Brigitte Bardot: Animal Activist

By Singer, Barnett | Contemporary Review, November 1999 | Go to article overview

Brigitte Bardot: Animal Activist

Singer, Barnett, Contemporary Review

After a stress-filled life as France's Marilyn Monroe, complete with paparazzi sieges and several suicide attempts, Brigitte Bardot gave up her trade in the early 1970s, entering what she called 'the religion of animals'. Liberated from film-making, Bardot's new emphasis crescendoed in the mid-'70s, when she became obsessed with the annual seal cull on the ice floes off Newfoundland.

After a failed attempt to go there in person, she started up her first Brigitte Bardot Wildlife Foundation with eminent names on board, including Cousteau. Unfortunately this first Fondation Bardot lasted but a few months, ending with lawsuits and closure in September 1976. Meanwhile, the clubbing of baby seals continued apace.

For the spring cull of March 1977, a person who disliked flying this time made it to North America, joined by her boyfriend of the era, Czech sculptor Miroslav 'Mirko' Brosek. On the cull's first day some 12,000 seals were killed. But Canadian government officials used police and customs officials to detain the chartered passengers when they landed at Blanc Sablon on Labrador's coast. Bardot's next leg was a helicopter ride to the ice-floes, but a snowstorm continued holding her back, as the seal toll passed 50,000. Bardot now appealed to hunters, offering to launch a synthetic fur manufacturing concern to replace their jobs, and at a press conference was met with cynical laughter. Finally Greenpeace provided her with a helicopter to get through, and Bardot saw the reddened ice first-hand. With more empathy she could now tell the world of these two-week-old pups clobbered for their white fur, then finished off with iron hooks, hearts still beating.

In January 1978 BB was invited to attend a meeting of the Council of Europe on the issue. That seal fur was eventually banned in many countries, including those of the European Union, was to a large degree her doing.

Yet the ex-actress was often frustrated trying to move authorities to action on other issues involving animals. She finally decided to launch a new Brigitte Bardot Foundation, which persists to the present. An auction of June 17, 1987 to raise cash for it included many of her possessions, among them, the 8.36-carat diamond that her third husband Gunter Sachs had given her after their divorce; and Bardot managed to raise the $500,000 required by French law as a minimum endowment for foundations. Acting to save groups of animals, the Foundation also focused on 'singles', such as a dog in the Midi whose owner had locked him in a cupboard, nailing his mouth shut to prevent him from barking. In that case Foundation pressure helped produce a first French sentence for cruelty to animals.

Dubbing non-humans the last minority, BB and her Foundation helped make France the first European nation to cease importing ivory - with Japan and the rest of Europe following suit, at least in principle. A Bardot TV Programme called 'SOS Elephants' became an SOS series - on marine mammals, apes, sterilization of cats and dogs etc.

As the 1990s dawned, these hard-hitting documentaries brought enhanced publicity to her causes, and numerous French hunters sent her their hunting licences, while some tourists burned ivory bracelets. But she was often depressed; the battles were never done, and elephants continued to be decimated, animals used for research - it went on and on.

Her personal interventions might gain temporary stays of execution, as for some 30,000 seals about to be slaughtered in South Africa to make fur coats or dogfood. But during the 1990s BB became ever more zealous, trying to win a variety of battles. Bullfighting? With, no less, a woman in her own country earning big money at it? This young lady's participation in an activity provoking such pain disgusted Bardot. In one of her SOS TV programmes BB showed footage of bulls bleeding to death, and the station received over 25,000 calls supporting her cause! …

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