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“Animals are not the cause of their own suffering, it is the things that humans do or don’t do that affects animals” – SUZANNE ROGERS
Since 2001, the biennial Asia for Animals (AFA) conference has welcomed thousands of animal professionals, advocates, scientists and scholars from across the globe. As the largest and longest running forum for people working for animals in Asia, Asia for Animals has generated lasting partnerships and new ideas for tackling the world’s greatest challenges in animal protection and wildlife management. The theme of this year’s conference is ‘Changing Human Behaviour’ recently held in Kathmandu.
Suzanne Rogers is one of the keynote speakers of AFA. Suzanne has worked in science publishing for 10 years – initially as a science journalist and later as the managing editor of Trends in Biotechnology. In her spare time, she re-qualified in animal behaviour and welfare, gained extensive practical experience with several animal welfare organisations, worked as an equine behaviour consultant and founded Learning about Animals, which consists of four elements: events, equine behaviour, animal welfare consultancy and resources. After extensive travel in developing countries, Suzanne, in 2005, joined the Board of the World Association for Transport Animal Welfare and Studies (TAWS) of which she is still an active member. She is also Co-founder and Programmes Director of Change for Animals Foundation (CFAF) and Co-founder and Trustee of the Aquarium Welfare Association. Since 2011, Suzanne has worked as an international consultant for animal welfare and human behaviour change and founded Human Behaviour Change for Animals. Excerpts of a conversation with WOW:
I am inspired by people who work tirelessly in a strategic, efficient way to improve the world for humans and animals. We can make a difference.
Tell us something about yourself and your work…
In 2007 I was employed by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA, now World Animal Protection) to develop our working equine projects in a more sustainable way than they were at the time. There was frustration that helping horses seemed like pouring money into a bottomless pot and although there were education elements to the projects the communities were not seeing a lasting change in management and practices that were causing compromised animal welfare. I researched how other sectors attempt to create sustainable changes and discovered that behaviour change of humans has been studied by experts in marketing, psychology, development, and health and education programmes – the knowledge was out there and could be applied to what humans do to animals but had not been fully utilised by most of us working in animal welfare.
As I was working on changing the equine programmes towards a community-based participatory approach to improving welfare I realised that the underlying principles are relevant to all animal welfare issues and I started working on other topics. I had a mouthful of a job title at one point “Programmes Manager for Human Behaviour Change for Animal Welfare” and worked on many different programmes at WSPA.
I realised that other people in other organisations were thinking in the same way as me but often working in isolation. I built some strong contacts, a small community of peers all thirsty for knowledge about human behaviour change to apply to our work, many of whom will be at the conference in September.
In 2011 I left WSPA to work independently as an animal welfare consultant and have been focussing helping projects to be the most efficient they can be, by considering the human element of animal welfare. In 2016 myself and my colleague, Jo White, founded Human Behaviour Change for Animals CIC, a social enterprise company aiming to get the human element of animal protection embedded in campaigns and projects intended to help animals.
Why do people need to know about animal behaviour and welfare?
Humans and animals have more similarities than differences. The links between abuse to animals and humans are clearly documented, and there are so many benefits of having animals in our lives. By promoting the topics of animal behaviour and welfare we will nurture an understanding of animals so that people will want to protect them. Activities that promote compassion and environmental awareness contribute to driving positive social change.
How did you get interested in transport animals and can you throw some light on this subject?
As a child I travelled a lot and have always loved horses and cattle, species that are commonly used in transport. In many parts of the world people rely on transport animals for their livelihoods, for their access to food and other products, and to get to school or access other services in their community. Human and animal welfare is intrinsically linked with respect to transport animals and this link is what draws me to working on this issue. Welfare issues include over-work, malnutrition, injuries, wounds from badly fitting harnesses, cruel handling and lack of opportunity for the animals to perform natural behaviours (such as roll, socialize etc). Historically projects to help these animals have focussed on providing veterinary services to treat their wounds and injuries but over the last 15 years or so we have seen a movement towards a more comprehensive approach – working with communities to help them come up with innovative solutions to some of the issues the people and animals face.
What are animals rights?
I believe that animals have the right to live a life worth living.
Do you have any pets?
I have Pebbles (a rescue dog), Sir David Attenborough (adopted tortoise), Jake and Gracie (big hairy horses) and some chickens.
What have you learned from animals?
I have learnt to be more present in the moment, not thinking all the time about my ‘to do’ list. I have also learnt to be less judgemental. If an animal is aggressive I would always seek to understand the reasons, and there are always reasons (fear, bad experiences, disease) but when faced with aggressive humans it can be easy to judge them as inherently ‘not nice’ whereas working with animals has taught me to think of the human animal, and always look for a reason for the behaviour of my own species as well as other species.
How can we protect animal rights?
We can support what other people are working on, we can make our voices heard whether that is talking to our friends and family, or signing petitions and so on to make our voice heard at a more national level. We can strive to live a life that does not harm animals through what we eat, buy, do for entertainment and so on.
What is AFA and what are its goals?
The Asia For Animals coalition is composed of 20 well-known and respected animal welfare organisations that have a shared focus on improving the welfare of animals in Asia. The coalition is committed to providing support to organisations to help with their campaigns to tackle some of the most pressing animal welfare concerns in the region.
Every year AFA run a conference, and this year it is hosted by the Jane Goodall Institute Nepal, in Kathmandu. The theme is ‘Changing Human Behaviour’, and the talks will be hugely inspirational, we hope that the conference will truly make a difference.
What are the challenges in animal protection and wildlife management?
The key challenges are creating a change and then maintaining that change. And to overcome those challenges we need to focus on humans. We need to ensure that we not only create legislation and policy that protects animals but enforce it, and ensure that people understand why it is important.
Creating effective education programmes is also a key challenge. Organisations often do not invest in the education elements of their work but it is the education that will make their work sustainable and prevent the issues from happening in the future. We need to invest in education more.
What is the focus on improving animal welfare?
The current focus depends on the issue but I am seeing improvements in legislation and policy across all issues and an interest in addressing the root cause of problems, namely human behaviour.
How does human behaviour benefit or harm animals?
The root cause of arguably most animal suffering is human behaviour, whether directly or indirectly. Traditional approaches to improving animal welfare, however, have focused on providing a service (such as accessible veterinary treatment), or campaigning for people to change their consumer habits. The understanding of why people do what they do, don’t do what you’d like them to, and usually do not change their behaviour, is the holy grail of anyone with a desire to improve the world whether for humans or animals. For animal welfare programmes to be efficient and effective we really must start to put more emphasis on the root causes, and the key root cause is human behaviour. There is a lot of research into what makes people change, or not change, and it is being applied in the human health and development sectors but not so much in animal protection, and we hope to change that through this conferen ce.
Would it not help more if humans understand why animals act in certain way?
Animals are not the cause of their own suffering, it is the things that humans do, or don’t do, that affects animals. We already understand a lot about animal behaviour, we know what they need to thrive, but people are still keeping them in ways that do not meet their needs, using them for activities that harm them, and so on. Improving our understanding of animals is obviously important too, but we need to ensure that we use that understanding in projects that address human behaviour.