Well known theorist Tom Regan believes that non-human animals have some form of moral right equally important to the moral rights of humans. Regan suggests that there are no grounds on which we could justify using non-human animals in a different way than human animals. So what and why exactly do humans get tense, sensitive and upset on the topic of rhino poaching? Based on what reasons do people think it is morally unacceptable? Is it the fact that people are killing an innocent species, that people are earning money off this illegal trade, or is it our own feelings of sadness or cruelty that is placed on the rhino itself?
Is it because it is a “big” animal that we have such strong feelings for, as I am sure, if it were happening on mice or smaller organisms we would not be so heavily concerned, or would we? On the contrary, many people feel that animals do not have rights. If someone has rights it means that others around you have the duty to prevent you from contravening that right. When we say that an individual has a right to something, it means that you must be able to claim and defend that particular item yourself for the benefit of perusing your own interests (Cf. McCloskey, 1979). Many animals are unable to do this, and thus cannot possibly be given rights. Although animals may then lack rights, it does not mean that they lack moral status. So, by this claim it is unacceptable to harm animals unless a great benefit or result develops from it, then it would be ‘justified’ to harm animals. This theory and way of thinking has been used to justify the experimentation on animals. In this equation, one must consider that the situation takes on an empirical claim which is the hard reality of it al.
However, the question is what exactly are we doing about it. (The Distinctiveness of Environmental Ethics by Keith Douglas & David DeCosse). It is an empirical claim when I state that 1004 rhinos were poached in South Africa in 2013 according to the Environmental Affairs Department. (SAPA, January 17th, 2014). This statement is based on fact and knowledge, not feelings and emotion. It is still heavily debatable when deciding whether the statement given is considered to be an empirical or moral claim.
I believe it is a combination of both these claims. It is vital though when making an ethical argument to have scientific data and/or statistics on hand in order to convey the message across. (The Distinctiveness of Environmental Ethics by Keith Douglas & David DeCosse). With regard to rhinos, knowing the hard facts can be a sad reality, yet it assists with the determination in which way society can progress. Whether it be in regard to species Student Number: 46275312 Module Code: PLS3701 Assignment Number: 01 Unique Number: 746514 protection, preventing the illegal trade, or the fact that it is morally wrong to kill an animal just for one particular feature, and letting the rest of its body go to waste. A total of 44 people have been arrested across the country in 2014 (Cape Times, February 27th 2014). Intrinsic value is a specific value that the environment and various life forms have in their own right, and which is not derived from humans (Ronald Sandler, Nature Education, 2012). The value an entity has in itself, for what it is irrespective of whether it is useful to humans or not (VanDeVeer & Pierce 2003).
Peter Singer and Tom Regan argue that animals have intrinsic value (VanDerVeer & Pierce 2003). If this is in fact the case with the situation of the rhino’s being poached, is society aiming and striving to protect them as an endangered species, for their self worth and not with any intention that they may be useful or valuable to us in the future. The contrasting type of value is Instrumental value which is the value that something has a means to a desired or valued end and in most cases is very useful to humans (Roger Panaman,2008).
It would be untrue to say that humans do not place instrumental value on nature and its organisms when, as our foundation, along with society would not otherwise survive. If this were the case we would not kill cattle, fish, etc to ensure we have a source of food. They are of economic importance to us and seen as commodities. Therefore, to some degree we involuntarily place an instrumental value on non-human animals. We need to create a balance of the two values.
If we were to deny the Asian society the access to rhino horn then it would equate to denying them intrinsic value, which takes away the instrumental value of rhino horn as well as denying rhino’s their own intrinsic value (Clyde, 2014). All of this contributes to the degradation of our local surrounding environment. The empirical data available illustrates that this is indeed an urgent and serious matter, yet there are many socioeconomic issues in South Africa that are fuelling the situation.
Hence it is such a complex and difficult situation to try and solve. Killing rhino’s is deemed as morally wrong thus bringing us to ask ourselves what we should be doing in order to prevent this killing from taking place. In turn it falls on what, and how much, empirical data is available on rhino poaching and the statistics of their decline (Clyde, 2014). Then falling back on to what is morally acceptable. It is in essence a vicious cycle which is determined on our values that we are placing on these animals.