By Paula Sparks, A-law chairperson
With a recent article citing claims that celebrities posing with monkeys could be ‘fuelling the extinction of our nearest living relatives’, we ask: are celebrities promoting poor animal welfare, from cropped ears to primate pets? What do you think?
There is no denying the influence of celebrities on modern culture, so when celebrities are not properly informed about animal welfare, their actions can have wide-reaching, and often unintended, impact. This impact is exemplified by the recent clash of cultures between celebrities and animal advocates pressing for law reform on the issues of cropping of dogs’ ears and the keeping of primates as pets.
As the article highlights, celebrities such as Justin Bieber and Rihanna appearing with monkeys could be unwittingly fuelling an international trade in primates, which risks causing extinction of primate species and can lead to an escalation of primate pet ownership. When kept as pets, monkeys often are devoid of companionship and socialisation, kept in conditions not compatible with their welfare needs. Acknowledging the problem, the Government has announced a consultation on a ban on the keeping of primates as pets, which closes on February 6, 2021. Animal advocacy groups including the RSPCA favour such a ban.
As for the issue of ear cropping, this is a form of mutilation performed purely for cosmetic reasons. The practice is banned in the UK under the Animal Welfare Act 2006. However, there has been a recent rise in cases, with fears that dogs are being imported from abroad, promoting the ‘fashion’ for dogs with cropped ears and masking illegal cropping in the UK. Indeed, recently legal campaigners led by The FOAL group highlighted DIY ear cropping kits being sold by Amazon.com (USA) and other online platforms for use in the UK, despite the ban. Animal welfare campaigners have called for a ban on the importation of dogs with cropped ears, except from bona fide rescue organisations; a petition to ban the importation of dogs with cropped ears has reached 24,383 signatures.
Many celebrities are seemingly unaware of the problems. Fans recently called out celebrity Jordan Banjo for proudly showing off a dog he had purchased with cropped ears. Addressing the backlash, he is reported to have admitted ‘I feel awful’. Marcus Rashford also recently published a photo of his new dog, a puppy with cropped ears. Clearly, there is a lack of awareness about this issue, and with the potential for celebrities to influence trends and fashions, it is important that campaigners and the public speak out when seeing something that raises animal welfare concerns.
Of course, many well-known celebrities frequently speak up for stronger animal protection laws, with powerful voices including Ricky Gervais, Joanna Lumley, and Peter Egan, all of whom have positive impacts on animal protection. There’s also a long list of well-known actors and other celebrities supporting a ban on fur imports, for example. These examples illustrate the importance of taking an educative approach, rather than a condemnatory one. Knowledge and education about animal protection law is vital to making law effective for animals.