Museum Manifesto. Humans and other animals
From the perspective of natural history, humans are animals, yet we have gained an overwhelming hold over other species, to the point of threatening their very existence. In the face of the emotions aroused by the sometimes fierce scrutiny of this asymmetrical relationship, this manifesto proposes that we analyse and redefine our place in the living world of which we are a part.
In his introduction, David Bruno, the President of the Museum, reminds us that "humans are primates, which are mammals, which are vertebrates, which are animals." In contrast to the legacy of the Abrahamic religions, modern natural history is driven solely by science and does not identify any difference between human beings and other members of the animal kingdom. We share a mosaic of anatomical, genetic and behavioural characteristics with a whole range of other species; for instance, the ability to use tools.
In itself, the concept of species is merely a convention of scientific language and does not attribute values or rights to the groups of creatures defined by them.
The time has come for us to take into account what animals are feeling. Yet this is hard to do when all we have to describe mental states are concepts developed for humans such as sensitivity, emotions and conscience.
In 2015, Anses, the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health, defined animal welfare as "the physical and mental state of animals resulting from the satisfaction of their essential physiological and behavioural needs and their ability to adapt to their environment." It provides guidelines for improving the living conditions of animals in wildlife parks, farms, research laboratories, etc.
For thousands of years, humans have been making use of other species for food, transport and clothing, as well as for entertainment in parks, zoos, bullfights, etc., and to test medicines. There is growing opposition to all this, as can be seen in the switch to veganism.
Although meat provides nutrients that are essential for our health, western populations on average eat more of it than is necessary. This means that we need to reduce our meat consumption and get protein from other sources (legumes, etc.), and encourage technologies that reduce the ecological impact of meat production, since "it takes 6 kg of plant-based protein to make 1 kg of mammal-based protein using traditional methods."
High speed extinction
By transforming habitats, expanding means of transport and mastering the reproduction of farm animals, humans have had an impact on the distribution and destiny of other animal species. "Since 1900, the average abundance of local species in most of the world’s major habitats has dropped by at least 20%." And the phenomenon is accelerating. Species are going extinct at an unprecedented rate.
Yet humans are only one part of what makes up animal life, all the elements of which, from individuals to entire ecosystems, depend on each other. Humans need to learn "to live with" other species again. This means in-situ conservation, by defining specific protected areas, by legislating and by involving local human populations, as well as through offsite conservation, for instance by the captive breeding of threatened species in order to expand their genetic diversity with a view to boosting their populations.
French legislation has been adapted to ensure this protection, and other animals are no longer considered as goods and chattels but rather as sentient beings, because from now on we need to "think about the future of humans with other species and therefore partly for them".