Interview with author of “Letters from Animals to Those Who Take Them for Fools”

Interview with Allain Bougrain Dubourg about his new book Lettre des animaux à ceux qui les prennent pour des bêtes (“A letter from animals to those who take them for fools”)

Interview by the editors of Yonne Lautre in January 2018. Originally posted on Thursday, January 4 2018 by Bougrain Dubourg Allain, Leau Jean-Paul. Translated by Ulysses.

Allain Bougrain Dubourg, you’re a journalist, producer, director, and among other things, President of the League for the Protection of Birds since 1986. So you’re very well-known for defending wild animals and biodiversity. The title of your new book “Lettre des animaux à ceux qui les prennent pour des bêtes” (“A letter from animals to those who take them for fools/beasts”) might shock our readers, however, haven’t you been taking action for unloved and/or mistreated animals for a long time?

ABD: I was twelve years old when I got started by creating a “Young Friends of Animals Club” at the E. Fromentin school in La Rochelle. And I’ve always embraced the idea of respecting animals. Later, Brigitte Bardot raised my awareness of the issue of animal suffering. Today, I think we can’t make a distinction between preserving biodiversity and reducing aggression against animals, domestic or wild.

In your “letters”, each animal addresses us in the first person. Does this perspective lead to a sort of lightness of discourse, or does it on the contrary give more force to real indictments?

ABD: In my TV broadcasts, radio series, articles and books, I’ve done a lot of pleading for the interests of animals. In giving them words, I changed my method and found it to be a fascinating exercise because it forced me to evaluate the cognitive capacities of each animal. How are they experiencing things? They have pain, anguish, joy, etc. At the risk of flirting with anthropomorphism, I figured the animals needed to express themselves through me as a spokesperson.

Doubtless you’re joined by the majority in denouncing the plastic bags that kill especially leatherback turtles, but in the tiger’s letter you attack zoos and circuses?

ABD: You have to turn the page from another era. A caged tiger (even one raised and bottle-fed for the 10th generation) will never become a cat. When I had the chance to film them in India, I learned two things: they need a vast space (more than 50 km2), even if they have food and live alone. Yet in cages they’re forced to live in less than 10 m2 of sawdust and they’re crowded together with other felines. It’s unacceptable. Other countries have understood that it has to come to an end, and I hope France will be joining them soon!

The rabbit asks for accommodation, a “minimum level for subsistence.” The pig demands less abuse. Couldn’t people reproach you for not going all the way, for not rejecting all exploitation and mistreatment of animals, and therefore all breeding? Where do you draw the line?

ABD: You’ve got a good point! Maybe I should’ve called for the great change, simply abolishing all forms of exploitation, liberation for animals. I opted for a more gradual approach that can make things happen more quickly. The two aren’t incompatible!

Your message is above all a condemnation of the mistreatment and brutal violence suffered by animals, such as greyhounds. Do you see progress being made?

ABD: Frankly, considering the efforts that have been made by animal protection organizations for decades, the results are poor, even hopeless. But we may have stopped the situation from being even worse… Either way, now in the beginning of the 21st century, we can observe a raised awareness on the part of the public, perhaps because of the unbearable images shared by L214. People already have the power to change things through their decisions to buy or reject products. So there’s a need to improve traceability.

You use these different letters to address all the essential issues of ecology today: agriculture, industrial breeding, pollution of soils and oceans, hunting, etc. Haven’t you forgotten the forests, which are very vulnerable today?

ABD: Yes, forests are one of the concerns. When we look at the difficulty of implementing the hypothetical National Forest Lands in Champagne and Bougogne, we can see the power of our adversaries….

So now you’re an activist with almost sixty years of passionate work. Besides your evident toughness and persistence, have you had any breaks, or changes of priority, as might be taken from this book?

ABD: On the contrary, I feel I’ve been quite constant in my activity. Over three decades of TV broadcasts, I’ve always wanted to combine the discovery of life (wild or domestic) with respect for living beings. So for example, (inspired by Brigitte Bardot) the ending credits always featured an invitation to adopt an animal. What might be relatively new is the idea of sustainable development, which takes the environmental questions into account just as much as the economic and social. I’ve been engaged in this area since the Grenelle Environment.

Allain Bougrain Dubourg, if you had the power, what decision, what change would you most want to make here and now?

ABD: That’s a terrible question, although it’s true that we’d like to reunite man and animal in peaceful coexistence… but short of utopia, I’d invite all citizens to become eco-citizens by investing in an organization for the protection of nature and animals. In the realm of the possible, it also seems clear to me that the respect of rights needs to be a priority. We have a great legislative arsenal but we have no means of control, or even worse, we are content with tolerance…

Today, the spectre of climate change is becoming increasingly menacing. The effects on biodiversity will be considerable. Can we really save life on Earth?

ABD: It’s good that you’ve put questions of climate change and biodiversity on the same level because the issue of the climate (probably unintentionally) has been overshadowing biodiversity. And they don’t adequately take into account that the decline of biodiversity is also, or maybe even more, harmful than global warming. For example, can we do without pollinators? In reality everything’s tied together! There’s still time to save life on earth, but the fatal deadline is rapidly approaching. We need to take bold measures. Nature has a power to resist… but not for much longer!