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Monday, November 23, 2015

Lawmakers Call for Action in Wake of Mass Slaughter of Wild Horses

Members of Congress from both sides of the aisle are weighing in on the recent damning investigative report by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General, about the Bureau of Land Management’s mismanagement of our nation’s iconic wild horses.

Gary Alvis/iStock

The report concluded that the agency, under then-Interior Secretary Ken Salazar, failed to prevent a notorious livestock hauler named Tom Davis, with connections to kill buyers, from acquiring 1,794 wild horses and burros between 2008 and 2012. Davis subsequently funneled these horses to Mexico where they were slaughtered for human consumption, all under the nose of the BLM, which failed to follow its own policy of limiting horse sales and ensuring that the horses sold went to good homes and were not slaughtered.

The agency not only ignored its own rules, but also flouted congressional mandates that horses not be sent to slaughter. The Interior spending bill passed by Congress in 2009 included a provision stating that none of the BLM’s funding could be used “for the destruction of healthy, unadopted, wild horses and burros in the care of [BLM] or its contractors or for the sale of wild horses and burros that results in their destruction for processing into commercial products.” This prohibition was renewed in appropriations bills for subsequent fiscal years, covering the period that BLM was selling horses to Davis, and is still in place in the current budget.

It’s now come to light that the BLM did not heed this appropriations language. Indeed, the investigative report found that while Tom Davis purchased each horse for $10, for a total of $17,490, the BLM spent approximately $140,000 in taxpayer funds transporting those horses to Davis. Talk about government waste—for every dollar the BLM took in, it gave back nearly 19, with the net loss associated with conduct that was inhumane and criminal.

Several members of Congress are rightly calling for answers from the BLM. Congressman Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., sent a strong letter to the Secretary of the Interior demanding an explanation for why the agency ignored congressional directives. He noted, “It is unacceptable that BLM’s disregard of the law resulted in the use of taxpayer funds to facilitate the inhumane slaughter of iconic American wildlife.” We couldn’t agree more.

Congressman Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., also weighed in, requesting information on how the agency plans to recover the approximately $140,000 it spent in taxpayer funding transporting horses to Tom Davis. They also demanded a detailed explanation on what steps the BLM is taking to ensure that America’s iconic wild horses are not sent to slaughter again. They rightly observed that “BLM actions, which led to the slaughter of horses, are completely unacceptable and while BLM cannot reverse these serious errors made in the past, it is essential that the Bureau act expeditiously to prevent them from happening again.”

We are grateful to Representatives Buchanan, Farr, and Lujan Grisham for speaking out for wild horses and burros and holding the BLM to task for its actions, as well as for their leadership on H.R. 1942, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act, a bill to prohibit the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. We are hopeful that their advocacy on this issue, and the spotlight on BLM’s actions in previous years, will help ensure these iconic and majestic animals are protected from similar mismanagement and government failures in the future.

If you have a moment, please contact your U.S. Representative and two U.S. Senators and ask them to support H.R. 1942/S. 1214 to protect horses and consumers.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Governments Must Commit to Whale Protection Policies

The 1982 global moratorium on commercial whaling has been a considerable success, with tens of thousands of whales spared over the last three decades. Still, the pro-whaling nations continue to wage a well-funded, relentless campaign to attack and undermine the moratorium, often with support from the highest government levels.


That’s one reason that we celebrate the historic victory that our colleagues at Humane Society International-Australia have achieved today in a court case against Japanese whaling in the Australian federal court. The court found the Japanese whaling company Kyodo Senpaku guilty of contempt for killing minke whales in the Australian Whale Sanctuary, in breach of a 2008 injunction and Australian law. The court has fined Kyodo a total of $1million AUS—or $250,000 AUS (some $177,439 U.S.) for every year it has been whaling in the Sanctuary, a non-contiguous zone which includes Australia's Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the 200 nautical mile area surrounding the continent of Australia and its external dependencies.

It’s one of the largest penalties ever imposed under Australia’s Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, and it comes just a month or so before Japan’s whaling fleet is expected to return to the Southern Ocean, in the Antarctic, where last year, for the first time in a century, no whales were taken.

Japanese whalers stayed away from there after last year’s ruling by the UN's judicial body—the International Court of Justice (ICJ)—that Japan’s so-called scientific whaling program in Antarctic waters was not legal. Essentially, Japan had dressed-up a commercial enterprise as a scientific one, and despite the longstanding notoriety of this endeavor, it required a major legal effort, led by the Australian government (and supported by New Zealand), which brought the case to make Japan stop.

And stop it did for one season. At first, Japan agreed to abide by the court ruling but soon it became clear that Japan intended only to pause and reshape its “research program” to return to Antarctic whale killing in the name of science. Japan now claims that its new lethal research program addresses the shortcomings of the previous program identified in the ICJ ruling. There is little support from the scientific community for this premise, and of course there is no scientific need to kill whales for research.

Recently, Japan also made a formal declaration to the United Nations that it will not allow the ICJ further jurisdiction over its marine activities, thereby trying to slam the door shut on any future legal proceedings in that body. This was one more example of Japan’s determination to flout international opinion and—now—national and international law concerning commercial whaling, and it deserves a stern response from the nations of the world, including the United States. The conservation and protection of the environment and of animals, including marine mammals, demands a more serious commitment within the foreign policy of every good nation, and we’re not seeing enough of that in the world at present.

The United States is just one of the many countries that should be stepping up to confront Japan squarely for its brazen defiance of the emerging consensus that the persecution of whales in our world’s oceans must come to an end. With Humane Society International-Australia, we are calling for urgent diplomatic action at the highest political level to ask Japan to desist. Japan, and the other whaling countries, Norway and Iceland, need to know that other nations will no longer turn a blind eye to the cruelty and suffering imposed by their whaling fleets.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Senators Call on President Obama to Veto Extinction

The Endangered Species Act is under attack in Congress. A small cadre of Republican Senators and Representatives have introduced more than 80 legislative proposals in this session alone to undermine protections for certain species—such as the greater sage grouse, northern long-eared bat, and gray wolf—or to otherwise weaken this important federal statute. And it’s not just posturing and showmanship; there are a record number of harmful riders in the FY 2016 Interior appropriations bills.

ESA pic
Photo credit:

Thankfully, a group of 25 U.S. Senators—led by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif.—is standing up for sound science and conservation. They sent a letter to President Obama urging him to reject all spending bill riders that would undermine Endangered Species Act protections.

The defenders of the ESA wrote, “In 1973, as an increasing number of plant and animal species were disappearing, Congress passed the Endangered Species Act with overwhelming bipartisan support. More than 40 years later, our world’s wildlife is again at a critical point. The extinction of earth’s species is now at its highest rate since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, with human activity—including significant ecological impacts from climate change—initiating an extinction crisis on our planet. Now more than ever we need a strong, fully funded, and enforced Endangered Species Act. This law has prevented 99 percent of the species under its care from going extinct."

“We strongly urge that you oppose all appropriations riders that would undermine Endangered Species Act protections, including the rider that is included in both the Senate and House versions of the FY 2016 Interior appropriations bill that would remove federal protections for gray wolves,” the Senators concluded.

The Senate letter, in combination with a House letter sent in September by Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and 91 other Representatives urging the White House to veto any appropriations or defense bills with policy riders undermining the ESA, makes it clear that the President should stay strong and reject a final spending package with ideological ESA riders.

Some politicians talk a good game about scientific wildlife management, except when they don’t like a certain species and want to ensure that politics is positioned to trump science. They want to dictate wildlife management by legislative fiat, subverting the expertise of scientists, an established public process, and emphatic rulings by federal courts. We can’t have officials plucking animals from the endangered species list because a nattering band of their constituents are demanding it. That’s precisely why these decisions are based on the evidence presented by scientists, and that’s why there is judicial review built into the process. Their riders on wolves, for example, would hand over management to hostile states in which more than 1,700 wolves have been killed in the last few years with the aid of leghold traps, snares, packs of hounds, bait sites, clubs, and firearms. We are grateful to the lawmakers who are speaking out and injecting some common-sense into the debate.

Please add your voice to theirs, and help keep the ESA intact. Call the White House at 202-456-1111 and urge President Obama to veto extinction and reject any final spending packages that contain riders that undermine the ESA.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Washington State: Vote Yes on I-1401 to Save Animals Facing Extinction

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Voters in Washington state are filling out their mail ballots in advance of next Tuesday’s official Election Day, and they have an opportunity to make an impact and contribute to a multi-faceted global effort to save animals threatened with extinction. By voting “Yes” on I-1401, Washington voters can prohibit the purchase, sale, and distribution of products made from a list of 10 threatened and endangered animals, including elephants, rhinos, and sea turtles.

Seattle Seahawks kicker Steven Hauschka and wide receiver Jermaine Kearse are helping to spread the word about I-1401 and the importance of cracking down on wildlife trafficking. You can watch their video here.


The Save Animals Facing Extinction campaign is also running TV ads throughout the state, featuring Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, speaking on the cruelty of slaughtering elephants for their ivory and killing other magnificent creatures for the trade in their parts. Watch the ad here.


Newspapers throughout Washington have endorsed the “Yes” vote, and you can see what they have to say below. If you have friends or family in Washington state, please ask them to send in their mail ballots before Tuesday and vote “Yes” on I-1401.

If the initiative makes it to the November ballot, Washington could become the first state to have a voter-approved law of this kind. That would send a powerful message that Americans are paying attention and care deeply about this international crisis.
The Seattle Times
June 21st, 2015

It’s far too easy in much of the world to traffic in the deaths of endangered species. That’s no reason for it to be easy here, too. Vote to approve I-1401.
The Tacoma News
September 30th, 2015

While other countries have a responsibility to protect their wildlife, the United States and individual states have a responsibility to reduce the demand that encourages poaching.
The Everett Herald Net
October 9th, 2015

The murder of these creatures for their ivory, their horns or their fins is grotesque. Tens of thousands of elephants are slain each year, many by poachers killing indiscriminately with automatic weapons.
The Spokane Spokesman Review
October 10th, 2015

The impetus for the global trade is easily understood. Rhino horns can fetch about $30,000 per pound, and a pair of elephant tusks can be sold for up to $60,000 in Asia, with poachers at the start of the supply chain fetching some $3,000.
The Vancouver Columbian
October 15th, 2015

It would be one step in helping stop the extinction of valued animal species, and so, it's worth a yes vote.
The Wahkiakum County Eagle
October 15th, 2015

It warrants a yes vote.
The Yakima Herald
October 16th 2015

Thousands of species are being slaughtered unnecessarily. It’s time to end the market for these products everywhere.
The Olympian
October 17th, 2015

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Are Your Lawmakers Making the Grade?

One of the core objectives we have at the HSLF is to make it simple and efficient for voters to determine how federal lawmakers have sided on crucial animal protection legislation across a range of issues. With the end of the first term of the 114th Congress approaching, HSLF has posted a preview version of the 2015 Humane Scorecard, so you can see how your U.S. senators and U.S. representatives have performed so far in this Congress on animal protection issues. If they’ve done well, please thank them; if they have room for improvement, please let them know you’re paying attention, and that there is still time for them to do better before the final scorecard is wrapped up at the end of the year.

iStock Photo

In this preliminary report, we hold lawmakers accountable on key votes to weaken the Endangered Species Act and erode protections for imperiled species, putting our nation’s wildlife at risk, and to block the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s modest rule to crack down on the commercial ivory trade that is wreaking havoc on elephant populations. We also evaluate their support for adequate funding to enforce federal animal welfare laws, and their co-sponsorship of priority bills to protect animals including pets, horses, and animals in laboratories. We provide extra credit for legislators who took the lead on one or more animal protection issues.

Already in the last few weeks since we notified offices about which bills would count on the scorecard, we’ve seen a dramatic jump in the co-sponsor counts for each of these key bills, and we need to keep the momentum going with your help. A bill to protect victims of domestic violence and their pets has 160 co-sponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate; a bill to prevent animal cruelty and torture on federal property and in interstate commerce has 174 co-sponsors in the House and 25 in the Senate; the bill to crack down on the cruel practice of horse soring has 217 co-sponsors in the House and 49 in the Senate; the horse slaughter bill has 173 co-sponsors in the House and 28 in the Senate; and the bill to phase out cosmetic testing on live animals has 125 co-sponsors in the House.

Building the number of co-sponsors on a bill is an important way to show that there is a critical mass of bipartisan support for the policy, warranting floor consideration, and to help push the legislation over the finish line. This is especially important as we enter the second half of a two-year session.

Please check the scorecard charts and call your two U.S. senators and your U.S. representative today. Thank each of them for their support of the bills that they’re already co-sponsoring and urge them to join on any of the animal protection bills being counted on the 2015 Humane Scorecard that they’re not yet co-sponsoring. This preview will be updated online periodically throughout the fall, and legislators will have until the end of the first term of the 114th Congress to receive credit on the final version of our Humane Scorecard that will be printed in January.

You can look up your federal legislators here, and then call the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to be connected to each of your legislators. Here are the animal protection bills that will count on the scorecard and we hope will gather additional co-sponsors before year’s end:


Pets and Domestic Violence —S. 1559 and H.R. 1258, the Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Gary Peters, D-Mich., and Reps. Katherine Clarke, D-Mass., and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., this bill will make it harder for abusers to prey on their battered partners and their pets by allowing pets to be protected across state lines when restraining orders are issued in domestic violence and stalking cases; and authorizing grant money so that domestic violence shelters can accommodate pets (currently, only 3 percent of these shelters allow pets) or help arrange for pet shelter. This legislation will help an estimated one-third of domestic violence victims escape from an abusive partner—these are victims who delay their decision to leave a violent situation out of fear for their pets’ safety. Violence toward humans is closely related to animal cruelty; up to 84 percent of women entering domestic violence shelters reported that their partners abused or killed their family pet.

Animal Cruelty —S. 1831 and H.R. 2293, the Preventing Animal Cruelty and Torture (PACT) Act. Introduced by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Reps. Lamar Smith, R-Texas, Ted Deutch, D-Fla., Tom Marino, R-Pa., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., this bill will strengthen the federal animal crush video law enacted in 2010 (which banned the creation, sale, and distribution of obscene videos that show the intentional crushing, burning, drowning, suffocating, or impaling of live animals) to prohibit those same extreme acts of animal cruelty when they occur in interstate or foreign commerce, regardless of whether a video is produced. All 50 states have felony penalties for malicious cruelty to animals. This legislation would complement the states’ anti-cruelty laws in the same way that the federal animal fighting statute complements state animal fighting laws, providing an additional tool to be employed when extreme animal cruelty occurs on federal property or otherwise in interstate commerce.

Jennifer Kunz/The HSUS

Horse Soring —S. 1121 and H.R. 3268, the Prevent All Soring Tactics (PAST) Act. Introduced by Sens. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., and Mark Warner, D-Va., and Reps. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., Mike Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., David Jolly, R-Fla., and Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., this bill will amend existing federal law to better crack down on the cruel practice of “soring,” in which unscrupulous trainers deliberately inflict pain on the hooves and legs of Tennessee walking horses with caustic chemicals, heavy chains, sharp objects, and other gruesome techniques to force them to perform an unnaturally high-stepping gait and gain unfair competitive advantage at horse shows. This legislation would amend the Horse Protection Act to end the failed system of industry self-policing, ban the use of devices associated with soring, strengthen penalties, and make illegal the actual soring of a horse.

Horse Slaughter —S. 1214 and H.R. 1942, the Safeguard American Food Exports (SAFE) Act. Introduced by Sens. Robert Menendez, D-N.J., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Reps. Frank Guinta, R-N.H., Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., Vern Buchanan, R-Fla., and Michelle Lujan Grisham, D-N.M., this bill would protect horses and consumers by prohibiting the transport and export of U.S. horses to slaughter for human consumption. American horses are not raised for food and are routinely given numerous drugs over their lifetimes that can be toxic to humans if ingested. Kill buyers round up horses from random sources, and these companion animals or working animals are shipped for long distances and are often seriously injured or killed in transit. At the slaughter plant, the methods used to kill horses rarely result in quick, painless deaths.


Animal Testing for Cosmetics—H.R. 2858, the Humane Cosmetics Act. Introduced by Reps. Martha McSally, R-Ariz., Don Beyer, D-Va., Joe Heck, R-Nev., and Tony Cárdenas, D-Calif., this bill would phase out the testing of cosmetics on live animals and the sale of newly animal-tested cosmetics in the U.S. While most manufacturers no longer test finished products on animals, some animal tests are still conducted on rabbits, guinea pigs, rats, and mice for assessing ingredients. Animals have substances forced down their throats, dripped in their eyes, or smeared onto their skin, usually without pain relief. These tests are not predictive of the human experience so their results are unreliable for consumer safety. There are many alternative methods to ensure that products are safe for human use. More than 1.7 billion consumers live in countries that have banned cosmetics testing on animals and the sale of cosmetics tested on animals. H.R. 2858 will help the U.S. remain competitive in the global market and create a key incentive for cosmetics to be tested here with cutting-edge technologies that are more humane, faster to perform, and less costly to industry than animal testing.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Wildlife Refuges -- Not Always A Refuge for Wildlife

Every year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service celebrates our country’s wildlife refuges with National Wildlife Refuge Week. Since Teddy Roosevelt’s simple “I so declare it” established Florida’s Pelican Island as the first refuge in 1903, 150 million acres of land and water have been set aside to serve as protected habitat for thousands of species. Visitors to these areas reconnect with nature through a variety of activities, including wildlife watching, hiking, kayaking, and photography.

Cynthia Barstad/South Florida Wildlife Center
A raccoon being treated at the South Florida Wildlife Center
after getting her leg caught in a leghold trap.

Few of the 46.5 million annual visitors to the “nation’s premier habitat conservation network,” however, realize that another activity occurring on these public lands—one never intended or anticipated even by the sportsman Teddy Roosevelt—puts the wildlife they’re striving to protect, as well as themselves, their children, and their pets, at serious risk.

The use of cruel, body-gripping traps is allowed on the majority of national wildlife refuges across America. Since much of the killing is done so the trappers can sell the fur pelts, it’s a private commercialization of wildlife and type of market hunting that flies in the face of 21st century wildlife management. And it violates the spirit of the vision that Roosevelt laid out for our national wildlands, too.

The killing devices include steel-jawed leghold traps that clamp down on an animal’s limb, body-crushing Conibear traps often set under water to drown the animals, and wire snares that are designed to strangle the trapped animal’s neck. Many of the animals caught in these traps experience excruciating pain and may resort to chewing or twisting off their limbs in a desperate attempt to escape. Because trappers often don’t have to return for at least 24 hours, the victims are left suffering for hours before being put out of their misery. More than 80 countries and several states have banned leghold traps, but they remain the most commonly used traps in the U.S.

Trappers intentionally kill as many as six million animals every year for recreation and commerce in fur pelts. But this astonishing number doesn’t even include the countless non-target species that are caught. Body-gripping traps are notoriously indiscriminate, and each year there are new horrifying tales of accidental victims, including beloved family pets and endangered species that are injured, maimed, and killed in these devices.

The lucky ones who survive their initial injuries may just need to have a limb amputated, but there are far too many cases where a pet owner simply didn’t get there in time or wasn’t able to free their pet before it was too late. And we cannot forget the story of Cub, the heroic dog who was rescued after he was found hobbling down the road on the exposed bones of his back legs. Veterinarians believe Cub’s hind legs had been caught in a trap, and he had to chew his way out. Although Cub has recovered and been adopted into a loving home, countless other animals aren’t as lucky.

Body-gripping traps pose a serious threat to public safety, especially on public lands visited by millions of American families. Just a few months ago, a 12-year old boy’s hand was smashed inside a Conibear trap. After he was rushed to the emergency room, it took six people to get the trap off his hand. This case should be an outrage to us all. The use of such traps is an unacceptable risk to human safety and has no place on federal lands.

With traditional hunting, sportsmen often talk about eating the meat of the animal, being selective with their targets, and making the kill as quick and humane as possible. None of these things are achieved with traps, which are like landmines, killing and injuring any animal who triggers them, causing them to suffer for long periods of time, and all for the commercial fur trade, not for food.

U.S. Senator Cory Booker, D-N.J., and U.S. Rep. Nita Lowey D-N.Y., are working to make our wildlife refuges safe from these body-gripping traps. They’ve introduced the Refuge from Cruel Trapping Act, S. 1081 and H.R. 2016, which would prohibit the use of body-gripping traps on national wildlife refuges, sparing countless animals from the cruel torture of these archaic killing devices.

The very concept of a refuge invokes the idea of shelter and protection, but if body-gripping traps are still allowed on these public lands, people and animals will remain at serious risk. Please contact your members of Congress and urge them to support S.1081 and H.R. 2016 (you can find your members of Congress here).

Friday, October 16, 2015

HSLF TV Ad: David Vitter for Governor

The Humane Society Legislative Fund today began airing a new TV ad in Louisiana, urging voters in the state to support Republican U.S. Sen. David Vitter in the competitive gubernatorial race. You can watch the TV ad here.

The primary election is just eight days away, on October 24, and if no candidate breaks 50 percent, the top two vote-getters will face each other in a run-off in November. The race has considerably tightened, with the latest polls showing Democratic State Rep. John Bel Edwards is almost certain to make the run-off, and the question is whether Vitter will be the Republican candidate. We are working hard to make sure he is.

During his two terms in the Senate, Vitter has been one of the most effective champions of animal protection we have seen. He sponsored legislation to crack down on abusive puppy mills, and worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to set standards of animal care for Internet puppy sellers. He led the fight on the Senate floor to strengthen the penalties for animal fighting and make it a crime to attend or bring a child to an animal fight.

Vitter sponsored bills to ban the trade in primates as pets and to ultimately replace testing of chemicals on animals. He worked to stop horse soring, crush videos, and secure funding for the enforcement of animal protection laws. He sought to ensure that pets are included in disaster plans after Hurricane Katrina, and received the 2011 Humane Legislator of the Year Award.

HSLF plays a unique role in the humane movement, not least because it is able to back lawmakers who are the leading champions of animal protection, regardless of party affiliation, when they are up for re-election or seeking another office. Our opponents who advocate for puppy mills, factory farms, wildlife trafficking, and other abuses are active in elections, and they too have their champions. That’s why animal advocates must become a powerful and organized political force, compete effectively in the process, and help humane-minded candidates win election to public office.

If you have friends and family in Louisiana, please share our TV ad, and let them know David Vitter is fighting for animals.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Lawmakers Should Support, Not Stymie, Proposed Rule to Stop Elephant Slaughter

It’s hard to reconcile the overwhelming support in this country for protecting elephants from poaching and slaughter for their ivory tusks, with the idea that some politicians in Congress are working to stymie efforts to address the crisis. The Interior appropriations bill passed by the House of Representatives includes a harmful provision that would block any rulemaking by the Obama administration to crack down on the ivory trade. 

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

There is an epidemic of elephant poaching in Africa, claiming as many as 35,000 elephants each year throughout their range, and threatening the viability of the species. Much of the killing is done by terrorist groups, with the sale of the animals’ tusks financing murderous activities of al-Shabaab, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and the Janjaweed. 

In fact, just yesterday rangers in Zimbabwe’s Hwange national park discovered the carcasses of 26 elephants, dead of cyanide poisoning. This was in addition to 14 other elephants found last week, also killed by poisoning. All for their tusks. And this is nothing new, in 2013 as many as 300 elephants died in Hwange park from cyanide poisoning, a particularly cruel form of killing that often affects more than just its intended target.

Poachers lace waterholes and salt licks with cyanide, which elephants, in addition to many other animals, are drawn to during the dry season. After the elephants die—often collapsing just a few yards away—lions, hyenas and vultures are poisoned by feeding on their carcasses, as are other animals such as kudu and buffalo sharing the same waterholes. In fact, one of the first mass poisonings in Hwange  national park was discovered after an unusually high number of corpses of endangered white-backed vultures were found near the toxic carcasses of poisoned elephants.

The destruction of elephants is not only a threat to international security and to the very survival of elephants and other species, but it also jeopardizes billions in commerce generated from ecotourism—a bulwark of the economy for so many African nations.

The biggest ivory-selling markets in the world are in China and the U.S., and these sales are fueling the slaughter of elephants thousands of miles away. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service published a carefully balanced proposed rule to crack down on the domestic illegal ivory market, while protecting legal owners of antique ivory.

Fortunately, many lawmakers are standing up for the proposed rule. A bipartisan group of 108 House members, led by Reps. Betty McCollum, D-Minn. and Peter King, R-N.Y., have written to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in strong support of the action, noting:

FWS’s proposed rule on African elephant ivory would close loopholes that have allowed illegal ivory trade to penetrate the U.S. commercial market—most notably by taking the common-sense step of shifting the burden of proof of age and provenance to the person seeking to sell an item containing ivory—while continuing to allow our constituents to buy and sell items like firearms, knives, musical instruments and furnishings that are either bona fide antiques or contain only a small amount of legally-imported ivory that does not constitute the item’s primary source of value. Furthermore, the proposed rule would also tighten the existing restrictions on the exportation of manufactured ivory to stop the disturbing trend of the United States serving as a transit country for shipping illegal ivory from source countries to markets in Asia. We appreciate that nothing in the proposal would make possession, bequests or gift-giving of ivory illegal.

We are grateful to these lawmakers for supporting a policy that will benefit global security, economic development, and conservation and animal welfare, and a sound process that has included key stakeholders. The administration should finalize its work on this proposed rule without delay, and should fight any attempt by Congress to block the ivory rule and enable elephant poaching. 

Thursday, October 08, 2015

All Aboard Fido and Whiskers! Amtrak Announces Expansion of Pets Aboard Program

Amtrak announced today that it is expanding its Pets Aboard program and passengers will now be able to travel with small pets on select trains along the east coast and northeast corridor. The pilot program was originally launched in Illinois, and now will expand to routes from Boston to Lynchburg, Newport News and Norfolk, Va., and between Boston and Brunswick, Maine.

iStock photo

Members of Congress have been working to get pets on board, with U.S. Reps. Jeff Denham, R-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., introducing the Pets on Trains Act, H.R. 674 and S. 1087. We are grateful to these lawmakers for making the argument that the national rail operator must implement a pet policy, and to Amtrak for taking action to expand the successful program. Their legislation certainly got the attention of Amtrak, and prompted this move to allow for pet transport in the heavily trafficked northeast corridor, which serves 11 million customers annually (about, a third of all Amtrak passengers).

Between New York and Washington, D.C., Amtrak carries three times as many people as the airlines do. Amtrak will designate one car on passenger trains for pets and there will be reasonable requirements for pet owners who take advantage of the policy, such as keeping the pet in a kennel or carrier on trips shorter than seven hours and paying a fee that covers the costs.

If expanded nationwide, this won’t cost the federal government or Amtrak any additional funds, but will help American pet owners and honor and keep intact the human-animal bond. And it could be a profit generator for the train operator, as Americans are spending more every year on their pets and may want to take their best friend along on vacation or business travel.

Most importantly, it will have a practical impact on the lives of many pets and their families, like Cassie and Boots. Cassie was moving from New York City to Spring Lake, North Carolina, and was devastated by the idea of giving up her five-year-old cat, Boots, who had been her beloved companion since he was a kitten. She was traveling to her new home by Amtrak, which didn’t allow pets, and Cassie couldn’t afford to fly Boots separately on an airplane.

Fortunately, The Humane Society of the United States arranged a flight for Boots to Raleigh-Durham, and a volunteer rented a car to drive the cat 75 miles to Cassie’s new home. But many families, especially in regions of the country where train travel is the most affordable or most convenient option, are not as lucky.

When you can take your dog or cat on an airplane, and stay with your pet in many hotels, it makes little sense that you couldn’t have a companion animal travel with your family on a passenger train. The tide is turning on this issue, thanks to Congress and Amtrak getting the new policy out of the station.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

First Pets Lead the Way on Disaster Preparedness

September is National Preparedness Month, and with Hurricane Joaquin approaching the Bahamas and possibly impacting the East Coast, it’s more important than ever to have a disaster plan ready to keep your family (including your pets) safe.

My rescued kitten, Basil, has a new video and checklist with resources for creating a basic pet disaster preparedness kit. Check it out at

I’m really pleased that today, as part of America’s PrepareAthon!, the White House has released a new disaster preparedness video featuring the Obama family’s pets, Bo and Sunny.

The First Dogs are spreading the word to millions of animal lovers nationwide, about the importance of being prepared with basic items such as pet food, medications, veterinary records, bottled water, a manual can opener, food dishes, cat litter, up to date pet photos and ID tags and other supplies. The White House has other resources for pet owners available online at

We are grateful to the Obama family and administration for spreading the message that preparing for a disaster means making sure a plan is in place for all members of the family—including our beloved pets. Watch the video below on how to include your pets in your disaster preparedness plan, and for more resources on staying safe during a disaster, visit


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