Interviews Lifestyle

Animal Influencers: The Hen That Initiated Social Change

A four-year old hen Cypke from Lithuania uses her online platform to advocate for animals' rights globally

We often come across cute pictures or videos of charming pets that instantly light up our mood. Whilst most social media animals have an army of loyal followers and are here to make us smile, some of them are trying to create social change. One of the advocates for animal justice is Lithuania’s social media star, four-year-old hen Cypke.

Hen Cypke. Photo by Gerda Zemaityte, Lempa foto

Cypke was a regular egg-laying hen on a small family farm, just like many others, until her life shifted drastically in 2017. Then Lithuanian animal rights activist Lukas Jasiunas who describes himself as an open-minded, passionate about change and striving to make a positive impact person, and his then-girlfriend Anna Zabezsinszkij rescued Cypke and another hen Juoda and took the birds under their wing. According to Lukas, the rescue mission happened spontaneously. “We noticed an injured hen. We were told that she’d broken her leg. We were informed that no one will treat her and that she’d be killed, so, naturally, we took her in”, says Jasiunas. “We would’ve done the same with any other animal given similar circumstances.” This selfless act led to the establishment of Babbitty Rabbitty and Rosehip Micro Sanctuary, a non-profit initiative that gives pets and farmed animals shelter and loves all of them equally.

Lukas Jasiunas with Cypke (on the left) and Juoda (on the right). Source: Jasiunas’ personal album

Babbitty Rabbitty and Rosehip Micro Sanctuary is not the only group in Lithuania that is dedicated to helping animals. In fact, besides Lukas’ initiative, there are 67 registered animal welfare organisations. Lukas points out that most funding in Lithuania is directed to companion animal charities and shelters, which should account for the vast majority of animal welfare organisations registered in the country. “This number is deceptively high since cause areas such as farmed animal welfare, animal policy work, and wild animal suffering (having the potential to impact the majority of animals alive at any given time and the most of the total suffering) do not receive the attention they deserve”, says Jasiunas. In comparison, it is considered that England has more than 1,000 organisations that take care of the animals.

Cypke’s journey of stardom began when the Lithuanian founder of the first farmed animal sanctuary Three Little Pigs in all three Baltic countries, Viktorija Naujokaite, was asked to do an interview with the Lithuanian public broadcaster LRT about chickens’ welfare, care, and natural needs, but she instead decided to guide reporters to the Cypke’s location. This interview portrayed Cypke and her friend Juoda as companion animals with their own individual identities, not commodities. Besides LRT, popular Lithuanian hen was acknowledged by other country’s media outlets such as DELFI and 15min. International media also noticed an exceptional hen, which led to another interview with Hungarian breakfast programme Reggeli.

Hens Cypke and Nijolina. Photo by Gerda Zemaityte, Lempa foto

The media’s attention does not really scare this charming hen, as Cypke is a born-to-be model that seems to be intrigued by the cameras and her reflection in them. “I think she’s a great advocate for hens worldwide. I find that many people can relate to her curious and persistent personality, rethinking the impact their dietary habits have,” says Lukas Jasiunas. “We are really glad that she enjoys the attention she receives and taking part in photoshoots.” Another of Cypke’s caretakers and representatives, Beatrice Narkeviciute, also feels optimistic about hen’s success. “I think people love the character that was set up for her, and personally, I think, it reflects her nature quite well too”. However, this celebrity bird prefers not to be carried or held by strangers, and during her professional photoshoots and interviews, Cypke is accompanied by at least one of her caretakers, who always try to ensure that the bird feels comfortable and stays hydrated. “We try to give her as many breaks as she needs to be protected from unnecessary stress and pressure”, says Beatrice.

Hens Cypke and Nijolina. Photo by Gerda Zemaityte, Lempa foto

One of Cypke’s biggest personal issues in Lithuania is finding a vet. “Although chickens are one of the most predominantly farmed species of animals, the only specialists who are knowledgeable enough and can treat them are exotic animal vets”, says Beatrice Narkeviciute, Cypke’s representative. “It perfectly illustrates the absurdity and the real misery of the situation when it comes to treating farmed birds”.

Hen Cypke. Source: Lukas Jasiunas’ personal album

In terms of the differences between natural hens and commercial chickens, humanity has done huge damage because of the high demand for birds in the global market. Nowadays, commercial chickens are made to lay about 300 eggs per year. For instance, each day in the UK, people consume over 30 million eggs per day. This genetic change of egg-laying is damaging, as hens would naturally live for 6 or more years, but after 12 months of laying, their productivity will begin to weaken, which leads to the majority of commercial laying hens being slaughtered and replaced. Also, as chickens have to produce a high number of eggs, they lose a lot of calcium which makes their bones too brittle. Another painful issue that commercial chickens encounter is their living conditions. For instance, despite the EU’s ban on battery cages in 2012, still over 60 per cent of industrial eggs globally are supplied in barren battery cages. These cages fill 10 birds in one place, and the overall cage’s height doesn’t let hens stand. Moreover, imprisoned industrial birds never see the natural daylight, breathe the fresh air, and are only taken out to be killed.

Differences between industrial hens and companion hens

The more humane chicken-keeping practises are barns and aviaries because they allow industrial hens to have more freedom. However, the best alternatives so far are free-range systems that count about 50% of all eggs produced in the UK. In free-range systems, hens still live in barns or aviaries, but they also have permanent access to the outdoors with natural greenery.

Hen Cypke. Source: Lukas Jasiunas’ personal album

For the most part, Lithuanian society has reacted positively to the widely recognised hen, as Cypke receives a lot of friend requests on Facebook, also private messages or flattering comments, but some people treat Cypke’s story as a joke. “It is easy to reject that chickens are valuable and can be cared for as any other companion animal we are used to”, says Beatrice Narkeviciute. “It is far easier than to rethink one’s choices or review other options on how one could help these animals.” According to Beatrice, Cypke has a strong sense of curiosity, as she will be the first who will be interested in unusual sounds or check out the new objects. Cypke is also bold and independent and does not like to display affection. “She is not very affectionate and keeps her distance especially from strangers, which is completely understandable as she was born and had spent a lot of time at the farm not making close contact with humans”, Beatrice tells me. “There is no doubt that it had an impact on her developing personality.”

Beatrice Narkeviciute and Cypke. Source: Lukas Jasiunas’ personal album

Beatrice wants global society to know that Cypke’s experience asks us to change our perspective, expand our views regarding farmed animals and provide them with better living conditions. “Cypke’s story is not only inspiring but also awakening”, says Beatrice. “It raises awareness about the suffering involved in farming these sentient animals who are capable of feeling pain and joy.” Beatrice also reminds us that everyone can contribute to a better future for farmed animals, even when we don’t think so. One of the ways to help is by signing the petition created by Open Cages. “If you would like to become an ally and support chickens like Cypke who suffer and die from health implications of selective breeding, please consider signing the petition to stop selling Franken-Chickens – growing 300% faster than they forebears.”

Follow Cypke’s journey here:

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