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The Physicians Committee

PCRM Ethologist Reports from Lecture Tour of India

By Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D.

Jonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., in IndiaJonathan Balcombe, Ph.D., an ethologist and research scientist with PCRM, spent the last three weeks of January in India on a 10-city speaking tour on animal sentience and other topics from his book Pleasurable Kingdom: Animals and the Nature of Feeling Good.

It has been half my lifetime (23 years) since my one previous visit to India. I was excited to return for a 10-city tour with 15 scheduled lectures at medical colleges and veterinary schools, plus five press conferences.

My first presentation, at Chennai Medical College, was attended by about 90 medical and nursing students and faculty. Titled “Animal Sentience and Human Ethics,” it showcased animals’ sensory, cognitive, and emotional capacities, and concluded that our treatment of them is totally out of step with these qualities. Next, we drove to Sri Ramachandra Medical College, where I spoke in a small but packed room and was presented with a beautiful gold-woven red shawl.

January 23 to 25 were a blur. I spoke at three universities and a natural history museum, led a press conference, and spoke to many media reporters, including an interview with New Delhi Television about an Indian one-horned rhinoceros who has been housed alone for 20 years at Mumbai’s zoo. I had a tour of the facilities at the Bombay Veterinary Science College, where I saw dogs being prepared for surgery, ponies and goats convalescing under the care of students, and a cattery, and I petted the silky fleece of a newborn goat. In each case, I worked to bring ethics front and center.

If there is one thing India isn’t, it’s dull and uninteresting. Dogs and cattle were commonplace, less so pigs, goats, buffalos, and monkeys. At one point, I got out of the car and approached a young bull who was ambling by. When I stroked his neck, he stopped and gently turned his muzzle to me, clearly enjoying the contact, which differed from what is all too common: Many cattle here labor under thick yokes with heavy loads. Many have ropes through their nostrils and endured the pain of having their nasal septums pierced with a red-hot poker when they were calves. At the veterinary school, I learned that the common practice of trimming and painting their horns often leads to cancer of soft tissue inside the horn.

Overall, with PCRM’s support, I gave 15 lectures to about 1,700 people, held five press conferences, and generated at least 15 articles in such prominent national papers as The Times of India, The Hindu, and The Tribune. Students were keenly interested, stacks of PCRM literature were eagerly snatched up, and I was sometimes mobbed following the lecture Q&A. India, as everywhere else, has far to go before animals get just treatment, and before compassionate, effective medical practice reigns. But we’re making a difference.


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