As world marks World Wildlife Day, Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s actions for animal welfare are a model for the younger generation to follow

Compiled and prepared by MALIK MERCHANT

Over the years, I have discussed monk seal conservation with numerous people, from government ministers to businessmen and scientists, from conservation activists to school children. Ironically, it is often the young who have the clearest idea of what needs to be done. It is the young who are impatient for answers, intolerant of delay. Where others find themselves wallowing in bureaucratic quicksand, the young often see common sense solutions and cannot understand why establishment figures are reluctant to seize the initiative — Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, in a guest editorial for Monachus Guardian.

rince Sadruddin Aga Khan on the Aegean island of Alonissos, with the orphaned monk seal, with Theodoros, June 1992. Photo: © Matthias Schnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933-2003) on the Aegean island of Alonissos, with the orphaned monk seal, Theodoros, June 1992. Photo: © Matthias Schnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.

On December 20, 2013, at its 68th session, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed March 3 as UN World Wildlife Day, to celebrate all wild animals and plants and a recognition of their diversity, their beauty and the contribution they make to our well-being.  The commemoration of World Wildlife Day in 2023 is additionally significant, as March 3 also marked the 50th anniversary of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that has helped protect thousands of species of plants and animals. 

Despite the various efforts that have been underway to protect wildlife, the scourge of illegal trade in wildlife continues to flourish. Disrespect and a lack of empathy for animals are promoted when they are used for various forms of entertainment and to generate profits. For example, in Asia baby elephants are taken away from their mothers and forced through a horrific training process which breaks their spirits and makes them submissive enough to be ridden by tourists. Another sad example is that of big cats such as lions who are taken away from the wild, and tamed to conform to human orders and forced to walk with tourists (read more at World Animal Protection.)

The history of the exploitation of animals in captivity for public entertainment and profit was revealed in William M. Johnson’s book The Rose-Tinted Menagerie, for which Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan contributed an insightful preface. The Prince in his preface noted that “The Rose-Tinted Menagerie puts the exploitation of animals in circuses and oceanaria into the much broader context of global environmental destruction and humankind’s ailing relationship with the planet.”

We invite you to read the full preface below, after William Johnson’s tribute to Prince Sadruddin

A tribute to Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan

“Sadruddin Aga Khan was a source of inspiration to conservation, human rights and animal welfare — just some of the key areas that composed his holistic view of the world”

By WILLIAM M. JOHNSON

Prince Sadruddin served as UN High Commissioner for Refugees between 1965-1977, and would almost certainly have been appointed UN Secretary General in 1981 had it not been for a Soviet veto. He was appointed coordinator of UN humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan in 1988 and assumed similar responsibilities for Iraq and Kuwait after the Gulf War in 1990. From 1992 until his death he acted as chargé de mission to Kofi Annan.

Outside the UN, the Prince was equally at home campaigning for nuclear disarmament as he was fighting against the exploitation of dolphins in captivity, deforestation, or the cruelties of the fur trade. In 1977, he founded the Geneva-based Bellerive Foundation, which came to reflect his own passionately-held holistic philosophy.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan with UN secretary generals U Thant an Perez de Cuellard
Left to right: Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, as UN High Commissioner for Refugees, visits the village of Kajo Kaji, South Sudan, 1972; Sadruddin Aga Khan consults with UN Secretary General U Thant in 1971; and Sadruddin Aga Khan meets with UN Secretary General Javier Perez de Cuellar. Photographs: UN photo.

In 1990, Bellerive became alarmed by reports that a marine circus in the south of France, Antibes Marineland, was about to capture monk seals off the coast of Mauritania. There followed an intense international campaign to thwart the capture plan and, throughout it all, the Prince maintained an avid personal interest in unfolding events, frequently calling from his UN office to check on developments and to offer advice.

In March 1992, Prince Sadruddin made his first face-to-face acquaintance with the Mediterranean monk seal, attending the release of orphaned pup Efstratia on the Aegean island of Alonissos in the Northern Sporades Marine Park. Accompanied by his wife, Princess Catherine, the Greek Environment Minister and a throng of journalists, the visit helped draw worldwide attention to the plight of the species.

The Prince was visibly touched, both by the bewildered monk seal pup snuffling at his fingers in the Steni Vala rescue station, as by the genuine warmth and hospitality shown to him by the local people of Alonissos.

Of the shy, once trusting seal of the Mediterranean, he remarked that, in many ways it is “a totemic like symbol for the good side of the human species.”

Later on in Athens, the Prince brought his diplomatic skills to bear, championing the monk seal cause in meetings with ministers, the prime minister, and even the president of the republic.

“He was vocal on numerous subjects, ranging from the plight of monk seals on the Sporadean island of Alonissos to nuclear disarmament, and from the spectacle of a wretched panda trained to play a trumpet in a circus to the detrimental impact on the planet of mass deforestation.” – The Times, 16 May 2003

In June the same year, he returned to Alonissos, where he was awarded Honorary Citizenship in a ceremony attended by the wife of the then Prime Minister, Constantine Mitsotakis.

For the next few days, Prince Sadruddin held “town hall” meetings with local stakeholders, hiked over the archipelago’s uninhabited islands and made the personal acquaintance of that other famous ambassador of the monk seal species, Theodoros, the orphaned seal that had so endeared himself to the local community.

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933 - 2003) gives a thumbs-up to orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia on the Aegean island of Alonissos. Photograph: © Matthias Shnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (d. 2003) gives a thumbs-up to orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia on the Aegean island of Alonissos. Photograph: © Matthias Shnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan and Princess Catherine attending the release of orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia. Photograph: © Matthias Schnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (d. 2003) and Princess Catherine attending the release of orphaned monk seal pup Efstratia. Photograph: © Matthias Schnellmann, The Monachus Guardian.

Later the same year, he donated a new 42-seat community bus to Alonissos in an effort to encourage the island to stake its future on the Marine Park rather than the mass tourism route so common to the Aegean.

At the same time, he spearheaded efforts to establish an Athens-based foundation for the monk seal, encouraging wealthy ship-owners and other industrialists to commit themselves to saving Europe’s most endangered marine mammal. Although it proved an uphill battle, before winding up its activities the foundation had donated some quarter of a million dollars to monk seal conservation efforts in the Aegean.

In 1994, he had Bellerive join forces with the International Marine Mammal Association to defeat yet another attempt by Antibes Marineland to capture monk seals in Mauritania.

[In 2002] Prince Sadruddin stepped in to save The Monachus Guardian from closure, personally urging other organisations to match his funding commitment. Within weeks, WWF International had reacted positively to his appeal, allowing the Guardian to continue publishing for another year.

Over time, Prince Sadruddin became increasingly frustrated by the glacial pace of government bureaucracies in tackling ecological and animal welfare abuse, and by the seemingly infinite capacity of officials to evade even the most compelling facts of a logical argument.

He could be equally incensed by conflicts between organisations that supposedly shared the same worthy goals – a conviction that originally inspired Bellerive’s faith, and nurtured its talents, in assembling broad coalitions to tackle pressing issues.

At the same time, the Prince often voiced concern that, in striving to meet the challenges of operating within a new world economic order, NGOs could themselves become corporate entities alienated from the very people they needed to reach and to convince.

Sadruddin Aga Khan will be a sorely missed source of inspiration to conservation, human rights and animal welfare – just some of the key areas that composed his holistic view of the world.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The Rose-Tinted Menagerie puts the exploitation of animals in circuses and oceanaria into the much broader context of global environmental destruction and humankind’s ailing relationship with the planet — Sadruddin Aga Khan

Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan’s preface to Rose-Tinted Menagerie

Cover: The Rose-Tinted Menagerie
Cover: The Rose-Tinted Menagerie

By PRINCE SADRUDDIN AGA KHAN (d. 2003)

For those who have always felt an instinctive revulsion for the travelling menagerie, it might not seem altogether surprising that cruelty and deprivation lurks behind all the razzmatazz and glitter of the circus world. But I’m pleased to say that this book is not merely content with recounting in abstract the suffering that these animals must endure in order to provide their human audience with a short-lived thrill. Here, we also see the animals as individuals, and in graphic detail, the shadowy enterprises, dealers and showmen who profit from their exploitation.

A pair of baby elephants straining feverishly at the heavy chains which shackle them to the ground in a circus tent; ice-skating polar bears that must live most of their lives confined to boxes no more than a metre square; a giant panda – that most famous endangered species of all – trained to blow a trumpet and ride a motorbike. Haunting images such as these abound in William Johnson’s book, The Rose-Tinted Menagerie.

As he so lucidly reveals, the true nature of those unfortunate creatures that must snarl, dance or mimic their human masters under the big top is as mocked today as it was when the circus first sprang to life in the amphitheatres of ancient Rome.

Epitomised by that endless tale of misfortune that lies behind the clown-like smile of the captive dolphin, we see how illusion has been crafted meticulously in order to convince the public that the performing circus animal is happy and content in its deprived surroundings. That deprivation, as William Johnson points out, is far more fundamental than is first suggested by the bare, cramped and squalid pools and cages to be seen in virtually every menagerie and oceanarium. The species they contain have been estranged from the myriad influences which shaped their natures and existence in the wild.

As a philosophical work that should become of major importance to the conservation movement, The Rose-Tinted Menagerie puts the exploitation of animals in circuses and oceanaria into the much broader context of global environmental destruction and humankind’s ailing relationship with the planet.

On a journey through history, we see the evolution of that fearful anthropocentrism which afflicts the human race in our species’ futile quest for supremacy over the Earth. As William Johnson suggests, it is perhaps inevitable that the fragmentation so evident in human society today is the direct legacy of our separation from Mother Nature. Indeed, it may well be surmised that speciesism, coupled with humanity’s unwillingness to perceive the vital inter-relationships which compose a global ecology, has done more damage to the environment than any other single factor. By the same token, encouraging a holistic or all-embracing perception of the living Earth must be at the heart of humanity’s awakening ecological awareness. In many respects, we must sweep away the outmoded ideas and institutions that still bind us to an environmentally-damaging past. That endangered species should still inhabit the beast wagons of travelling shows, that dolphins and whales should still be captured and carted around the world for exhibition is not only unconscionable in itself, but also serves to perpetuate an insidious utilitarian view of creation.

The Rose-Tinted Menagerie is an impressive contribution to the cause of conservation and animal welfare. I very much hope that it will play, as it deserves, a fundamental role in shaping a new ecological awareness.

Date posted: March 4, 2023.

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External links and credits:

  • Portrait of Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan, as our featured image, © UNHCR.
  • Photographs of monk seals are by Matthias Schnellmann. See his portfolio at http://www.21a.ch/.
  • To read William Johnson’s tribute to Prince Sadruddin at source, please click Monachus-Guardian: Prince Sadruddin Obituary – Friend of the Monk Seal.
  • Johnson’s website is dedicated to monk seals. Please visit the Home Page Monachus Guardian.
  • For book details and to purchase book click The Rose-Tinted MenagerieA History of Animals in Entertainment, from Ancient Rome to the 20th century. Here is an excerpt of the book’s review from BBC Wildlife Magazine: “Before the publication of William Johnson’s book, the animal rights movement’s case against training other animals to entertain human beings was made in abstract theory. The great merit of Johnson’s book is that he makes the case in concrete fact. No slightly compassionate person who reads this book, will continue to applaud or be indifferent to ‘performing animals.’ A ground-breaking work… of great importance. Johnson’s historically unparalleled brief will hasten the demise of a tradition that continues to survive only because of human ignorance and indifference.”

Links to articles on Prince Sadruddin on this blog and sister website, Simerg:

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Prince Sadruddin and Prince Hussain Aga Khan

Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Princess Catherine at the luncheon marking the merger of the Bellerive Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, May 31, 2006. Photograph: AKDN/Jean-Luc Ray.
Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, and Princess Catherine at the luncheon marking the merger of the Bellerive Foundation and the Aga Khan Foundation, Geneva, May 31, 2006. Photograph: AKDN/Jean-Luc Ray.

As readers are aware, Prince Hussain Aga Khan, 2nd son of Mawlana Hazar Imam, His Highness the Aga Khan, has been a passionate photographer of animal wildlife on land and in water. His focus since 2009 has been on sea animals. In 2006, the Bellerive Foundation, created by his great uncle, Prince Sadruddin, merged with the Aga Khan Foundation, to form the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment, a US$ 10 million fund dedicated dedicated to practical solutions to environmental problems. Details of this merger can be read HERE.

Before establishing his own organization Focused on Nature, Prince Hussain’s exhibitions around the world were held under the umbrella of the Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan Fund for the Environment, and the proceeds from the sales of objects such as the book “Animal Voyage” were distributed to the Fund.

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4 comments

  1. Of course, the entire family of Sarkar Maulana Hazar Imam is a great supporter of all form of life on planet earth as his great great grandfather Prophet Muhammad PBUH…its our duty to be nature friendly to make this earth a safer place for the generations to come.

    Like

  2. Sincere humble Gratitude once again for sharing. It’s absolutely TRUE that the Younger Generation is definitely going to do whatever it takes to NOT ONLY bring back BALANCE in our Eco System, but SAVE our Mother Earth and all Living Species on it. We OWE IT back for the Damage Humans have Caused. We need to be Pro Active and in Constant Awareness of how we use the Resources So Freely Available to us, Respect and Honour every Living Life on this Planet we are blessed to live our lives.

    Like

  3. As a child Prince Sadruddin and and Om Habibeh Aga Khan taught me and told me: “People who are not good to animals, they are not good to humans…”.

    Now that I’m older and I reflect this turns out to be true. I think — indeed I’m sure! — they are very proud of their nephew and great grandson Prince Hussain for all he does.

    Like

  4. Of course, its human beings that need to cater to the needs and rights of its fellow human beings as well as other beings without disrupting the nature.

    Love is meant for all provided if it is felt.

    Like

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