Year of the Dog – #DogHeroes

We’ve just welcomed in the Chinese New Year, and as most of you know or have heard, 2018 is Year of the Dog. In Chinese astrology, every  year is related to a different zodiac animal in a twelve year cycle, and this year happens to be Fido’s turn.

But I’m not going to talk about moons, houses, fortune and other nonsense. If you know anything about me from reading my blog, you’ll know that I’m an astronomy lover, which makes me anti-astrology by proxy. But enough of that.

Year of the Dog should be a time for us to reflect upon important issues, to show some extra love and affection to our companions, our working dogs, our protectors, our children…and this also means paying close attention to the dogs that don’t get this same treatment.

All over the world, unfortunately, dogs are abandoned, abused, neglected and tossed away, when they’ve served their useful purpose, or they’ve grown from cute puppy into 40kg of fun. Whilst there are rudimentary laws in place to stop such acts, mostly  it’s down to the work of handfuls of caring individuals, organisations and charities to pick up the mess, and start down the long road to rehabilitation and re-homing.

In the next blogs, I’ll be focusing on some #DogHeroes – highlighting the tireless work of these people, and showing the difference that they make, very often relying on their own pocket and the donations of animal lovers like ourselves. Be aware, read the stories, if you see an abandoned or injured dog, pick it up, and if you can’t, give it what you can and pick up the phone. More importantly, understand that even the smallest donation can go a long way.

You can also help by sharing your own #DogHeroes. Use the hashtag, please! Share this blog, nominate your own heroes in the comments,  and feel free to talk about this on social media. If you know a worthy cause, shout about it. If you adopted a dog from one of these angels, tell the world about it. And stay tuned for the next blog where I’ll introduce the first #DogHero.





I Eat Meat

This is not a blog about activism, or elitism. This is a blog all about what makes us individual, what makes us human. The ability to rationalise, reason, formulate opinions, and to politely agree or disagree.

I eat meat.

I am a passionate wildlife artist, advocate for conservation, and firm believer in animal rights and animal protection.

But yes, I do eat meat.

Meat has been a part of the  human diet for at least the last 2.6 million years, and even our closest living relative the chimpanzee is known to indulge in meat-eating on occasion.

Our teeth are omnivorous, our brains require extremely high-energy foods, and our digestive system resembles more that of a carnivore than a herbivore – we don’t have a four chambered stomach, a rumen, or an appendix that does anything more than go septic and occasionally rupture.

But my argument here is not that meat is or isn’t an important part of our diet. It is about how we can eat it.

I am very lean, so whilst I admire those who adhere to a plant-based diet, I feel that our diet, and mine particularly, should be just that, plant-based, not plant-only. A good dose of healthy protein fuels our brains, our energy levels, and provides us with vital nutrients and minerals that plants simply can’t provide.

I believe that the eating of animals is not ethically wrong, but the way that we consume them certainly is. Nature is cruel; animals are slaughtered on a daily basis; babies ripped from their mothers’ wombs by hungry, slavering predators, wild dogs chewing on the legs of their prey, consuming them alive, or the Komodo dragon, that gives one bite and leaves it victim to die an incredibly slow, painful death from infection.

But nature doesn’t know any better. We humans have the unique perspective of rational thinking, of empathy, and I suspect that this insight developed pretty early on in our meat-eating habit. We developed weapons and hunting tactics to dispose of our prey as quickly and as cleanly as possible, to avoid unnecessary injury to ourselves or our victims.

As the intelligent species, we have a moral obligation, if we do wish to consume meat, to do it in a way that causes the least suffering. Why condemn a hen to a life of confinement, disability, darkness and disembowelment, when that hen can be provided high quality food, adequate movement and a flock? Financial gain, increased productivity and a twisted air of superiority.

There are more cattle than humans on the planet today. The more our human population swells, the more our demand for beef swells with it. Cattle are an enormous contributor to global warming, producing vast amounts of methane, and they require large amounts of land and grain to bring them up to slaughter weight. In fact, cattle need ten times more land then pigs or chickens do.

Switching away from beef, we can perhaps save vast amounts of land and grains that could be directly consumed by humans. We can use this surplus land to raise pigs and chickens in more ethical conditions, giving them sunlight, room to move, socialisation and enough freedom as any pet deserves.

Eating meat is not without its problems. We are rapidly running out of space for ourselves and our need for food. Climate change is exacerbating the problems of drought, famine, over-cultivated and deforested land, making it more and more difficult to grow crops, to feed  our animals.

I have of course, barely touched upon the cruelty of animal slaughterhouses, not because I wish to shy away from the topic, but because this subject is already extremely well-known and contested. But at least there are people within animal husbandry seeking to change this; take Temple Grandin and her work with some of the biggest cattle raisers in the US and around the world, adopting simple yet radical tactics to ease an animal’s suffering once its fate is determined. Even such simple things as changing the way they are led into the slaughterhouses; the colour and the texture of the ground the walk on, can all ease their journey.

As much as I enjoy meat, I feel that it is my responsibility to make the right decision, even though it may be a sacrifice to choose one item over another. I am lucky, I can make that choice. We are victims of our own success; we can raise and enjoy such a huge quantity of beef is a great sign of progress, however, taken to an extreme, the consequences start to outweigh the benefits. There is no need to go to the extremes of raw eating or veganism either, it’s all a matter of common sense, and a little bit of empathy. Obviously eating less meat is good for us health-wise, and environmentally.

Do We Really Need Zoos?

I’ve visited many zoos around the world in my twenty five years on this planet, and I always looked forward to indulging in my love of nature in whatever small, humble way I could, land-locked in the centre of the UK or, more recently, relocated on a tiny Mediterranean island with virtually no native mammal species.

So during my recent trip to Madrid a day out to the city’s zoo was definitely on my to-do list. However, after my visit I found myself feeling unusually hollow and felt as though I had come to a new realisation since my last zoo experience eight years ago.

Zoos have moved on a great deal since 1828 when weird and wonderful animals were transported from across our colonies for our gawking eyes and our amusement. Facilities have improved, cages (or enclosures) have gotten bigger, and education, welfare and conservation have become a much higher priority. Zoos have allowed many people, me included, to learn about species that they would not have otherwise been able to see, and zoos inspire and intrigue us at all ages.

However, I left the city zoo feeling that this showcase of the natural world, as diverse and immersing as it was, was just a falsity. A portfolio of species in a context that simply does not exist in the wild. I struggle to see the benefits of zoos claiming conservation aims when they have managed to successfully breed a family of rare giant pandas, only to keep them confined to a relatively small and featureless enclosure with no possibility of ever introducing them into the wild to diversify its minuscule population.


I struggle to see the educational purposes of keeping (as far as I could see, at least) a lone wolf in an area not big enough for it to break into a run. This is not a typical or an accurate representation of the wolf in the wild. We all know that the wolf is a highly intelligent, social and transient species that roams vast areas and holds a huge territory with diverse habitat.

The rather lonely (and also rather scrawny) Arctic wolf 

I struggle to see how children benefit from being held in front of a fence by their parents for a photo, when the child is not even old enough to know that he is a child. Or how older children can learn anything aboutanimals by banging on the glass screaming, or commenting (yet again) that they found Dory.

It’s problematic for me, one who wishes to indulge in nature as much as possible, and who craves contact with the natural world, to feel such apathy for this place. Whilst I am certain at least that the animals that I saw had their basic needs taken care of, behavioural, spacial, social and psychological restrictions are clearly felt. It definitely gave me some serious food for thought.


I’d love to know your opinions on this matter.

You too can join the Conservation Conversation. Click here to find out more.

Self-Defence is not a Spectator Sport

One bull, seven opponents.

A bull has horns, we have swords.

If it was a board game, we’d guess the winner before we even roll the dice, and if it was a card game we wouldn’t dream of laying our chips down for the bull to win.

I’ve heard and read many excuses for allowing the ‘art’ of the Spanish bullfight to continue (even though it’s recently been banned in Catalonia in 2012 and is losing ground in much of Spanish culture), and I’d like to address a few of them here.

Whilst I am an advocate for animal rights, I am also no saint. Yes, unfortunately, I am a carnivore. I eat meat, and if there is a more humane way for me to obtain my meat products I would love to know about it, as I don’t think I could survive on cabbage and tofu. But there is, cruelty aside, a certain necessity in consuming meat (though I’m sure Morrissey would disagree); our ancestors started hunting meat as soon as they left the trees, and wild chimpanzees have been known to hunt, kill and eat monkeys on occasion.

However, allowing a blood sport to continue in 2015 that has no other merit than masochistic entertainment, seems to me, utterly barbaric no matter what excuses you give:

Have a nice life, until we butcher you

Whilst I am in no way promoting abattoirs and animal slaughter, the justification that the bull gets to live in relative luxury for five or six years before the bullring is no justification at all. I’m sure that the bull is not recollecting his green pasture and his doe-eyed cows whilst blood is being drawn from his neck by barbed swords and the barbed pleasure of the bloodythirsty crow.

But we eat them too

After his meat has been tenderised by swords, exhaustion and adrenaline, the poor bull finds his way into the human food chain, the finest beef money can buy, for a privileged few. For the thousands of others who walked into the bullfight just to watch; you watched it die for nothing.

Blind horses

During the bullfight the bull is encouraged to charge at blindfolded and padded horses; once again the stakes are not even. The horse’s primary defence is its vision and speed; both denied it in the bullring. Never mind the fact that the bull is confronting an alien situation and maddened by rage is forced to charge at a fellow beast of burden. Horses have been horribly mutilated and killed in a situation that they nor the bull would likely ever encounter in the wild.

A fair fight

A certain number of hits must be made before progressing to stage two of the bullfight, to weaken and tire the bull by causing damage and blood loss. Repeated stabs in the neck and the bull’s handicap becomes the matador’s advantage. Only now is it a fair fight for the matador.

In the next stage of the fight know as the tercio de banderillas three ‘banderilleros’ each plant barbed sticks with coloured flags deep in the bull’s blood-drenched shoulders. These further weaken the enormous neck and shoulder muscles and chaste the bull to charge more aggressively to defend itself. Fighting bulls are bred to have deliberately massive shoulders, if only to allow more pain to be inflicted upon them long enough to draw a significant crowd.

The kill

The act of thrusting the sword in the final act should be quick and sever the bull’s spinal cord. A poor execution will cause protest and anger from the crowd and could seriously harm the matador’s reputation. Kill it instantly and spare it pain – a final act of humility, or saving grace for the matador?

But it’s tradition

One of the most frustrating excuses for continued cruelty in the world, whether animal or otherwise, comes down to tradition. Traditions die when we realise they are barbaric and ignorant: the locking away of menstruating women, child slavery and child marriages, witch hunting, fox hunting…Traditions are not infallible.

“If it is in our power to prevent something bad from happening, without thereby sacrificing anything of comparable moral importance, we ought, morally, to do it.”
Peter Singer