Commenting Guidelines

    • The HSLF invites comments—pro and con. Keep them clean. Keep them lively. Adhere to our guiding philosophy of non-violence. And please understand, this is not an open post. We publish samplers of comments to keep the conversation going. We correct misspellings and typos when we find them.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The killing of coyotes: From violent video to the federal war on wildlife

With the trial scheduled to begin today, a last-minute plea agreement was reached in the case against a Michigan hound hunter in connection with the gruesome killing of a coyote captured in a YouTube video. A second defendant, facing a felony charge of torturing an animal and misdemeanors for animal cruelty and failure to kill wounded game, was found not guilty a few months ago.

Coyote-ffawc-Allison-Gibson-270x240
Photo courtesy of Allison Gibson/For The HSUS

The outcome of this case should be disappointing to anyone who stomached the tough stuff on these sickening snuff films, which showed decidedly dark behavior about as far removed from responsible hunting as you can get. These films were disquieting portrayals of dead-eyed apathy to the suffering of living beings.

In the first video, a coyote, injured and prostrate after suffering several gunshot wounds, lies in the snow as a narrator records the animal’s suffering and describes his intent to “let [the dogs] finish him off.” The barking and braying of hounds can be heard in the distance, and when the dogs finally reach the wounded creature, the resulting “fight” is more brutal, deflating, and outright soul-crushing than you can imagine. The cries of the wounded creature as he weakly attempts to defend himself only get shriller, more desperate and high-pitched until finally it ends, the animal’s life essence bleeding out and turning the snow to crimson. A 12-year-old child looks on as the dogs tear the creature to shreds—as if it were some sort of enjoyable or educational experience.

The second video depicts another coyote lying in the road, having been run down and hit intentionally by the truck from which the videographer films the animal’s agonizing final moments. For several minutes, the animal is left to the realities of his pain and imminent death, before he is eventually shot with a pistol from the vehicle.

In the hounding case, a jury found the cruelty statute applicable only to domesticated companion animals like dogs and cats, and not to wild animals in a hunting situation. Meanwhile, the hunter in the road killing case pled guilty to reckless use of a firearm, despite the appalling sequence of conduct that involved intentionally running down a coyote with a car.

The hunting ethic calls for a clean and quick kill, and these two individuals were seeking just the opposite—to prolong the animals’ agony for sadistic sport. Any responsible hunter or decent-minded person should call for the state and federal laws to be strengthened, to clearly punish the malicious torture of a defenseless animal.

While there are individual acts of cruelty to coyotes that go beyond the pale, there are also more concerted and normalized campaigns against these creatures. For 30 years, the federal government waged war on coyotes, killing millions of them in a scorched-earth campaign to eliminate unwanted animals from the United States. The result—aside from coyotes’ biological adaptation and the spread of ever more of them throughout the country—was a national hardening of conscience against them.

As writer and historian Dan Flores describes in the recent book, “Coyote America: A Natural and Supernatural History,” they became scapegoats and targets of an irrational animus, despite field observations from revered biologists like Adolph Murie who documented them as intelligent animals capable of a wide range of emotions. As Flores wrote this month in a New York Times op-ed, “No other wild animal in American history has suffered the kind of deliberate, and casual, persecution we have rained down on coyotes.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s century-old “Wildlife Services” program is a little known, taxpayer-funded agency that principally focuses on the outdated and inefficient model of lethal control when it comes to human-wildlife conflict. And the killing it authorizes and carries out routinely utilizes shockingly inhumane and indiscriminate methods, such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning to kill tens of thousands of coyotes each year. These animals are poisoned, gassed, shot from the ground and from aircraft, and killed in painful traps and snares to benefit private ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands.

There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts and provides training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions. But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past. It exterminates wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill. 

We have a right to expect better from our government, especially when humane alternatives are on the rise. The Obama administration should ban the most inhumane and indiscriminate methods of killing coyotes, and bring much-needed reform to this outdated and wasteful government program. It would be an amazing capstone to a presidency that has already produced substantial benefits and protections to animals.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Trump's ag A-team a royal flush of animal protection haters

We already knew that Donald Trump would be bad news for wildlife—he’s got two sons who travel the globe to slay rare wildlife, and the elder son has indicated he wants to serve as Secretary of the Interior. But now we know that his Secretary of Agriculture—also a critical post for animal welfare—could be murder on other animals.

Calf-Greg-Latza-HSUS-240x270
Photo courtesy of Greg Latza/For The HSUS

Donald Trump’s newly-announced Agricultural Advisory Committee is a veritable rogues gallery of anti-animal crusaders. The group boasts a wealthy funder of an anti-animal super PAC, politicians who sponsored state “ag-gag” measures and opposed the most modest animal welfare bills, and leaders of the factory farming industry. It’s an unmistakable signal from the Trump campaign that he will be an opponent of animal welfare—a show of overt hostility toward the cause of animal protection that raises serious concerns for the humane movement about a potential Trump administration.

One member of the committee is Forrest Lucas, the money man behind the so-called Protect the Harvest, a front group devoted to fighting animal welfare organizations at every turn, on everything. A peevish advocate of trophy hunting, puppy mills, and big agribusiness, Lucas has never met a case of animal exploitation he wouldn’t defend. He and his group opposed efforts to establish felony-level penalties for malicious cruelty against dogs, cats, and horses; set standards for the care of dogs in large-scale commercial puppy mills; and even promote the spaying and neutering of pets, and provide adequate shelter for dogs to protect them from the elements. He put hundreds of thousands of dollars into fighting an anti-puppy mill ballot measure in Missouri, he formed a super PAC specifically to defeat animal advocates, and started a film company to produce fictional dramas on animal issues with an ideological bent. He may be the leading anti-animal advocate in the United States, and he’s got a front row seat in the Trump administration.

Former Nebraska Gov. Dave Heineman is also among the names announced by the campaign, and he brings a track record as one of the nation’s most ardent anti-animal welfare governors. Heineman vetoed a bill to stop the trophy hunting of mountain lions—even though the state legislature had acted on the killing of these inedible wild cats. He’s also been a horrid demagogue in defending factory farming, saying that he was going to “kick HSUS’s ass” out of the state and unapologetically defending battery cages and gestation crates.

Then there’s Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad, the first governor in the United States to sign an ag-gag measure into law. Designed to shield agribusiness interests from public scrutiny by punishing whistleblowers, ag-gag bills give factory farmers unbridled and unchecked power over worker safety, public health, and animal welfare.

Also on Trump’s council is former Iowa state Rep. Annette Sweeney, the lawmaker who conceived of and originally introduced this troubling affront to free speech. Branstad and Heineman both signed on to the federal lawsuit to invalidate California’s law restricting the sale of eggs from barren battery cages—fortunately, they lost that lawsuit in court.

Recent reports suggest that Iowa factory farming mogul Bruce Rastetter may be Trump’s leading candidate for Secretary of Agriculture, so his inclusion on the council is unsurprising. Rastetter has made a fortune off the kind of industrial agricultural practices that family farmers and animal advocates have fought for decades, and was connected to Trump through New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had vetoed a state ban on cruel pig gestation crates in a sop to Iowa’s pork industry. Considering the fact Rastetter’s brother is CEO of a company that builds gestation crates, we have good reason to be concerned about the potential for crony capitalist dealings in a Trump administration.

Also included in this gathering of the biggest anti-animal welfare names is Texas state agriculture commissioner Sid Miller, who called Meatless Mondays “treasonous.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture enforces the federal laws on humane slaughter, animal fighting, horse soring, and animal care at thousands of puppy mills, research laboratories, circuses, roadside zoos, and other facilities. Over the last few years, the agency has taken steps to prevent the slaughter of downer cows and veal calves; fortify the enforcement of the Horse Protection Act; ban imports of puppies from foreign puppy mills and require licensing and inspection of Internet puppy sellers; improve disaster planning for animals; and restrict public contact and exhibition of tiger cubs.

Just imagine a concentration of anti-animal hardliners in the next administration unwinding so much of that progress, repealing dozens of Obama administration rulemaking actions for animals, and giving the keys of the USDA to the most vitriolic, extreme voices in animal welfare. It’s a frightening thought, and animal advocates should be asking this question in the months ahead: Would a Trump administration oppose humane-minded reforms and side with fringe interests over the values of mainstream Americans when it comes to animal welfare rules and enforcement? Given the membership of this council, he’s charted a path directly to that goal.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Trumps stump for the Walter Palmer vote

Donald Trump’s sons reportedly took a break from their roles as their father’s surrogates in the hotly contested presidential election last week to pursue their most favored leisure activity: killing wild animals in far off places for their heads and hides, including the rarest species in the world. 

Lion-Vanessa-Mignon-270x240
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

It wasn’t their first time out, as Donald Jr. and Eric Trump have made no secret of their predilection for trophy hunting, and Donald Jr. especially has been organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The brothers were chastised by the media for a series of gruesome photographs documenting their kills, which included a leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures. Donald. Jr. even held up the tail of an African elephant he’d killed.

It’s unclear what species are in their crosshairs on this latest hunting trip. Bloomberg reported that the Trumps’ hunting party was headed to Yukon, while an Instagram post by Donald Jr. was geotagged “Yellowknife Airport” in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Whatever the exact details of the excursion, these are areas that offer all kinds of guided trophy hunts of grizzly bears, wolves, wolverines, Dall sheep, caribou, and other creatures. It’s the kind of place wealthy Safari Club International members might go in search of some awards for the record book, such as the “North American 29,” the “Predators of the World,” or the “Bears of the World.” 

When animal activists interrupted a Hillary Clinton rally last week in Las Vegas as an attention-getting action—even though there was no specific grievance against her—Clinton responded nimbly, noting, “Apparently these people are here to protest Trump because Trump and his kids have killed a lot of animals.” That’s an image that could hurt Trump with mainstream voters, especially independents and Republican women. The lifestyle the Trump sons are living—spending tens of thousands hopscotching the planet to amass heads and hides of the rarest and most majestic animals on earth—is more on par with the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the wealthy dentist who shot Cecil the lion) than it is with rank-and-file sportsmen or conservationists.

In defense of their recreational pursuits, the Trumps and their lot trot out the same tired arguments about hunting and conservation that trophy hunters have been employing for decades. But times have changed, and nations all around the world are beginning to understand the economic value of keeping animals in the wild rather than offering them up to the highest bidders for shooting and stuffing.

In 1977, Kenya banned sport hunting to preserve ecotourism. In 2012, Costa Rica did the same, followed by Botswana in 2014. These decisions are well-founded in economic analysis. A 2012 impact study of nine African countries found that ecotourism brought in 56 times more money than trophy hunting. A congressional report released this year found little evidence that the money spent by trophy hunters is actually being used for conservation, mostly due to government corruption, lax enforcement, a lack of transparency, and poorly managed wildlife programs.

After all, Cecil was a famous lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where he lived with his family—a pride of female lions and their cubs. His magnificent, awe-inspiring presence was enjoyed by thousands of visitors. His death was enjoyed by only one person. But what is the value of living Cecils—whether they are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, or any of the other animals sought by big-game hunters—as compared to the value of dead specimens? An American dentist paid $55,000 to shoot Cecil, but it’s estimated that a living Cecil would have generated nearly $1 million in tourism over his lifetime.

This isn’t about picking on the family of a presidential candidate. The candidate has these two men at the center of communications and strategy for the campaign. They are his surrogates, meeting with officials of the NRA, Safari Club International, and other trophy hunting interests. In the wake of Cecil’s killing, a nationwide survey by HBO Real Sports/Marist Poll showed that 86 percent of Americans disapprove of big-game hunting. The Trumps should pay attention to these figures when they return from the hunting trail to the campaign trail. 

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

No political pay-off for anti-wolf Michigan state senator

The Michigan state legislature’s leading anti-animal politician—a zealous crusader for the trophy hunting and trapping of wolves and a serial exaggerator about wolf encounters in the Upper Peninsula—lost by a substantial margin in a Republican primary for the U.S. House seat in the state’s northernmost congressional district.

Wolf-blog-istock
iStock Photo

State Sen. Tom Casperson, of Escanaba, received only 32 percent of the vote in the 1st congressional district, the state’s largest and most rural. The victor, retired Lt. General Jack Bergman, a 40-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, ran and won his first campaign with 38 percent of the vote in what could only be considered a political upset. Bergman, who also defeated state Sen. Jason Allen in the contest, will go on to face Democrat Lon Johnson in the general election.

Casperson had been at the center of a jarring MLive investigative series on how state politicians used exaggerated or completely fabricated tales of wolf incidents to justify stripping away legal protection for wolves and opening a trophy hunting season on the state’s small wolf population. He exemplified demagoguery at its worst, using half-truths, falsehoods, and distortion to advance policy decisions, and trying to cover up the mistakes he and his colleagues made by denying Michigan voters the opportunity to weigh in on the issue.

He was the author of a state measure urging Congress to remove wolves from protected status under the Endangered Species Act, and pushed through a resolution stating, “Wolves appeared multiple times in the backyard of a daycare center shortly after the children were allowed outside to play. Federal agents disposed of three wolves in that backyard because of the potential danger to the children.”

As MLive reported, however, “there were no children in the backyard. There was a single wolf, not three. No wolves were shot there, on that day or any day... It is the story of how Michigan lawmakers embraced an account that never happened, and it is the story of how they sent it to Congress for consideration—opening the door for a hunt.”

The fact is, Casperson lobbied the federal government to take away wolves’ protection under the Endangered Species Act, as a prelude to his own legislative action to execute a state wolf hunting program. Specifically, once those federal protections were out of the way, Casperson led the legislature to pass a state bill during the lame-duck session to make the wolf a game species, again using exaggerated numbers about wolf depredation derived from one farm with reckless management practices. When Michigan voters collected more than 250,000 signatures to correct this mistake and place the wolf hunting law on the statewide ballot, Casperson authored and the legislature passed a second law to give power to the unelected, politically appointed Natural Resources Commission, making an end run around the voters since the commission’s decisions are not subject to any voter referendum.

After being exposed for his fictional account about wolves at a daycare center, Casperson took to the floor of the state Senate and apologized to his colleagues and to voters, acknowledging, “I was mistaken, I am accountable, and I am sorry. Words matter. Accuracy matters. Especially here, with a topic that is so emotional and is so important to so many, especially those whose way of life is being changed in my district. A decision here of whether or not we use sound science to manage wolves, as with all decisions this body makes, should not be based on emotions, agendas or innuendo, but rather on facts.”

Voters saw through the charade, and rejected both the wolf hunting proposal and the measure to transfer decision-making authority to the politically appointed and unelected Natural Resources Commission—both bills sponsored by Casperson and referred to the ballot by voter referendum—by wide margins. Proposal 2 was defeated in 69 of Michigan’s 83 counties, losing by a statewide vote of 64 to 36 percent, and losing by majorities in more than half the counties of the 1st congressional district.

Even in the part of the state where Casperson thought he had the most support, voters said no to the trophy hunting of wolves and said no to this power grab by politicians to take away their voting rights. They understood that there are fewer than 650 wolves in Michigan and that the law already allowed the killing of wolves when they threatened livestock, pets, or human safety. They knew that responsible hunters eat what they kill, and nobody eats wolves. They knew the use of painful steel-jawed leghold traps, hunting over bait, and even using packs of dogs to chase down and kill wolves all could have been in store if Casperson had his way and the Natural Resources Commission was given the unilateral power to decide on these cruel methods without any checks and balances from voters.

Michigan voters said no to the scare tactics, myths, and downright fibbing about wolves. And last night they said no to sending the state’s leading wolf hunting booster to Washington.

Friday, July 29, 2016

On International Tiger Day, roar for big cats

Today is International Tiger Day, and there’s no better time to take note of a sobering and perplexing figure: there are approximately double the number of tigers living in captivity in the United States than exist in the wild. This magnificent species has lost at least 50 percent of its habitat since the 1990s and the total wild population has dwindled to about 3,500 tigers remaining across Asia. But here in the U.S., an estimated 5,000 to 7,000 of these powerful carnivores are kept in basements, backyard menageries, and shoddy roadside zoos for commercial use and display, or personal fancy.

Alex_tiger_JP-Bonnelly_270x240
JP Bonnelly/The HSUS
Alex was part of an exotic pet rescue in Kansas
He is happy and safe and now resides at
Black Beauty Ranch.

This burgeoning captive tiger population continues to grow primarily because of a network of exhibition facilities that overbreed exotic animals to produce a steady supply of infant cubs for lucrative photo-ops and interactive experiences sold to members of the public. HSUS undercover investigations have revealed the physical abuse and nutritional deprivation these cubs suffer after they’re pulled from their moms immediately after birth to be “trained” for human contact. That’s why in 2012 The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations filed a legal petition seeking to amend the Animal Welfare Act regulations to explicitly prohibit licensed exhibitors from allowing members of the public to have direct contact or unsafe close contact with tigers or other big cats, bears, or primates, regardless of the age of the animal.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture took preliminary action in response to this petition, issuing a formal notice that it is a violation of federal law to expose newborn exotic cats to public handling, since these vulnerable animals have underdeveloped immune systems and “should be housed with their mother for as long as possible after birth to promote good health.” Now, USDA has opened a comment period to gather additional information to support further regulatory action—you can take action here to voice your support for putting an end to the use of tigers of any age (or other dangerous wild animals) for this unsafe and inhumane practice.

At a time when wild tigers are mercilessly poached for their bones, meat, claws, teeth, and genitals, it is incomprehensible that we continue to allow tigers to be exploited domestically just for the thrill. This exploitation is not only inhumane and unsafe, but it puts an enormous financial burden on nonprofit organizations and wildlife sanctuaries, such as our affiliated Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, which built state-of-the art enclosures to provide high-quality care to three tigers rescued from private menageries (you can watch a video here of one of the three, Alex, enjoying enrichment provided by his caregivers). Why should the rest of society have to pay for the actions of a few reckless individuals and commercial carnies who pose such a threat to public safety and animal welfare?

There’s much more that can be done to protect wild tigers here and around the world. HSLF and our coalition partners with Save Endangered Animals-Oregon just this week qualified a ballot measure for the November election to eliminate the in-state market in Oregon for tiger parts and other products of endangered species. This follows a successful ballot measure we supported last year in Washington state cracking down on wildlife trafficking and drying up demand for the parts of tigers, lions, elephants, rhinos, and other magnificent creatures. The HSUS and Humane Society International joined 43 other organizations to call on countries to end the tiger trade and phase out tiger farms. And HSI is working to reduce international demand for tiger products, releasing a children’s book about tigers and the issues that threaten their survival, produced in partnership with the Vietnamese government. The model for the book is a similar project that helped reduce demand for rhino horn by 33 percent in one year.

The United States has a critical role to play in the global effort to save this iconic species from extinction, and we must lead by example. Until our federal government takes decisive action to stop the frivolous breeding and domestic trade of tigers, it will continue to impede our ability to urge Asian tiger range countries to take action to do the same. Later this summer at the United Nations CITES Conference of the Parties meeting in South Africa, there will be opportunity to take action to address the abuse of captive tigers in American roadside zoos and Chinese tiger farms in an effort to ensure that the global captive population of tigers is managed to promote the conservation of the species and to protect the welfare of the individual tigers.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

NOAA’s (Sh)Ark

With Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in full swing and right on the heels of last week’s introduction of a new congressional bill restricting the trade in shark fins, the Obama administration has taken an additional action to help sharks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced a final rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with our partners The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, helped to pass.

Shark-blog-Vanessa-Mignon
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The 2010 law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without its fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. It closes several loopholes and fortifies the ban on shark finning in U.S. waters, and further cracks down on the barbaric practice of hacking the fins off of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to languish and die.

Just as the destructive ivory trade decimates elephant populations and induces horrific elephant poaching, the trade in shark fins incentivizes shark finning and leads to massive slaughter of sharks around the world. Each year, up to 73 million sharks worldwide are brutally finned and left to die an agonizing death—just for a bowl of soup. Fishermen do not discriminate by species, and the unique characteristics of sharks—maturing slowly and producing relatively few young—make them highly susceptible to fishing pressure. It is now estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

According to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. is one of the top shark catching countries. We are also among the world’s top importers and exporters of shark fins and other shark products. There is an urgent need to ramp up domestic efforts to protect keystone species integral to keeping the marine ecosystem’s balance in check. That’s why it’s so important to address our role in fueling demand, and today’s final rule on the Shark Conservation Act, coupled with the introduction of the federal Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, move us forward toward ensuring our country does not partake in finning cruelty.

Eleven states and U.S. territories have also banned the possession and sale of shark fins, helping to dry up the demand for finning across the globe. In the final rule concerning the Shark Conservation Act, announced today, the administration reaffirms that the state and territory shark fin laws are not in conflict with or preempted by federal law, making clear that state and federal governments both have roles to play in stamping out this cruelty. Just yesterday the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to prohibit shark fin sales.

As HSLF, The HSUS, and HSI have been campaigning to end shark finning globally, we’ve seen tremendous progress and achieved comparable finning bans in the European Union, India, and numerous Latin American countries. We also actively advocate for greater protections for many vulnerable shark species at major international environmental and fisheries conventions. We applaud the administration for finalizing this important rule, demonstrating its continued commitment to combat shark finning and cementing the U.S. as a leader in global shark conservation.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keep Fins on Sharks—Not in a Bowl of Soup

Rhode Island last week banned the trade in shark fins, joining ten other states and three Pacific territories in sending a message that this cruel product is not welcome within their borders. These state policy actions are helping to dry up the demand for shark finning—the barbaric practice of hacking the fins off sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to languish and die.

Shark-Vanessa-Mignon
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Now Congress also has an opportunity to further the campaign to crack down on shark finning. Today, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and U.S. Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Gregorio Kilili Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, along with a bipartisan group of original cosponsors, introduced the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, to largely prohibit the shark fin trade, including imports into and exports from the U.S., transport in interstate commerce, and interstate sales. 

Although the act of shark finning is prohibited in U.S. waters, the market for fins incentivizes finning in countries that have lax finning laws and fishing regulations. If enacted, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act would make the U.S. a global leader and set an example for other nations to end the shark fin trade. The HSUS and HSLF are part of a broad coalition of groups advocating for the legislation, including SeaWorld, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and Oceana.  

We must do all we can to protect these marine creatures from this unspeakable cruelty. With their fins cut off, sharks cannot swim, and die from shock, blood loss, starvation, or predation by other fish. Tens of millions of sharks are killed globally each year to support the international market for shark fins, most often used as an ingredient in shark fin soup. 

Once a fin is detached from a shark, it is almost impossible to determine if the fin was removed lawfully or taken while the shark was alive. Shark fins sold in the U.S come from all over the world, including countries that have no bans on finning. Research has found fins from threatened and endangered shark species for sale in the marketplace in the U.S.   

Sharks have inhabited our oceans for 400 million years, but now scientists warn that existing shark populations cannot sustain the current level of exploitation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species has estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction. 

While Congress has a role to play in further taking a bite out of the shark fin trade, we are also urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to finalize a long-overdue rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010. The law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without its fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. The legislation was enacted more than five years ago, and the rule to implement the act’s domestic provisions was proposed three years ago. There is no reason that the agency should delay the implementation of this rule any longer.

Shark finning is a global epidemic and constitutes one of the worst forms of human destruction of our oceans. It has no place in our commerce and should have no cover under federal law. It’s inhumane and wasteful to kill a shark merely for a bowl of soup. Congress should act now to bring an end to this practice.

Keeping Wolves at Bay – Without Killing

Through determination, innovation, and creativity, our society is solving some of the biggest challenges facing animals. Non-animal tests for cosmetics, chemicals, and household products are faster, cheaper, safer, and more reliable than laboratory experiments on animals. Computer-generated imagery is making exciting movies and TV commercials without the suffering and abuse of captive exotic wildlife. Eco-tourism appeals to millions of visitors and is a bigger boost to the economy in African nations than trophy hunting. The food industry is moving away from confining pigs and hens in cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, cutting the tails of dairy cows, and other cruel practices, and finding better ways to do business. Plant-based foods and faux fur are competing against animal products as an alternative in the marketplace.

GRAY-WOLF-ALAMYBF6XKN_271629
Photo by Alamy

One area that could use a lot more of this kind of thinking is wildlife management, where officials too often seem stuck in a 19th century paradigm that prioritizes extermination over cohabitation. That’s why I was delighted to see that USDA’s Wildlife Services agency has begun deploying creative new non-lethal methods to deter predators in northern Wisconsin, to great effect. This is the same agency that has been repeatedly criticized by The HSUS and others for its overreliance on inhumane, indiscriminate “management” tools like steel-jawed leghold traps and M-44 cyanide canisters. This is the agency that just came off its most lethal year to date. So you can imagine what a turnaround it is for Wildlife Services to adopt the use of Foxlights to cheaply, effectively, and humanely deter wolves and reduce human-wolf conflict.

The shift to non-lethal deterrents by Wildlife Services follows The HSUS’s federal court victory in December 2014. That case won an injunction keeping Endangered Species Act protections in place for Great Lakes ecosystem wolves, halting an imminent trophy hunting season that state officials deemed necessary to control the allegedly big bad wolves. Set aside for a moment the fact that the impact of wolves on livestock is routinely overestimated, or that recent studies show that trophy hunting increases poaching and worsens human-wildlife conflict by throwing the animals’ delicate social structures into chaos. And forget that some legislators claimed that the sky was falling after that court decision, threatening to subvert the opinions of scientific experts and federal courts by removing wolves from the ESA through legislative fiat. The important lesson here is that trophy hunting and commercial trapping only seem necessary because they are too often perceived to be the only tools in the toolbox.

We still have lawmakers in Congress trying over and over again to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act and strip wolves and other species of their federal protections, circumventing the courts and the public process. Political riders to force the delisting of wolves are included in the House’s energy bill, the Interior spending bills in both chambers, and other bills moving through Congress. We must redouble our efforts to stop these anti-wildlife riders in their tracks and make sure that politics doesn’t trump science.

While wildlife management is undoubtedly lagging behind other sectors when it comes to humane innovations, The HSUS, our sister entity, is leading the charge with proactive programs like wild horse population control using PZP, humane resolution techniques in “nuisance” control, fertility control with white-tailed deer, and elephant immunocontraception in Africa, as well as legal and policy actions to prevent unnecessary and unjustified killing of large carnivores like cougars and grizzly bears. This is the 21st century, and meeting the challenge of coexistence with wildlife does not have to mean extermination. There are always alternatives – you just have to look for them.

As we are seeing in Wisconsin, wolves can retain federal protections, and we can still solve conflicts and address the practical problems that ranchers and others are having in the states where wolves are present. Trophy hunting and commercial trapping don’t need to be in the mix, and there are better solutions available. It’s encouraging to see the federal agency that is charged with solving wildlife conflicts looking for a better way forward. And it’s time for Congress and for officials and legislators in the states to listen.  

Contact your legislators today and tell them to oppose any legislation to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act>>

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Congressional Report to Trophy Hunters: “Show Me the Money”

It’s been nearly a year since a Minnesota dentist bled out and killed Zimbabwe’s Cecil the lion. In the wake of it, there was a bright spotlight shined on trophy hunting. More than ever, the world is seeing trophy hunting in its true light: as a senseless hobby of the 0.1 percent who spend their fortunes traveling the world in head-hunting exercises. 

Lion-Vanessa-Mignon-270x240
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

They are not hunting animals for meat or for wildlife management, but to amass the biggest and rarest collections of some of the world’s most majestic species. Many of these trophy-mad hunters are competing for awards from Safari Club International and other membership organizations like the Dallas Safari Club. To win SCI’s coveted “Africa Big Five” award for example, a trophy hunter must kill an African lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo.

The trophy hunters make the Orwellian argument that they must kill animals in order to save them, that they are sprinkling dollars on local economies with their “pay-to-slay” activities and that these funds also pay for conservation efforts. But a new report published by the House Natural Resources Committee Democratic staff, titled “Missing the Mark: African trophy hunting fails to show consistent conservation benefits,” challenges these false claims. The analysis illustrates there is little evidence that the money spent by trophy hunters is actually being used for conservation, mostly due to government corruption, lax enforcement, a lack of transparency, and poorly managed wildlife programs.

The report shows that most trophy hunts “cannot be considered good for a species’ survival,” said Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva. “Taking that claim at face value is no longer a serious option. Anyone who wants to see these animals survive needs to look at the evidence in front of us and make some major behavior and policy changes. Endangered and threatened species are not an inexhaustible resource to be killed whenever the mood strikes us.” 

The committee’s analysis focused on five species (African lion, African elephant, black rhinoceros, southern white rhinoceros, and leopard) and four African countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe). The report also looked at imports of these species by American trophy hunters—responsible for by far the largest share of the carnage than hunters from any other country. Indeed, our devastating footprint on the world’s most iconic species is enormous. The U.S. imports on average an estimated 126,000 trophies every year and between 2005 and 2014, our country has imported approximately 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards, 330 southern white rhinos, and 17,200 African buffalo, among many other species.

Despite this, the report found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rarely used its authority to restrict trophy imports that do not actually enhance the survival of the species, as required under the Endangered Species Act. As reported by Jada F. Smith in today’s The New York Times, “For the species covered in the House report, the Fish and Wildlife Service required only one import permit from 2010 to 2014, though more than 2,700 trophies eligible for permitting were imported during that time. For the 1,469 leopard trophies that could have required an import permit, the agency required none.” As the report also reveals, trophy import fees paid by trophy hunters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are so low that it is the taxpayers who are covering 92 percent of the cost of the permitting program, thus “subsidizing the hobby of people wealthy enough to afford the other trophy hunting-related expenses...”

The data provides support for what most people is just common sense. Cecil was a famous lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where he lived with his family—a pride of female lions and their cubs. His magnificent, awe-inspiring presence was enjoyed by thousands of visitors. His death was enjoyed by only one person. But what is the value of living Cecils—whether they are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, or any of the other animals sought by big-game hunters—as compared to the value of dead specimens? An American dentist paid $55,000 to shoot Cecil, but it’s estimated that a living Cecil would have generated nearly $1 million in tourism over his lifetime.

Wildlife-based eco-tourism, in fact, is a big industry in Africa and dwarfs trophy hunting in its economic impact. In Zimbabwe, tourism provides 6.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Trophy hunting provides only 0.2 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP, or 32 orders of magnitude less than tourism. A 2013 study of nine countries that offer trophy hunting found that tourism contributed 2.4 percent of the GDP, while trophy hunting only contributed 0.09 percent.

In South Africa, tourism contributed R103.6 billion (or $6.7 billion) in 2014, which is approximately 2 percent of South Africa’s 2014 GDP ($341 billion). In 2013, it is estimated that the hunting contribution was a mere R1.2 billion (or $79.9 million). Kenya, which banned trophy hunting in the 1970s, has an eco-tourism economy that brings in far more money than trophy hunting to Southern Africa as a whole.

Trophy hunting of lions, elephants, and rhinos rob parks, reserves, and other natural areas of the keystone animals that are the real draw for tourists and essential to these ecosystems, making it a net revenue loser for African economies. The impact is exacerbated when the trophy hunters remove named, popular animals like Cecil from the population, ending the opportunity for visitors to enjoy them. Trophy hunting has also been closely tied with poaching, corruption, and other illegal practices. That’s why forward-thinking governments, like those in Kenya and Botswana, have banned trophy hunting, and governments like Australia and France prohibited imports of the African lion trophies, or in the case of the Netherlands imports of trophies from more than 200 species.

Trophy hunting also employs far fewer people than eco-tourism. The 56 million people who traveled to Africa to watch wildlife during 2013 were catered to by millions of Africans who work in the tourism sector. This pales in comparison to the handful of people who accompanied the few thousand trophy hunters who also traveled to Africa that year.

The new report makes several recommendations for actions the U.S. government can take because of its “responsibility to ensure that Americans are not contributing to the decline of already imperiled wildlife.” These recommendations include requiring more frequent and robust review of range state hunting programs for ESA listed species, closing loopholes that allow some trophies to be imported without a permit, collecting additional data, and increasing permit application fees. Tourists can do their part, too. By visiting countries like Kenya and Botswana that have shunned trophy hunting and supporting eco-safaris and wildlife watching ventures, tourists can show that they value Africa’s wildlife—alive.  

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

TSCA Reform Could Save Millions of Animal Lives

The House of Representatives today debated H.R. 2576, the Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act, a compromise bill produced after months of negotiation between key parties in the House and Senate to modernize and reform the 40-year-old Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA). The House will vote on the bill tonight and the Senate is expected to take it up as soon as tomorrow. 

Bunny_istock_270x240
Photo courtesy of iStock Photo

We are strongly urging lawmakers to pass the legislation, because tucked into this massive final package is a huge win for animals: unprecedented language that could save hundreds of thousands of rabbits, mice, guinea pigs, and other animals from suffering and dying in laboratory experiments in the very short term to test industrial chemicals, including those found in common household products. My colleague Wayne Pacelle wrote about the prospect of this advance in detail in The Humane Economy, and now this moment is upon us.

These animals suffer terribly, as harsh chemicals are rubbed into their skin, forced down their throats and dropped in their eyes. The new bill would dramatically reduce—if not eliminate, in some cases—the use of animals in these tests, and would also improve the science behind chemical testing, and encourage better safety decisions to protect the environment and human health. It makes chemical testing smarter, faster, and more reliable for regulatory decision-making, and will provide momentum to continually update the science and reduce animal use.

When it comes to human and environmental health, our historic animal testing-based approach is fundamentally flawed; the science incorporated into the original TSCA decades ago has stymied EPA’s ability to regulate chemicals. To generate screening data for a single chemical, it currently takes three years and $6 million, and the results are often highly variable, difficult to interpret (leading to years of argument and dispute), and not easily applied to regulatory action (often leading the agency to ask for more and more data, nearly all of which is inconclusive)—hence EPA has regulated only a handful of chemicals in 40 years.

Because of the failure of this testing approach, the National Academies of Sciences was asked to come up with a better way. The approach NAS recommended capitalizes on our vast knowledge of chemistry and biology and modern technology to design highly reliable tests that measure chemical effects on critical biological pathways. This revelation has resulted in an emerging consensus among scientists and regulators around the world, including the EPA, that this forward-looking approach is the best regulatory framework for the future. It will be much less costly, faster, and yield more reliable results. This new scientific approach will also be far more humane, as it involves a shift away from animal testing. By requiring the reduction of animal use, H.R. 2576 spurs the implementation of the best available science, which will dramatically improve EPA’s ability to responsibly and more efficiently regulate chemicals and more meaningfully protect the American public from hazardous substances.

Toxicity testing is a particularly cruel use of animals, often involving poisoning until death or some disease state is achieved. It is important to note that 95 percent of animals used in research, including chemical testing, are not protected by law in the U.S. (mice, rats, and birds are specifically excluded from provisions of the Animal Welfare Act). This is in dramatic contrast to the situation in the world’s largest economy, the European Union, where all vertebrates (and some non-vertebrates) are protected in all scientific uses. The European Commission requires that non-animal methods are preferred, and every procedure using animals must be submitted for approval by the government. In addition, the European Union’s toxic chemicals law stipulates reduction of animal testing as an overarching principle, and requires use of all approaches not involving animals first, with animal testing only as a last resort. The Frank R. Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act provides the first such protection for animals used in testing in the U.S.

We are immensely grateful to the many members of Congress who pushed for the animal testing language to be included in the final package, especially Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., David Vitter, R-La., Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., Tom Udall, D-N.M., Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., and Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., who developed and advocated for the strong anti-animal testing language in their version of the bill. There is still time to contact your members of Congress and urge them to vote yes on H.R. 2576. This is a landmark opportunity to save millions of animals while addressing key health and environmental concerns.

Get Political
for Animals




Powered by TypePad