Bloody truth of man's cruelty to creatures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 March, 2012, 12:00am


Animals feel pain and should be treated with respect, just like you and me. In some countries, anyone that deliberately beats, injures, or slaughters animals in a way that makes them suffer can be charged with animal cruelty.

The definition of animal cruelty varies from country to country. In Hong Kong, for example, under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Ordinance, the act of neglecting, putting animals into a extremely confined space, and deliberately making animals fight one another are all illegal.

Penalties to punish animal abusers also differ depending on the country. In Hong Kong, offenders can face a maximum fine of HK$200,000 and a maximum prison term of three years.

There are some very controversial examples of animal abuse. Sometimes animal cruelty can be embedded in a culture. Often the tradition has been practised for so long that the group can't even tell that their ritual is a form of animal cruelty. We look at some examples:


Bullfighting is an iconic activity in Spain. In a traditional Spanish bullfight, a matador (the leading bullfighter) and a team of six people work to defeat a bull in an arena in front of a crowd of spectators. Yet by 'defeat', we mean to kill. The team repeatedly stab the bull - first with a man on horseback using a spear, then men with three barbed sticks. The time taken between each wounding weakens the bull as it runs around bleeding. Finally it is stabbed in the heart by the matador using a sword.

If the matador has performed well, the crowd waves white handkerchiefs to permit him to cut off one or both of the bull's ear.

Although horses wear protective padding in bullfights, some are killed by the horns of bulls as they try to resist the attack from the bullfighter's lance.


Whales are killed for their meat and oil - and also scientific research. Commercial whaling was banned worldwide in 1986, but Norway and Japan are the two nations that continue to do the most whale hunting.

Whale hunters shoot whales with a harpoon stuffed with explosives. Ideally, the harpoon is supposed to explode inside a whale, killing it within seconds. But most whales do not die immediately and require further shooting. Some whales are left to suffer a slow death lasting up to an hour. Conservationists argue causing this prolonged death is inhumane.

Dolphin catching and hunting

Dolphins are hunted for their meat and also captured and trained to be entertainers in dolphinariums and theme parks.

The most famous case of dolphin hunting takes place annual at the Japanese seaside town of Taiji. It was revealed by dolphin activist Ric O'Barry's documentary, The Cove. In the town, fishermen round up dolphins in an enclosed cove and seal off the entrance to trap them. The dolphins are then unable to escape and are stabbed to death.

Japanese authorities say the dolphin hunting is a traditional and legal form of the nation's fishing industry.

Dolphin hunting is also common in the Solomon Islands - east of Papua New Guinea - Peru, and the Faroe Islands, an autonomous province in Denmark.

Bear bile

Many Chinese people regard bear bile as a traditional medicine, which can help to cure fever and infection, and enhance a person's liver and eyesight.

Targeted bears are moon bears, which - as their name suggests - have a crescent shape on their chest. In a bear farm, they are usually locked up in a close-fitting cage, called crush cage. These bears spend their entire lives in a cage and will often develop muscle diseases and mental problem.

Opponents argue that the way the bile juice is extracted is inhumane, saying that it usually causes severe pain for the bear. A tube is inserted into a bear's gall bladder and it's permanent. This method is called free dripping, as the bile juice drips constantly from the tube. Yet the skin around the tube is left permanently open, so the bear will often face a problem of infection.

A Singaporean news website, Asiaone, reported a tragic story last year in which a mother bear killed herself by banging her head onto a wall after killing her cub. People said the animal had been unable to tolerate its continued suffering. The same article reported that some bears were seen wearing an iron vest on their bodies to prevent them from hitting their stomachs to kill themselves because of the pain.

Feeding on shark fins

Shark's fin soup is a popular delicacy on Chinese banquet tables. But the way the fins are cut off is cruel. Sharks' bodies are heavy and take up storage space, so finned sharks are thrown back into the sea, regardless of whether they are alive or dead.

Yet back in the sea, those that are alive suffer greatly; finned sharks lose their ability to move and hunt for prey. There is a high chance of them bleeding, or starving to death. There is also the possibility of them becoming food for other predators.

Also, sharks can breathe only when they are swimming. Cutting off their fins and putting them back into the sea is like drowning them.

Many environmentalists argue that shark finning has to stop now because it will lead eventually to the extinction of the species.

The Shark Specialist Group, a global organisation working to conserve sharks, says Hong Kong 'handles at least 50 per cent and perhaps as much as 80 per cent' of the global shark fins trading. Most of them are imported from Europe, Asia, North and South America.

In 2005, Hong Kong Disneyland declared that shark fins would no longer be on its banquet menu. In January this year, the Hong Kong Peninsula Hotel also stopped serving shark fins; the moves have, so far, trigged a few hotel chains to follow.


Beef is one of the most popular forms of meat eaten by people. But few people question the ways that the cattle are slaughtered.

Last year, in current affairs programme Four Corners, Australia Broadcasting Corporation revealed a story of major animal cruelty concerning cattle abattoirs in Indonesia.

The programme showed footage of cattle having their ankle tendons slit. They immediately lost their balance and repeatedly hit their heads on a metal pole, deliberately placed so that they would eventually lose consciousness before being slaughtered. During the process, some of the animals were beaten.

The sickening images prompted immediate action from the Australian government, which stopped all of its cattle exports to Indonesia.

In most places, such as Hong Kong, livestock are put to death with an electrical stun before they are slaughtered.

Abuse of pets in Hong Kong

People keeping animals as pets is common in Hong Kong households.

Yet some pets do not get the love and care they deserve. Some people abandon them - because of a lack of interest or money. Abandoned pets are common victims of abuse. Reports of people harming stray cats and dogs often appear in the media.