Around 35 years ago a friend of my father’s was working for a spell at Harvard University in Massachusetts.

She was quite keen to get involved with whatever was going on there, so when she saw posters for a public meeting in defence of the Afghans she decided to go along.

This was at the time of the Soviet occupation of Aghanistan. The Soviets were fighting the Mujahideen - led by one Osama bin Laden - and the conflict was dragging on for years. Afghan civilians were caught in the middle.

But when she turned up she was surprised to find that no-one was interested in the Afghan people. It was a meeting of dog lovers, dedicated to preserving and protecting Afghan hounds.

It shouldn’t really surprise us. It’s not just Britain that is a nation of animal lovers. But one of our strange characteristics is that we often seem to care more about other species than we do about members of our own.

New MPs discover that they get far more letters about animal welfare - circuses, zoos, animal experiments or fox hunting - than they get about human welfare.

I’m not saying for a moment that we shouldn’t care about animals. Laws against bear-baiting, hare coursing, fox hunting and keeping hens in battery cages are all definite steps forward for any civilised society.

There’s a movement against bull-fighting in Spain and if you’ve ever seen one you might find yourself supporting it.

But I don’t apologise for saying that humans are more important.

Mahatma Gandhi once said: "The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated." I agree up to a point. But how it treats its humans is surely a better measure.

The charity Animal Defenders International has obtained a video of a circus bear in Russia forced to perform tricks for the crowd at a football match. The animal is made to stand on its hind legs, hold a football and "clap" repeatedly.

It sounds obscene. What's also obscene is that homosexuality was only decriminalised in Russia in 1993 and was classified as a mental illness until 1999.

Things have hardly improved there for people who happen to be gay. The number of violent hate crimes against them has doubled in the last five years. Many have been murders.

That's not to mention the murders and attempted murders in Britain and other countries attributed to Russia. Maybe these need to be rectified first.

The case for vegetarianism, on health and environmental grounds as well as ethical ones, is difficult to refute.

My only counter-argument is that I like meat too much to give it up - though if Brexit means we start having to receive American chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-laden beef then I may well convert.

And a wholly vegetarian world could still be justified in killing some animals. If animal experiments can find cures or treatments for cancer or Aids or motor neurone disease or any other serious physical human illness, then they should be allowed.

They can’t be justified for testing cosmetics. No creature should be killed or made to suffer so we can have a new shampoo or mascara.

But if their deaths or suffering help to save human lives or alleviate human suffering then it’s a price worth paying. Human life is more valuable.

Those of us who can’t bring ourselves to give up animal products can at least make an effort by buying compassionately produced food, such as free range eggs, though some would complain that that isn't enough.

Others, I've found, argue that animal welfare is all bleeding-heart liberal nonsense - and not really natural. Animals ruthlessly prey on each other in the wild, and a lion doesn’t wrestle with its conscience before it goes after and kills a zebra.

Humans are animals too of course. We’re a variety of African ape and the other African apes, chimpanzees and gorillas, are closer to us than they are to Asian apes such as orangutans and gibbons.

Where we differ is that we have much bigger brains than the others, that have allowed us to build cities, write symphonies, fly to the moon, ponder the mysteries of existence and consider how we should treat our fellow animals.

One of the most important characteristics of being human is the ability to be humane.