Museum Manifesto. Humans and other animals

From the perspective of Natural History, we are animals, but humans have gained an overwhelming hold over other species to the extent of threatening their future. In the face of the emotions aroused by the sometimes brutal questioning of this asymmetrical relationship, this manifesto proposes to analyse and redefine our place in the living world of which we are a part.

Statuette de divinité à corps humain et tête de chat.

Baster, Égypte, époque ptolémaïque (664-30 av J.-C.), Bronze

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

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. They 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.

Couverture du livre du Manifeste du Muséum Humains et autres animaux

Museum Manifesto. Humans and other animals

  • Co-publication by the French National Museum of Natural History/Reliefs Éditions
  • Auteurs: a collective headed by Guillaume Lecointre, zoologist, taxonomist and Museum professor
  • Bilingual French/English
  • 2019
  • 84 p.
  • 7,50 €
Dessin d'un cerf avec des caractéristiques humaniodes : visage, mains, pieds...

Être composite, dit « Le Sorcier », gravé et peint dans la grotte des Trois-Frères, (France, Ariège, Montesquieu-Avantès), période magdalénienne, (relevé par H. Breuil)


Animal Welfare

These days we should take into account what animals are feeling. This is hard to do when we only have concepts that we as humans have developed to describe mental states: 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 satisfaction of their essential physiological and behavioural needs and their ability to adapt to their environment. ” It gives guidelines for improving animals’ living conditions in wildlife parks, farms, research laboratories, etc.

Maquette d'une étable en bois contenant des figurines d'humains et de bovins.

Maquette d’étable trouvée dans la tombe de Méketrê, (Haute-Égypte, Thèbes), (vers 1981-1975 av. J.-C.), Bois plâtré et peint, craie

© The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Reasonable use

For thousand of years, humans have been making use of other species for food, transport and clothing, as well as for pleasure in parks, zoos, bullfighting, etc., or for testing medicines. There is growing opposition to this, which 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 technology that reduces 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. 

Groupe d’hommes et de taureaux en déplacement, gravé et peint, Tassili-n-Ajjier, (Algérie, Sahara central), Néolithique, (relevé par Henri Lhote), Gouache et aquarelle sur carton

© MNHN - J.-C. Domenech

High speed extinction

By altering habitats, developing means of transport and controlling 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 the majority of major world 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 of the elements of which, from individuals to entire ecosystems, depend on each other. Humans need to relearn “to live with” other species. This means onsite conservation, by defining specific protected areas, by legislating and by involving local human populations, as well as through offsite conservation, for instance by breeding at-risk species in order to expand their genetic diversity with a view to boosting their populations.

The legislation has been adapted to ensure this protection, and other animals are no longer considered as goods and chattels but as sentient beings, because from now on we need to “ think about the future of humans with other species and therefore partly for them ”.

Labour, (Pflügende Ochsen, bœufs labourant) (1868), Huile sur toile, Zurich, collection particulière

© DR
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