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Animal activists come out from undercover

Gem de Silva: Nothing prepares you for what you are about to experience when you enter a factory farm. When you get home, you wash, but the images of suffering are engraved on your retinas.

ANDREA BUSFIELD: ‘Sarah Kite is a softly-spoken woman in her late fifties. Articulate, thoughtful and measured in her responses, she fits the mould of today’s mainstream image of animal welfare advocacy — only, she has been on the frontline of animal rights since the 1980s. In fact, Sarah played a pivotal role in pioneering the use of undercover investigations in the UK.

She said: “In 1988, I got a job at a major contract testing laboratory, the Huntingdon Research Centre, working with rodents and beagles used in toxicity tests. It was the first major exposé of its kind in the UK and received national newspaper and TV coverage… Following her own undercover work at Huntingdon, she then decided to devote her career to the cause and joined the British Union for the Abolition of Vivisection (BUAV) running their investigations department. Today, she works as an adviser for Cruelty Free International (formerly BUAV).

“Huntingdon had a lasting impact on my life,” Sarah admitted. “As a result, I have focused most of my campaigning on animal experiments either inside laboratories or the international trade in primates for research”… On January 17, following a joint investigation by the German animal rights group Soko Tierschutz and Cruelty Free International, the Laboratory of Pharmacology and Toxicology (LPT) in Mienenbüttel, had its licence revoked. Sarah was among the team that sifted through hours of harrowing footage showing distressed monkeys in neck harnesses being injected. “There are moments when you can’t believe this is still going on,” Sarah said…

This is a sentiment echoed by Gem de Silva, the executive director of Tracks Investigations, an organisation hired by animal welfare groups to gather the evidence they need to bring about change. It was Gem’s team that helped edit the footage taken inside the German laboratory. It was one of 233 undercover projects so far carried out by Tracks. Unlike Sarah, Gem’s involvement in the animal rights movement was more an intellectual decision than an emotional one… After university, and time spent as a hunt saboteur, Gem joined an Oxford film and video collective in the late 1980s. His first film was a documentary using factory farm footage, the first of its kind in the UK…

“Nothing prepares you for what you are about to experience when you enter a factory farm… You film a bird whose chest is red, sore and featherless, but you get distracted by another bird struggling to walk or one that can’t stand up, that’s given up the will to live. When you get home, you wash, but the smell lingers and the images of suffering are engraved on your retinas. But these images are not mine to keep. It’s my duty to put them out to the world. That’s the life of an investigator.” This sense of duty is something Claire Palmer, founder of Animal Justice Project, can also relate to, though that’s not to say she doesn’t experience sleepless nights.

Claire said: “I once filmed at a pig farm where there was cannibalism. Seeing animals being eaten alive and knowing you can’t do anything but watch and document it is tough. Sometimes I struggle to sleep at night because it’s those kinds of images that come back to haunt you”… “You exist for the animals so you keep going. But that has had an effect on my mental health,” she said. “Socially, I go out much less, I’m on the computer all the time and I find it hard to form relations with people who aren’t vegan. The last year was particularly taxing, but I don’t know what else I would do now and I wouldn’t want to do anything else”.’  SOURCE…


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