26 February 2021

Could Covid-19 create a more compassionate world for animals?

Covid-19 has forced many of us to pause and evaluate the way we live our lives. Could we be on our way to a kinder, more moral, more compassionate world? Kate Fletcher, Senior Manager of Global Animal Welfare discusses. 

The occurrence of a disaster, such as Covid-19, can often be the catalyst for human behaviour change. Since the start of the pandemic, we have witnessed the emergence of behaviours such as fight (not just over toilet rolls!), flight (distancing from the threat) and protecting ourselves and our families. These behaviours can be dramatic but short-lived, lasting only as long as the event, but often a catastrophe of this magnitude can create lasting change, by forcing people to evaluate the cause and what steps can be taken to minimise such risk in the future.  

Early on, we were told that the pandemic had likely started due to unhygienic conditions within an Asian wet market, prompting many to sign petitions calling for the closure of such places and looking on in horror at images of animals being kept in cramped conditions. This is also thought to have inspired an increase in people turning to veganism as many assessed the wider impact of consuming animal products. Whilst these proposed solutions fail to account for the restrictions placed on food availability in low income countries, the potential impact on farmer’s livelihoods, or the latent surge in black market trade, it’s clear that there is a fundamental call for change.

Brooke recognises that the way we work with, respond to, and interact with animals can have profound and lasting effects on both animals and humans. The concept of One Welfare highlights the interconnectedness between animals, humans and the environment and how each element has a knock-on effect with the others. Evidence shows that where humans evoke fear in animals, this can lead to reduced productivity in dairy cows and goats, poorer meat quality in pigs and cattle and decreased immunity which increases the risk of zoonotic disease.

A horse receives food rations in Pakistan. 

The pre-contemplation stage of the Transtheoretical model of behavioural change alludes to how change will not occur if people are not aware of the need, and even then, knowledge is not always enough – it is often not until the risk directly affects a person that they begin to consider changing their behaviour. Being aware of the fact that, whether directly or indirectly, we as humans caused this current pandemic, should in theory lead to better, more ethical and responsible food choices and perhaps even cause us to make a moral judgement about how we treat all animals. Covid-19 is a stark reminder that if we treated animals with more compassion, perhaps we wouldn't be in this situation, living out this tragedy.

In what appears to be a terrifyingly dismal state of affairs, there is undoubtedly some hope to be found that we might already be on our way towards a kinder, more moral, more compassionate world. Here in the UK, we saw more than three quarters of a million people sign up to volunteer for the NHS at the start of the pandemic, while Brooke country programme staff worked tirelessly to ensure communities and working animals received vital care, food rations and hygiene kits, with some even donating their salaries towards the effort. We can only hope that the compassion shown during Covid-19 continues. 

Perhaps, over the eventful past 12 months, we have woken up to the realisation of how fragile life is and we can only hope that the compassion shown during Covid-19 continues.  With working animals vital to people’s livelihoods, finding a way in which we can co-exist safely and compassionately with animals has to be our priority if the world, and all who reside in it, are to survive.