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Racing animals an outdated cruelty

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By MANEKA GANDHI

If there are two prominent genes wired into the human body, it is the love for betting and an indifference to the suffering of others. Both these genes combine when it comes to forcibly racing animals. The rich go to horse races. Horses are bred to run faster. Many of them have drugs and hormones injected into them. Many have their windpipes surgically altered to bring more air so that they can run longer. They are whipped mercilessly by their jockeys. And, if they fall and break a leg, they are shot. The ones that start losing races are sold to laboratories to be used as living vaccine producers (they are injected with poison and the blood is extracted after the poison has matured). Some of them are taken by their millionaire owners to the hills, where they are sold to people who rent them to tourists and make them go up and down the hills till they die of bad feeding and exhaustion. Or, they are sold to slaughterhouses where they are turned into dog food and glue. Their flesh is exported to France and Japan, where it is considered a delicacy. One study on injuries at racetracks concluded that one horse in every 22 races suffered an injury that prevented him from finishing a race, while another estimated that 3 thoroughbreds die every day. Strained tendons, or hairline fractures are often not diagnosed and the damage goes from minor to irreversible at the next race. On an average, 24 horses die per week on the racetrack due to drug overdose or injuries. And I am not counting the horses killed by trainers and stud farm owners as part of “selective breeding”. For the spectators at the races, the horse is the least relevant part: what is more important is the clothes they wear, the alcohol they drink and the money they make or lose. The poor have cattle races. These are mainly in Karnataka on the day of Makara Sankranti (when bullocks are raced through water), Maharashtra and Punjab. Slow moving cows are tied together and have steel rods and balls poked into their anuses to make them run. They are whipped to increase their speed. I have photographs of the small spiked iron balls that are tied to the whips. Some races use a horse and bullock tied together. Both die. The drunken spectators are usually landless, but this is done in the name of farmers’ celebrations. These are illegal, so the races usually happen early in the morning. Pigeon racing is a big business. The biggest is the MacArthur race where pigeons, whose legs have been tagged with numbers, have to cross three seas in a brutal 600- kilometre race in the Philippines, during which competitors face water, predators and kidnappers who set up fishing nets to catch them. The pigeons fly low over water to avoid wind, and many die when hit by waves, or succumb to exhaustion. Many are shot or eaten by larger birds. The casualty rate is 90%. Those that survive fly to their coops in Manila. Their owners retrieve the tag and call it in to race organisers, which is how victory is determined. The Philippines have 300 clubs, but Belgium (which started this terrible “sport”), India, Taiwan and China are not far behind. On an average, 60 percent of the birds get lost, or die as a result of extreme weather, predators, electrical lines, hunters, or exhaustion. Races that are particularly fatal – where only a minuscule percentage of birds makes it home – are referred to as “smash races”. Birds that aren’t considered fast enough, and aren’t wanted for breeding, are killed by suffocation, drowning, neck-breaking, gassing, or decapitation. Most racers kill hundreds of pigeons before they find a suitable racer. Another racer told investigators that, when starting out in pigeon racing, “The first thing you have to learn is how to kill pigeons”. Greyhound racing is the main industry in Macau, where tourists go to gamble, drink and watch these poor animals, who have been beaten, starved and locked up, run for their lives. Those that lose a few races are killed. Lakhs of dogs have been killed over the years. This terrible torture is replicated in America where greyhound racing started in the early 20th century, and generates millions of dollars in gambling revenue in the states that still allow it. Dogs live in cages and are kept muzzled by their trainers at all times. Many exhibit crate and muzzle sores and suffer from infestations of internal and external parasites. Although, their thin coats and lack of body fat make them extremely sensitive to temperature, greyhounds are forced to race in extreme weather conditions – from subzero temperatures to sweltering heat. Owners regularly kill greyhounds that become injured, grow old, or are deemed too slow. Others die on the track. Some dogs die during transport from one racetrack to another. The cruelty of the industry is finally being exposed, and the number of spectators is declining, but that means that the conditions the greyhounds are being kept in have worsened. Official raids done on greyhound retirement homes, which are mandatory by law, have found the bodies of thousands of dogs that have been “retired” by their caretakers with a shotgun. The Buon Don Elephant races in Vietnam are held in March every year. Elephants have to run for a mile through land and water. Two mahouts sit on each elephant, to poke iron sticks into the soft part of its head and whip it hard with large sticks to make it run faster. Thousands of people watch and cheer as the animals are hit. The elephants race at a speed of 25 mph. Animal activists are calling for a ban. India has stopped. There is one race in Nepal which should be stopped, but the disease has now spread to Afghanistan which, whenever it takes a respite from its favourite “sport” of killing human, invents one that uses animals. The Middle East has too much money and too little to do for it. So, they have horse and camel races. So do Pakistan, Mongolia and Australia, and the events are used as tourist attractions and for legalised betting. Camels are whipped severely to run at speeds up to 65 kms an hour. Children have been abducted and trafficked from poor countries like Bangladesh to be jockeys. They are kept in slavelike conditions and given small amounts of food, so that they are as light as possible. They are strapped to the animals and whips placed in their hands. Many children have died during the races. While most countries have bowed to international pressure and banned child jockeys, the organisers have invented a new torture for the animals. Children have been replaced by robotic whips. The owners can whip the racing camels via remote control. The whipping has increased almost three times, because the owner doesn’t have to use strength to lift his hand, he can simply push a button. Camel deaths have gone up exponentially. The biggest camel race in Australia is in Queensland. People come to watch the camels run, but mainly for the betting, market stalls and other entertainment. Now, Australia has shot 10,000 camels in one day and lost one billion others living creatures (yes, one billion, not counting insects) in forest fires, so whether these races will continue remains to be seen. The Australians will probably find another species to race and gamble upon. After all, the world may come to an end, but we will be cruel and greedy to the last. In some sports the rider is pulled by animals. Harness racing, dogsled racing and the ancient sport of chariot racing are all equally vicious. There’s nothing sporting about forcing animals to risk – – and often lose — their lives so that someone can win a prize, a title or money. Only the most vicious and degraded human beings are happy with the suffering of a helpless being. These are probably the same people who watch child porn.

(To join the animal welfare movement contact gandhim@nic.in, www.peoplefor animalsindia.org)