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Monkeys taking selfies, elephants making art, and the question of privacy11 min read

July 30, 2021 7 min read


Monkeys taking selfies, elephants making art, and the question of privacy11 min read

Reading Time: 7 minutes

That was a lot to take in! Here’s a recap:

1. A macaque took a selfie that set the world thinking about non-human copyright.
2. An elephant, Ruby, painted something that was sold for 25,000 USD.
3. A bottlenose dolphin in New Jersey was given the right to medical privacy, and therefore, personhood.
4. The Uttarakhand Government has decided to keep the Jim Corbett National Park and the Rajaji Tiger Reserve open all through the year.

All of these points lead us to the question of non-humans, personhoood, and privacy.

Do animals have a right to privacy?

While the obvious answer seems yes, nowhere in the world has this right been instituted in the Constitution.

But the Indian constitution has some abstract elements that could lend support to the claim of a non-human’s right to privacy.

It was only in 2018, that the definition of life in the Right to Life, Article 21 of the Indian Constitution, was extended to include animals as well. The Supreme Court passed a landmark judgement banning certain bull-fighting practices and including non-humans in the definition of life. It also asserted that, “Animal has also honour and dignity which it cannot be arbitrarily deprived of and its rights and privacy have to be respected and protected from unlawful attacks” (Times of India).

The Right to Life means more than just the right to mere existence but to an existence of honour and dignity. So, it might be possible to assume that the right to privacy is applicable to animals too.

Moreover, Article 48A directs the states to safeguard and protect its wildlife. While these words sound abstract, there is research that indicates that privacy is of paramount importance to animals. Constant intrusion can lead to reckless behaviours in animals or even make them aggressive in the quest to earn private spheres. There are certain things that animals prefer to do in isolation like giving birth and even, dying. Human presence or any watchful presence can cause enough disturbance to cause a lasting impact.
Did you know that cows that have a greater fear of humans, produce less milk?

Even the act of collecting information for research can be intrusive to animals. Imagine having a drone follow you wherever you go.

Image: Giphy

That’s what research can feel like to animals. This is not to say that research is not important. In fact, it is this kind of research which also helps conservation. But is there an ethical extent to maintain, here? Surely, there is.

In 2015, the picture of a polar bear with a tracking collar went viral online. People believed that the collar looked too tight and was causing the bear immense discomfort.

While the researchers have mechanisms to remotely remove the collar, this one had malfunctioned and there was no way to locate the bear and remove the tracking device. There was also no surety that the collar was in fact causing any pain to the polar bear but the photograph got people to question the technology being used to gather more information, even if the end result was the conservation of the very same species.

We all consume animal videos online. In fact, it is the internet that has opened the world of the wild for so many of us. But this has also opened channels of information gathering for poachers and others seeking to harm animals for economic gains. Here, welfare and life are at stake.

Click on the image to learn how Covid-19 caused illegal wildlife trade to go virtual.

Is there a way to read privacy in the Right of Life?

Privacy ensures welfare, and welfare ensures Right to Life. It is a simple equation, that is not so simple for our human-centric world to digest.

Remember when we spoke about survival of the fittest? Do you think it gives humans the rights to use other species, even if its for knowledge accumulation? To what degree can this happen? Is there an ethical way to tread the line of information and dignity?

And after that long detour, if you are still wondering about Naruto, here’s what happened:

The long-standing court case ended with Slater agreeing to give 25% of the future revenue from the photograph to organisations that work to protect macaques and their homes in Indonesia. The lawsuit also ended with both sides continuing to work on bringing legal rights to animals.

And Naruto seems to be grinning for his furry friends in the jungles of Indonesia who will benefit from his world-famous selfie!

With excerpts from Times of India, Wired, Global News, NPR, and Daily Dot

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