason my mission has been to help  those OTHER animals. While the separation between us and other human groups can be devastating, it is of a different order entirely to the rift we feel (or don’t feel) to other animals.

    It goes without saying there are a huge number of people on this planet who love and care for animals.

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter's hands to a carer's, thank you Charl!

    Charlotte with Ete. From a hunter’s hands to a carer’s, thank you Charl!

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    Steve Trewhella and Derek Davey, two people more skilled than me at saving wildlife

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The wonderful Avis from ARK, in Kerala, India, doing so much for street dogs.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu. Those that don't fight each other are allowed to roam free, the others are kept in well managed enclosures.

    The dog sanctuary in the south of Corfu run by Marjorie

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Julia and Alberto waiting by the side of the motorway. And waiting. And waiting

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    Peter Singer, philosopher on animal rights

    But there are too many that don’t.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

    bear paws are especially prized in the illegal wildlife trade.

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    The overwhelming consensus is that animals are for us to USE and it will, I fear, be many centuries before this filters down. It is NOT simply because most countries cannot afford to be compassionate. It is the new found middleclass in India, for example, who are often treating their dogs the worst.

    Cordelia - the 'cow-dog'. She was almost totally blind

    Cordelia – the ‘cow-dog’. She was almost totally blind

    Perhaps the most shocking realisation over this year, aside from understanding the sheer scale with which we humans abuse other animals, is the power of normalisation.  

    The way in which are culture tells us it is NORMAL to think of animals as separate and lower. This process is our greatest and most silent enemy. It is so NATURAL to eat meat.  The fridge with the bacon is SO NICE AND WELCOMING.

    BHEM41 / Iceland

    If you accept your culture, as we normally all do in one form or another, you have to accept that in another culture you might be a wonderfully charming sexist and racist that thought Jimmy Saville a  good TV presenter. This is neither bad nor good. We are all products of our upbringing and to generate the escape velocity to free ourselves from the gravitation pull of the norm requires considerable energy.

    shelf

    You can argue about many of my actions or opinions in this blog but you cannot argue with the transformation I have felt. At times the process has been sad, often it has been painful,  but I have felt a strangely subtle shift towards a greater connection and openness that is ultimately rewarding. I feel more content with myself in a way that I only hope will feed into my recovery from a life-long lingering depression.

    With Charlotte's wonderful galgos

    With Charlotte’s wonderful galgos

    Who knows.

    But the transformation is not complete and will probably be a lifetimes work. I am stepping onto the path of veganism but without the certainty I feel about vegetarianism.  I am ashamed to even admit it. Why? Why am I not more certain?

    I have also learnt that the process of reconnecting with animals is neither linear or logical. It is a heart unfolding, and we each have different folds made over many years. Yes, you can read Peter Singer and understand the logic, yes,  you can watch Earthlings and see the horror,  but ultimately the shift comes from a complex combination of your beliefs, your culture, your compassion, your independence, your lifestyle and many other unknown factors.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    This little pup was too terrified for me to touch it. He was found abandoned and we can only guess about his life before rescue.

    What about us?

    What about us?

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

    Baby hedgehogs suffer too. Me holding a rescued hedgehog in the centre

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    IMG_5857 lady_08

    The purpose of this year was not to moralise or even persaude. It was certainly not to prove myself a worthy person. I had thought it was simply to tell you my story in the hope it might enlighten your own.

    But if I am being brutally honest, the purpose of this year was to save something of myself. If I had gone to my grave not trying to do something very small to help animals I would have lived an un-whole life. To connect with animals is also to connect with ourselves.

    I love animals a little bit more. I think I even love myself a little more too.

    Grrrrr!

    xmasblog_02

     

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Get moving!! Bug and moose enjoy the snow.

    Moosebrocolli bugfaceBug the dog

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  • DAY 395 (penultimate blog): SOME TRUTHS HIT HOME

    Oct 25 2013
    sad

    Not particularly sad but it got me going…

     

    It’s a curious sensation to be standing in Sainsbury’s holding a vast leg of pork and feeling desperately sad. It feels pathetic.

    Maybe it’s the green slime in my system.

    For the last five days I’ve been doing  a juice detox in prep for my wedding.  

    Even though I have been promised that this diet would be ‘all the gain with none of the pain’ I receive pre-written emails each morning from the company that supplied the green slime saying things like ‘Today you will feel awful and all your emotions will wash out of you. Be sure to have some one to care for you’

    Great.

    But until today I didn’t feel too awful.  But then the sadness came.

    Was it the slime? Or was it the end of this year long project?

    Here I was checking the labels on all this meat. It so utterly normal to be in these air-conditioned aisles with so many people quietly going about their shopping. The hum of conversation, the occasional squeak of a rusty trolley wheel.

    And yet I was surrounded by row upon row of the very animals I had been trying to relate to for these past months.  The LACK of drama made it all so dramatic. Pound upon pound of flesh, quietly lying before me, neatly packaged and carefully arranged.

    Meat_packages_in_a_Roman_supermarket

    These cold shelves marked an end. An end not only to my year long journey. but also to the lives of so, so many.

    Since the beginning of my year, 60 billion animals have been slaughtered, dismembered and packed and readied for consumption, many headed for shelves in shops around the world similar to this. And the people who were purchasing the meat, no doubt many of them considerate, caring people – were lifting the flesh off this invisible  finishing line and leaving both the shelves and me empty.

    What had I been doing this year for, I wondered?

    I cycled home in the rain. Summer was over. It was icy cold. Winter was fast on the heals of a very brief autumn. I got back home drenched and saw Ann. The dogs greeted me and  I sat in the kitchen.

    I then paused and started to cry properly. Not intense crying but slow tears that came from somewhere without words. I felt exhausted. Not just a physical tiredness but something I can’t quite explain.

    I suppose I had finished this year without fully allowing all the death and horror and speed and confusion to catch up with me. And now, after having stood amongst shelves of food, it did so.

    No doubt more will come.

    pig

    I wondered if this was a sort of mourning. That was guilt in there too.

    In the mundanity of life, death finds us. And in that supermarket on that cold day, the voices of so many animals, only a tiny fraction of whom I had heard on my journey, sang in silent harmony. Those clean white shelves were transformed into an anonymous graveyard of so many ghosts. Where before I seen the eyes of living creatures I now saw their body parts and the  connection between one and the other – the conection that we do so well to ignore and deny in our everyday life – was made fully felt.

    This is why it is so hard to ‘only connect’. With connection comes feeling and with feeling comes pain.

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  • DAY 391 (almost done): THE BORING BUT AMAZING POWER OF LABELS

    Oct 21 2013

    supermarket-meat-bacon-pork-be-inspired-ecards-someecards

    As we were driving the gazillion miles back to Barcelona I asked Alberto what the chances are that live exports will measurably improve in the near future.

    Will pigs suffer less?

    ‘It’s hard to see how it will get better. ‘ said Alberto to my dismay ‘On the one hand, I doubt there is a single European commissioner who thinks that long transport journeys are a good thing. But an 8 hour limit on transport is probably unrealistic. The economic structures are too entrenched. Countries rely on exports and imports’

    I was astonished that these two were so committed to doing so much – but essentially so little- to fight what they admitted was a largely unstoppable wave of misery.

    But then they said something else, almost as an aside:,‘Labelling would make a big difference.’

    ‘Labelling?’

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD'S TRACTOR??

    WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT LOOKS LIKE A CHILD’S TRACTOR. IS IT?

    Yes, labelling…

    It sounded a desperately dull topic. Who gives a rat’s arse about labelling? (As long as the rat in question is organic, outdoor bred and fed on corn)

    ‘If the consumer knew about this’ continued Alberto ‘and could make a choice not to eat meat that was associated with long distance transport then maybe the big supermarket chains might listen too. The supermarkets have more power than government or EU policies’

    Apparently this is true. A meat-eating, puppy-beating, middle manager at tesco could probably save more pigs than I could in a lifetime.

    But as a consumer, you and I have real power

    Do we? Really?

    How on earth am I meant to vote with my eggs? Take them to the ballot box and spoil my paper? Throw them at David Cameron’s face while he is on TV?

    Nick+Griffin+pelted+with+eggs

    The golden egg

    Eggs are often held up as the gold standard of how labeling can improve welfare. The ‘free range’ label is clear to understand, the concept of getting chickens out of dirty cages is appealing too all but the most sadistic and the extra cost bearable. The result is that the farmers are given enough economic incentive to get their chickens outdoors even if they don’t personally care about welfare.

    The result? Chickens can flap their wings.

    egg

    So can something similar be done to help improve the long distance transport of pigs?

    ‘It’s not quite as simple for pigs’ said Julia.

    She explained that there are many factors involved – some are born outdoors but then reared indoors, some are transported short distances, some longer. Explaining the various benefits in a clear labeling system is complicated – although not impossible.

    The problem is that if consumers don’t KNOW about pig transport issues then they won’t care about a label telling them about it. And if people don’t care the supermarkets won’t make the label. And if the supermarkets don’t make a label the farmers won’t be incentivized to send their pigs on shorter journeys.

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save...right on my doorstep

    After all this travelling these are all the animals I failed to save…right on my doorstep

    A depressing homecoming

    I have decided to end my year in the aisles of British supermarkets to see what is really going on and what can be improved.

    From the wilds of Laos and the plains of India this seems a depressing and yet fitting return to home soil. If farming is the greatest cause of suffering to animals on this planet (in terms of numbers) then it is in the aisles of Tesco or Waitrose that we need to understand how our choices can go someway to alleviating that suffering.

    I very much want to show you all – whether you are skeptical or already a hard core vegan – how the story I have told of pigs in Spain (and then on to Italy) has a direct relation with the meat we see on our shelves in Britain and how, if we decide to continue eating meat, we can make positive choices.

    How much meat in British supermarkets has been raised in intensive systems similar to what I saw in Spain?

    What sort of labels do exist on pig meat and what do they mean?

    Does buying organic really mean I get a happier bit of meat?

    Which supermarkets contain the most stored suffering?

    What’s that RED TRACTOR all about?

    How much pork in the UK comes from Spain or Italy or beyond?

    How good are UK pig farms anyway?

    And of course, what I tell you about pigs, can within reason be extended to the story of cows, chicken, sheep and lamb. I just don’t have the space – or strength – to look at them all.

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  • DAY 389: CHASING PIGS ACROSS SOUTHERN EUROPE

    Oct 17 2013
    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    Pigs look out of a truck on their way through france and Italy to slaughter

    As night falls we see our first pig truck.

    Excitement is entirely the WRONG emotion on seeing a vehicle stuffed with animals but after waiting ten hours for anything you’re relieved when it finally happens. Except for a firing squad lifting their guns.

    Oh, but I didn’t realise…. we then have to drive behind the vehicle until it stops.

    Bring on the firing squad.

    4Y1A3272

    For another 3 hours we trail the sorry truck, across the border into France, into the night and through the years… before we finally pull up at a lay-by.

    After doing so much undercover work I am nervous of what will happen next but the driver steps out of the vehicle and is strangely polite. Julia checks the pigs while Alberto chats amicably to the driver. I take some photos but in the dark it’s hard to make out much. The pigs seem vaguely dirty and cramped.

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    4Y1A3429 4Y1A3454

    Sardinia…that’s a long way

    Apparently the driver is heading to Sardinia – at least another 24 hours away . He says he is driving through the night to catch the 9am ferry. Julia does her calculations and works out he’ll probably miss the 29 hour limit by 2-3 hours but says ‘this is totally normal’. He has no co-driver so this is also illegal.

    ‘The pigs will be in there for 32 hours, is that OK?’

    ‘They’re not in too bad condition. Not yet at least. They are probably over-crowded but it’s not awful.’

    I scan the pigs in the dark, eyes peer out at me. We decide to let this one go.

    Is that it?

    4Y1A3583

    Stranger and stranger

    The next morning we pull out at 8am to start the journey all over again and a remarkable coincidence happens. The same truck drives right past us. For the first time in my blog career a story takes a poetic turn.

    ‘He was lying about the ferry then?’ I ask

    ‘Of course’ says Julia, speeding up. ‘I have never had a coincidence like this happen. We shall wait till he gets into Italy and then we can call the police. The police in France are hopeless.’

    Julia is now deeply concerned that if the truck continues all the way to Sardinia then the pigs, who would have been left all night in the truck anyway, will be travelling well beyond the EU limit of hours. Lack of food, water and rest becomes a serious welfare threat.

    A few hours later when we reach Italy she calls up the local police and they intercept us on the motorway and pull the truck over.

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The truck loaded with hundreds of pigs

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    The police pull over the truck on the motorway just after we cross into Italy

    They take the driver (and pigs) to the police station where they summon the local vet. A woman arrives wearing hugely high heels, a sweeping silk scarf and a tight fitting dress. Is this what italian vets look like? With her consent  they slap a 9000Euro fine on the driver. It turns out he is breaking the law on the following counts:

    1) Over crowding of pigs

    2) Broken watering system

    3) Lack of food

    4) Lack of appropriate bedding

    5) No co-driver

    THIS MEANS THAT EVERY DRIVER WE HAVE STOPPED IS BREAKING THE LAW.

    And the most innocuous looking of all of them has just broken five. The driver then comes up to me and just as I’m expecting him to swing a punch he shakes my hand and smiles at me. I’m really confused now – a strangely sexy vet, some very animal-friendly police, a jovial but illegal driver who has just lost the money to build the extension to his house  being warm to me and 200 pigs waiting at a …. police station.

    Am I in a very dark comedy sketch?

    The pigs need water. The 600 litre holding tank that supplies the sprinkler system is totally empty and the driver only has a small watering can to fill it up. I watch as he pathetically tops up the system, can by can.

     

    The watering system runs out of juice

    The watering system runs out of juice

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

    How NOT to fill up a 600litre water tank when the pigs have run out of liquid.

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    Unloading the pigs

    The problem now is how to unload the pigs. They need to be given rest and food.  This can’t be done anywhere. A dedicated, sanitised holding bay is needed. There are only a few places in Italy that can do it and we now have to drive another few million hours to find one. Give me coffee, let me buy a hat, let me read an email, sell me something, I NEED TO CONSUME. ANYTHING.

    We arrive at the unloading bay at some awful time in the night  and I watch the pigs being unloaded. I’m appalled. Even with Animals Angels watching and two policemen giving us an escort the unloading process is brutal. Pigs are pushed off the truck and a number fall at least 8 feet head first onto concrete. The unloading handler then kicks them to get up.

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Unloading the pigs late at night in a temporary rest area. The unloading is almost more stressful than the journey. 24 hours laters they are loaded up again for another journey

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    Pigs in close captivity often fight. Wounds on the body are common, especially if they have to fight over limited water supplies

    And the inevitable tragic ending ... Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died - either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And the inevitable tragic ending … Shakespeare would have been proud. Only one pig died – either trampled to death or from sickness or stress. Transport companies are only prosecuted if it can be proved the pig was sick when loaded, not if it gets sick en route.

    And then finally  there is one pig that won’t come out. Asleep? The handler climbs into the truck and drags it out. It emerges from the darkness, face contorted, its eyes already black and bulging, it’s body rigid.

    It has been dead already some hours. I’m not allowed to take a picture but when the police are not looking I snap this one. What sort of hell killed it?

    ‘Perhaps it was trampled, perhaps it fell ill’ says Julia. ‘We have no idea but this is sadly normal’

    This was the first and last pig truck I saw. It’s story told me everything: pigs that are crammed into deadly conditions, trucks that are breaking the laws at every turn and only the most dedicated of individuals able to make the slightest different to a vast trade that sees thousands of animals spend their final hours in pain.

    Don’t eat chorizo, don’t eat parma ham, don’t eat Danish bacon…unless it is certified organic.

    In the next blog I will tell you why as I go back to Britain to go to every major supermarket chain to see where their pork products come from

     

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  • DAY 385 (nearly there!): THIS LITTLE PIGGY WENT ON A REALLY, REALLY, REALLY LONG JOURNEY

    Oct 13 2013

    pig-in-livestock-truck

    ‘Live export’ is a term that occasionally rears its bruised head into the ‘animal loving’ media.

    Reports typically contain pictures of sheep crammed into trucks bound for countries outside of Britain where the rules for slaughter are less savoury than our own.

    Since most people know what it’s like to be stuck on a tube in rush hour or a bus with no air conditioning the photos receive sympathy.

    And those who’ve flown Ryan Air are appalled.

    ryan air

    But what people don’t always understand is the enormity of the issue and why so many animals travel so far.

    • Why do pigs have to travel at all?

    • Why can’t pigs born in Holland stay in Holland?

    • What’s so good about Italy for slaughter?

    • And if Italians do insist on foreign meat can’t they get it sent over dead? After all you can get a lot more bacon into a truck than you can pigs and bacon doesn’t shit everywhere.

    The answer has very little to do with freshness and everything to do with money.

    Tokyo train pushers

    Tokyo train pushers

    Who cares about live export?

    If you remember, we’re tracking the life of a typical EU pig: he gets born in Holland in a nice little metal crate, is transported to Spain at a few weeks old and after fattening for four months on slatted floors then goes on to Italy to be slaughtered.

    And the point of this?

    To know how much pain is involved in a standard plate of EU bacon (or any pork meat) and what choices we can make to avoid being part of that.

    And if you think that Britain is above all this, you should think again. Later, I’ll be going into all the main British supermarkets and tracing their pork products and explaining what sort of life the pigs had. You’ll be surprised.

    The problem with Europe

    Whether you are pro-Europe or against it, the setting up of the free trade agreement was a catastrophic moment for farm animals.

    Before that moment animals travelled to the nearest slaughterhouse within their country. Crossing the border was costly and complicated.

    But as regional structures dissolved farmers were able to dispatch animals to whichever slaughterhouse was paying the best price that particular week. Animals became exposed to the often shrill winds of continent-wide market forces with little welfare protection.

    Pigs, by EU law, are allowed to travel up to 29 hours before having to be unloaded. And once they’ve been unloaded for 24 hours they can go another 29 hours.

    That’s a pig of a journey.

    Especially for an animal that is typically 5 months old and is often standing in its own shit in crowded conditions sometimes in brutal summer heat. But it’s good news for the ‘middle men’ who set up the deals between the farmers, the transport companies and the slaughterhouses and who hold the real power as they preside over their map of Europe flickering on their computer screens.

    In countries outside the EU they don't have it so good...

    In countries outside the EU they don’t have it so good…

    The welfare problems are further entrenched by the fact that countries become specialized in production – Holland breeds a lot of pigs, Spain is cheap for fattening, Greece has it’s fair share of slaughter houses.

    This means that efforts to change welfare laws are up against vast economic systems.

    A recent and ongoing campaign to cap live-export journeys in the EU to 8 hours (which would effectively mean that no animal in Britain could be exported at all unless sheep from Dover had their heads chopped off in Calais …or flew concorde to NY) has struggled because it would mean winding down international supply chains. Although even the most hardened EU commissioner admits it would be nice for animals to get to their death quicker, in this economic climate no-one can justify giving the pigs a shorter ride.

    ...then again nor do the people

    …then again nor do the people

    How bad can a journey be?

    In the next blog I’m meeting up with a charity called Animals-Asia and I’m going to travel from Spain to Italy, following trucks on their journey, stopping the drivers and seeing exactly what it’s like for the pigs. That should be rather lovely – along the french riviera and all that.

    When I was 12 I went on a skiing trip with my school to Austria. It was a 23 hour journey and it was brilliant. I really fancied the girl sitting in front of me and stared at the strands of her hair falling over the seat without eating or drinking.

    How bad can a ride be?

    Photo-4-Pig-Rudi-Roels

     

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  • DAY 325: INTENSIVE FARMING IS THE GREATEST CAUSE OF SUFFERING ON EARTH – DISCUSS

    Aug 18 2013

    (Don’t worry, this video  DOES NOT CONTAIN SHOCKING MATERIAL , it is rather beautiful, but is still rather…shocking. A few of you asked me to look at this. Yes, I read all your messages.)

     

    Any reaction to this statement, strongly pro or strongly against, depends almost entirely on one thing: whether you value the life of farm animals. If you do – to any degree – it is hard to deny .

    The only fact more startling than the sheer volume of meat that is butchered each year is the fact that so many caring humans don’t see it as an issue. Factory farming is both the world’s greatest tragedy and the world’s greatest vanishing act. The pain disappears in front of people’s eyes.

    It is preposterous to try and quantify the value of an animal’s against a human life –   is one man worth 1000 pigs worth 1,000,000 worms?   It’s also fairly dangerous to rate suffering in terms of numbers of beings that die –  a fire that kills three children is as much a tragedy as a school bus accident that kills twenty.

    But…let’s for a second assume we can put some sort of quantity on suffering.

    Every year well over 60 billion farm animals are killed for meat. EVERY YEAR. That’s one of those numbers that, like the fattest man on earth, suffers from being just TOO big.  No one understands it except for astrophysicists and people that kill chickens. We need a crane to lift that fat number out of the house of confusion and into the hospital of understanding.

    In simple terms it is about ten times the number of people that live on earth currently, which is about 1000 times the number of people that live in Britain (or France) which is…. a shit load….

    KILLED EVERY YEAR.

    Estimates of the proportion of animals that are in intensive farms (or factory farms…or concrete hell sheds) vary but it is something like two thirds.  Or 40 billion. Or shit loads. And don’t forget, the other third still get slaughtered. Yippee

    Aq8rghDCMAAbhaL

    Nothing in the history of human tragedy comes close in terms of numbers. No wars, no disease, no genocide.

    Hold your horses….or pigs…I’m talking numbers, not value. At least for now.

    If you question the degree of suffering in factory farms you need to do some reasearch.  The list of welfare problems is as long as Pinocchio’s nose. If you think they don’t exist IT’S A LIE: early separation from mothers, confinement, early death, excessive inbreeding, inhumane live export, poor slaughter, sickness, lack of social interaction and so it goes on.

    Did you know that each year millions of rabbits are factory farmed in France and Italy. Welfare standards are shocking and regulation is poor - see more here http://www.ciwf.org.uk/what_we_do/rabbits/

    Did you know that each year millions of rabbits are factory farmed in France and Italy. Welfare standards are shocking and regulation is poor – see more here http://www.ciwf.org.uk/what_we_do/rabbits/

    For a look at factory farming watch the video above. IT DOES NOT CONTAIN ANYTHING SHOCKING, it’s actually rather hypnotic. Perhaps too beautiful. Note how similar the man’s belly at the end is to pig fat.

    So…when you look at the number of animals killed and the degree of welfare problems associated with so many of them, then to keep eating meat (from factory farms) you either have to

    A)    rate the screams and cries of all those animals as virtually meaningless, fantastically close to zero in fact, otherwise they quickly mount up to a stack of misery that trumps our own concerns.

    Or…

    B) Do what so many people do and enjoy the magic trick. The magic trick goes like this:

    Look very closely. Look at my left hand. You’ll see a pretty watch in my left hand – see how it twinkles in the light? Watch it tick, watch it tock, watch it tick – all the while my right hand kills 60 billion animals.

    Tick. Tock.

    my, what a big watch!

    my, what a big watch!

    There is of course the option to eat meat from better farms, to support organic suppliers, to demand that welfare standards are raised by our politicians etc. But I’m coming to the conclusion that this is simply side-stepping the issue. Eating meat still supports an industry that kills beings in the billions. Ouch. Double ouch times a billion. Times 30.

    chickens-4

    The other day I spoke to Joyce D’Silva. ambassador for Compassion in World Farming, one of the world’s best farm charities, about her views on our relation to animals

    If you were president of the world what would be the one thing you would do – aside from fixing all the farms?

    “I would want schools to teach compassion for all beings…. It’s called humane education. If you took 4 hens from a battery farm and placed them in a similar cage in a school the first thing kids would say was ‘let them out”

    “But doesn’t that mean that the kids know the value of compassion already?”

    “Yes, but something is lost in the process of growing up”

    We don’t need to teach compassion so much as to stop unlearning it. Eating factory farmed animals is the culmination of our unlearning.

    I have a curious problem here.

    I want to explore factory farming but if I am too graphic, too confrontational, I will fall foul of the same magic trick. You will all turn away.

    Do you agree?

    Am I talking pig shit?

    I still eat dairy sometimes, am I a two faced idiot?

    In the next blog I’m going to do the reveal. I’m going to tell you how I’m going to tackle factory farming, what difference I can make and which animal I’m going to be looking at…from birth, all the way to death.

    It ain’t chickens.

     

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  • DAY 308: BACK IN THE UK AND FOX WALKS INTO OUR HOUSE.

    Jul 29 2013
    Not the baby fox in our garden but very similar - ours is hiding deep inside a thick rose bush alluding photos...

    Not the baby fox in our garden but very similar – ours is hiding deep inside a thick rose bush alluding photos…

     

    Dear all, 

    I am now safely back in the UK. I thought I had left the wilds behind until a few hours ago a fox walked into our kitchen. Thank goodness that nature reminds us we are not alone. Turns out that a baby fox is living in rose bush at the end of our garden and the mother is on the prowl for food.  Yes, the baby lives IN the rose bush. Our dog Moose is about to collapse from anger, he stands beneath the plant become more and more furious and we have to take him away. The baby fox seems very relaxed about it. I’m trying to teach Moose about co-existence but I don’t think its in his DNA – except when he wants to snuggle up on the bed.

    I’m afraid I don’t have a lot to report in this post but that is not because too little is happening but because too much is happening.

    I am in flux…and a tiny bit of chaos, so the bloggage is … blocked up

    I am shortly about to turn my attention to European farms and how we treat our meaty friends. I want to look at pigs in particular and I want to stay in Europe.  I want to see what sort of pain goes into a plate of a western meal.

    But my work on wild animals is not quite over even though time is fast running out on my year.

    Two not-so-wild animals. Moose and bug sleep on each other's faces in the back of the car on their way to a walk. Nice to be back with the family

    Two not-so-wild animals. Moose and bug sleep on each other’s faces in the back of the car on their way to a walk. Nice to be back with the family

    The badger cull has not yet begun and when it will I want to be involved in the resistance (yes, we will fight the Nazis on the beaches, we will fight them in the woods). Quite how I can stop the shooting I am not too sure but apparently it involves wearing high-vis jackets and making lots of noise…and NOT dressing as a badger.

    Also, over the next few days I am meeting with the police and their Wildlife Crime Unit to see what sort of illegal wildlife contraband has been smuggled through the UK. I’m keen to show that pangolins are not a distant problem. Even in London  there is a demand and through-route for the wild animals from distant jungles. Chinese shops sell illegal bear-bile products, even high end clothing retailers sell illegal ivory in teh form of shaving brushes. I will go and photograph some of this haul to show just how bad it is.

    And then on to pigs… it’s all too ridiculously big to deal with in this short space of time. But I’ve already had a tip-off about where I shoudl go in Europe to see some bad pig practices…and I’m due to watch a film called ‘Earthlings’…anyone seen it. I’m dreading it.

     

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  • DAY 305: HAVE I FINALLY LOST IT? RESCUING FROGS WHILST AVOIDING TINY DANCERS IN HANOI

    Jul 26 2013

    The start of this video is a little grim but don’t worry, it quickly fades into farce. At the time of making this I was all enveloped – now looking back on it I worry for my sanity.

    There is a lake in central Hanoi which is ‘protected’ from fishing. It lies serene in the heart of the old town amidst the incessant urban busyness around it. I have just released some fish and frogs into this lake from a rather brutal market. This sounds reasonable enough but I found myself walking round and round this lake, through dancers, badminton players, tourists, street vendors, tai-chi experts, all the while carrying a bag of frogs and live fish, panicking about where was best to release them.

    The street markets in Vietnam are fairly grim. I never thought I would wish death upon a creature like I have just done now. But seeing the way they kill – or rather don’t kill – the fish to keep them fresh right up until cooking is heartbreaking and makes me what to end it for them sooner rahter than later.

    It’s clear to me, as it shoudl have been a long time ago, that the suffering of fish is no different than the suffering of other creatures. Any distinction was in my mind, caused by a segmentation of compassion that I see echoed throughout the word: some creatures we care about, other creatures we don’t and the reasons and the reasons are never based on logic but prejudice instead.

    Vietnam is over and I feel empty-handed. How many pangolins did  I save?

    Zero.

    But how many could I have saved. I suspect zero .

    This is a global fight, and it begins in the hearts and minds of all of us.

    If you would like more information about pangolins or what you can do then see below:

    1) If you visit LAOS, VIETNAM, MALAYSIA, CHINA, CAMBODIA be aware that you are in pango territory. You might want to read up about them (see below), visit some conservation centres or make your feelings known to other travellers.

    2) Donate  money to the very small and  frugal pangolin research centre that I stayed in (click here for the CPCP) who don’t yet have a web site and are not government supported. $1 cares for Lucky or any other pangolin for a whole day.  Send money to myself marked PANGOLIN and I will pass it on. Like their facebook site here

    3) Support any of these with pangolin conservation programmes

     

    FINALLY – PASS ON THE LINK TO THIS BLOG.

    GO PANGOLINS!!! We have only a few years left to save them. WE CAN’T CRAWL INTO A BALL AND IGNORE THIS.

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  • DAY 302: THE PANGO STING FALLS FLAT: I DELAY FLIGHT BY THREE DAYS ONLY TO MISS THE BOAT BY ONE HOUR

    Jul 23 2013

    There’s one fatal flaw to travelling round the world trying to help animals and writing a blog about it: stories start but they rarely finish.

    I find it hard to give neat Hollywood endings. It’s also find it hard to look like Brad Pitt when accidentally drowning a tortoise.

    Today we arrived at the cool darkness of the banks of the Mekong river to try and witness the illegal pangolin trade coming across from Thailand en route to Vietnam and then China. We got there at the painfully pointless time of 5:45am to find out that we had missed the haul by an hour. Neon lights flickered in the darkness and there were remnants of suffering. Large plastic crates littered the floor. My guide found out a few hours earlier they had been used to transport the poor creatures which were then transferred to bags and put in trucks.

    A 3 day delay to my flight only to watch a murky sunrise over the grey waters of this vast river.

     

    Time is constantly ticking.

    In a few weeks I have a self imposed deadline to start my work on farms and so must leave the pangolin story behind in exchange for some work on pigs that I am doing in Europe. More to follow.

    I was nervous about the filming today.

    I feel an unhealthy mix of excitement and misery every time I find myself pushed into dangerous and illegal situations for the sake of tyring to help or raise awareness. Why do I get into these situations? It proves that so many animals live at the torn edges of society – a place that should be inhabited by no-one.

     

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad...  (from vietnamesenews.vn)

    Not my photo. Obviously. But only today 137 pangolins were seized in Vietnam en route to China. Many were dead, nearly all will die. Get them out of those bags!! So f***ing sad… (from vietnamesenews.vn)

     

    Driving back home we saw a woman on the side of the road bent over a dog crying. The dog had just been hit by a bus. It’s face was crushed, neck broken at 90 degrees. A very common fate given that so many dogs are running freely along the roadside. I was surprised to see that level of emotion associated with animals out here. I suppose I’ve become a little too cynical. Of course people care, but their boundaries of compassion are different than ours.

    But everything is so bloody raw here. It gets to me. Perhaps if I stayed here longer I would become numb to it.

    What a terrible thought.

    Tomorrow I’m back to Hanoi where I’m going to visit some more markets in an attempt to save more animals before heading home. As a dear friend said to me recently upon being told of my rescue attempts

    ‘Martin, you are pissing into the wind’

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  • DAY 281: TOO LATE TO RESCUE THE DOGS FROM SLAUGHTER?

    Jul 03 2013

    Looking for a dog shelter in Hanoi is like looking for a bacon rescue centre in London. Seeing a dog in the streets of Hanoi is not far different from seeing a pig walking down Oxford Street: you wonder how long before it will be in someone’s stomach. No one wants to help dead-meat.

    Nevertheless, I’ve decided I’m going back to rescue those dogs I saw in the cell at the restaurant just over 24 hours ago (blog time is a bit delayed). A long trip back to the jungle but I hope to bring them here to dog-meat city for a new life.

    Clearly, things are stacked against me.

    1)They might be dead already. There’s no telling how long dogs are kept before being ordered for a snack.

    2) Frustratingly, I cannot get through the pangolin centre to tell them to head to the restaurant to stop them being killed. I will pay of course. I have left eight messages but I must remind myself how strange this will appear – it is like a Laos person coming to London and demanding to go to Burger King to save a really cute cow.

    3) I have no idea where to take these dogs – can they get a proper life? Is there a rescue centre good enough?

    4) I have to find transport for three dogs on the brink of death. London taxis don’t take pigs. I doubt the taxis take dogs over here.

    But as good as the Vietnamese are at eating dog they are equally good at providing service. My hotel staff are so keen to please they would probably pop the whitehead on my forehead if asked. So when I ask for a taxi to take me back to the Cuc Phoung National Park…

    ‘Yes, how long you stay please in our beautiful park?’

    ‘Five minutes.’

    ‘Oh…’

    ‘Then I come back. With dogs. That people want to eat. I rescue them’

    Only a slight pause, then. ‘Yes, sir, no problem’

    Foreigners must appear …so foreign. It is not long before they find a facebook cat rescue group.

     

    Some sad news

    I call up the cat rescue. A woman is practically in tears at the idea of a dog being killed. This is a welcome surprise. I agree to take a taxi to meet her immediately. Just as I leave I get through to Phoung and urge him – right now – to go and stop the dogs being killed. Things are moving fast.

    But thirty minutes later, after I drive off into the Hanoi madness (the taxi going against the motorbike traffic like a boat struggling upstream) I get a text

    ‘I am Hung, Phoung’s assistant, I go to Nho quan for see three dogs (we see yesterday) like you asked and so I sorry, but when I go there I ask salesman but he says ‘kill’ all’. Sorry for this’

    My heart sinks.

    Another one of the millions of dogs out here has bitten the dust. I feel awful but in a strange way relieved – the stillness of death seems nothing like the pain of the path leading up to it. But the guilt sets in. I should have done something sooner…

    The cat rescue centre - very surreal to find this in Hanoi, Vietnam

    Cat rescue home

    I arrive, deflated, at the cat-rescue woman’s house. On a small bustling street the house is open fronted like a vast café spilling out on to the street with many young people – average aged 21 – sitting inside drinking milkshake and scanning the internet on large-faced mobiles. On the floor are tiny cats playing with electric mice and paper butteryflies and on the wall are pink-framed pictures of cats. I have entered a surreal Asian cat fantasy bar: I imagine that at any minute dancing girls and swirls of pink and candy floss will appear.

     

    Cat pictures on the pink walls of the cat rescue centre. So someone loves animals around here....

    Cat pictures on the pink walls of the cat rescue centre. So someone loves animals around here….

    I bought 4 and wore them around Hanoi. Yes, I looked like an idiot but who cares.

    I bought 4 and wore them around Hanoi. Yes, I looked like an idiot but who cares.

    I drag my sorrow inside, take my shoes off and then, from a young woman, I buy four badges that say ‘I LOVE DOGS’ on them

    This is the new wave of animal lovers coming through and it’s good to see. I meet my contact, a young and eager Hanoi girl. I tell her about the dogs being killed – she was sad but not surprised

    ‘They kill them very soon after capture. We don’t rescue dogs from the dog meat trade – we are not allowed to use the money we raise on that because the killers will jiust go back and get more dogs’

    That made me feel better – but not much.

    ‘Why do so many people eat dogs then? If some of you love animals’

    ‘Actually many people they love their dogs. My father too!He brush his dog every day, he feed it good food he stroke it. Then he go out and eat dogs in restaurant’

    I was surprised. But later, after having a conversation with Ann, she made me realse there is nothing strange about this at all. Many farmers love their animals and still eat meat. This man is making a distinction between dog-as-pet and dog-as-food. This is no more abitrary than our own distinction between dog as pet and pig as food. Both are drawing a compassionate line in the sand, one within a species, one across a species, which are as divisive and ultimately, meaningless as each other. (we draw the same boundaries within our own species on a daily basis: we love our families, we care far less about strangers. Perhaps her father is more honest about the limits of his compassion then us dog lovers???)

     

    A difficult river to cross.

    This journey into compassion feels at times like walking across a river on floating planks. I’m looking for solid ground but at any moment I might sink under the weight of my own inconsistencies. What is right, what is wrong?

    Over there on the far bank seems to be a land with answers but which I am not sure I want to reach. A land of veganism where I must let ants come into my house and where I will beaten with cold slabs of tofu. A place where I have to be open to a lifetime of the pain of species all over the planet….a place where I have to accept that those people I love – and those that I do not – are somewhat blind to the mass torture of innocents on a scale which, numerically at least, is without precedent.

    Does anyone know how to build a bridge??I’d like to maybe go back and forth a little.

    I’d like to apologise to those of you that have offered money to save these dogs. Maybe next time. I’d also like to thank those of you who have donated to the puppies. They have new names: GIPPER (meaning ‘happy’ in Korean) and DAISY or LUCKY depending on sex. Thank you!

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