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Australian Wildlife: Pests

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Each day it seems, I find it harder to claim to be a proud Australian.

We are a nation of rorters, scamming the government – our fellow tax-payers – of millions of dollars of funding for an initiative to provide jobs and reduce energy consumption as the country faced a potential crisis. There we are milking a program to build much needed public education facilities – literally robbing our children of basic infrastructure. And we are disgracefully skimming the indigenous housing scheme, leaving entire communities still living in the dirt.

Violence and bullying on the streets, in our schools and homes, and an evident disregard for authority across generations is increasing.

Worse than all of that is the transformation of Australians from an egalitarian, friendly and community-minded people to an especially ego-centric self-centered species, without basic respect for our environment or other animals. We are a population at very best, indifferent to the loss of our wildlife. And that population is growing rapidly.

On average the RSPCA in Australia accepts around 138,000 abandoned animals each year and investigates more than 42,000 complaints of animal cruelty and neglect. Over a decade, those numbers are staggering. Just this time last week Bob Irwin was with a team of volunteers trying to rescue a dozen southern hairy-nosed wombats after they were deliberately buried alive in their burrows by farmers in South Australia. So far only one has been saved.

What ever happened to us?

A report entitled The Relationship between Animal Cruelty, Delinquency, and Attitudes toward the Treatment of Animals published in 2004, confirmed a relationship between acts of cruelty to animals other than humans and involvement in other forms of antisocial behavior. But it went further, exploring the relationship between a history of observing or engaging in acts of animal cruelty and attitudes of sensitivity/concern regarding the treatment of nonhuman animals. The results are more than disturbing.

Researchers have suggested that involvement in animal cruelty behaviors, either as observer or participant, may be associated with the development of attitudes that reflect a general insensitivity toward the well-being of others (Ascione, 1992, 1993). Specifically, it is hypothesized that observing or participating in acts of animal cruelty, particularly among young children, may result in a callous, insensitive attitude toward the suffering of both humans and animals. In the absence of attitudes supporting concern for others, the individual is free to carry out acts of violence toward animals or humans.

So don’t kid yourself those violent video games and crap TV shows don’t count. They clearly do. But there is a great deal more at stake here than the risk of sociopathic crime. It is the desensitising of an entire nation to the suffering of others, animals and humans alike.

The purpose of the 2004 study was threefold: to examine the relationship between animal cruelty and involvement in other forms of antisocial behavior; to examine further the relationship between observing and participating in acts of animal cruelty, and thirdly, to examine the relationship between animal cruelty behaviors and attitudes reflecting tolerance for animal maltreatment.

Overall, 51% of participants in this study reported observing at least one incident of animal cruelty, and 18% reported engaging in at least one incident of animal cruelty. These rates are consistent with previous research using similar measures of animal cruelty (Flynn, 1999a, 1999b; Miller & Knutson, 1997). The report concludes:

Observation of animal cruelty appeared to be more strongly related to attitudes regarding the treatment of animals than was actual participation in acts of animal cruelty. This effect was moderated by the sex of the observer. Men who observed animal cruelty presented a more callous attitude toward the treatment of animals, while women who observed animal cruelty exhibited greater sensitivity regarding the treatment of animals. Finally, both participation in animal cruelty and observation of animal cruelty had independent and additive effects on delinquency among men.

These results support the general findings in the literature showing a relationship between animal cruelty and involvement in other forms of anti-social behavior. This study adds to the existing literature by demonstrating that this relationship exists within the general population.

The most revealing part of this research is the resulting “observation of animal cruelty appeared to be more strongly related to attitudes regarding the treatment of animals“.

That Tourism Australia capitalises on the value foreigners place on our wildlife proves the economic value they bring to Australia, which is certainly more than that of the pitiful sales of roo meat in our supermarkets. But by itself (ironically) indulging in this new culture of cruelty, Tourism Australia will do more to deter foreigners visiting Australia than they realise. Keeping (and defending the keeping of) a kangaroo in a pen on concrete paving for eight hours, day after day, is damningly indicative of a greater problem.

The impact of the website Koala Diaires has led to other wildlife groups asking me to create websites for them too. One such group is researching a genetically rare population of kangaroos. I agreed to do so and mentioned this to a friend in passing. Her response was an off-handed, “Why bother, they are only pests.”

But I do bother. I do because I can’t stand the deliberate and negligent slaughter, the cruelty, the indifference. I care about the animals, I care about us as a society and what we are becoming. It is important that we all do. Our wildlife are not pests, they are unique, important components in a complex biodiversity essential to our own survival about which we know so very little. We simply have to care; to bother to find solutions to their increasing disease and loss of habitat; to find a way to live with them in harmony.

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” - Mahatma Gandhi

Here in this short video is the proof of just how great a nation is Australia. Please watch it to the end, and then tell me you still don’t care. I dare you. Click here: Bloody Harvest.

© 2010 – 2013, Alex Harris. All rights reserved.

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Category: Feature, Reputational Risk, Sin & Spin

About the Author: Author, freelance features writer, speaker and consultant specialising in reputational risk, corporate social responsibility, business ethics, consumer generated and social media, and the links between them. Winner of Chicago Women in Publishing 1994; National Association of Women Business Owners New Venture Award 1995; past president Australian American Chamber of Commerce of Chicago; past executive director of Committee for Economic Development of Australia (Qld).

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