A solitary elephant, shackled and swaying neurotically in a circus cage, young seals bleeding on the ice under their mothers’ gaze, a desolate sow constantly biting the bars of the farrowing cage.

We feel overwhelmed with pity at their plight. We give to every appeal we can afford, we write letters to ministers and to the press, the more active and vocal among us initiate or take part in boycotts and demonstrations.

This has been the pattern of our personal campaigning over the course of some thirty years. Occasionally, a miniscule victory, a tiny improvement in the lives and deaths of some creature heartens us and urges us on. But it’s usually a matter of one step forward and three back and we need exceptional mental and emotional reserves to stay the course.

Do we appear tediously shrill in the defence of our fellow species? If this is sometimes the case, we have always in mind the fact that there is no way other animals can fight their corner. Over the centuries, we human creatures have rendered the most powerful being helpless. The Spanish bull is now debilitated by inappropriate feed and by laxatives, his bleary eyes smeared with grease. He may not even fight, sinking to the ground of the bullring, infuriating the crowd with his apparent lack of bravado, providing no sport to entertain them. The once fearsome tiger can effectively be wiped out by loss of habitat and poaching. Wild grizzly bears can be eliminated from areas of the planet humans choose to inhabit. Their strength has been taken from them, their dignity and eventually, their lives.

To say nothing of the peaceful, harmless herbivores we have, by selective breeding, rendered what we term stupid. Those stupid sheep. They just follow each other meekly, thoughtlessly. Indeed, they follow each other meekly into the slaughterhouse, to satisfy our voracious appetite for cheap flesh. How convenient. How ineffably sad.

Can we, as Christians and followers of other faiths which profess a concern for justice and respect, not take a stand in their defence? Can we not remember that these creatures we ridicule, torment, mutilate, slaughter and eat are sentient beings which, it is becoming even more difficult to deny, are manifestly capable of the most terrible suffering? And those of us who will say we abhor and refuse to participate in such practices, can we continue to say nothing against them, perhaps out of fear of upsetting our families, friends and colleagues?

True Christianity, in imitation of its founder, has always shown its concern for the poor, the suffering and the dispossessed. Can we not add to this list those vulnerable fellow creatures whose voices we have so long refused to hear?

According to other animals the justice and respect we owe them will not only benefit them. It will serve to relieve human animals of the shameful burden of having, for so long, cruelly, or, at best, out of inertia, exploited our fellow species exactly as we choose.

Marian Hussenbux.