by Whit Gibbons

April 11, 2004

"People Eating Tasty Animals is in no way connected with, or endorsed by, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals." So says the Web site that you used to reach when you went to Apparently the tasty animal site, with its tongue-in-cheek humor about the extreme views held by some members of PETA, lost a domain name rights battle for the Web address. I think most of us would be better served if we still reached the original site.

This is a column about ecology and the environment, and my concern about PETA is that some people mistake animal rights zealots for environmentalists. They are not necessarily the same, although some environmentalists may also be a bit shrill. It is important not to confuse the cause of animal rights advocates with that of people who work to protect the world's natural environments--and the animals that inhabit them. The two can be compatible but often are not.

Protecting animals from abusive treatment is a worthwhile cause that most people would not oppose. However, when PETA focuses on antihunting and the welfare of individual wild animals, the organization is not addressing more universal environmental problems such as loss of biodiversity, human overpopulation, and habitat loss. These are true environmental issues, whereas antihunting efforts are directed toward protecting individual animals from dying at a younger age than they might otherwise. In fact, hunters are among the most environmentally friendly groups because of the importance of healthy habitats to anyone who hunts or fishes. PETA is summarily opposed to hunting, suggesting that they are more interested in the individual animal than the wild animal populations or the environment as a whole.

The rights of individual animals (such as a single deer) versus the rights of an entire animal species (all white-tail deer) do not necessarily go hand in hand and can actually be in conflict. Actions prompted by compassion toward the plight of individual animals are not always in the best interest of the general welfare of animal populations and species. Game animals are monitored by wildlife departments to assure that their removal is sustainable, that the populations will be able to replace their numbers. Although none of us want to see individual animals suffer, animal rights activists involved in antihunting programs should consider if preventing the suffering of an individual animal might lead to greater suffering in an entire animal population through starvation or disease.

Well-intentioned people who care about animals sometimes contact their state wildlife department to deal with individual animals that have a problem. With spring here, baby birds will fall from nests, and turtles will end up injured on highways. Such scenes make us feel bad, and they should. But calling the wildlife department to deal with such problems is not a solution. The usual response from the wildlife department is to ask the caller just to leave the animal and let it die. Wildlife departments cannot devote limited resources to dealing with a single individual of a species, one that is destined to die anyway. The death of any animal is a natural, inexorable event. The protection of wildlife habitat, with a focus on the animal community inhabiting it, is a far more important responsibility for our wildlife departments.

Another complaint registered against PETA and other animal rights groups is that they attempt to restrict medical research that benefits humans. Protecting individual animals against human abuse can be a worthy endeavor, but many people feel PETA should distinguish between animal rights and human rights, with it being understood that the latter is more important, at least to most humans.

Even though gets you to a different Web site than it used to, the visit is still captivating. But now the stories are real and they are not funny. For example, concern for the welfare and lives of 31 beagles at the University of Texas M. D. Anderson Cancer Center is presented as more important than the medical contribution they might make for the benefit of humans. And PETA mocks KFC with the slogan "Kentucky Fried Cruelty: We do chickens wrong." Nonetheless the idea of people eating tasty animals is still preferred by some of us.

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