In this week’s report, the Animal People Forum reviews current events involving reindeer killings, birth control for rats, Donald Trump on animal rights, and more!
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Presentation & Editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Hello, and welcome to this week’s Animal People Newsflash! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for the Animal People Forum.
ACTIVISTS RALLY FOR INDIA ANIMAL WELFARE BILL
On Sunday, September 18th, activists across India and in cities around the world rallied to call on India’s Parliament to pass a new Animal Welfare Bill. Under India’s present Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, animal cruelty carries a maximum penalty of just 50 rupees, less than a single U.S. dollar. This is in spite of the Indian constitution’s listing of compassion for animals as a fundamental civic duty, and legislation banning cosmetic testing on animals, recognizing dolphins and whales as “non-human persons” and banning their use in entertainment. If passed as law, the new Animal Welfare Bill would impose harsher punishments for acts of cruelty to animals, helping close the country’s gap between animal welfare in theory and practice. Sunday’s rallies were held in 58 cities across India and 21 others in countries abroad, organized at the local level but sharing a common cause and name: “India Unites for Animals.”
TRUMP TAKES AIM AT ANIMAL RIGHTS
U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is drawing ire from animal rights and environmental activists. Last Sunday, the Trump campaign released a new video ad titled #Heartland4Trump, which presents hunting and fishing as “traditional American values” under attack by the political left. Featuring Trump’s son Donald Trump, Jr., rocker Ted Nugent, and other celebrity hunters, the ad closes with Donald Trump himself stating:
“Hunting, fishing, and other outdoor activities are favorite pasttimes across America, passed down from generation to generation. Just incredible.”
On Monday, sources close to Trump’s campaign revealed that he was considering oil industry executive Forrest Lucas as his Secretary of the Interior. CEO of the Lucas Oil company, Lucas is also the founder of Protect the Harvest, an organization whose mission is to “inform America’s consumers, businesses, and decision-makers about the threats posed by animal rights groups and anti-farming extremists.” Protect the Harvest funds opposition to animal welfare campaigns, and earlier this year produced the movie The Dog Lover, which villainizes animal advocacy groups and depicts puppy mills in a positive light. If appointed Secretary of the Interior, Lucas would oversee protection of wildlife, natural resources, and the environment nationwide.
U.S. ANTI-CRUELTY BILL HELD HOSTAGE
In other U.S. political news, a new bill to impose harsher punishments for cruelty to animals has fallen victim to partisan conflict in the Senate. The Prevent Animal Cruelty and Torture Act, co-authored by Republican Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Democrat Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, was introduced for passage by unanimous consent on Thursday, but was blocked by Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid. Reid, a Democrat, did not object to the content of the bill, but instead sought to ransom it, offering to withdraw his objection if Republicans would agree to hold hearings for Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee to the Supreme Court. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell immediately rejected Garland’s offer. Commented the bill’s co-author Senator Toomey, “This is exactly what the American people are so frustrated about… when this kind of completely partisan agenda blocks progress even on modest and non-controversial legislation.”
CITES CONFERENCE ON WILDLIFE TRADE
CITES’ seventeenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties is currently underway in Johannesburg, South Africa. CITES, the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, is an international conservation treaty designed to regulate trade in endangered animals and plants. Species covered under CITES receive varying levels of protection, from regulated trade within individual countries up to total bans on commercial trade of wild-caught individuals, depending on their risk of extinction. Agenda items for the current meeting include:
A proposed ban on all trade in elephant ivory, backed by 29 countries in the African Elephant Coalition but opposed by Namibia, South Africa, and Zimbabwe,
A proposed ban on international trade in pangolins, which are critically endangered and also trafficked in the tens or hundreds of thousands every year,
Increasing protection for African grey parrots, endangered due to mass capture for the illegal pet trade, and three species of shark and ray threatened by demand for shark fin soup and traditional medicines in East Asia,
And debating a proposal from Swaziland to legalize trade in rhinoceros horn. While the proposal would only allow sale of horns seized from poachers, taken by non-lethal methods, or removed from already dead rhinos, conservationists argue that legalizing any trade in rhino horn will only provide cover for poachers and hasten the species’ extinction.
The current meeting began on Saturday, September 24th, and will continue until October 5th.
CHINA ACTIVISTS OPPOSE WORLD DOG SHOW
Animal activists in China are protesting plans to hold the World Dog Show in Shanghai in 2019. Joining international calls for the World Canine Federation to move the event to another country, Chinese activists hope to pressure the government into ending the practice of dog eating and, especially, the infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival. Public opposition to dog eating has increased in recent years, driving many dog meat restaurants out of business and leading officials to shut down the smaller Jinghua Dog Meat Festival in 2011. Nonetheless, up to 10 million dogs are still slaughtered for meat every year in China. In addition to combatting the dog meat trade, some activists also worry that the show will trigger fads for specialty breed dogs, many of whom may suffer improper care and eventual abandonment. Says Li Wei of the Capital Animal Welfare Association in Beijing, “The show will bring all kinds of purebred dogs to Shanghai, intriguing the public’s curiosity, interests, and desire to buy bred dogs. That may once again hike up the nation’s trade and undertaking of dog breeding.”
The two issues are closely related, as the vast majority of dogs eaten in China are in fact stolen or abandoned pets, according to Animals Asia, whose four-year investigation of the dog meat industry found no large dog meat farms anywhere in the country.
Not all animal advocates agree with opposing the dog show, however. Peter Li, China policy specialist for Humane Society International, maintains that, “The show can be a good opportunity for Shanghai to demonstrate its willingness to adopt modern animal management policy commensurate with its status as a world-class city.” By encouraging the public to view dogs as companions rather than food, some argue that hosting the World Dog Show in China will effect greater positive change than pressuring its organizers to boycott the country.
EUROPEAN UNION RESTRICTS HORSE MEAT IMPORTS
The European Commission has tightened regulations on imports of horse meat into the European Union, following investigations in Canada and Brazil which show horses being abused or neglected before slaughter, or fed steroids and veterinary drugs banned in the EU. A majority of horses sourced from Canada are believed to originate in the United States. The Commission’s new rules will enforce traceability by requiring that horses killed for European consumption first live a minimum of six months in the country of slaughter. Humane Society International expressed concerns that this requirement might actually worsen conditions for horses, stating, “We cautiously welcome the European Commission’s move to tackle this issue. However, it mustn’t be at the expense of horse welfare which we fear will be seriously compromised if horses are held at feedlots for six months waiting to be butchered for the European market.”
SWEDEN TO FUND ANIMAL TESTING ALTERNATIVES
The government of Sweden has approved funding to reduce the use of animals in laboratory research. Between now and 2020, the Swedish government will invest 15 million krona – or about 1.8 million U.S. dollars – per year in a new 3R Center. The 3Rs are a set of principles which provide a pragmatic framework for phasing out animal testing, consisting of: Replacement, avoiding or replacing the use of animals in experiments; Reduction, minimizing the number of animals used per experiment; and Refinement, minimizing suffering and improving welfare for animals used in research. The 3Rs have been influential for scientists, activists, and lawmakers worldwide, and are cited in European Union animal welfare legislation. Sweden’s new center will spearhead efforts to develop and promote alternatives to animal research, benefitting more than 400,000 animals currently used in Swedish labs each year.
RAT BIRTH CONTROL SOON TO HIT SHELVES
A new, humane method of controlling rat populations will soon become available to customers in the United States and Europe. The product, called Contrapest, is a form of liquid birth control that, once eaten, renders male and female rats alike completely sterile. Most popular methods of rodent control today are highly inhumane, including glue traps, which inflict prolonged suffering on trapped animals as they struggle to escape before dying of starvation or dehydration, and poisons, which kill by inflicting painful hemorrhages and metabolic changes, and can also harm non-target species and pollute the environment. Field tests of Contrapest have shown large reductions of rat populations in rural, urban, and suburban environments. If proven effective for long-term general use, Contrapest will provide a humane alternative to lethal measures of rodent control.
CLIMATE CHANGE TO ALTER ECOSYSTEMS WORLDWIDE
A study published in Nature Climate Change by researchers from Aarhus University and the University of Wisconsin-Madison offers new predictions on how climate change will affect ecosystems worldwide. Accounting for factors including the speed of climate change, existing geographic variations in climate, the appearance of new climates with no current equivalents, and the ability of various species to migrate long distances, the researchers produced a series of maps highlighting regions where new ecosystems of species are likely to appear. These regions include North America’s Great Plains and temperate forests, the Amazon and South American grasslands, much of Africa, and the taiga forests of northern Eurasia.
REINDEER CULLS PROPOSED IN SIBERIA
In Siberia, climate change is already creating mortal peril for animals and humans alike. This past summer, thawing permafrost from record high temperatures released an outbreak of deadly anthrax. Frozen for seventy years or more, the awakened disease killed more than 2300 Siberian reindeer, as well as at least four dogs and a human boy. To reduce the risk of disease transfer among dense populations, as well as reduce overgrazing of delicate lichen pastures, Russian officials are seeking a cull of as many as 250,000 reindeer in the Yamal region of Siberia starting this November. Reindeer are usually slaughtered by having their throats slit, after being electrically stunned and hung upside down on a line. Governor Dmitry Kobylkin has also proposed replacing traditional nomadic reindeer grazing with a system of fenced pastures, as practiced currently in Finland. Critics argue that such pasture systems are in fact worse for the environment than traditional grazing, and would compromise animal welfare and threaten the traditional lifestyles of indigenous Siberian herders. Others question the true motives of the proposed culling and pasturing. According to anthropologist and indigenous activist Olga Murashko, “The coincidence of this news on plans – to urgently reduce the reindeer population in Yamal by over one third with the rapid issuing of licenses for gas extraction in the same region – causes the greatest concern over the fate of the reindeer herders.”
SEA OTTERS MAKE RECORD COMEBACK
Finally, Califoria sea otters have reached their highest numbers since 1982, when U.S. officials first began keeping track. Decimated by hunting in the 18th and 19th century for their fur, California sea otters were once believed extinct, until a small number of survivors was discovered and protected in the 1930s. Their recovery can be attributed both to conservation efforts and to a recent spike in the number of sea urchins, their preferred prey. There are now 3,272 known sea otters living along the California coast.
This newsflash covers just a few of the countless issues facing animals worldwide. More information can be found on the Animal People Forum, our online magazine and social networking site for people who care about animals. Anyone is welcome to contribute, so if you would like to share your knowledge, express your views, or raise awareness of any animal protection issue, sign up at www.animalpeopleforum.org Together we can help create a kinder world for all living creatures!