In this week’s episode, Animal People covers the fate of 46 million Thanksgiving turkeys, Argentina’s vote to ban greyhound racing, new threats to wild gorillas in Nigeria, and more!
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Presentation & editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Theme music: “Praetor,” courtesy Ross Bugden, https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCQKGLOK2FqmVgVwYferltKQ
Hello! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for Animal People World News.
UNITED NATIONS ADOPTS ANIMAL WELFARE POLICIES
The United Nations has adopted new policy recommendations on animal welfare, at a meeting of the UN Committee on World Farming Security in Rome last week. The recommendations cite the Five Freedoms, a set of welfare guidelines previously adopted by the World Organization for Animal Health, which include:
Freedom from hunger or thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury, or disease; freedom to express natural behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.
The UN’s new recommendations are non-binding and up to member states to implement voluntarily. They specifically mention improving animal health by enabling access to veterinary services; promoting access to high-quality food; providing comfortable physical environments; and phasing out the overuse of antibiotics to accelerate animal growth.
SYRIA CAT SANCTUARY BOMBED IN AIR STRIKE
In Aleppo, Syria, a sanctuary for cats abandoned in the war has been bombed. The sanctuary’s owner, Mohammad Alaa Aljaleel or the “Cat Man of Aleppo,” became internationally famous for his resolution to stay in the war-torn city caring for stray and abandoned animals “no matter what.” On Wednesday the fifteenth, an airstrike by Syrian government or Russian warplanes hit the sanctuary, killing multiple animals including a cat named Zahra and a dog named Hope. Alaa himself survived the attack.
The Syrian Civil War has been raging for five and a half years now, between the Russian-backed Syrian government and various rebel groups, including the Islamic State as well as so-called “moderates” supported by the United States. More than four hundred thousand people have been killed, the majority civilians, and some eleven million have been displaced from their homes.
On Friday, the cat sanctuary was struck again, this time by a chlorine gas attack. On Saturday, the sanctuary announced that they had moved the surviving animals to a new location, writing on Twitter, “we live in Hell, but we stay human, without losing tenderness.”
TURKEYS TO BE KILLED FOR U.S. THANKSGIVING
On Thursday, households across the United States will celebrate Thanksgiving by eating turkeys. Despite the increasing popularity of vegetarian and vegan options, eighty eight percent of U.S. households still serve turkey, and last year an estimated forty six million birds were raised and slaughtered for Thanksgiving.
Last week, the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere, or DxE, released videos and images showing the poor conditions of turkeys at Jaindl Farms, which supplies the birds eaten at the President’s dinner table. The birds appear to be severely overcrowded, and some appear sick, injured, or deformed. The farm’s owner David Jaindl claims that DxE misrepresented his operation, filming a so-called “hospital barn” for sick individuals and causing the birds to overcrowd by shining lights at them. DxE organizer Wayne Hsiung responded that the group had visited eighty percent of the farm’s barns, finding similar conditions in all of them.
The White House has declined to comment on the treatment of the birds, but tomorrow, Wednesday the twenty-third, President Obama will ceremonially “pardon” two turkeys from slaughter in an annual Thanksgiving ritual. They will be sent to live out their days at a teaching farm run by Virginia Tech. However, they are unlikely to survive very long. Modern domestic turkeys have been selectively bred to be so massive that, unlike their flying wild ancestors, they often cannot walk, and depend on artificial insemination to reproduce. Normally slaughtered at eighteen weeks old, most presidentially pardoned turkeys have died within five months after Thanksgiving. By contrast, wild turkeys live an average of three to five years.
ZIMBABWE DROPS CHARGES AGAINST ‘CECIL’ HUNTER
A court in Zimbabwe has dropped charges against Theo Bronkhorst, who assisted U.S. trophy hunter Walter Palmer in the killing of Cecil the lion in July 2015. Cecil was killed after straying outside the protected area of Hwange National Park, being first injured with a bow and arrow and fatally shot with a gun nearly two days later, provoking massive international outcry. According to Zimbabwean authorities, Palmer had obtained legal permits for the hunt and so could not be charged; however, they accused his guide Theo Bronkhorst of illegally using bait to lure Cecil out of the national park, and charged him with failure to stop an illegal hunt. Bronkhorst’s lawyers argued that the hunt could not have been illegal since Palmer received a valid permit, and the charges against him were dismissed on November eleventh.
FEDERAL REPORT RELEASED ON ‘HARAMBE’ KILLING
In another high-profile animal killing case, findings from a United States Department of Agriculture investigation into the shooting of Harambe the gorilla were released publicly last Thursday. Harambe, a seventeen year old western lowland gorilla held at the Cincinnati Zoo, was shot to death after a child fell into his exhibit on May twenty-eighth. According to the USDA report, the barrier around Harambe’s exhibit was not in compliance with safety standards, with excessive slack in its wire cables allowing the child to squeeze through. However, the report also states that the zoo’s response, including killing Harambe when he ignored attempts to get him away from the child, properly followed emergency procedure. The federal investigation is still ongoing, and could lead to fines or other disciplinary action against the Cincinnati Zoo.
WILDLIFE THREATENED BY NIGERIA SUPERHIGHWAY
Wild gorillas and many other animals are at risk in Nigeria, where construction of a new superhighway threatens to destroy much of their remaining habitat. The state-of-the-art highway is planned to be twelve lanes across, with wireless Internet connectivity, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean northeast across the country to neighboring Chad. In addition, ten kilometers to either side of the highway will be cleared as a buffer. In the state of Cross River, whose government launched the project, this amounts to one quarter of the total land in the state, including large portions of national parks, reserves, and wildlife sanctuaries. These protected rainforests are home to the Cross River gorilla subspecies, Africa’s most endangered ape at less than two hundred fifty individuals, as well as chimpanzees and other primates, and hundreds of species of birds, reptiles, and insects.
Also at risk are people whom the highway’s construction would displace, numbering up to a million individuals. Locals have joined forces with environmental activists in calling for the highway to be either rerouted or canceled, using the funds to upgrade existing roads instead. Nigeria’s minister of the environment, Amina Mohammed, has ordered that construction be suspended pending an investigation of its environmental impact. Cross River state officials continue to defend the highway, arguing it will boost the nation’s economy, increasing trade and tourism and creating thousands of jobs.
FIRST DONKEY SLAUGHTERHOUSE OPENS IN KENYA
In Kenya, the country’s first licensed donkey slaughterhouse has begun operations. With a capacity to kill up to one hundred donkeys per day, the slaughterhouse will cater to the Chinese market. Donkey meat is a delicacy in some regions of China, and gelatin made from donkey skin is believed to offer medicinal properties. However, China’s own donkey population has fallen as rural communities replace working animals with machines, requiring imports from abroad to meet the demand.
While Kenya has embraced donkey slaughter as an economic opportunity, other countries in Africa have rejected it. In August, Burkina Faso banned the export of donkey skins, followed by Niger in September. In banning export of donkeys, Burkina Faso and Niger do not appear to be motivated by animal welfare concerns. Rather, the demand for exports threatens to deplete the countries’ donkey populations, while spikes in the animals’ cost makes them unaffordable to locals who use them for food and transportation.
VIETNAM HOSTS WILDLIFE CONFERENCE, BURNS HORN & IVORY
Last week, Hanoi, Vietnam hosted the third annual Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade. Representatives from forty two countries signed an official statement, agreeing to crack down on illegal wildlife trafficking and work with local communities to promote economic alternatives to poaching. Several days prior to the conference, Vietnam signaled its commitment to tackling illegal wildlife trade by destroying seven million U.S. dollars’ worth of confiscated horn and ivory, taken from an estimated twenty three rhinos and three hundred and thirty African elephants.
The African Wildlife Foundation praised the Vietnamese government for destroying the horns and ivory, but emphasized the need for more substantive action as well, stating,
“We are encouraged by this move from the Vietnamese government. However, the fact remains that Vietnam is the largest consumer of rhino horn in the world, with demand growing not reducing over the past several years… AWF strongly encourages the Vietnamese government to urgently demonstrate the political will to end illegal trade and consumption through enforcing domestic market bans, undertaking effective prosecutions and forensic audits of seized products without delay.”
TIGER FARMS FUEL ILLEGAL TRADE, REPORT FINDS
Vietnam is also facing renewed pressure to close down its tiger farms. Proponents of tiger farms, which raise and slaughter tigers in captivity for their parts and products, argue that they help to increase the species’ population and reduce the market for poaching. However, a new report from TRAFFIC, a wildlife trade monitoring network, suggests that they have the opposite effect, creating popular demand for tiger products and increasing poaching and illegal trade.
All international trade in tiger parts, whether wild-caught or farmed, is illegal under the wildlife treaty CITES. Of tiger product seizures reported between 2012 and 2015, thirty percent came from captive breeding facilities. This is up from just two percent between 2000 and 2003. Within Vietnam, tigers are killed to supply bones for traditional medicine, claws and teeth for jewelry, and whole cubs for tiger wine. There are currently around two hundred tigers held in Vietnamese farms and zoos, and fewer than thirty wild individuals. Across Asia, there are an estimated seven thousand tigers in farms, and less than four thousand still living in the wild.
ARGENTINA CONGRESS BANS GREYHOUND RACING
The Argentine Chamber of Deputies, Argentina’s lower house of Congress, voted last week to ban greyhound racing. Greyhounds, which are bred for lightweight, brittle skeletons, are often severely injured or killed while racing. Investigations into Argentina’s greyhound racing industry found that the dogs were often trained on live animals and given performance-enhancing drugs including cocaine and amphetamines, with uncompetitive animals being killed or abandoned. The bill to ban dog racing passed with one hundred and thirty two votes in favor, seventeen against and twenty-three abstaining. If signed into law by President Mauricio Macri, it will impose penalties for dog racing of up to four years in prison and eighty thousand U.S. dollars.
JUSTICE PREVAILS FOR EGGLESS MAYO
Finally, Hellmann’s food company has released a new brand of vegan mayonnaise. Hellmann’s is owned by Unilever, the same company that previously sued Hampton Creek for its vegan product Just Mayo, which it argued did not meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s definition of “mayonnaise” since it does not contain eggs. Unilever ultimately withdrew its suit after public backlash in Just Mayo’s defense, while Hampton Creek reached a settlement with the FDA allowing it to continue marketing Just Mayo as mayonnaise. Hellmann’s new rival product does not use the term “mayo,” instead being labeled “Carefully Crafted Dressing and Sandwich Spread.” Just Mayo, meanwhile, has updated its packaging with a bit of wordplay, defining “just” as “guided by reason, justice, and fairness.” In this case, it seems that justice has indeed prevailed.
This report 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. Sign up at this link, and don’t forget to like and subscribe for future episodes of Animal People World News. Together we can help create a kinder world for all living creatures! Thank you.