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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.

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.

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.

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.

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. 

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. 

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.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Will the Next Interior Secretary be a Trophy Hunter?

If Donald Trump, Jr. gets his way, there could be a slayer of elephants and leopards and other rare wildlife appointed as Secretary of Interior in his father's administration.

Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The Environment & Energy Daily last week noted that candidate Donald Trump doesn’t claim to know much about hunting or the outdoors, and has largely deferred on those issues to his son, Donald Jr., who is organizing outreach to sportsmen for the campaign. The younger Trump mused that he would like to be Secretary of the Interior, and in a January interview with Petersen’s Hunting, said:

“So you can be assured that if I’m not directly involved I’m going to be that very, very loud voice in his ear. Between my brother, and myself no one understands the issues better than us. No one in politics lives the lifestyle more than us.”

Over seven and a half years of the Obama administration, the Department of the Interior has been perhaps the most active federal agency on animal welfare issues, actively restricting trophy hunting of some of the world’s most imperiled animals. 

What an appalling turnaround it would be to put the persecutors of wildlife in charge of U.S. policy on these issues.

Under the Obama administration, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service shut down imports of elephant trophies from Tanzania and Zimbabwe. Interior Department officials also listed African lions as threatened, dramatically restricting the imports of trophies from lions killed abroad at places like South African’s canned hunts.

This same agency also listed captive chimpanzees as endangered, leading to the end of chimps in laboratory experiments. They also classified eight species of large constrictor snakes, including Burmese pythons and anacondas, as injurious under the Lacey Act, prohibiting the trade in these snakes as pets. The administration made wildlife trafficking and elephant poaching a priority issue, and proposed a rule to close loopholes in the U.S. ivory trade, the second largest retail market after China.

What will that record look like in the next administration, and what if it’s under President Trump?

Donald Jr. and his brother, Eric, made headlines for being involved in trophy hunting, posing with a dead leopard, Cape buffalo, waterbuck, and other exotic creatures—even holding the tail of an elephant. The lifestyle they are living—spending their fortunes to travel the world and 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.

It’s not an issue of partisanship, and no Republican or Democratic president is ever going to be perfect on animal issues. The Obama administration, while making a great deal of progress for wild animals on a broad range of subjects, also took several harmful policy actions, such as working to remove federal protections for wolves and grizzly bears and turn over management to hostile states.

But the risk of having a globe-trotting trophy hunter at the top job at Interior, or having the ear of the president, is a real one. The administration is responsible not only for policies involving hundreds of millions of acres of federal lands, but also wildlife law enforcement, international treaties on trade and conservation, and import policies for wild animal parts and trophies.

A Trump presidency could set the stage for rolling back wildlife protections and implementing policies to advance trophy hunting around the world and here at home. It’s something animal advocates should pay attention to as they evaluate the candidates. 

Friday, May 06, 2016

White House Hopefuls and Down-Ballot Candidates Can Connect with Voters on Animal Protection

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are both still running on the Democratic side, but the overall field in the 2016 race for the White House has narrowed considerably since HSLF reported in January on the candidates’ animal protection records. Ted Cruz and John Kasich officially suspended their campaigns, with Donald Trump all but locking up the Republican presidential nomination.

Mark Bacon/Alamy Stock Photo

While the elections and candidates are dominating public discussion and media coverage, animal welfare issues have been an important part of our recent national discourse too. With Ringling Brothers performing its last show with elephants last weekend, SeaWorld announcing an end to its orca breeding program and sunsetting that part of its business model, Walmart pledging to source all of its eggs from cage-free sources, Armani ending its use of animal fur, and hundreds of chimpanzees being retired from private laboratories to sanctuaries—all spurred on by public demand for more humane treatment of animals—it’s clear animal protection issues are important to the voting public.

This week Hillary Clinton published an animal welfare statement highlighting the humane issues she plans to tackle as president, as well as her strong record on animal protection in the U.S. Senate and as Secretary of State. She pledged to crack down on abuses such as wildlife trafficking, puppy mills, and horse slaughter, and to support a federal anti-cruelty statute and more humane treatment of farm animals. A group supporting Bernie Sanders had previously published a summary of his positions and actions on animal welfare. Like Clinton, he’s had a strong and compelling record in the U.S. Senate, demonstrating his concern for the issues as well as his leadership. Donald Trump has yet to release a campaign statement on animal issues, but when he has associated himself with animal welfare, it has not always been positive.

There are 25,000 animal welfare groups in the country, nearly two-thirds of Americans have pets, and there are felony-level penalties for animal cruelty in every state. Opposition to animal cruelty is now a universal value, and presidential candidates and down-ballot candidates really stand to miss an opportunity when they don’t speak to this constituency and its concerns. It may not ever be a daily talking point for major candidates, but it’s a genuine opportunity to speak to a vast constituency of interested citizens and break out of the predictable set of orthodox positions that the Democrats and Republicans have already divvied up.

It's worth noting that major corporations in every sector of the economy have also embraced animal welfare issues—whether it’s Walmart, McDonald’s, and dozens of others in food retail; cosmetic companies like Lush and the Body Shop; fashion giants like Armani and Hugo Boss; or PetSmart and Petco in the pet industry. It’s a mainstream sensibility, and with so many of these company policies validating that idea, it’s not a risk but an opportunity for candidates to take a stance on these issues. It’s a particularly good opportunity to speak to women and suburban voters, who have particularly strong inclinations on animal issues.

And the public is not just paying attention to what the candidates say on paper, but also to what they do off the campaign trail. The three Clinton family members, especially Chelsea, have been deeply involved in anti-poaching work and spoken out against the ivory trade, as a matter of animal welfare and economic development for African nations. Donald Trump’s sons, on the other hand, have been involved in trophy hunting of African wildlife, shooting leopards and other rare animals in Africa. Their behavior smacks more of the type of killing done by Walter Palmer (the dentist who shot Cecil the lion last July) than it is about Joe Sixpack from West Virginia or Pennsylvania, who is killing deer for meat and filling the freezer. This issue has the potential to cement negatives for Trump among millions of humane-minded people, especially women, who would be offended by this kind of animal killing for such gratuitous purposes.

The animal welfare movement is no longer a niche movement. Our collective voices are powerful and influential. So make sure you’re paying attention to what the candidates are saying about humane issues—because if it’s important to you, it should be important to them.

Monday, May 02, 2016

Lawmakers to USDA: Make a Bigger Splash on Marine Mammal Rule

After almost 20 years of inaction, the U.S. Department of Agriculture finally proposed in February an update of its standards of care for marine mammals in captivity. But the proposed standards are weak, and need to be strengthened substantially.

There’s been such positive momentum recently on the issue of marine mammals in captivity, with SeaWorld ending the breeding of orcas and sunsetting that part of its business model, and a federal court blocking the import of 18 wild-caught beluga whales for display purposes. But the remaining marine mammals held in captive settings need improved standards for their handling, care and housing. As announced, the proposed standards do include some positive changes. We are very disappointed, however, that many of the standards remain unchanged from decades back, and some are even weakened. We are not alone in our concerns.

Movies such as “Blackfish” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity. Photo by iStockphoto

Last week, seven Senators and 14 Representatives led by a strong team from California—Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Reps. Jared Huffman and Adam Schiff—sent a letter to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack thanking him for taking some positive steps, but urging USDA to go further in the final marine mammal regulations.

Specifically, the letter expresses concern that the proposal leaves unchanged the standard for tank sizes that has been in place since 1984. Alarmingly, for some species such as beluga whales, bottlenose dolphins and killer whales, the proposed changes might even result in accepting smaller tanks. The USDA proposal ignores advice from the National Marine Fisheries Service, which called on USDA to use more precautionary calculations in setting minimum tank sizes.

The legislators also object to the exemption afforded to industry to get around salinity requirements, by allowing seals and sea lions kept in fresh water to simply be given salt supplements and saltwater eye baths.  USDA stated in its proposal that it “expects this will minimize additional costs and renovations at existing facilities.”  But the fact is, the agency should keep foremost in its sights and regulations the welfare of these animals, not just what will increase profitability.

Regarding the new standards for what used to be known as swim-with-the-dolphin programs (now to be called interactive programs), the letter points out that the USDA proposal would actually reduce some protections for marine mammals and the public, explicitly removing the requirement for a buffer zone that gives the animals a safe place to which to retreat while remaining in the program. The proposed changes would also increase the amount of time that dolphins are forced to be available for interactions with the public.

Movies such as “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have raised public consciousness of the plight of marine mammals in captivity, and the issue is now part of our national discourse. We are grateful to USDA for issuing these long-awaited regulations for captive marine mammals, but urge the agency to ensure that the final rules are aligned with public expectations of the conditions in which these magnificent creatures are held and the manner in which they are treated. With our allies in Congress lending a powerful voice for the welfare of captive marine mammals, along with thousands of individuals who have submitted public comments, we hope that the agency listens.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Key House Committee Takes Horse Slaughter off the Menu

We had a powerful showing today in the U.S. House Appropriations Committee, with animal protection leaders Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Charlie Dent, R-Pa., securing enough votes to pass their amendment dealing with horse slaughter for human consumption. The "defund" amendment to prevent the opening of horse slaughter plants on U.S. soil passed by a vote of 25 to 23.

Jennifer Kunz/Duchess Sanctuary

Last year a similar measure narrowly failed in the same committee by a vote of 24 to 24, but was later approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee by a voice vote and retained in the final omnibus spending bill. With today’s action by the House panel, we will be in a stronger position to keep the doors of horse slaughter plants shuttered and prevent the use of American tax dollars for this cruel practice.

The horse slaughter industry is a predatory, inhumane enterprise. It doesn’t “euthanize” old horses, but precisely the opposite: “killer buyers” purchase young and healthy horses, often by misrepresenting their intentions, and kill them to sell the meat to Europe and Japan. Americans do not consume horse meat, and our nation’s limited agency resources and inspectors should not be diverted from the important current duties of protecting the food supply for U.S. consumers.

We are grateful to Reps. Farr and Dent for leading this successful bipartisan effort, and to all 25 committee members who voted in favor of the amendment to protect horses. If your representative serves on the committee, you can see how he or she voted below.

Lawmakers voting yes on the amendment, to protect horses: 

Sanford Bishop (D-GA), Ander Crenshaw (R-FL), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Charlie Dent (R-PA), Sam Farr (D-CA), Michael Honda (D-CA),  Steve Israel (D-NY), David Jolly (R-FL), David Joyce (R-OH), Marcy Kaptur (D-OH), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Barbara Lee (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chellie Pingree (D-ME), David Price (D-NC), Mike Quigley (D-IL), Tom Rooney (R-FL), Lucille Roybal-Allard (D-CA), Dutch Ruppersberger (D-MD), Tim Ryan (D-OH), Jose Serrano (D-NY), Peter Visclosky (D-IN), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), Kevin Yoder (R-KS).

Lawmakers voting no on the amendment: 

Robert Aderholt (R-AL), Mark Amodei (R-NV), Ken Calvert (R-CA), John Carter (R-TX), Tom Cole (R-OK), Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), Chuck Fleischmann (R-TN), Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE), Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ),  Kay Granger (R-TX), Tom Graves (R-GA), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jaime Herrera Buetler (R-WA), Evan Jenkins (R-WV), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Scott Rigell (R-VA), Martha Roby (R-AL), Hal Rogers (R-KY), Mike Simpson (R-ID), Chris Stewart (R-UT), David Valadao (R-CA), Steve Womack (R-AR), David Young (R-IA).

Not voting: 

Henry Cuellar (D-TX), John Culberson (R-TX), Chaka Fattah (D-PA).

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