Brute Ethics





Animal Ethics Encyclopedia

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Canned Hunts

Canned hunts are commercial businesses that charge hunters a fee for killing captive animals. Animals at a canned hunt are shot when they are inside a cage, tied to a stake, at a feeding station, or when wandering about, and are sometimes drugged to make them slow moving.

Canned hunts are a North American innovation that began appearing in the 1960's. Canned hunt 'ranches' vary in size from just a few square metres to hundreds of hectares. Some are called hunting or shooting preserves and others are called game ranches, but the common feature is that they charge a fee and are contrary to the notion that hunted animals should have a fair chance of escaping the hunter.

The animals on offer at canned hunts range from native species - sheep, deer, bears and cougars - to exotic animals like African and Asian antelope, zebras, even rhinos and lions. The breeding of animals for zoos and the exotic pet trade often produces an unwanted surplus. Canned hunts acquire some of these animals directly or through animal dealers and auctioneers. Performing animals too old for the circus may also go to canned hunts.

The costs of hunting at canned hunts range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars per animal shot. Large exotic animals are the most expensive. Hunters can obtain the dearest and rarest animals, like rhino, on request.

Canned hunts create the illusion of hunting. They satisfy the market niche for people who want a hunting spree that is quicker and more convenient than travelling to far off wildlands to trek for days in search of game. Canned hunts are ideal for hunters with little experience, as they guarantee a kill and a trophy; many canned hunts have a taxidermist on hand.

Canned hunts publicise themselves as rugged outdoor adventure. But comfort and convenience are laid on: you can fly to a hunt, dine and sleep in an elegant lodge, the next day borrow a high-powered bow or rifle and you are ready to begin. In large hunting grounds a guide escorts you to find the animals. You need not be a good shot as kills are often arranged to be within metres of you. Zoo and circus animals are accustomed to humans, and exotic animals bred for the pet trade have no experience of being hunted, so they do not necessarily know they should run away.

There is anything between a few hundred to over a thousand canned hunts in the US. Nearly all states permit them. Texas has the most hunts, possibly around one fifth of the total.


  • Fair Chase
  • Canned hunts manipulate the probability of hunters killing animals. An animal has no chance of escape, no matter how large the canned hunting grounds. This is contrary to the notion of the principle of a fair chase, a fundamental ethic in hunting circles.

  • Disease
  • Animals confined at high density increase the likely outbreak of disease, such as brucellosis, tuberculosis, and chronic wasting disease (akin to mad cow disease). There is a risk that animals who break out of a canned hunt, or otherwise are transferred from one place to another, will spread a disease, especially to populations of wild animals.

  • Incentive To Breed
  • Canned hunts are a stimulus for zoos and exotic breeders to over-breed their animals. Zoos and breeders get out of the problem of what to do with their unwanted surplus by selling animals directly or indirectly to canned hunts.

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Cat Play

People say domestic cats are cruel because they play with and torment the mice and birds they catch. However, cats are not actually playing with their prey. They enjoy or have an intense desire to catch prey and are simply continuing to hunt them.

Part of a hunt is searching for prey by travelling long distances and getting tired, cold and wet, or hot and thirsty. This part of a hunt is a chore and no fun for a cat. What cats really like about a hunt is the bit when they locate a prey animal and can pounce, chase and catch it. So once a well fed house cat captures a mouse or bird, he indulges his passion by catching his prey again and again.

Only house cats, cats who live with people and are sufficiently and regularly fed, tend to play with prey. They have the time, energy and inclination to do so. Feral or wild cats do not generally play with prey; they must hunt in earnest to feed themselves. If they 'played' with their prey like a house cat the chances are their prey would escape and the cats would lose an invaluable meal. House cats are not alone in their prey-playing behaviour. Other animals do the same, such as orcas with the seals they catch in the sea. Perhaps when orcas are sufficiently well fed like house cats they also permit themselves the enjoyment of the catch.

So cats do not play with their prey, and neither are they cruel, wishing deliberately to abuse their prey by inflicting pain on them. Cruelty is a human character that people (being anthropomorphic) are too quick to see in other animals. Cruelty is not part of a cat's behavioural repertoire. Cats do not think one way or another about what they are doing to their prey; they just do what they do and delight in the action of the catch.

A better name than 'play' is sham or simulated hunting: engaging in hunting behaviour but not for the purpose of getting a meal. Playing is a misleading description as it suggests cats are cruel and it gives them a bad reputation. Sham hunting is not the same as bringing back live prey for the developing young, which may be a means of providing them with hunting experience in preparation for adult life.

The idea that cats enjoy catching prey is based on the following assumptions consistent with evolutionary theory. Cats evolved to enjoy catching prey because cats who enjoy it go hunting more frequently and catch more prey than cats who do not enjoy it and consequently catch fewer prey. Cats who enjoy catching prey raise more offspring successfully because they can feed their kittens more. Enjoying the catch is an inherited trait, likely to be passed on from parent to offspring. Therefore enjoying the catch will spread throughout the cat population as the cats who carry the trait increase in number.

So next time you see a cat 'playing' with prey, do not be too critical of the cat. He is someone's well fed pet and simply indulging his inherited nature.

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Cat Traffic Training

Cat We have a moral duty to look after our pets, but do you go as far as traffic training them? Many cats are killed or injured by motorists. Yet it is simple to teach your cat to be weary of motor traffic. A few short lessons will last a long time and increase the probability of your cat's survival.

The technique is most effective on kittens, as they are more impressionable. You can traffic train older cats but some might be a little impenetrably blasť, so the technique could be somewhat less effective. But you can make up for this by going about the training thoroughly. Either way, ensure your cat has explored the ground between house and road so that he knows his way back indoors. Then you can begin.

  1. Encourage your cat to go to the road when there is little traffic about, perhaps early morning or late evening.

  2. Leave the front door of the house open and go with him equipped with a large saucepan and big spoon.

  3. Wait for a loud vehicle to come along (a particularly noisy one is best) and get between it and your cat.

  4. When the vehicle is close repeatedly bang the spoon on the saucepan and yell to make a startling din next to your cat.

  5. Immediately rush with your cat to safety indoors. Ensure you drive him in front of you; you do not want him to seek refuge under a parked car or elsewhere.

  6. Act as a model for him to imitate. Look and feel scared. You have had a narrow escape, almost caught by a terribly dangerous predator, but now indoors you are safe and can begin to relax.

  7. Carry out this procedure once or twice a day for a few days.

  8. Before you start try a silent full dress rehearsal without your cat to make sure all will go smoothly.

By pairing the approaching vehicle with a loud startling noise and by setting your cat an example to follow, he will perceive oncoming vehicles as objects to stay clear of. A cat keeps an eye on others around him and is guided by what they do. So always act as a good role model - very important. Try to get the other members of your household to do the same - consistency is also very important.

As time passes your cat will be less inclined to run as he becomes more accustomed to vehicle noise and realises that he can safely sit by the road. So from time to time show him for the rest of his life that the danger still exists. Should you be with him by the road when a vehicle comes along, get between him and the vehicle, shoo him homewards, clap your hands and yell. Never stand in the road and look relaxed or you will be undoing his training by showing him that motors are not so bad.

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See Chickens.

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Clever Hans

Clever horse Clever Hans was a horse from late 19th century Europe, famous for his ability to add, subtract, multiply and divide numbers and fractions. He could also read and spell.

Hans' trainer introduced him to audiences far and wide and when Hans was asked to perform a calculation he stamped a hoof in reply - and inevitably gave the correct answer. Mental arithmetic was no problem. Dividing numbers like 53 by 7 was easy. He astonished, puzzled and amused audiences, who applauded him as a remarkably intelligent horse. News of Hans' cerebral feats spread as far as America as the equine became an international celebrity.

Eventually Hans' ability attracted the attention of scientific investigation. Psychologists made a thorough professional examination and after scrupulous observation found that Hans was responding to near invisible cues from his trainer. Only Hans could detect the cues; everyone else, including his trainer, was completely unaware of what was happening.

For example, Hans started tapping a hoof when his trainer asked him to count the number of objects in a sack. When Hans reached the right number his trainer unconsciously made an almost imperceptible movement, such as bending forward or catching his breath. Hans noticed this as the signal to stop tapping his hoof, apparently at the right number.

Reports of smart animals performing mental calculations invariably turn up from time to time. Clever Hans is an outstanding example of a clever animal because he was carefully investigated and the findings were published and widely circulated. Clever Hans shows that animals can respond to, what are for us, subliminal cues, and that we should be careful not to assign attributes to animals they do not possess. We remember Hans for teaching us a lesson about Anthropomorphism, a useful lesson for animal ethics.

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Consciousness You probably assume you are conscious. And you deduce the mental life and consciousness of other people based on your own experience. But are animals conscious? Are they aware of their thoughts and feelings? Do they know that other beings have thoughts and feelings? Or are animals unconscious, sleepwalkers with no mental awareness?

Why ask these questions? From an ethical view, if animals are conscious then they deserve our moral consideration. We cannot use/abuse animals (factory farming, medical research, clothing, etc) if they are conscious like humans. If animals are not conscious, like sticks and stones, then there is less moral scruple about how we treat them, or none at all for some people. From a scientific perspective, a full appreciation of animals must include understanding the sort of things they think and feel - assuming they think and feel anything.

Other than the mirror test there is yet no scientific test that can affirm whether an animal is conscious. So the question remains largely philosophical, although science is beginning to make a little headway.

Two Philosophical Views

There are broadly two views of consciousness.

Epiphenomenal: consciousness is merely a consequence of how the brain works and as such has no function. If this is true then consciousness will make no difference to behaviour. Conscious and non-conscious animals will do things equally well.

Functional: consciousness enables an animal to survive and reproduce better and thus has a function. In this view natural selection can act on consciousness so that it evolves and consciousness can pass on to successive generations.

Kinds of Consciousness

The words conscious and consciousness are used in many different ways. One meaning of conscious is being awake and not asleep. There is no doubt that animals in this sense are conscious. But two kinds of animal consciousness are contentious: primary consciousness and secondary consciousness. When discussing animal consciousness it is useful to avoid confusion by knowing which kind of consciousness speakers have in mind.

Primary consciousness: being aware of basic feelings (body position, hunger, fear, fatigue, pain) and happenings in your environment (someone calling you, approaching predators). Another name for this is phenomenal consciousness; it is about the perception of phenomena. Responding to basic feelings and happenings does not necessarily mean you are also aware of them. A robot responds to stimuli but is not mentally aware of them. Responding and being aware of responding are separate things.

Secondary consciousness: being aware of consciousness itself; consciously thinking about consciousness. Not only do humans think about things, we think about thinking, and we think about the thoughts and feelings of others. We are self-aware. Secondary consciousness is also called self-consciousness.

Many animals probably have at least some form or degree of primary consciousness. Many people believe primary consciousness is likely in mammals and birds, more vague in reptiles, amphibians and fish, and doubtful in insects and other invertebrates (the common octopus, Octopus vulgaris is a fascinating exception). The extent to which animals experience secondary consciousness, if at all, is the really big mystery.

Functions of Consciousness

We do not need consciousness for most activities, even very complicated ones. An animal or human receiving a painful stimulus will try to escape it, but this does not prove they are conscious; you can instruct a robot to do the same thing. It is the same with cerebral tasks such as telling like from unlike objects; even a computer with the right program will do it. We carry out many daily tasks without conscious awareness. Calculating the speed of approaching motor traffic when crossing a road is an unconscious computation. Doing things fast, like catching a ball or playing a musical instrument, are not under conscious control. We would not be able to do these things if we stopped to think about them. Thinking about them at the same time as doing them can drag like an anchor slowing our movements.

So why should you, or any animal, be conscious? Does consciousness have a use? Scientists speculate that consciousness has a function and some argue that it enables you to behave more flexibly than if you went without it. Deciding what you should do based on your assessment of a situation is more economical of time and brain cells. Conscious decisions have a greater likelihood of a successful outcome than if you react unconsciously to all possible combinations of situations you might come across.

How might you make a decision about doing something? You could imagine what happens in various situations, picture the likely outcome of each situation, then act according to the situation that is best for you. This is consciousness. It is ideal for tackling unusual or complicated situations. A conscious animal can see more potential solutions to problems, anticipate and plan ahead. This is especially advantageous for animals who live highly social lives. It enables them to handle complex social interactions by imagining how members of their social group are likely to act.

Conscious in Animals

Species evolve from earlier species and inherit features from their forebears (see evolutionary continuity). Thus, if humans are conscious then their forebears are likely to have had some capacity for consciousness. Consciousness resides in the nervous system. Neurones in humans and other animal species are built from the same basic components and function in much the same way. Given this, consciousness in some degree and form may be widespread in the animal world. There is good reason to believe that if humans are conscious then other species are also conscious to some extent.

Consciousness may come in minute chunks, rather than be an all-or-none allotment, like humans have it and animals do not. Individuals and species seem to have it in different quantities and a chunky consciousness describes this better. A baby has fewer chunks than a youngster, who has fewer chunks than an adult. Cats may have fewer chunks than chimpanzees, who may have fewer than humans. In this way animal consciousness gradually come forth within individuals and across species.

Beam Me Up

Consciousness was thought to reside in the soul. Today people are more likely to say it is inside your head. The brain is a physical object, so consciousness has a physical substrate and is therefore a physical object itself. We can transport physical objects. Thus one day we may send animal consciousness along a telephone wire or beam it to the moon and reflect it back again. Its mystery lies in our lack of understanding it.

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Consequence Ethics

 Philosophical theory stating that the morality of your action depends only on its results or consequences. Consequence Ethics is also called Consequentialism and its traditional name in philosophy is Teleology, from the Greek teleos meaning end or purpose.

What makes your action good or bad, right or wrong according to Consequence Ethics? Consequence Ethics is goal-directed. It asserts that only the good outcome of your action is important, not how you achieve your goal. You need not be virtuous or dutiful, so you can even lie, cheat or whatever, so long as the end result is morally good.

As a consequentialist, the goal of your action tends to be more important than how you reach it. Thus as a laboratory worker you develop a vaccine that could save the lives of thousands of animals. But as part of its development you must test it on tens of laboratory animals and they might die. Consequential Ethics says it is the end result that is important, in this case saving the lives of many more animals than you kill, so you decide it is morally right to go ahead with your tests (see Painism as a counter to this theory).

Or say a pig or sheep escapes from a slaughterhouse. You believe it would be immoral to take him back to be killed, so you snatch him up, hide him and lie that you do not know where he is. Your action focuses on its result; saving the animal from slaughter is morally more important than stealing and lying.

Consequence Ethics is one of three fundamental ethical frameworks that people use to guide them through moral problems. The other two frameworks are Duty Ethics and Virtue Ethics. Several moral theories exist within each of these frameworks. Two kinds of Consequence Ethical theories are Utilitarianism, by which you act in the interest of others, and Ethical Egoism, when you act solely for your own interests.


  • Crystal Gazing
  • How do you know the results of your actions in advance? You might only be able to make vague guesses about their consequences. Should we base our moral actions only on what we vaguely suppose might happen? Given that we have a tendency to make wrong decisions, Consequence Ethics may often be unreliable.

  • Ends & Means
  • Consequence Ethics sometimes goes against people's sense of justice in that 'ends do not justify means'. That is, the end result of your action, no matter how worthy, does not justify doing a wrong to achieve it. You might say that protecting livestock is right, but that killing off populations of wild animals suspected of infecting them with disease is morally wrong. For example, killing skunk or badger populations that might be infecting cattle with tuberculosis. If they are infecting cattle then developing a vaccine for the wildlife or livestock could be a better solution.

  • Intentions
  • Being concerned only with good results, Consequence Ethics disregards your motivation. But surely your action would still be moral so long as you act with good intentions even though the result turns out badly. Conversely, you might act immorally even if the end result turns out well, like you might save a life, but only for some corrupt or conceited reason, such gaining a reward or vain recognition.

  • Intrinsically Wrong Acts
  • In Consequence Ethics nothing is ever absolutely wrong. We need only judge actions by their results. But some actions seem intrinsically wrong, like killing off killing innocent people or children or whole populations of wild animals.

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Philosophical theory stating that everyone should abide by the same agreement of fairness. Welfare is maximised and discord is minimised when everyone does this. Also called social contract theory, hence the name Contractarianism.

How did this idea arise? To explain and justify absolute government the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588 - 1679) famously contended that man's life in the 'state of nature' (ie before civilisation) was "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short". Hobbs says that in the state of nature everyone sought his own satisfaction and conflict inevitably arose as each person attempted to satisfy his particular needs. Conflict did not show itself as open hostility all the time, but there was always a possibility that outright violence and fighting would break out.

Hobbes argued that in such a society the only way to ensure order and security was for people to agree to entrust their well-being to a ruler or king. A reciprocal arrangement was agreed. The ruler governed by the consent of the people based on the mutual agreement (ie contract) of both parties. The ruler protected the people, who were then free to trade and prosper in exchange for their allegiance to the ruler, eg their complete obedience to his laws and to act as solders in time of war. Thus, Hobbes declared, while in the state of nature people entered into a contract in their own moral self-interests.

When the idea of Contractarianism was formulated in the 17th century no one actually knew how people behaved in the state of nature. But the idea of competition and cooperation served as a means to explain how political and moral agreement might arise. Order in society did not come from unilateral political domination by a ruler, or by divine will, or by some ideal of human nature. It arose by mutual agreement among people by adhering to an agreed contract.

So where is this social contract? The contract is often said to be hypothetical, but that agreements may become actual (made law) through bargaining between a people and their ruler.

Importantly for animals, according to Contractarianism, only individuals who can understand and choose to take part in a contract have moral rights. For example, a contract excludes children and people with severe mental disturbance. Even so, these non-participants can be protected by the sympathy of parents and others who participate in a social contract. Similarly, animals cannot understand the rules of a contract and therefore cannot take part in one. Under Contractarianism people have no obligations to treat animals morally. However, animals who have a special place with humans, like pets, can enjoy much the same protection as children.


  • Contractarianism relies on reciprocity; someone looks after you by giving you rights and you do the same for him. However, moral behaviour should not rely merely on reciprocity.

  • Morality under Contractarianism is like a club you can join only if you are capable of knowing the rules and can abide by them. It has no place for the likes of children, mentally retarded people and animals; any care for them is reduced to an afterthought. Therefore Contractarianism fails as a moral rationale and model of good behaviour.

  • Animals can enter into contracts, albeit at least within their own species. For example, all the animals in the same group live peacefully together because they abide by the same rules. But Contractarianism ignores this ability.

  • Contractarianism offers no moral care for the overwhelming majority of animals. Exceedingly few animals (eg pets and occasionally a farm animal) pick up indirect protection from the sentimental interest some people attach to them. Therefore Contractarianism is unacceptable as a moral guide.

  • Contractarianism can go wrong in practice. A powerful minority could distort it to favour themselves and repress everyone else. It can be used to enforce repression, maintain totalitarianism, male domination, white supremacy - or animal abuse. Therefore we cannot rely on Contractarianism.

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Copernicus, Nicolaus (1474 - 1543)

Polish physician and mathematician famous for his contribution to our knowledge about the heavenly bodies. Without realising it he prepared the way for our understanding of our place in the universe and from there to our modern attitude to animals.

The ancient Greeks believed Earth was at the centre of the universe and the stars and planets moved in perfect circles around it. This theory of how the heavenly bodies work is called the Ptolemaic system, after Ptolomy (c100 - 170) who lived in Alexandria and developed the idea. In the Middle Ages the Church incorporated the Ptolemaic system into its world view: that God made the world at the centre of creation, forged man as master of the world ruling over animals and nature, and gave humans souls which abide after death in the surrounding heavens. In other words, humans are supreme on Earth over all creatures (see Anthropocentrism).

The Ptolemaic system had a practical use for predicting seasonal events. But the mathematics behind it was long and complicated. Copernicus, however, showed the calculations can be simplified by assuming the sun is at the centre of the universe and everything revolves around the sun. His ideas were published in 1543 in his book De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium (About the Revolutions of the Heavenly Orbs) as he lay on his deathbed.

Copernicus' idea of the sun-centred universe gradually filtered through Europe and caused growing alarm. Inadvertently he had started to change the established religious assumption of human supremacy and set going a revolution in human society. If Copernicus was right then the Church's authority was wrong; man was not in a privileged position at the centre of the universe. Furthermore, if the Church was wrong about this then the Church could be wrong about everything else and its inflexible all demanding authority would crumble, as it did.

Copernicus started the gradual transformation in human thought of ascendancy over animals (see Thomas Aquinas) to the realisation that man is but an animal himself (see Charles Darwin).

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 Human behaviour that causes suffering can be said to be cruel, especially if intentional. Harming an animal could be cruel. But there is no clear definition of what makes something that is harmful also cruel. The specific meaning of cruelty and when cruelty is said to happen boils down to opinion.

One way around the vagueness problem is to interpret cruelty as 'unnecessary suffering', the chosen way under British law. But how do you define 'unnecessary suffering'? The law simply substitutes one ambiguous term for another. The problem is then left to lawyers to argue in court whether a particular case of cruelty to animals is 'unnecessary' and has caused 'suffering'. This is why in Britain, and in countries with similar law, so much emphasis centres on the term 'unnecessary suffering' and not on some other expression.

You might think that only unthinking people are cruel. But most people will tolerate some degree of cruelty. Is raising and slaughtering food animals 'necessarily' cruel?. Nor is cruelty always apparent when it occurs; it can go unnoticed. And if people believe they can gain by a cruel action, for instance using animals in experiments, they will justify it.

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Products and services are said to be cruelty-free if they are not made from animals (eg fur, leather shoes and belts), do not contain animal products (eg medicines and food additives), are not tested on animals (eg Draize Test) for their safeness on humans (eg soap and skin cream), and are not from activity related to animal exploitation (eg experimentation, entertainment films and circuses).

Living a cruelty-free lifestyle could mean giving up (or at least reducing) buying animal products to wear, not buying personal and household products tested on animals or containing animal ingredients, boycotting places where animals are used for entertainment (eg zoos), and becoming a vegetarian or vegan.

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Cull & Control

Cull is a euphemism for kill. Specifically, cull means select and remove some things from others, especially because of their inferior quality. People borrow this word when they deliberately kill animals but do no want to say they are killing them. Instead, they say cull, as this sounds impartial and reasonable so that the killers' consciences are saved and nobody objects to the action.

Control is a similar euphemism. People control animals, they do not kill them. 'The rabbits are controlled' sounds official, necessary and therefore less objectionable.

Euphemistic examples of cull:
"...the Deer Commission for Scotland flew in a squad of marksmen by helicopter to carry out the cull of 80 deer on the famous Badenoch estate, over two days..." Strathspey and Badenoch Herald.

"A cull of 5,000 hedgehogs is due to begin on North Uist in the Western Isles of Scotland on Monday. Scottish Natural Heritage wants to get rid of all the hedgehogs on the Uist islands because they have been destroying colonies of wading birds." BBC News.
When faced with ethical decisions about what to do with animals who get in people's way, should we be lulled and sweetened into euphemistic compliance? Or should we be open and honest and not hide behind euphemisms?

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Cute Factor

The cute factor means supporting some animals more than others because they are attractive, like fluffy animals with big eyes. The opposite is ignoring some animals because they seem repulsive.

Many people would be outraged by a cull of cute baby seals but are silent about a kill of rats. Yet rats are as intelligent and as social as seals and some people would say that in any case they deserve equal consideration. People blame rats for spreading disease. But it is poor human living conditions with bad sanitation that create the circumstances for rats to multiply and spread disease among humans. Should we blame rats for human failings?

© 2004 Roger Panaman All rights reserved