Gimmicks Involving Live Animals
Why the NSPCA Cares About Them All
You’d be surprised what people come up with especially if it involves making money. Sadly, many schemes involve living creatures. What makes it worse is that ridicule has often been the response to NSPCA calls to oppose such operations. The Siamese fighting fish promoted and sold as a novelty or corporate gift is one classic example. Statements of “Haven’t you got anything better to do” or “It’s only a fish for goodness sake” have been levelled at the very people whose mission and motive is to protect and improve the welfare of all creatures. That is, regardless of species and regardless of the conservation status of any species.
It’s not a case of which live creature is involved or even how many.
A few years ago, the NSPCA began investigating the trend of breeding butterflies for sale and release at functions such as weddings. The breeder and promoter of the “novelty butterfly” release system was in Pretoria. When an order came in, for a wedding, for example, the quantity of butterflies ordered would be packed into triangular boxes and dispatched ready for release at the appropriate moment. The NSPCA identified issues of concern including variations of temperature and light. If butterflies were kept confined in a dark container for even one hour, releasing them into bright light would be fraught with problems: – adjusting to the light and the ability to fly after being physically restricted.
But as is the won’t of people on occasion, statements of the opposition met with – well, mockery or scorn at times. The general feeling was that these were insects and that insects were crushed by the thousand on a daily basis. What is all the fuss about?
There was certainly a word-of-mouth buzz about these releases which appeared to appeal to people who saw it as a memorable gesture in keeping with the natural beauty of the butterflies to commemorate a special event in their lives. At first sight, perhaps. It seemed to be overlooked that most weddings or celebrations take place at a time when butterflies do not naturally fly and that the beautiful creatures released will simply flutter to the ground and die.
Sadly, it appears that the trend continues. Persons appear to be drawn into this scheme or operation because it sounds attractive or natural. But these people would do well to realise that there are issues over and above the serious welfare matters. Before any wild animal can be released in South Africa (and this includes butterflies!), a valid permit has to be obtained from Nature Conservation. And that is irrespective of whether the butterflies were supplied by someone who didn’t point this out. If you are releasing them, then you’d better have the permit.
There’s also the issue of what kind of butterflies we are talking about because some are native to South Africa (indigenous) and some are not (exotics / alien species). Let’s start with the species that do not originate in South Africa. Releasing them in our country is opening a “Pandora’s butterfly box” so to speak. It is against the law to release an alien or exotic animal of any specie (yes, that includes butterflies) into the wild in South Africa in terms of the Biodiversity Act. Alien species of butterflies released into the wild may affect the environment and the biodiversity in the same way that alien species of any other animals can and do. The threats are the same: – to the native species and to the environment. Or, the release butterflies may die because they cannot adapt to the new environment.
It is no justification to claim that releasing native species of butterfly overcomes these problems and therefore makes it acceptable. The question is where the native species occur. Within South Africa, maybe, but it is likely they do not occur naturally in densely built-up urban areas where they are likely to be released at a wedding or celebration. To put it bluntly, it’s a quite literal case of adapt or die. Probably the latter.
The NSPCA believes that any scheme, activity or novelty involving live animals requires examination. This, irrespective of the species involved and regardless of any claims made by persons or companies with a vested financial interest. There are not only two sides to every story, there is also what you see and what is behind the scenes. It is the duty of the NSPCA to investigate any activity involving live creatures and to make its findings known because the public has a right to know.
The trend for releasing butterflies at weddings, anniversaries or other celebrations, within certain parameters, is within the law. The NSPCA opposes – and in the same way that it opposes other (within certain parameters) legal activities such a canned hunting and the roadside sale of live animals. Just because it may be legal does not make it right and we would all be remiss in our duties if we only cared about the fate and treatment of certain but not all creatures.
The delicate, the fragile and the beautiful deserve our protection from nefarious exploitative schemes. They belong in the wild.
Mass production for fads and whims is not what we call welfare.