Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Dancing bears of Istanbul

Yesterday was the last night of the Mooncake Festival, and my mom suggested a drive around the neighbourhood to look at the lighted paper lanterns. Very few houses had lanterns lit up in their gardens, but the ones that made the effort looked striking. There were also children on their bikes or on foot, carrying the brightly coloured lanterns. I kicked myself for not bringing my camera, but then again, I hadn’t even made the effort to wear outside clothes, and was happily driving around in my jammies. There were some fireworks too, last night.

When we got home, we watched this documentary on dancing bears in Turkey. These bears are subjugated to a life of performance; the bears are forced to stand on their hind legs and “dance” in the streets of Istanbul. Trained by gypsies, these bears are often badly treated, and would go blind from malnutrition or mad for being constantly chained. The documentary filmed WSPA’s (World Society for the Protection of Animals) confiscation of 14 such bears in the middle of the night from a gypsy camp near Istanbul. It was all very dramatic and made good tv, especially when the documentary ended with a shot of releasing a former dancing bear in a small wooded, caged sanctuary, and the people involved in its recapture were all tearing up. I almost expected a violin solo or something to that effect. Ok, I did really feel for the bears and it was awful seeing the bears pace up and down as much as they could from the short chains, the nose piercing on the bears, with a chain attached to it, the blind bears, etc..

However, I was also left feeling dissatisfied from the documentary because while these 14 bears were saved, it didn’t really provide a long-term solution for all bears in Turkey, and elsewhere in the world that are forced to well, dance. They interviewed a gypsy who admitted that this was their only source of avenue, and that he had hoped that his son would continue this tradition, to support his family. I understand that WSPA is for the welfare of the animals first and foremost, but perhaps cooperating with the gypsies in the first place and helping them find an alternative source of income would be more favourable than stealing 14 bears in the dead of night. It seems counterproductive to antagonize the gypsies and not explain why they (WSPA) are doing this, or why it is important to conserve bears in the wild. Who’s to say that the gypsies would just procure more bears elsewhere and force them to dance, dance, dance?

The documentary did give some airtime to a journalist who explained that to the gypsies, they do not seem themselves as mistreating the animals, anymore than how they are being mistreated by the non-gypsies. To them, the bears are just another livestock that they can use to better their lives. As Marita would say, it takes a paradigm shift for a whole group of people to understand the concept of wildlife conservation. And how do we get there? By working together with the people, and not stealing their livelihood. Someone recently told me that conservation is the most depressing livelihood to be in, but sometimes, at the end of the day, I would like to believe that I am doing something worthwhile, and that my actions, through work and volunteer, would contribute somehow, to the greater good.

So after watching this documentary, and having swirling thoughts in my head on what WSPA or any other ngos could do more to help the dancing bears AND the gypsies, I was told today that I had a “black & white” view of the world. I think that was a black & white opinion of me, really. I’m not completely against eating wild meat, or hunting – I realize that in some indigenous rural communities, this is the only way to obtain protein in their diet. But I am rather strident on those whom I feel are not doing their jobs properly and saying otherwise. And I definitely believe that to make conservation work at all, you gotta work together with the rural communities and beyond, whether you like it or not. To disagree with this person would have been a waste of time, I felt, and my denials would just make me sound defensive. I think through my actions and words, they would understand that I don’t always see only Good or Bad sides all the time. Anyway, isn’t it better to have an opinion on vital issues, than to not react at all?

13 Comments:

At 3:54 PM, Blogger Marita Paige said...

That same person told me the same thing about conservation being a depressing profession. But here's what I think, if we stand by and do nothing, it would be even more depressing. At the end of the day, when the time comes to put down our arms and let the next generation take over, I will be able to look by and say, "I did the best I could", and that's not so depressing after all.

Philosophy fueld conservation. But so many in conservation have lost sight of that philosophy.

Black and white, grey and grey. We make a good team. It's not so bad to be black and white or grey and grey. Those are just paradigms within paradigms.

Let's go get'em, pardner.

 
At 4:21 PM, Blogger Cayce said...

marita, if it weren't for you - i don't know whether i would have survived my first two years on the job! hurrah for us! :-D

 
At 5:55 PM, Blogger Bertha said...

I don't know much about wildlife conservation, but I'm a strong supporter of animal welfare. I think it was India that also has the same practice of dancing bears, saw a somewhat similar documentary about it sometime ago too.

What I'm trying to say is, it's not that simple. You can say from a conservationist (is that even a word?) point of view that you work with the Gypsies, the Indians, whoever, to come up with an arrangement. But more often than not, these people are not part of the system (plus, they don't care. The bears are beasts without any feelings and they're not doing anything wrong). Not to mention the government will not help. It also has a lot to do with politics and sociology. That's why a lot of times, these animal welfare activists resort to borderline (and sometimes downright) terrorism to get their voices heard, or do whatever it is they need to do. It's not like the media helps either.

 
At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

oh, and I forgot to add, of course it's good to have opinions on vital issues than to not have one. Plus, you are doing something about it, and that's commendable! Let's face it, how many people can do what you and Ape do? I certainly can't!!! :)

Plus, if the world is only made up of people who can only see black & white or grey & grey, the world would be incredibly boring indeed!

 
At 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

someone should stop me from posting when i'm incredibly stressed out! :p :) That was me before, by the way.

~ bertha

 
At 1:17 PM, Blogger viewtru said...

Conservation can start by educating modern people against eating wild life. There is no reason for city folks to hunt for food. Yet during weekends, we get modern 'warriors' who pick up a shotgun and go to the jungle to shoot wildlife. Often, they are such poor shots that they wound the animal, which then runs deeper in the jungle to die.
Sometimes these weekend hunters shoot their own hunter friends by mistake. That one okay. I make it a point to blog about this every few months. It will be good if every blogger can do the same.

 
At 3:55 PM, Blogger Daniel said...

It's never an easy topic. I've had a draft article sitting in my word processor for the last six months on the many different moralities around the world, and whether one can judge them - I've never finished it...

Coming back to England, I've just heard hunting supporters state their case in terms of preserving the freedom of their dogs, for the hounds to be able to run across fields and hunt foxes...

Also perhaps there are different issues in different cases - maybe the bears aren't endangered in Turkey, just mistreated. Convincing (Enlightening?) someone of the essential individuality of bears and therefore their right to self detirmination - not an easy thing.

But yes, better to have an opinion and fight on.

 
At 5:36 PM, Blogger Cayce said...

bertha: thanks for your feedback! while i'm supportive of any drastic actions by animal welfare organizations when it comes to pets, such as abused dogs, cats, etc.. however when it comes to a culture who have practised this tradition for hundreds of years, whether one likes it or not, they are part of the system. I'm not sure whether it's banned in Turkey, probably not - which means that after the confiscation of the 14 bears, the gypsies are more likely to go and get more bears probably from the wild, thus subjecting more bears to an unnatural life and torture.

viewtru: you made me laugh (about the hunters shooting their friends), which is a good thing because i needed to laugh today! excellent point about city folk not needing wildmeat as protein. now, if we can only convince more malaysians otherwise!

daniel: you brought up a good point on whether the bears in turkey are actually endangered or just mistreated. I suspect that the population in the wild is threatened by hunting and encroachment of their land but do I have the hard facts? I need to do more research on this. you also mentioned about judging the different moralities around the world - the way I see it, wildlife conservation is so tied in to nature, the on-going ecology, web of life, etc.. that the increasing human consumption of wildmeat, use of animals in traditional medicines, or otherwise, is just not sustainable today. The human population is exploding as we see it, the use of land is rampant, the increase of modern technology (guns, torchlights, etc..), roads built into previously hard to get to forests, etc.. in issues like wildlife, we cannot afford to have the same ways of thinking than we did during our grandfather's time, and beyond.

However, I am against the idea of preaching/TELLING people, especially rural people what to do because that's just another form of colonialism. What I would like to do is to present the facts of the current status of wildlife in our forests as we know it, explain the laws to them, and let them make up their own minds. Conservation education is such a tricky subject!

 
At 3:30 AM, Blogger Johnny Canuck said...

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I don't know how others feel, but I'm definitely looking into immigration to Canada as an option. The good ól US of A aint what it used to be.

 
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