National Bird Day falls on January 5th and is a day to celebrate birds, as well as to shine a spotlight on issues critical to the protection and survival of birds, both captive and wild. Today's blog highlights this goal, as well as an upcoming international project where One Earth Conservation along with other collaborators seeks to promote freedom for all - a co-liberation for life on this planet made possible by raising human awareness. We assert that no cage is big enough and that none are free until all are free. Our guest blogger today is Eric Kreuter, board member of One Earth Conservation. He lives with Pluto, a Myer's parrot, a species from Africa.
WE ALL CANNOT CLAIM FREEDOM IF SOME ARE HELD CAPTIVE
Eric and Pluto
The beautiful parrot in the photo above is Pluto. She is a Meyer’s parrot and is about 15 years old. The prior owner had to give her up subsequent to a serious car accident. When I went to a pet shop to look for a bird, I noticed Pluto perched very quietly. Once the shop-owner explained what happened I knew Pluto was the bird for me. From my research and work on the Board of One Earth Conservation, were I to seek another bird in the future I would only seek a rescued parrot and not one from a breeder.
The cage becomes the enclave where true separation exists between the one or few who are not free and those who can enjoy freedom of movement, choice and future. Yes, we adore the beautiful exotic bird maintained in the carefully maintained cage, but, realistically, we mistakenly observe the cage as a home. Homes have doors and windows, most usually allowing occupants to enter and exit at will and breathe outside air with little effort. The cage, however, usually metal, while constructed with panels on hinges we can infer to be doors, are operable from the outside by humans with human fingers. Thus, the human becomes the controller of the relative freedom of the bird, deciding when it remains and when it is permitted to visit the outside domain known as the home.
Does a bird or other animal have any rights as humans define them? While no direct maltreatment is suggested solely due to the housing of a bird in a cage, when the construct of freedom is considered, the considerate human must declare dominance over the captive creature. The term “pet” degrades the animal in a way that decapitates its right to freedom. As such, there is no problem imprisoning the bird for brief or even long periods of time because we, as humans, dictate the flow of coming and going through the aforementioned door—a gateway to relative freedom.
When the bird is removed from the cage, albeit in a most loving manner, we ought to consider this to be an act allowing the creature to taste something its nature hungers for—the freedom to be outside the cage, perhaps even to fly. Flight, then, becomes either the exposition of freedom or repression in the case of inadequate space or temporary impossibility due to trimming of its flight feathers. Humans, capable of convenient rationalization, may restrict flight out of concern for the bird that it might cause self-harm in the risky human home environment.
Observing the bird doing what it can, but, frankly, less than its natural gifts would permit, relegate it to be a mere object—a statute of sorts, but one that can move or squawk or speak human language. Is this different than the circus lion that jumps through the fiery ring at the command of the master wielding a whip? The lion, in its natural habitat would behave not this way, thus the master displays dominion (a form of force) over the lion. Ironically, the lion is capable of destroying its own master, but normally does not do so because of years of training and bonding with the master—something we can call trust.
The less-stressed bird will wait patiently for the next opening of the cage-door, knows its food and water bowls will be replenished regularly and will be kept warm. The bird suffering trauma or boredom may experience self-excoriation or exhibit other signs of panic.
These issues can be segregated by birds bred for captivity where they have no memory of their natural outside world from birds kidnapped from active nests in the wild, transported to human homes (or zoos) and stored in cages. These birds can know the difference between true freedom and relative freedom. Judgment is required to infer cruelty to the act of the poacher, a judgment made easier if laws have been broken. But, even where no crime has been committed, the demander of the poached creature (or even the egg), can be criticized for diverting an animal from its natural habitat to one that is artificial, at least from the perspective of the bird—anthropomorphically speaking.
But, the demand for the bred-bird must also be carefully considered as it perpetuates the notion of the right of a human to hold captive a creature lower down on the food-chain of life. Just because we can does not mean we ought. This, of course, does not suggest negative judgment of the holders of bred birds and certainly we must care for those that now exist as humanely and lovingly as we can. But, if we take the brave new step of considering relative freedom, we might elevate ourselves as humans to see what is happening in the world where nesting birds and eggs are stolen, elephants and rhinos are mutilated and killed for their tusks or horns. When we observe through a wider lens we become further enlightened, which may result in a change of mindset, leading to doing something proactive to help creatures from being chased towards extinction, one extracted bird or egg at a time. This, even housing one bred bird, as lovingly as possible, may stimulate conscious thought to the concept of relative freedom and what our responsibility is towards creatures of our One Earth for which we can make a difference.
My personal belief in the right to freedom and flight has been reinforced by my involvement with One Earth Conservation and will be applied in the future. I do find a difference between an already existing bird rescued from trauma that could not be returned to the wild and one that is demanded from a breeder. By lowering demand one bird at a time fewer new birds will be borne into captivity from day one.