An elderly lady sits on wooden stairs covered in dust. The house appears old and without modern amenities. The lady has been worn by time, but still carry outs the tradition of neck elongation, sporting around 15 brass rings around her neck

Why the Long-neck Village of Thailand is controversial.

Feature Image: Matteo Selva

Northern Thailand’s ‘cultural tourism’ industry is founded upon the villages of the Kayan long-neck tribe, whose woman stack solid brass rings around their neck. This practice has long been ubiquitous with Kayan culture in which the subsequent elongated neck is a symbol of beauty.

This practice achieves this illusion by placing pressure on the base of the chin and top of the shoulders. Rings are continually and routinely added until the shoulders become depressed and the wearer seemingly sports an elongated neck.

Despite the mounting pressures of our technocentric modernity and the fading of this practice in Myanmar, the Kayan tribes place of origin, said practice has remained strong in Thailand. Their key role in Thailand’s tourism industry has placed economic pressures on the woman to maintain this practice – this economic incentive has been vital to maintaining this practice, despite the fading of many other people’s traditional practices.

But, all is not well for the Kayan tribe.



While the long-neck villages of Northern Thailand draw much tourism, particularly from the Chinese market, the women of these villages are not the beneficiaries of said tourism, only the attraction.

Through market incentives and corrupt governments, the Kayan have become exploited and essentially imprisoned by those whom have seen the monetary value of this practice and the women’s’ vulnerability. The practice of the Kayan tribe has continued because it is a spectacle in current times.

The events that led to the Kayan Tribe’s current circumstances and the formation of a tourism industry begins in a country entirely distinct from Thailand. So….

Who are the Kayan?

Despite being synonymous with the mountainous regions of Northern Thailand, the Kayan are not of Thai heritage. Their origins are to be found in Myanmar, at the time Burma. Here, they identify as a sub-group of the Red Karen People – the Tibeto-Burman ethnic minority of Myanmar. Their presence in Thailand is an unfortunate story, which has resulted in much backlash in the international community.

During the late 80s, the Kayan were made refugees by an intensifying civil war between the Burmese army and Karenni separatists. They were forced to flee the country eastward to Thailand. Under the status of ‘conflict refugee’, the Kayan were granted temporary asylum by the Thai government and allowed to inhabit guarded villages in the country’s north.

These villages offered a solution to the initial issues of the Kayan, but they were never designed as anything more than a temporary option. Two decades on and little changed. There is no sign of the conflict abating and few Karen are willing, nor desire, to return to a country in the midst of the world’s longest running civil war.

BURMA: ETHNIC WAR IN SOUTHEASTERN ASIA

The civil war in Myanmar if the longest running war you’ve never heard of. It is often called the ‘Forgotten War’.

Source: Democracy for Burma

The Kayan of northern Thailand now occupy a perpetual state of stagnation stemming from national ostracism. Surely, there are laws to mitigate such issues?

The Thai government class the Kayan as ‘temporarily displaced persons fleeing fighting’ and are judged prima facie. (At the national level, Thailand has minimal regulation on the handling and labelling of refugees). Essentially, this washes-their-hands of any legal obligation. The Kayan are allowed asylum in Thailand, but with minimal protections.

The Kayan have no citizenship and few rights; limited access to essential and basic utilities, including health care, education and electricity; minimal incomes; are forced to occupy predetermined tourist villages or overcrowded refugee settlements, from which they may not legally exit; et cetera.

The lack of official recognition by the Thai government deprives the Kayan of any rights and civil liberties that should be afforded. Instead, they are the main attraction at a human zoo.

(It should be noted that there are many settlements in northern Thailand that continue to take-in refugees from Myanmar. These villages have many issues, including overcrowding, limited access to potable water and high rates of disease. However, they are distinct from the tourism village that hosts the Long-neck Karen woman. This article should only be considered as an analysis of the tourism village).

A Tourism Spectacle.

There is an earie vibe to the Long-neck Village. As a steady trickle of tourists depart a long-line of tour vans, they are welcomed to the village by heavy smiles. The colourful shops sport a bounty of skilfully hand-made trinkets and the children play on the paths. It gives the impression of a simple and peaceful existence. But, something seems off.

You would not be able to work out exactly what, had you not done some prior research. There will be no information provided by tour operators on the real history of the Kayan-Thailand relationship beyond a pale description of a ‘mutual business arrangement’.

They do a good job at reinforcing this illusion. But, the Kayan are not viewed beyond their worth as a product. Their captors provide an illusion of a seemingly peaceful and reciprocal relationship – people pay a fee to enter the village and gawk at the Kayan who, in return, receive a portion of the profits. But, this is not the case.



 

The Kayan are, essentially, chained by circumstance. They have no resources or, at least, not enough to go their own way, nor any knowledge of a way to utilise their attraction to leverage themselves above their exploiters. The fee you pay at the entrance only reaches the Kayan in the form of small incomes, just enough to live on. (This is a common misconception. These entry fees rarely support the Kayan people and few are actually dependent on them for subsistence).

For many of the Kayan, the only time they are able to find some form of frugality in their life is when a tourist pays them for a service, such as a photo-op, or when a trinket is purchased from their shop.

Tourism: Enchain and Liberate.

The Kayan Tribe have remained a marginalised and exploited people at the hand of the Thai government. While tourism continues to stoke-the-flames of this injustice, the fire burned long before the Kayan became a tourist attraction.

The specifics of this issue can be understood by breaking it down and analysing three formational dynamics – institutional abuse, relative poverty and misinformation.

When the Kayan fled Myanmar during the civil war, the Thai government’s non-status label enabled the foundations of institutional abuse – abuse validated by law, but that, nonetheless, remains an abuse.

A non-status by the Thai government stripped the Kayan of any rights and capacities needed for independent subsistence and self-sufficiency. The boarders of their small village symbolise the boarders of their existence – nothing more may be gained from the world legally, besides that which can be found within this boarder.

This led to an unwilling dependence on the village for otherwise unobtainable resources – they may refuse to participate in the sideshow, but this would result in nothing more than their own end.

By law, they are limited to utilise resources only attainable inside the boarders of their small villages. And there is only one ‘substantial’ resource in the village – tourists. The Kayan must accept it and join the scores of their peers reluctantly marketing themselves to tourists. With these villages, they are prisoners. Without these villages, they live in relative poverty.

Long-Neck-village-Mae-Hong-Son-Thailand-1

The Kayan Long-neck Village as depicted in a Thailand promotional magazine.

Source: The Thailander

But, without the Kayan, specifically the profitability of cultural tourism, these villages would cease to exist as a source of wealth for the local and national governments. In order to maintain this dependence, the Kayan are fed a false narrative about the importance of maintaining their cultural practice.

Specifically, that the brass rings around their necks are an unreturnable endeavour. Once they are on, they cannot be taken off without subjecting the neck to many risk. Of course, it is nonsense – the neck is not actually elongated, the shoulders are merely temporarily depressed.

While the Kayan are not actually allowed to leave this settlement, and many who have attempted to were arrested, it is much easier to keep someone complacent when they are uninformed. What would happen to the fabled Long-neck Village of Northern Thailand’s tourism industry if all the villages suddenly became filled with normal-neck people?

While the Kayan lack the necessary intellectual resources required to help themselves. Most people do not. Internationally, the exploitation of these people and support by tourists has been condemned and most articles on the matter recommend avoiding them altogether. However, in Thailand you will scarcely find any tourism operator that avoids them. Most, in fact, have them displayed in their shops and will happily take any tourist to the village for a fee.

Unless people are engaging in international affairs prior to visiting Thailand, few would have any knowledge of the issues surrounding the Kayan and hence would not see any issue in visiting this seemingly raw example of cultural expression.

Information will be the decisive factor in determining the future of these villages. If people continue to enable an industry founded on the exploitation of an oppressed people, the issue will continue. Short of international intervention or the Thai government gaining a conscious, the only thing that will end this human zoo will be the days when the trickle of tourists entering these villages runs dry.

It will not solve the issues of the Kayan. But, it will solve the issue that is Thailand’s exploitation of refugees.

Will you be visiting the Long- neck Village of Northern Thailand?

In a popular street market of Jaisalmer, two Indians prepare a fresh pot of Kachori in boiling oil. Their pan has a thick buildup of charcoal from years of use.

Do Indians’ eat meat?

Anyone who has ever visited India will be aware of the slew of questions that follow such a journey upon returning home. You will be pressed to comment on just about every aspect of Indian culture and life as if you were an expert.

Inevitably, you will be asked: Do Indians’ eat meat?

Well… do they?

India is home to the highest population of identifying vegetarianson Earth. In total, it accounts for as much as 30 percent of the nations’ total population – in 2018 this stands at just under 450 million people. This is an exceptionally high number by any standard, but particularly when compared to the abysmal rates of meat abstention or moderation in most affluent countries.

By this precedent, much curiosity is drawn. Why are so many Indians vegetarians? What underpins this oddity in a rapidly intensifying global livestock economy? Can we extrapolate these actions to future peoples?

There is an answer to all these questions, but it starts first by recognising a flaw in the overriding line of thinking. The Indian race and the quality of vegetarianism are inaccurately conflated – Indians are not vegetarians by virtue of being Indian. If these two factors were dependent, the number of vegetarians in India should be close to 100 percent, not a minority group.

Still, there must be a correlating dynamic between the two factors, which has resulted in the high percentage of vegetarians in India. While standing as individual identities, their relationship is not coincidental nor entirely independent. What connects the two? Hinduism.

Around 80 percent of Indians, give or take 5-10 percent, identify as practicing Hindus. This equates to just under 1 billion Hindus in India alone. Naturally with such a numerous and expansive population, the details and application of said faith will vary. However, Hinduism as a national identity can be whittled down to a few general principles.

These principles begin with the archetypal belief in a supreme being, sometimes referred to as Brahman, who espouses three absolute tenants of the faith – truth, dharma and karma.

Brahman is seen as the collective identity of many individual gods and goddesses that personify said being’s individual aspects, such as Saraswati the goddess of learningand Lakshmi the goddess of good fortune– think of it like a puzzle set, where pieces have individual faces but interlock to form a single cohesive unit.

Some Hindus look to the authority of the sacred scriptures known as Vedas – the Hindu equivalent of the Bible or Qur’an. In translation of these ‘truths’ and other teachings, such as those of the enlightened Buddha, somepracticing Hindus adopt a restrictive diet. But, what specific beliefs motivate this abstention?

Most modern Hindus abstain from the consumption of cattle, although they may consume the flesh of other animals. The source and exact starting point of these beliefs are difficult to discern. (Historians can tell us when events occurred and detail the transition at length, but are unable to decipher the subjective reality).

To some, cows are perceived as a mother figure due, in part, to their involuntary provision of milk – relating to the story of Gomatha orAditi. Some Hindus’ view them as the vahanaof gods, by which they symbolise an omen of sorts – many temples still follow the tradition of having a Nandistatue preceding. Some Hindus’ believe beef abstention is written into and prioritised in the Vedas scriptures.

There is a variety of religion-based reasoning used by Hindus to abstain from the consumption of beef.There is just as much diversity in reasoning for completemeat abstention. Although, two main ones are as follows. Either, vegetarianism is adopted as a derivative of ahimsa – a key teaching in the Hindu faith. Or, vegetarianism is adopted as a rational extension of Hindu scripture, which regularly forbids beef consumption on compassionate grounds – an individual could pose: if we must care for cows, why not all lifeforms?

However, the adoption of vegetarianism is not synonymous with the faith, as much of the teachings is lost in translation or perception. Hinduism is not an organised religion, in the same manner as Christianity or Muslim. Its teachings are not confined to a single book or set of tablets. Local, regional, caste and community-driven practices influence the way individuals and groups interpret and practice their beliefs. From this system, the diversity in beliefs is borne.

Just as diversity of culture exists within the worlds countries, so too does it exist within a single religion, especially a pantheistic and polytheistic religion. There are people in India that maintain religious or non-religious views from polar ends of the spectrum, from fundamentalists to agnostics and atheists. There are those that swindle general Hinduist ideology to reject common Hinduism teachings of altruism and kindness in a vain attempt to justify meat consumption without conflicting with their faith in the gods or threatening the self with acts of immorality and anti-faith. Potential translations of Hinduism harbour as much variation as its adherers superficial qualities.

A tainted history.

Few Hindus wish to acknowledge past practices in the name of their faith. For instances in this history could be described as diametric to modern translations of the faith. But, they are important to recognise because they help formulate an understanding of the faiths current practices.

Roughly two millennia ago, during the post-Vedic era, cows attained a symbolic importance in the faith. Prior to this, cows were used in sacrifices; exonerated on special occasions; had little religious value; were hunted for their meat and hide; et cetera. But, the religion underwent ground-shaking and relatively quick transformations in the way it identified with cattle.

Most scholars generally equate the rise of meat abstention in Hindu cults to a period around 300 B.C. with the telling of a Sanskrit epic – the Mahabharata. The epic in question reads:

 “Once, when there was a great famine, King Prithu took up his bow and arrow and pursued the Earth to force her to yield nourishment for his people. The Earth assumed the form of a cow and begged him to spare her life; she then allowed him to milk her for all that the people needed.”

 This myth describes the rise of a symbolic and utilitarian value for cows. Where people abandoned the hunting of wild cattle, choosing instead to domesticate and preserve their lives. In this sense, the cow became a paradigmatic animal that provides a food source without being killed.

This same period saw a multitude of underpinning factors that supported this change of ideals. For example, some dharma texts proposed that cows should not be eaten because of their increasingly recognised presence in scripture and tales, where they were associated with Brahmin – a sacred creature in Hindu lore.

As the centuries progressed, factors like social status became intimately connected to food restrictions. Whereby abstaining from meat became a ‘matter of status’ – the higher the caste the greater the food restrictions. M. N. Srinivas, an Indian sociologist concerned with the caste system and social stratification, described, in great length, how lower castes gave up beef in order to move up the social ladder, in a process known as ‘Sanskritization’.

(There is potentially 10s of thousands of contributing factors to the rise of beef abstention in Hindu culture. The aforementioned factors are merely some of the more notable and empirically supported underpinnings).

After two millennia, we return to current times and, once again, are face-to-face with a group of well-intended acquaintances asking…

Do Indians eat meat?

Some Indians eat meat. Some Hindus’ eat meat. Some Indians abstain from meat. Some Hindus’ abstain from meat. The variety of restrictive and non-restrictive diets is as diverse in India as its landscape.

Hinduism is a religion of contradictions when interpreted on an individual basis. The faith can be interpreted to suit individual preferences. So, while Hinduism is intimately connected to the high concentration of vegetarians in India, it is not the sole cause. Hinduism is the prescribed reason in an individual’s decision to become vegetarian only if said individual’s subjective beliefs can be translated into the Hindu faith – rarely will Hinduism promote vegetarianism if it is opposition to the subjective self.

If some individual wishes to describe themselves as a Hindu, while continuing to consume meat, it is as simple as translating the teachings of Hinduism to suit their prescribed desires. While beef does appear to be a common abstention, even amongst meat consumers, the majority of practicing Hindus seem to have no issue with eating all other forms of meat.

Hinduism ≠ Vegetarianism

Do preordained sentiments motivate vegetarianism more than Hinduism?

 

Afterword:

***Many practicing Hindus whom observe the teaching of compassion for cattle have inadvertently and unwarily perpetuated the abuse of the species. In line with the notion of cattle being the providers of milk, many in India consume high amounts of dairy. Like most nations this has resulted in the industrialisation and systemic abuse of the cattle. And, also like other nations, smokescreens and deception are the backbone of the industry. For if Indians’ truly new the practices undertaken to produce the milk and milk-products they consume, it would be impossible to abide by their own beliefs of reverence for the cattle while still consuming its milk.

*** Many Indians do not expressly follow the ethics or guidelines of vegetarianism, but have partially adopted the diet out of circumstances. To accommodate a high population of vegetarians, many stalls and restaurants have aligned their menus with the diet, with very few offering more than one or two options. Such a small variety of options, not to mention the popularity of Indian vegetarian food, has driven many people in the nations developed cities to consume little meat.

Those living on the peripheries and in rural areas do consume meat but this is more out of circumstance than religion or ethics. Poverty or destitution has forced many to undertake subsistence lifestyles, relying on the bread of the land – they eat meat out of necessity. Their diet consists of what they can grow, forage or hunt and occasionally raw foods purchased at the local market.

Should I drink Civet Coffee?

03-civets-coffee.adapt.1900.1

I do not find much appeal in Coffee. We have never been formally acquainted without a string of inconvenient events following. So, it was to my surprise that I found myself enjoying a guided tour around a rural coffee plantation in Bali.

Rich aromatic scents drifted on the wind; the coffee willows swayed gently, producing a calming white noise; our guide could scarcely be seen without a smile from ear-to-ear. It was an unexpected pleasantness away from the constant hustle-bustle of Southern Bali.

The day was progressing nicely, until I became curious about the many cages dotted throughout the property containing peculiar creatures.

“They’re civets” replied our guide when pressed. “They make the coffee”.

I was confused by this proposition. But, the answers became apparent a short time later at a tasting vendor, which offered a particular strand of coffee labelled Kopi Luwak, otherwise known as Civet Coffee.

“So… what is Kopi Luwak coffee?”

Kopi Luwak derives its name from a process of fermentation, in which coffee cherries pass through the dietary tract of a Civet.

Genuine Kopi Luwak relies on wild Civets. These shy and solitary creatures raid coffee plantations in the still of night, seeking out the flesh of the choicest coffee cherries. They consume the coffee cherry in its entirety, but excretes the seeds as they are indigestible. The partially digested, and now fermented, coffee beans are collected, cleaned and processed.

Enzymes in the dietary tract change the protein structures of the coffee bean, while the creatures anal scent glands infuse a unique aroma. The result is an aromatic cup of coffee with a smooth and earthy flavour that is less bitter than regular coffee – at least that is what the coffee bag claims.

Some years ago, Kopi Luwak was a rare and exclusive product of the most well-connected. Today, it is no longer exclusive, but it is the most expensive coffee in the world.

The Problem.

Kopi Luwak came from humble beginnings. The droppings of wild civets were collected and processed by small-scale farming operations, often with a single worker, having little interaction with each other.

This boded well for these creatures. The Civet, whom had historically been considered a pest by the fruit farms it raided, was given a green card.

Recent years have seen a surge in the popularity and accessibility of Kopi Luwak – it is no longer a novelty of the wealthy and well-connected. Consumption outpaced the capacities of traditional production methods, forcing the industry to evolve.

There is now a thriving industry in Indonesia based around the consumption and production of this coffee – people are willing to pay a hefty fee to see how this coffee is made and interact with the creatures that provide it.

As the business has grown, the demand for more productive and efficient methods of harvesting said coffee have also grown. Similar to layer hens and dairy cows and many other animals, this has meant neglecting these animals to horrendous living conditions and deplorable treatment under the guise of efficiency and profit.

In order to sustain a commercial quantity of coffee that is viable for mass consumption, the process by which it is produced needs to be highly efficient and profitable – the wellbeing of the Civets does not fit into these parameters.

This has meant higher stocking densities in smaller cages, limiting natural movements and increasing rates of Zoochosis, a stress-induced neurotic breakdown; the naturally solitary animal experiences stress related issues from living in close proximity to other civets; nutrient deficiencies and hair loss stem from the exclusive feeding of a single food source; unsanitary conditions spike disease and mortality rates; exposure to daytime conditions leads to mental disorders – civets are exclusively nocturnal animals; wire mesh flooring create an intense and constant source of pain for the soft-footed creatures; caged Civets have a greatly reduced life expectancy and high rates of vices, such as gnawing at legs and fighting; et cetera.

“When tourists see the caged civets, it helps to convince them that they are drinking genuine real civet coffee as part of their tour. Sadly, many tourists are blind to the cruelty associated with caged civet coffee and even queue up to take a photo to share on social media”

– Dr Neil D’Cruze, Wildlife Researcher

Luxury. Austere.

The commercialisation of Kopi Luwak detached the industry from one of the fundamental roots that made it a ‘luxury’ item – WILD Civets.

Wild Civets are incredibly picky. They will only eat the finest and ripest coffee cherries. Being fed cherries by a farmer removes this aspect of selectivity. If there is nothing else, a Civet will eat a cherry regardless of its grade. This luxury item is a shadow of its former self. Coffee connoisseurs and aficionados alike will likely never taste a true cup of Kopi Luwak.

“Detecting cruel civet coffee remains a constant challenge because of the difficulty in distinguishing between beans from caged or wild civet cats. However, if tourists see civets in cages as part of their tour this is a clear indication that unnecessary animal abuse is involved.”
– Dr. Jan Schmdit

There is no way to tell if Kopi Luwak is sourced from wild or caged Civets, as there is no regulatory or certification body to validate this claim. Coffee certifiers, such as the Rainforest Alliance and UTZ, refuse to certify Kopi Luwak products because it is almost impossible to determine if they are wild-sourced and abide by welfare standards laid out in the widely applied Sustainable Agriculture Network standards.

“My personal advice is generally to avoid it. More likely than not it’s going to be coming from a caged production landscape.”
– Alex Morgan, Rainforest Alliance

A Few Bad Eggs or a Systemic Practice?

Like with any exploitive business there will be those who operate with the best intentions, ensuring that their actions are not unduly damaging or abusive. However, there will always be those who seek to capitalise on any potential business to the fullest of its extent in spite of the damage it will cause. So, what is the case with Luwak Coffee?

“nowadays, it is practically impossible to produce wild kopi luwak”

A review by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of 16 different coffee plantations found industry-wide standards of misconduct and welfare rejection. Of the 16 plantations, 14 processed their coffee beans through caged civets on-site. The other two plantations sourced their coffee beans from an off-site facility that used caged civets.

The review remarked;

From the size and sanitation of the cages to the ability of their occupants to act like normal civets, every plantation the researchers visited failed basic animal welfare requirements… “Some of these cages were literally the tiniest—we would call them rabbit hutches. They’re absolutely soaked through with urine and droppings all over the place” … Most of the civets were very thin, from being fed a restricted diet of only coffee cherries—the fruit that surrounds the coffee bean. Some were obese, from never being able to move around freely. And some were jacked up on caffeine.

A conduct of deceit weighs heavily on the industry to maintain an illusion of ‘traditional’ standards. Most telling, at least for me, was the employment of diversion tactics. It is common practice to keep several Civets in reasonably large cages and in healthy condition to put on show for the tourists. It creates an illusion of an ethical ‘business’ relationship. If the conduct of this industry was known, this products consumption would plummet. And, they know it!

 

I will not be drinking Kopi Luwak. Will you?

 

A Need for Change: Australia’s Livestock Export Trade

Live export sheep_credit ALEC 16x9-2Australia-China Export Ship

Abuse is rampant in Australia’s livestock export trade. While some try to hide from it, others embrace it as an unavoidable evil; where some businesses cut the cost of materials or labour, the live export trade cuts the standard of care for animals, abysmally. Most politicians do not care. Most farmers do not care. The export trade en masse does not care.

Recently, footage emerged of sheep dying from heat-related stresses in a Qatar abattoir and, once again, pushed the barbarity of this industry into the limelight and a much-needed investigation. This is not the first, nor will it be the last, abuse uncovered in this industry.

Controversy after controversy after controversy has gripped this industry since it became the subject of modernisation. Practices that once lay hidden behind closed doors, now frequent the public.

“Livestock export is a centuries-old practice in Australia, but the cameras are new.”

As humans strive for empathetic and altruistic societies, the continued presence of this industry stands as an affront to that which we seek. We, as progressive thinkers, must do what we can to hasten the end of this archaic industry. Knowledge will be instrumental to this end.

Neglect & Big Business.

The size and nature of the livestock export industry necessitates the continued and systemic neglect of animals to function profitably. During the 2014-18 period, Australia exported 11,886,496 animals, ranging from cattle to alpacas to goats and more. Some of these animals travel more than 12,000 kilometres over the course of several weeks before reaching their final destination.

To achieve this level of operation in an economically viable way, corners need to be cut. Corner-cutting that has become synonymous the export industry. Results of this negligence include;

  • Hermetic ship designs increase the risk of heat stress. In 2013, over 4,000 Australian sheep died on the Bader III due to heat-related stresses.
  • Export ships are often exposed to rough seas and unexpected weather. Similar to humans, the animals suffer from sea sickness and are at a heightened risk of injury from falling.
  • Export ships have kept the same stocking density for nearly 40 years. Studies suggest this is half the minimum space needed for basic daily movements.
  • Poor drainage systems result in the build-up of wet faeces. Animals are often fully coated by journeys end – numerous ailments are borne out of these conditions and rates of septic cellulitis are significantly high.
  • Food and water supplies are inevitably contaminated by the build-up of wet faeces. This increases the likelihood of dehydration and hunger.
  • Many animals are unable to rest due to the lack of space and bedding and the build-up of faeces. This increases rates of exhaustion, fatigue, injury and asphyxiation.
  • Hooved animals require soft bedding to alleviate the pressures placed on their body by the ships hard-surfaced floors. These surfaces are akin to humans walking barefoot on rocky ground on an oscillating platform. This can result in lameness, hoof damage, painful abrasions and injury et cetera.
  • Animals often give birth during transit. The offspring are either subjected to and die from the conditions of the ship or are killed for commercial reasons. The risk of Mastitis is significantly increased.
  • The Australian Government sets levels for ‘acceptable on-board morality rates’. For some animals, this is as high as 2 percent of the ship – some ships carry over 80,000 animals. Although, this figure is rarely enforced. For example, 32 sheep voyages over a 5-year period had an unusually high mortality, but only 3 were investigated.

While I can attempt to describe the situation on these ships with words, it will fall short of expressing just how bad these conditions are. Video footage conveys a far more confronting and dire situation. For anyone sceptical when I condemn these conditions, I would implore you to view them for yourself beforehand.

 

On Arrival.

The plight of these animals does not end when they reach port. For many, it has just begun. Many of the importing countries maintain archaic ideologies that place animals far below the bar of basic concern.

In 2011, the livestock export industry was forced to respond to allegations of cruelty when it was revealed that Australian animals were subjected to systemic abuse in overseas facilities. New regulations were introduced to increase the animal welfare standards of the industry and trade was resumed. Since the resumption of livestock exportation, footage has surfaced of the conditions these animals now face under new ‘welfare standards’;

In Pakistan, 20,000 sheep were stabbed and clubbed, before being buried alive.

In Kuwait, sheep’s throats are sawn open before being sold on an illegal market – on multiple occasions.

In Qatar, 7,000 sheep and lambs die from heat stress and malnutrition.

In Egypt, cattle are stabbed in eyes and have their leg tendons slashed before being butchered alive.

In Mauritius, false declarations are made in official reports to cover up illegal shipping of pregnant cows.

In Israel, sheep are kicked and punched before being thrown from export ship.

In Gaza, cattle stabbed in eye, kicked and punched, tied up and kneecapped with assault rifles.

In Malaysia, Gentle steers have their legs bound before being brutally slaughtered while fully conscious.

In Vietnam, cattle routinely sledgehammered to death. Australia’s Department of Agriculture indicates knowledge of events but no mitigation policies introduced.

In Jordan, Australian sheep are deliberately and systemically on-sold to unapproved private slaughter.

In Australia, systemic and routine tampering with CCTV footage and covering up of abuses by farming regulatory body and Department of Agriculture evident. Exporters regularly flout animal welfare regulations.

This is a shortened list of known abuses paraphrased from Animals Australia. There have been 100’s of violations since the ban.

All these events and more have occurred while the Australian government has continued to brandish a message that its exporters are subjected to some of the highest animal welfare standards in the world.

“This industry entails unnecessary pain and suffering for all the animals involved within it. Anyone who tells you different is either ill-informed, they’re a liar or they’re staying silent for fear of losing their job”
– Dr Lynn Simpson, Veterinarian

 Caged

Flickr: Nicolas Kohout

In the Shadows.

The livestock trade has thrived in the shadows of the Australian legal system, underpinned by a political disdain that deems these animals as lesser beings. Were a human or an animal regarded highly by humans, such as a cat or dog, exposed to the treatment and conditions of this trade, widespread and complete condemnation would ensue. But, put a cow or a lamb in this position and the standard of basic care drops, abysmally.

Notwithstanding, this standard does face challenges when it comes to the attention of the public – not the politicians or the farmers. And herein lies one of the biggest problems – transparency. As noted by Animals Australia:

“Australia’s live sheep trade has operated for over five decades with only those financially invested in the trade having visual access to the conditions and welfare implications for the sheep on-board”

Those that stand to lose the most from heightened welfare standards are those positioned to monitor the welfare of animals on-board. Federal politicians have ensured that trade is quick to resume after, often during, every controversy.

 

Why?

 Why are politician’s adamant about supporting this industry despite its systemic abuse and widespread condemnation?

 There is a simple answer – in my mind. Money talks. Furthermore, livestock do not vote, but farmers do. Collectively, farmers form part of a very large and powerful lobbying group in Australia, sending a strong message to those who oppose them;

“A ban is emotion-driven and unscientific.”

Many farming bodies, supported by federal politicians, including Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, have branded this sentiment almost to the point of a slogan, in response to renewed calls of a ban after the footage emerged of 2,400 sheep dying on transit to the Middle East.

This empty rhetoric is pushed by many politicians and supporters of the live export industry. That a ban is an entirely emotional response; that the 100’s of documented cases of animal abuses that occur year after year are non-consequential; ethical conduct is irrelevant and unimportant; ensuring the continued and uninterrupted flow of money through the industry is most concerning. Meaningful condemnation or bias conjecture?

During 2011, in the midst of the second suspension of livestock export, a small but vocal minority condemned the suspension as ‘commercially unwise for farmers and exporters’ i.e. the systemic abuse of an industry given the duty of care for millions of animals a year should not be reason to inconvenience farmers and exporters. Scarcely a word on anything but the potential monetary impact a ban or phase-out of the livestock trade can be heard amongst the rallying calls of the industries supporters.

“Thousands of regional workers and livestock producers in Australia depend on this industry”
– Tony Seabrooke, Farmer

Exactly how many workers rely on this industry? You might ask. According to Meat & Livestock Australia the industry employs 13,000 workers and brings in $1.8 billion AUD. (For simplicities sake, I will agree with these numbers).  The size, reach and political pull of this industry has facilitated its continued operation relatively free from the high standard of regulation that is required to achieve adequate animal welfare standards or that would set a standard of ethical conduct for any other industry.

Finally, a misconstrued identity of farmers has epitomised the industries dominance. Through Australia’s long history of farming, the practice has become intertwined with the nations culture. We are fed this image of resolute men ploughing the fields and herding livestock day-in and day-out in a sun-scorched land. Their labour is difficult but essential to maintain the frivolous normality of most Australians. This identity, or something akin, is what most envisage a farmer to be.

It is not what I picture. With more than two-thirds of and up to nine-tenths of livestock coming from identified ‘factory farms’, I imagine something greatly different to the romanticised image provided above – the livestock export market is the epitome of industrialised agriculture and has long since detached itself from the humble origins of small-scale farming. Farming, in most cases, is a big and powerful business with enough brunt to indoctrinate a society into accepting a systemically abusive industry that has committed some of the worst atrocities of this century.

 

A Long-awaited Response.

After all the condemnation of the export industry in this article, we come its penultimate conclusion – addressing the long-awaited mitigation strategy of the Federal Government after the deaths of 2500 sheep on transit to Qatar. An ‘independent review’ was launched to underpin the government’s response.  It must be noted that this review focused on a tiny fragment of the export industry. The parameters were; specifically, sheep in transit to the middle east during the Northern Hemisphere Summer. All welfare issues missing either parameter was not considered in the review.

The report makes 23 distinctive recommendations. Most target bureaucratic reform, such as independent reviews of a vessel’s pen air turnover, and new reporting mechanisms – things related to the issue that have very little to do with overcoming the issue. One recommendation affects the stocking density of ships and has received a lot of positive coverage. Specifically, the stocking density of sheep should be reduced 39% to an allometric k value of 0.0030 – just shy of the minimum requirement needed for basic daily movement – during heightened mercury levels.

Many welfare advocates have been sceptical of the review and its attempt to kick the can down the road;

“weak, not based on science or evidence, and left farmers holding a ticking time bomb”
– RSPCA
“[a] lily-livered government response designed to protect exporters, not animals”
– Animals Australia

While this review would never have occurred under the former hyper-conservative Agricultural Minister Barnaby, this has been nothing more than a political stunt attempting to quell the growing concern of the general public without a much-needed overhaul.

For me, the insufficiency of these recommendations has been highlighted by the National Farmers Federation President, Fiona Simson’s, attempt to find a positive response to this review;

“What I can give the public a guarantee about is a better system than we currently have. This is [an] improvement and that is, I think, what we have to continually strive for”

 I fail to see how the industry could worsen after the neglectful deaths of 2,500 sheep. 

In Conclusion.

The animals of this trade are subjected to deplorable conditions. But, the only time they are deemed such, is when these conditions are brought into the light of the public eye. And this practice is only continuing to garner footage of its own misgivings.

In all the articles on the ban, with particular reference to those that support the livestock export industry, a single line only varying slightly, is evident. I have chosen to use the line from Jessica Blanchett & Bruno Zeller’s article titled ‘No winners in the suspension of the livestock trade to Indonesia’.  The line reads;

“this article, while acknowledging the existence of animal rights issues, focuses on the commercial and legal aspects of the ban”.

Or, as I have come to understand it;

“there are clear examples of the abuse of the rights of animals in the livestock export industry. But, acknowledging this in conjunction with economic desires would be impossible to justify to the benefit of the industry “

(The article concludes by remarking that the ban was nothing more than a shallow attempt to please the interest of animal lovers and that, asides from this, the ban has no tangible reason).

The livestock export industry of Australia, including many of the farmers of Australia and many of abattoirs of foreign countries and many of the politicians that have supported and facilitated the indiscretions of this industry are unable to impartially value the welfare of animals beyond what is damaging to their wallet. This kind of mentality aligns with some of the worst atrocities committed throughout history.  Therefore, I argue that this industry is incapable of operating appropriately on its own terms because profits are too heavily motivating in its willingness to abide by basic moral standings and, hence, should be completely disbanded.

“I support a ban on the export of livestock. What about you?”

 

 

Climb Uluru! Before its too late

Hidden in the Australian outback, a single monolithic formation rises from the sun-scorched lands. Uluru, as it has come to be known, is a natural Arkose structure that formed 500 to 600 million years ago. This marvel of the Australian outbackis a key selling point for the region, drawing in some 200,000 travellers a year from around the world.

From a distance, Uluru draws and holds your attention. As you creep ever closer, the distinguishing features of this marvel only continues to evoke awe. At its base, a variety of indigenous objects can be found. While unique and interesting most people are there for one reason – to climb Uluru.

An unimpeded, 360-degree view of the lands stretching off to the horizon can be found at the top of Uluru. Complemented by feelings of peacefulness and spirituality that flow organically out of this region’s minimalistic beauty.

The climb is definitely one for the bucket list. There’s just one issue.



They are closing the walk!

That’s right! As of the 26thOctober 2019, it will be illegal to scale the peak of Uluru or even set foot on the loosely defined boarders of the rock. This decision was approved after the Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Board, comprised of 12 members, voted unanimously to close the walk.

As can be imagined this has been met with a great amount of support from people praising it as a step in the right direction towards equality, but also criticised by others believing it to be irrational and discriminatory. I lean more on the side of the latter group.

So, why are they closing it?

Amidst several reasons given for the walks closure, two main ones stand out.

Firstly, there have been at least 35 fatalities, largely from heart attacks, on the walk. The apparent danger of this walk is one reason for its requested closure – this is the argument put forward by the ‘traditional owners’ of Uluru.

While occasionally sited as a reason to close the walk, many tend to avoid this argument, likely through acknowledgement of its blatant unperceptiveness; any death is tragic, but those who put themselves in positions that lead to an especially heightened chance of mortality do so in complete recognition of this risk.

You could argue that this decision is not entirely restricted to the individual because their death or injury may have an emotional effect on their family and a financial burden on the services, such as a paramedic, that are required to travel to their location to help them. But, again, this should not be used as the basis to close the walk.

If such reasoning is used for closing the walk, then the feeling of enjoyment, pleasure and/or satisfaction that is gained by the 10’s of millions of people whom have climbed the walk without any issue and the millions of dollars they have poured into the local economy must be acknowledged in conjunction. Personally, 35 does not seem all that terrible when you consider the vast amount of people who have completed the walk without issue.

All around the world certain acts, such as swimming in the ocean or hiking up mountains or exploring caves, present a heighted level of risk to those who choose to participate in them instead of other acts, such as relaxing at home or reading a book. Those who choose to participate in them are aware of these risks, but choose to participate in them anyway.

Some entity claiming power does not have the ethical right to nullify a decision made by someone who has the capacity to rationally analyse a situation and determine what course theywant to take, insofar as this decision does not cause pain or any discomforting feeling to another – I will address the emotional pain felt by the indigenous people in a later section. To remove this option from the individual on the basis of it presenting that which they have already determined to pursue is to remove the very basis of self-determination.

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Uluru is situated in a scorching desert

Flickr: Cedric Quidet

The second, and far more rational, argument concerns the local Anangu people. To them, scaling the rock is an act of disrespect to their culture and contributes to the deterioration of the area. The ban is an attempt to solidify the Anangu’s cultural heritage and ensure the upkeep of Uluru for current and future generations. The basis of this argument is superficially solid and emotionally provocative. However, it is not entirely impermeable and, for this reason, some people have taken issue with the ban.

Despite the overwhelming majority of media sites praising this ban, you would be hard-pressed to find a group of people who unanimously agree on the decision. Simply by scrolling down to the comment sections of these news reports, a contrast of opinions and opposition is evident. The jury is clearly not out on this decision, despite 12 like-minded people coming to the verdict to close the walk. In one way or another, the following paragraphs are all related to the second argument.

Tourists are destroying the national icon!

Uluru has experienced steady and continuous deterioration at the hands of tourists for many years now. Somechoose to litter the peak with their trash and/or defecate in the area. The build-up of this waste has had a noticeable effect, to the point that you cannot complete the walk without coming across at least a few pieces of trash and even the odd turd.

It is hard not to side with the local people who are fed up with this kind of act occurring on a place of such high importance to them. I am sure anyone would agree that the avoidable deterioration of an area by immature behaviour is unacceptable. But, the bad actions of a few should not outweigh the good actions of the many. The walk does require stricter regulation and greater penalties for those that contribute to Uluru’s deterioration, but an outright ban over such an issue is a step too far – the common census appears to be that most people support stricter penalties for those that pollute in such a way.

Uluru White Trail

A visible white trail has been worn into the face of Uluru from climbers.

Flickr: Shikosabu

The decision was exclusive and did not engage the community!

 It is hard to imagine that the board who made this decision are impartial when all of its members are delegates of the Anangu. They are not going to support the continued climbing of Uluru when those who appoint them deem such an act disrespectful.

Do not get me wrong here. It is a large and welcome step forward that such a role can be filled by people of differing backgrounds despite the continuing issues around race relations in Australia. However, one can be an avid supporter of racial inclusion and equality, but question the practicality of appointing people to a position based on the degree of their relationship to Anangu people rather than their merit.

It is their views, not mine

In its simplest form, this is an issue of beliefs. The indigenous people of the area believe that they are forbidden from stepping foot on Uluru apart from special circumstance. This is a specific tenet of their spiritual beliefs. But, just as so many other religious and spiritual belief systems have their own values and tenets it is impossible for everyone to value said thing similarly or abide by the customs of one prescribed belief system. Not everyone will where a specific piece of clothing, not everyone will avoid pork, or gather in a specific place on certain days et cetera.

While there is some exception to this, few of these belief systems force others to abide by their beliefs. Non-believers are not forced to go to church every Sunday. Non-Hindus are not punished for eating beef, just as non-Muslims are not forbidden from eating pork. Are the beliefs surrounding Uluru not the same?



Regardless of whether it’s your view or not, it is now legally recognised as their property. As such they are well within their rights to forbid people from climbing it. Just as the ownership of a house gives you the legal right to forbid people from entering said area. Unfortunately, this means that the only way to protest this change, as of 2019, will be with posts such as this.

Land ownership is a claim, not an imperative!

 One of the many tenants unique to the indigenous people of Australia is there belief that you cannot own land. We are creatures of the planet; the earth is not some dead thing you can claim, as in the common Europocentric view. Despite this being one of their hardest tenants to maintain in an increasingly capitalist world, I would argue that it is one of the many that they should seek to maintain, despite doing a backflip on it in this case.

There is something beautiful in knowing that an area is not owned by anyone. No one has put a claim to it and there is no one attempting to develop it. A true wilderness. There are very few, arguably no places like this left in the world. This is a terrible thing in my eyes. I would strongly support the decision of Indigenous people to maintain an area exclusive of ownership, if such a claim were to be made, and oppose anyone who sought to impose their own claim on that area.

A common argument that has come out in opposition to the claim of land ownership is that Uluru is a natural icon formed millions of years before humans even came in to existence and, therefore, no one can claim it. While this is an argument that ultimately supports my end goal of the continuation of climbing on Uluru, I had to address this argument in opposition because this line of thought seems nonsensical and hypocritical.

Everything was natural before someone put a claim to it. The tiny rocks crushed to make way for roads and buildings may very well be remnants from the earths creation, but more likely 10’s and 100’s of millions of years old. The site of New York was natural, likely hosting a great menagerie of trees and animals that were cleared to make way for a mega city. Despite it being natural before someone claimed ownership, restrictions on access to the buildings exist and no one opposes this. (You could question the whole integrity and ethics of human fabricated claims to the Earth that allow one to have sole property rights over another and I would happily argue against such claims. But, that is a topic requiring more extensive work, so I will leave it with just an acknowledgement for now).

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An aerial shot of Uluru protruding from a barren landscape

Flickr: Paul Johnson

It is about respect

As the traditional custodians of the land, there is a special connection to Uluru felt by the Anangu. Many people do not share this connection, but they should respect the views of the Anangu and honour their request not to climb Uluru.

As a society in which so many people are pushing for racial equality and inclusion, it is hard to see where such views of exclusion can remain. A dark shadow still looms over Australia, lingering from the times of European colonialism. But, opposition to this ban is not a remnant of European imperialism or appropriation. Instead it is a recognition of an inclusive society where certain groups are not given preference over others.

Unfortunately, there are still disparities between the lives of indigenous people and non-indigenous people in regard to wealth, education and health, and these issues need to be overcome. But, by allowing the beliefs of religious superstition to outweigh the beliefs or lack of beliefs of others in Australia, you only further contribute to the divide and draw controversy.

For an alternative option, the Anangu people should be given legal power and recognition of their cultural linkage to the site, while others are allowed to visit at their own discretion with increased regulation and greater penalties. A middle-ground would heed greater success than a complete ban.

Uluru does not need to be developed to reduce risk

 With continued talks of the danger of the walk, there are those who have proposed that the area be fitted-out with increased safety mechanisms to mitigate this risk. I would argue against this. Just like many potentially dangerous acts, people are aware of the risks and make the decision whether or not they are willing to take that risk. If people choose to scale a rocky face in the middle of a hail storm or hike up a peak on a blistering hot day, they alone own that decision – as mentioned above, I am all for self-determination.

By developing Uluru, you remove the thing about it that makes it special. Its naturalness. It is renowned as a naturalland mark. People come from far and wide to see a naturalwonder. A place untouched by man – sort of – that is purely developed of this earth. An area filled with signs, gates, handrails and guardrails seems to take this away from the areas beauty. There is only so many things that you can do to an area before the naturalness starts to fade and you are replaced with something more akin to human development.

As far as I am concerned, there is no difference between a piece of rubbish and a great human-built structure permanently protruding from the icon; visible year-round, can be seen from a great distance and is, overall, far more impacting on the aesthetics of the area than the waste of a few people. If keeping Uluru open means that is going to become the next recreational playground destroyed by developers and policy makers, even I will be siding with the Anangu ban.



Is there reason to take issue with this ban?

Yes. There are many reasons to take issues with this ban. The plan is not perfect. It needs to be critiqued so it can improve. You should not feel intimidated if you do not fully support the ban or feel that you are irrational or racist or insensitive if you decide to climb Uluru, despite what some people may say or call you.

No matter what side you take there will always be someone calling you wrong. A common thread with issues of such a nature is that our rational judgement of a controversy tends to be obscured by a strawman-like argument where anyone who opposes this ban is branded as a racist or insensitive or something of the like, rather than recognising them as someone who is sceptical about the rationality of the ban.

This has not been my regular kind of post, but it was a topic that I wanted to put my opinion on, despite knowing that it might be controversial and, unfortunately, result in the loss of some readers.

Now that you have read to the end of this article and have, at the least, a basic understanding of some of the different opinions on the topic, I leave you with one final question:

Will you be climbing Uluru?