In June I traveled to London for 10 days to conduct archival research for my project on human-animal relationships in Jordan. One of the main animal welfare organizations working in Jordan, SPANA, or the Society for the Protection of Animals Abroad, is in fact a British-based NGO, founded in 1923 and active in Jordan since 1986. During my time in Amman last year, I conducted ethnographic fieldwork with SPANA and other animal welfare and wildlife conservation groups; my trip to SPANA’s headquarters in London was designed to provide a broader historical context to the work of SPANA and to understand shifts in their messages, goals, and methods over the past century.
Founded in 1923 by a mother and daughter team, Kate and Nina Hosali, after witnessing what Kate described as “a vast sea of neglected animal suffering” during a trip to North Africa, SPANA (at that time, the Society for the Protection of Animals in North Africa) was one of the earliest organizations promoting European-style animal welfare, veterinary care, and protective legislation in the Arab world. Though it was the French who controlled the territories in the areas where SPANA initially worked (Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria), SPANA staff maintained close ties to London, worked in cooperation with French officials, and managed to quickly grow through donations from British supporters. A large part of their success was due to strategic marketing campaigns, including brochures in English, French, and Arabic; positive press on the radio and in newspapers; and animal welfare ‘exhibitions’ mounted in North Africa and England, designed to showcase the work of SPANA and the need for animal protection.
Part of SPANA’s early success was due to their constant advertising of their work, and their insistence on the urgency and scale of the need to help animals. This photo, from the 1950s, shows staff advertising the work of SPANA at an event in Tunisia.
In London, poring over SPANA’s archival materials – boxes of photos, reports, and scrapbooks – I kept a close eye out for examples of early educational documents used by SPANA staff in North Africa. In Jordan, I studied how NGOs, including SPANA, communicate ideals of animal protection, welfare, and conservation to the general public – how, for instance, empathy for animals is taught to schoolchildren, or how the importance of particular veterinary care is conveyed to rural villagers – and how these ideals are connected to models of human morality and welfare. Interestingly, I found that, ahead of their time, the Hosalis termed SPANA’s early educational work “humane education” – a kind of holistic approach to both animal and human welfare that, almost a century later, has grown into a thriving international movement. Early SPANA staff saw the education of local populations as an integral part of their work. But what exactly did this entail? What kinds of methods did they use to change local perceptions of animals? Which practices were deemed cruel, and why? And how did SPANA’s work throughout the region influence Arab-colonial relationships?
A SPANA story illustrating the value of being kind to animals: after Ardil rescues a cat, the cat reciprocates by capturing a snake in Ardil’s home.
Leaflets from the 1950s show a moral reasoning for being kind to animals.
These are all questions I am still attempting to answer, but the archival material in London yielded some interesting clues. Much like it continues to do, SPANA in the early days mounted campaigns directed at both the prevention of animal cruelty and the correction of what were perceived as bad animal husbandry practices. Brochures, booklets, and educational ‘cards’ were distributed to local schoolteachers to teach children models of animal kindness, and posters and plaques were hung in marketplaces and foundouks, or stables where animals were kept during market days. Many of these early messages focused on the value of domestic animals, and their positive contributions to humans. For instance, two brochures told the story of a boy named Ardil who, after rescuing a dog and a cat, was rewarded by the dog by catching a burglar and by the cat by catching a snake in the house. Other educational leaflets paired images of humans and animals with short Arabic captions like “Be kind to your donkey, as you perform pilgrimage (haj) on him” and “The dog is a friendly animal; be kind to him and God will be kind to you.” These moral entreaties were designed to persuade people towards animal protection: being kind to animals may reap reward. They also demonstrate the argument that animals are useful and productive, and therefore deserving of kindness. The use of religion in these materials was also an interesting find, as all animal-based NGOs I worked with in Jordan regularly use Islam to construct these kinds of moral arguments for improved treatment of animals.
Assistant Professor of Cultural Anthropology