BY NIGEL BEAN
Marthe Kiley-Worthington is internationally renowned for her work on animal welfare, ecological agriculture and understanding animal minds. In particular, how to put well thought out theories into practice, allowing for the ecological controls and conflicting interests of all.
Marthe was one of the first to encounter animal rights activists and their movement’s hostile nature in the 1980’s. She was the first to stand up to the RSPCA in a David and Goliath struggle. She was also the first to encounter the new found animal rights ideology of the RSPCA who at the time still had the full backing of the British public before cracks began to show, notably when the organisation was pulled up by the Charity Commission for their declaration on animal rights.
Marthe is and has been willing to speak out where others cower and will stand her ground on anything she feels is unfair. It was Kiley-Worthington who found herself around a dinner table in Africa when working for a University. At the table was a very powerful plantation owner, so Kiley-Worthington took this opportunity in front of the guests to question the man over the appalling wages he was paying his workers. Everyone at the table looked shocked and fell silent but after the dinner some came up to say they felt the same way. It turned out the plantation owner was so powerful he had a major stake in the University where she was working and so she was soon asked to leave.
Marthe was always something of a rebel. It was a young Kiley-Worthington who never got on with the authority of the local hunt instead preferring to gallop her pony over farmers’ fields without their permission. It was a young Kiley-Worthington that was caught at school brewing beer on the rooftop.
Kiley-Worthington’s mother deserves a book all to herself – her father would not allow her to go to university as she was a girl, and back then the male-dominated environment she grew up in placed women in the home, so she ran away. An Ex-suffragette head mistress from Rodean who believed in equal education rights helped Marthe’s mother win a scholarship to Beecham College. Here she met Martha’s father. They had to get married in a rush as he was going on a field trip mapping lakes in Africa and she wanted to accompany him – going as singles was not deemed correct back then. While she was on this field trip she became the only person to record the singing of a now extinct tribe.
Back to Marthe’s spat with the RSPCA…
Marthe had carried out research for them on veal crates and found them not suitable. She was being honest, but this pleased the RSPCA greatly, so in the late eighties they asked for her to do a study into the welfare of circus animals. What Marthe did not know was that they had already made up their minds that circuses were cruel so were speechless when she handed in her conclusions, which were totally out of line with their beliefs. They called her to a meeting to discuss her conclusions, they even asked if she had been got at by the circuses. By chance a friend had advised her to copyright the research, and this prevented the RSPCA from burying it. They offered rewards for her to change her conclusions and then turned nasty when she refused. Kiley-Worthington stood by her conclusions.
The spat became public and caused the RSPCA huge embarrassment, after all why ask an academic to conduct research if you already know the answer? The RSPCA from then on simply cut out Kiley-Worthington from any research opportunities.
Marthe has battled on regardless with a passion to improve animal welfare – giving humans an education on how better to look after them but interact with them as well. She has been beaten up by an elephant and when research was needed to improve animal lives in harsh winter conditions, Kiley-Worthington upped sticks and moved to a snowy French mountainside with all her animals.
Before that it was to a remote Scottish island where she discovered the unpleasantness of myopic Scottish nationalists. The Kiley-Worthington family once returned from a horse show to find all their potatoes dug up, the nationalists had put up a sign informing tourists to help themselves to free potatoes. They did try to integrate with the locals – on hearing a nearby farmer was unable to gather his sheep through poor dog training, they presented him with a pup that had prize winning sheep dog lines and they offered to help him with the training. A month later they heard the farmer had shot the pup.
Marthe has ridden on horseback around France giving lectures and recently jumped on a plane to Italy to address the senate there and discuss the spat with the RSPCA – to inform them how circus animals can in fact enrich people’s lives.
So if you would like to read about schoolgirl pranks and a lifetime spent with ponies and horses, chance meetings with an Oxford educated Masai warrior in the middle of nowhere in Africa after a car breaking down, studying the rich variety of African wildlife on the plains, how to improve animal welfare and get a better understanding of animals and how to move and up sticks a lot in the name of research then this book is for you.
Marthe’s book can be found here
Marthe’s website can be found here
All the money from book sales goes to WAAM, Marthe’s next project after the standards for captive/semi captive elephant welfare are published. WAAM is an Animal Academy where people are taught to interact more with animals, how and why and where, and address the confilicts of wildlife versus humans in Africa in particular.