Conservation Biology, Illustration

Ivory on her throne

Blessed are those who conquer the natural world.

"Ivory on her throne" (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

“Ivory on her throne” (Arlene Ellis, 2014)

Cynthia Moss, who runs the Amboseli Trust for Elephants, in Kenya, has been studying and protecting elephants since 1968. She says she’s “heard these same arguments forever…”

Moss sees firsthand the impact a death of an elephant has on the survivors, especially the death of a female. “The killing of a female is probably more devastating for other individual elephants because they live in tight knit families. In Amboseli, you’ll see a family of 20 individuals—grandmothers, mothers, nieces, cousins, sisters. They stay in the family their whole lives and are very bonded.”

When a female is killed, the repercussions can last a very long time, Moss says. If the mother of a three- or four-year-old calf is killed, the calf will die. The survival rate of elephants up to 20 years old is even compromised if their mother is hunted. And if a matriarch is shot, “it’s absolutely devastating. It will have ramifications for years.”

Moss says that over her decades of work she has never once been persuaded by any of the arguments in favor of sport hunting. “The loss of an elephant is a tragedy,” she says. “And killing an elephant or any other animal for fun is abhorrent.” 

-National Geographic

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Life Lessons, Marketing and Branding, Sustainable Design

How does a non-profit accidentally harm its mission?

As an animal lover and owner of an adopted pet, I really admire the mission of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).  However, I have ambivalent feelings about their recent collaboration with Ralph Lauren for Adopt a Shelter Dog Month. Apparently someone from Ralph Lauren called Nancy Novograd of “All Tame Animals” to collaborate on an event that promoted the adoption of shelter dogs and this was how The Dog Walk campaign was born. The online campaign featured adoptable dogs in Ralph Lauren’s Fall 2013 Accessories Collection showcase. So here’s why I’m ambivalent…

The Ethical Implications of the ASPCA + Ralph Lauren Corp Awareness Campaign

PROS

  • Increased awareness of the ASPCA mission: the Ralph Lauren Corp is immensely successful (2013 revenue so far is 16.9 billion USD) and has a powerful voice in the marketplace
  • Increased fundraising for the ASPCA: the Ralph Lauren brand exudes luxury, exclusivity, leisure and premium quality
    • This will attract more wealthy donors and “aspirational” donors (people who aspire to be a part of the Ralph Lauren brand tribe)
    • This will lead to more partnerships with “aspirational” brands (brands who aspire to be on the same level as the Ralph Lauren brand)
    • The partnership will make philanthropy look chic, cool and fun
  • Animals will get loving homes and help the ASPCA “rescue animals from abuse, pass humane laws and share resources with many shelters across the country”

CONS

“We believe that animals are entitled to kind and respectful treatment at the hands of humans, and must be protected under the law.” -ASPCA

Inadvertently Promoting Animal Cruelty: Because the Ralph Lauren has such a powerful voice in the market place, they have the power to influence trends. For instance, do we want leather dog bags to become a fashion trend? The bag in question, one among many other leather accessories featured in The Dog Walk campaign, was made in Italy. I’m not sure how the leather industry is regulated in Italy.

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  • Short-term gain at the cost of the ASPCA’s core values: while the ASPCA will definitely get a huge financial and PR gain from this collaboration, they have also inadvertently condoned a cruel practice that goes against their own mission. Using animal parts in art and fashion is not going to disappear anytime soon, but this does not mean we should stop thinking critically about the issue.

ASPCA Missed an Opportunity

The ASPCA and Ralph Lauren could have showcased premium quality products not made of animal parts. While the ASPCA can’t tell Ralph Lauren Corp to never use leather, they could have collaborated on a leather-free collection.  Obviously the Ralph Lauren company had already created this collection before reaching out, but the ASPCA could have stuck to their values and declined. They could have proposed a beautiful cruel-free collection for the following year. Ralph Lauren certainly has the design talent to pull off a leather-free accessories collection.

No brand partnership is perfect. People and organizations are flawed and filled with moral contradictions.  Furthermore, every one of us has our own ethical line. For years I used to only buy leather shoes, because I rationalized that no part of the cow was wasted and the products lasted longer (saving me money and reducing consumption). Now that I live with an animal and have focused more on creating art that helps protect nature, my ethical line has shifted. I have become almost a vegetarian (I occasionally eat sea food) and I no longer buy leather. (Unfortunately, I cannot afford any new shoes right now, so I have to keep wearing my old leather shoes).

I’m not sure if there is a right or wrong answer to this situation. Life is not that clear-cut. As an emerging artist and entrepreneur interested in social responsibility, I find these scenarios extremely useful to study. They help me prepare for the ethical dilemmas awaiting my brand.

PETA’s Shopping Guide to Compassionate Clothing: Companies That Sell Some Leather and Fur Alternatives

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Conservation Biology, Quotes

Supplying animal parts for the sake of art

"Blinged to extinction" (Illustration by Arlene Ellis, 2013)

According to the World Wildlife Fund, the West Africa black rhino (D. b. longipes) is classified as Probably Extinct. Although, in 2011 the subspecies was declared officially extinct. The black rhino used to live across most of the Savannahs of West Africa, but threats such as hunting, poaching and habitat loss contributed to its demise. These are the same threats affecting the remaining rhino subspecies. Over the last few years hundreds of rhinos have been poached for their horns, which some cultures believe have medicinal properties. Then there’s the rhino-horn art trade, a trade in which artisans create ornate sculptures out of rhino horns; this also happens with elephant tusks (ivory trade).

In July of 2011, Lark Mason appraised a set of five Chinese cups carved from rhinoceros horn, circa 1700, valued at $1 to $1.5 million, setting a ROADSHOW record. The 300-year-old objects were undoubtedly the work of master artisans, and were made in a time when rhinoceros were more plentiful than they are today: Currently, there are only five surviving species of rhinoceros, and every one of them is threatened, some critically so, because of desire for their horns. The result is that many people find the trade in rhinoceros-horn antiques grossly unethical, even when it is legal. -Ben Phelan (Antiques Roadshow)

I’ll  not addressing the issues related to poaching animals for medicinal reasons today, but I will discuss the moral considerations related to using animal parts for art. What I find remarkable about the above quote is that it implies that killing animals for art is fine as long as the animals are plentiful. Not many people in the western world feel guilty about leather because cows are plentiful and leather is just a byproduct of the meat industry. And perhaps if rabbits, foxes and seals were factory farmed for meat maybe people wouldn’t feel bad about the fur trade. Does this mean that if it were very easy to breed rhinos, easy as it is to breed cows, we have no qualms about killing them for their horns?

einstein-compassion

Many of us don’t question the argument that it’s morally acceptable to use animal parts for art if the animal is abundant and the animal part is simply a byproduct of a larger process. My question is why is it acceptable in general to use their parts for art? Before you considered the supply, before you considered the byproduct, you had a fundamental belief of acceptability. For instance, in modern times we find it acceptable to kill thousands of people (i.e. the enemy) in war times, but unacceptable to desecrate their bodies. In the past it was acceptable in certain cultures to use the remains of war enemies  for artistic purposes. Now it’s taboo. Why is unacceptable if the person is already dead? His or her deceased body is just a byproduct of war and there are still billions of people remaining on the planet. The fundamental reason may simply be that we empathize with our species, so regardless of supply (human population) or if the death is an acceptable byproduct (as in the case of war) we are fundamentally morally opposed to supplying human parts for art. (Unless the body is being used for science, then we pay to see it. See “The Bodies Revealed Exhibit.”) 

"The return of the mojo" (Designed by Arlene Ellis, 2013)

It’s silly that I have to point this out, but I don’t condone using human remains for art. I’m simply trying to understand the premises of an argument. It seems to me the issue of having a steady supply and byproduct, are not what we should be focusing on. If these rationalizations remain the focus, we will always be dealing with different species going extinct. I think perhaps it’s time for us to reevaluate the fundamental belief underlying these rationalizations.  Although art enriches our lives, a leather boot, a fur coat, an ivory statue is not essential to our survival.

***I’ve owned leather products whole life and it’s only recently I’ve  made a conscious decision to stop buying them. I was no longer convinced by my “abundance” and “byproduct” rationalizations.***

By the way, I’m very open to respectable debate  🙂

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