The Silent Ark
5: Science, Sadism and Salvation
For the next few years of my life, between 16 and 21, I was largely
occupied with my own education. It was the early 1980s and I was
involved with campaigning on vegan and vegetarian issues at a local
level. There was a gradual hardening of my views. Each new piece
of information I sought out convinced me that giving up meat, fish
and slaughterhouse by-products was not some fringe activity but
central to the survival of the planet.
I was discovering, little by little, the role that meat plays
in our culture, its inescapable link with the impoverishment of
the developing world and its staggering influence on the major environmental
problems which were gradually coming to light over this period.
But what really motivated me was the extraordinary and widespread
nature of cruelty to animals. I could not come to terms with the
fact that it was almost impossible to order a meal that did not
involve cruelty. But most of all, I could not understand the refusal
of people to react even when they knew the truth. Such is the conviction
Does everyone think they’re different from the norm? I suspect
they do. In most respects I felt extremely normal and liked most
of the things that teenage girls like - music, dancing, sex, having
fun, doing stupid things and having friends. But there were areas
where I was very much on my own, where I could look to no one for
support and where invariably I felt isolated. It was usually because
I couldn’t keep my mouth shut about cruelty to animals.
I had already organized high street petitions against all kinds
of abuse in various parts of the globe but when I went to sixth-form
college in Stockport, Cheshire, I was actually confronted with it.
The first occasion was on studying for biology A level when, for
practical lessons, students were drawn from other groups and class
sizes could reach 60 or more.
For my first dissection lesson, I arrived in the classroom to
find a newly killed rat on the cutting board - one for every student.
They were still warm and rigor mortis had not yet set in. It is
highly unlikely that cutting up an animal would ever have any part
to play in the working lives of even one of the students present
in that laboratory. It is also highly questionable whether they
would learn anything they could not discover from numerous other
teaching aids that would not have involved death. And a similar
scene is repeated in sixth forms and colleges across the world.
The ageing, balding lecturer with tired eyes gave out matter-of-fact
instructions as to how to prepare the rat for dissection. We were
supposed to place it on its back, stretch out its limbs as if for
crucifixion and pin it through its paws to the board beneath.
I looked at the rat in front of me and was disgusted by this casual
violence. This institutionalized belittling of life was, I felt,
part of the problem which faced society, not part of its cure. The
rat is highly intelligent, some say more intelligent than a dog,
and has developed complex social patterns (which is why vivisectionists
frequently use it for behavioral studies - although what relevance
that has to human behaviour I fail to see). And what have we done
with this rodent, a species whose time on the globe far outstrips
ours? We call it vermin and allow anyone to do anything they like
to it. In this case 60 were needlessly killed for an A level practical.
I wanted no part of it, stood up and told the lecturer so. There
was no obvious reaction in his eyes, but he offered no objection
and I sensed an unspoken understanding of my views.
As I left the lecture room I caught sight of the rest of the class,
mostly eyes averted, concentrating intently on the simple job in
front of them for fear that by looking at me they would be identified
with my views. That is a reaction I have grown used to over the
years. Despite this and other refusals to take part in dissection,
I passed my biology A level.
I went on to Reading University to read pure zoology, but was
horrified by more needless dissection. The first two terms were
the most difficult as they involved endless dissection and had to
be completed before it was possible to elect specific components.
To begin with, I attended the lectures, remained silent, watched
what other people did but took no direct part. I illustrated my
work by copying the drawings from textbooks.
On one occasion, a tray of newly killed blackbirds was brought
into the laboratory and distributed amongst the students. So cavalier
was the approach that there were many more birds than students.
Life was considered so cheap, of such little importance, that they
could not even bother to count the number needed.
As time went by I became more vociferous about my beliefs in front
of the other students and eventually the lecturers as well. The
strange thing was that my objections were noted but no one attempted
to justify the dissections as a vital part of the degree process.
In the end I passed the first-year practical exams with a B.
Perhaps it was naïveté, but I really did not have
a clear idea of what would be involved in my chosen degree. The
component I intended to take was embryology, but at the first lecture
part of the shell of a chicken’s egg was removed, exposing
the little chick and its beating heart. It seemed to me that we
were being asked to desecrate life before it had even started. I
After that I tried entomology, but having just watched the extraordinarily
powerful Animal’s Film by Victor Schonfeld, I was in no mood
for compromise. This was the film chosen to launch Channel 4 TV
in Britain and is almost two hours of heart-rending revelation of
the way we treat animals - from food to fur. It has become almost
the definitive film on animal abuse.
The first act I was expected to do on the entomology course was
place a pin in either end of a maggot and pull in opposite directions,
tearing it apart. This time I spoke out forcibly to the tutor and
was eventually called to see my head of department, who accused
me of being too vocal.
Next it was parasitology, but that involved cutting up animals
infected with parasites, so I moved on to invertebrates. This was
the most shocking of my experiences. A pan full of crabs had been
boiled while alive in order to kill them before dissection. I touched
one and despite all that it had been through, it moved. It was still
alive. On this occasion when I expressed my anger I was backed up
by other students. The lecturer was visibly shaken and she walked
out of the class.
I decided it was impossible for me to continue with pure zoology,
although that is what I had always wanted to study, so I opted for
a joint degree - zoology and psychology. In fact it was to prove
the most useful degree I could have done. I studied the communication
of dolphins, whales and also chimpanzees, and my practical project
was on ethology - the study of animals in the wild. I chose feral
Part of the degree was the study of farm animals and I chose to
look at the effect factory farming has on an animal’s natural
behaviour. It is one thing to state this in intuitive, even emotional
terms and that’s something I’m always being accused
of. But to observe it carefully, measure it, quantify it and then
set it out as a proposition in scientific terms which can be justified
and defended is something else. I face so much rhetoric and blatant
lying about the way animals are kept that I am grateful to have
been able to prove that the way in which we rear them destroys their
natural behaviour and therefore virtually destroys them.
On leaving university I was desperate to work in animal rights
but was forced to spend the first few months teleselling advertising
space for Media Week in London. This was not part of the grand design!
But after six months I got what I wanted and I still have the champagne
bottle (empty now, of course) which fuelled the celebration.
I became a research officer with an anti-vivisection organization
in the summer of 1986. Now I was into animal rights at the deep
end and even my previous research had not prepared me for the abysmal
and sickening nature of some of the things I had to deal with. Many
of the tortures which passed for experiments were recorded on video
by the teams responsible and I had the misfortune to witness dozens
This book is not about vivisection but about my motivation, my
beliefs and imperatives. Some of these were formed during this period
and are therefore relevant. What I witnessed there made me ashamed
of many scientists and disgusted me to a degree that I still find
hard to cope with.
I have no intention of listing a string of abuses carried out
on living creatures by people without a single shred of pity or
compassion, but I will tell two brief stories. Both came to light
as a result of the videos made of them, the first shot by vivisectors
themselves, and publicised by animal rights organizations such as
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in the USA. They
are both unforgivable and say much more about the natures of those
who carried out the tortures than they do about so-called scientific
The first ‘experiment’ was performed at the University
of Pennsylvania head injury department, in Philadelphia, in 1984
and involved a big baboon. He was strapped to a table fully conscious
and his head immobilized in a helmet. His head was then subjected
to a huge impact - which was not powerful enough to kill him but
strong enough to cause obvious excruciating pain and brain damage.
The baboon was then released from his restraints and as his head
lolled about, hopelessly out of control, a woman vivisector can
be heard saying, ‘There he goes!’ She then adds, ‘You’d
better hope the anti-vivisectionists don’t get hold of this
video.’ Still holding the injured animal, the group burst
The excuse offered for this unspeakable assault was that it would
assist car design and help avoid injury. I don’t want to go
into the irrelevance of animal experiments or the morality of commerce
inflicting such pain for profit, but the record of some motor manufacturers
is that of cynical disregard rather than an altruistic search for
improvements. At that time, when dangers were identified, the first
thing the manufacturers did was equate the cost of likely law suits
with the cost of making changes to the design. Whichever was the
cheaper tended to dictate what action they took. The baboon’s
suffering was almost certainly part of this cynicism.
The second case concerned Britches, a newborn stumptail macaque
monkey. Ungainly, with large sticky-out ears, he was nevertheless
beautiful. Like any other baby macaque, he would have had huge round
eyes and would have spent the early months, even years of his life
clinging to his mother. Neither of those things applied to Britches
because immediately after birth at the University of California’s
research centre at Riverside, Los Angeles, in 1985, he was removed
from his mother and his eyelids were stitched together.
The stitches which blinded him were not even the neat, surgical
sutures of experience but huge crude stitches with thick twine,
the stitches of indifference, the equivalent of stitching a human’s
eyes with string.
So desperate was this little creature for comfort that he would
cling on to and hug anything placed in his cage - a blanket, a small
cuddly toy, anything. But, deprived of all comfort, all maternal
care, and kept in a sterile and barren cage without stimulation,
he was mostly allowed only a padded cylinder to cling to.
Watching one animal inflict such intense suffering on another,
particularly one so innocent and uncomprehending is, undoubtedly,
the worst sight I have ever seen in my life. And the reason for
this experiment? To determine the effect of blindness on children.
The vivisectors at the University of California excused their use
of the monkey by saying that the daily routine of children’s
lives made it too difficult to work with them.
What type of mind could have conceived of this and, perhaps more
importantly, could have carried it out?
The wide-ranging work I did on vivisection led me to conclude
that most vivisectors fall into one of two categories. To the first,
all that matters is cause and effect. They have absolutely no concept
of suffering and no conscience about what they do. They storm into
the laboratory, administer the injections or shocks or force feeding,
storm out again and await the results. They are, in its truest interpretation,
the psychopaths of science.
The second type is the sadist. We have been brought up with a
belief, repeated and reinforced every time a vivisector talks about
their work, that they partake in it unwillingly and in our best
interests. It’s nonsense. Many of these people obviously get
a buzz out of the torture they administer and the name of the game
is power. There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that they would
do these same things to humans without a second thought if it were
given legitimacy. There was no shortage of scientists and doctors
eager to carry out unspeakable experiments on humans at Buchenwald
and other concentration camps. Perhaps even more frightening, there
were almost no lengths to which British and US security forces would
not go in order to spirit these people out of Germany at the end
of the war and save them from trial in order to have access to their
knowledge. This sadistic breed of scientists did not suddenly appear
from nowhere and live only in Nazi Germany. They exist everywhere.
The story of Britches has a happier ending than most vivisection
victims. He was released from his misery when still a young baby,
the stitches removed from his eyes and the long and painful process
of trying to repair the acute psychological damage undertaken. It
would be nice to think that this compassionate response was initiated
by the vivisectors responsible for his pain - but it wasn’t.
It was made possible only because the Animal Liberation Front (ALF)
broke into the laboratories and released him, finding a loving and
caring refuge where he would be safe.
It’s quite difficult for me when asked by journalists about
my views on the ALF. The question is usually posed in conjunction
with alleged ALF violence against humans and I know that any vaguely
supportive response will be used as a stick with which to beat me
and my organization, particularly as I work so much with young people.
Of course I don’t support any action that endangers human
life or safety. But when I look at footage of Britches’ abysmal
life at the hands of his vivisectors and then a few months after
his rescue, my heart goes out to those who were brave enough to
risk their own liberty to release him from such a squalid existence.
Despite the appalling nature of the things I had to deal with,
I at last believed I was helping animals. But my first lesson in
internal politicking was about to be learned. It erupted in such
a devastating way that it almost destroyed the organization.
But I found a new job to go to and it offered exciting prospects
- youth education officer with the Vegetarian Society. I was faced
with the challenge of starting a whole department from scratch.
Up to this point the organization had done no campaigning work,
largely building its reputation as a food and information organization
over a period of 150 years. Now, in 1987, I was starting with a
clean slate and a brief to concentrate on young people - those who
hold the key to a more compassionate tomorrow. I decided my long-term
goal was to try and bring about a change in national attitudes.
Such determination is easy when you’re 23.
The following seven years of constant campaigning gave me the
skills and the experience eventually to found a new and dynamic
charity - Viva! (Vegetarians International Voice for Animals).
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