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Parrots are People Too

Kea parrot of New Zealand: One of the smartest parrots, and often considered very human-like

In my many years of being a wildlife veterinarian and conservationist, I have often been asked, "Why spend so much time on humans when nonhumans need so much help?" Similarly, as a Unitarian Universalist minister I get asked, "Why spend so much time on nonhumans when humans need so much?"

My answer comes from a lifetime of experience, my understanding of intersectional justice, and also my personal worldview. Life is an interconnected whole, and if we help relieve oppression or injustice in one location by getting at the root causes of domination, then we are helping all beings. I also know that humans need a functional and flourishing planet, which requires the health of individual beings and their ecosystems, and that nonhumans need humans to flourish, because if they don't, humans will continue to have to make hard choices that threaten the viability and health of individuals and ecosystems.

I have also seen how a gestalt of promoting interconnected well being comes together in organizations and individuals who have as their foundation the well being of all animals, human or otherwise. A recent chapter in Human Rights Quarterly, "Animals Are People Too: Explaining Variation in Respect for Animal Rights," expounded on this connection. They found a strong link between human and animal rights at the individual level, as well as at the US state policy level. In other words, if people or states were focusing more on human rights, they were also focusing more on animal rights.

One Earth Conservation is one of many organizations that see the work of wildlife conservation as being fundamentally about linking human rights with animal rights. Freedom for one, results in freedom for the other. This is not the freedom to over consume or meet every desire, but being liberated from cultural limitations that weave us all into an unnecessary web of harm. We cannot help others to save their parrots without working with the people to save themselves, trying to reduce harm wherever we can. Conservationists more and more are striving for nonhuman well being, while also working for human well being. We need more people moving into this emerging paradigm of holding of value the well being and needs of every individual within the beautiful whole, because unfortunately, the older understanding persists as: It is a competition; if you take care of nonhumans you are basically devaluing humans, and vice versa.

It turns out that this slowly diminishing framework of approaching planetary and community health is not only not true, but also potentially damaging to humans, nonhumans, and ecosystems. A forest without parrots, who are seed dispersers, is less diverse. A less diverse and more unhealthy forest has less wildlife and less resilience against climate change and human interference. We need healthy forests for our water, for our air, for wildlife we depend upon, for our climate (which supports our agriculture and physical health) and for our spiritual health. If we only concern ourselves with humans, we lose the forest and our parrots and other wildlife. And if we lose them, we lose everything.

My concern is that the old way won't fade quickly enough to save the planet, so we can set into action as soon as possible individual behavior and policies based on seeing the interconnection of all beings' worth and needs. We are on the brink, so let's think hard, love deeply, and act concretely and quickly.

If you'd like to know more about the intersections of human and animal well being, visit the website, The Freedom Project, where we assert that none are free until all are free.

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