The recent controversies over the Puck Fair goat and the murder of Freya the walrus in Norway are stark and uncomfortable reminders of our questionable relationship with the animal kingdom.
It’s easy to sit here in Donegal and condemn big game hunting, whaling and all that horrible stuff that pops up in our social media newsfeeds. Anyone can be a living room activist, take a high moral stance, and add comments to social media posts.
But real change requires a deep examination of ourselves and our own society, as well as our own behavior, actions, and ideas about what is acceptable.
I remember going to Puck Fair when I was a kid. I don’t know how old I was, but when I was told the ‘Puck’ was the king of the goats, I was innocent enough to believe he was actually a king and was quite happy to to be celebrated at the festival.
Years later, as a young adult, I was watching a report on Puck Fair and felt pretty stupid about my previous naivety, even taking into account that I had been a kid. At this point in my life, the thought of people going out and capturing a wild animal and putting it in a tiny cage in a crowded city appalled me.
It is incredible to think that in our time, when we are so much more concerned about animal rights, that this practice continues.
How often do we hear the word “tradition” as an excuse for behavior that should be unacceptable?
What I found particularly disturbing about the Puck Fair debacle was that despite the undeniable cruelty to the feral goat exposed in its cage with temperatures in the 20s, it was only after a directive was issued by the Ministry of Agriculture that the goat was taken. at the bottom of the caged stand.
In other words, it was only when the festival organizers were forced by the administration to act that they did. And even after following the directive last Friday, they continued to defend their original actions.
On Friday evening, the Department of Agriculture, Food and the Navy received 175 calls on its animal welfare hotline regarding the Puck Fair goat. A number of animal welfare organisations, national and local in Kerry, have also reported receiving a high number of calls from people expressing concern for the goat.
Now it looks like the whole ‘King Puck’ concept is being overhauled, and not just because of this year’s unusually warm weather. Let’s face it, if anyone had the idea today to go out and capture a wild animal in the mountains, parade it through the streets, and then hang it in a tiny cage 50 feet above the crowd for three days, it would seem archaic, even barbaric; an outmoded notion of supremacy, a display of superiority that has no place among right-thinking people.
While a number of public officials have publicly condemned the practice, independent Kerry TD Danny Healy-Rae defended it, telling Kerry Radio, “I saw the goat and the goat is fine.”
He told listeners that the committee, and every committee for the past 400 years, had goat welfare “always at the center”.
Ironically, he went on to say: ‘I was glad to see people enjoying themselves at Kilorglin last night and not cooped up like we have been for the past few years.’
Of course, he didn’t mention, not locked up like the poor wild goat.
It is understood that a local sculptor has offered to create a ceremonial King Puck so that this traditional fair can continue without any disturbance to the wild animals. Hopefully common sense and compassion will prevail and the veil of tradition will no longer be used to mask a cruel and unnecessary practice.
Elsewhere, the killing of a walrus in a Norwegian fjord has also led to questions about humanity’s relationship with animals.
Freya, named after the Norse goddess of beauty and love, has been basking in the waters of a fjord near Norway’s capital Oslo since mid-July.
The decision to euthanize the animal drew worldwide attention after members of the public ignored pleas to keep their distance – in the interests of their own safety – from the 600kg animal.
It is easy to point fingers at the Norwegian authorities and question this decision, taken in the interest of human security. But really, we had a similar situation with a walrus here in Ireland where too many people ignored calls to give it space and moved closer to the animal to take pictures. Luckily this walrus made it out of Irish waters before anyone was hurt.
On the other hand, a lot is being done to protect and conserve wild animals, and human intervention is often a good thing.
It is about stepping back and asking whether our actions are necessary and informed, and whether they are harmful or beneficial.
Nature has no place in a cage.