In this week’s report, the Animal People Forum reviews current events involving pigs in Europe, Montreal’s ban on pit bulls, and how NOT to “rescue” zoo penguins.
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Presentation & Editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Hello! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for Animal People World News.
VEGETARIAN AWARENESS MONTH BEGINS
On Saturday, October 1st, animal and veg advocacy groups celebrated World Vegetarian Day, the first day of Vegetarian Awareness Month, which lasts until the end of October.
Several other veg-related days fall within Vegetarian Awareness Month. Sunday was World Day for Farmed Animals, which highlights the suffering of animals raised and killed for food. Many participants fasted for the day, and Canadian singer Stephanie Braganza debuted a new music video dedicated to victims of the dairy industry, titled “Chains of Silence.” [pause for clip]
Tuesday, October 4th was the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of animals and the environment, and traditionally features a blessing of the animals. In honor of St. Francis’ pro-animal legacy, many animal groups observed World Animal Day on October 4th as well, as an occasion to promote animal rights and welfare.
Finally, on November 1st celebrants of World Vegan Day will advocate giving up dairy, eggs, and honey in addition to meat. For those who missed Vegetarian Day, this is your chance to make an even bigger change on behalf of animals!
INDIA POLITICIANS SLAUGHTER DOGS IN PUBLIC
On Monday, September 26th, members of the Congress Youth Front in India’s state of Kerala publicly beat to death ten stray dogs and paraded their bodies through the streets of Kottayam. The bloody spectacle was meant to protest criticism of previous dog killings in Kerala, undertaken in response to a claimed epidemic of dog bites. According to the state government, over 51,000 people have been bitten in the past year. Animal activists argue that spay/neuter and improved sanitation would be more effective solutions than culling, which seldom reduces dog numbers long-term, and may even select for more dangerous dogs less trusting of humans. In a letter to the Congress Youth Front’s president Sonia Gandhi, N.G. Jayasimha of Humane Society International strongly condemned the most recent killings, writing,
“The recent spate of killing street dogs in Kerala is a blatant violation of both constitutional and statutory law. … Such inhuman killings at the hands of politicians will have terrible ramifications over the entire state.”
CANADIAN CITY BANS PIT BULL DOGS
In Canada, the city of Montreal also took drastic action last week in the name of combating dangerous dogs, passing a breed ban on pit bulls citywide. The ban was to prohibit all new adoptions and purchases of pit bulls starting on October 3rd. Pit bull keepers were given until the end of the year to license their dogs, and until March 31st to prove they have no criminal record and sterilize, vaccinate, and microchip their pit bulls. Only one pit bull dog would be allowed per person, and must be muzzled and kept on a short leash in public. After the deadline, any surplus pit bulls, and dogs whose owners are not in compliance, could be seized and killed. However, for the moment the ban has been indefinitely suspended by the Quebec Superior Court, in response to a lawsuit from the Montreal SPCA arguing that the ban is discriminatory, vague, and unreasonable. Although the danger is far from passed for Montreal’s pit bulls and people, the ban’s suspension at least gives dogs currently in shelters time to be adopted out elsewhere rather than immediately killed.
LAOS GOVERNMENT IN LEAGUE WITH WILDLIFE TRAFFICKERS
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. Its parties’ seventeenth meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa concluded today. However, the limitations on CITES’ power are also clearly on display thanks to a recent expose in The Guardian, revealing that the government of Laos has long been collaborating with illegal wildlife traffickers. Laos became a signatory to CITES in 2004, yet since that time has allowed smugglers to traffic hundreds of tons of wildlife products through its territory, and permitted tiger farms to raise and kill tigers for sale to China and Vietnam, in exchange for a government tax of two to four percent. In 2014 alone, forty five million U.S. dollars worth of wild animal products made their way through the country, taken from more than 165 tigers, 650 rhinos, 16,000 elephants, and countless more crocodiles, monkeys, pangolins, pythons, turtles, birds, and dogs. Their deaths added hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Lao treasury. Officials from the Lao prime minister’s office were involved in making the deals, though it is unknown whether any individual prime minister was aware of the trafficking.
CHINA VIOLATES OWN BAN ON TIGER FARMS
Meanwhile in China, around two hundred tiger farms are currently in operation, holding some 6,000 tigers to be slaughtered for their skins and body parts, despite the country’s own tiger breeding ban in effect since 1993. Some farms exploit a legal loophole by breeding tiger-lion hybrids, or “ligers,” which are not covered by the ban. The farms are approved and defended by the Chinese government, which maintains that they have increased the species’ population and reduced the market for poaching. Conservation experts argue that it has had the opposite effect, creating popular demand for tiger products and increasing poaching and illegal farming in neighboring countries. Since China’s tigers are bred for domestic markets rather than international sale, their exploitation does not fall under CITES’ traditional purview; however, a collective decision made during CITES’ 2007 conference states unequivocally that, quote, “tigers should not be bred for trade in their parts.” China objected to the decision and has to date refused to comply.
The current CITES conference concluded today, October 5th. We will cover its proceedings and results in next week’s episode.
TRIBAL NATIONS UNITE TO DEFEND GRIZZLY BEARS
More than fifty indigenous tribes in the United States and Canada have signed a joint treaty to protect Yellowstone grizzly bears from trophy hunters. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is seeking to delist Yellowstone grizzlies as a threatened species, arguing that the current population of between 674 and 839 bears is sustainable as is. If delisted, grizzly bears would fall prey to trophy hunters, who in Montana could buy permits to kill them for just a hundred and fifty dollars. Says Chief Stanley Grier of the Piikani Nation, one of the leaders in drafting the new joint treaty,
“Since time immemorial, the grizzly has been our ancestor, our relative. The grizzly is part of us and we are part of the grizzly culturally, spiritually and ceremonially. The purpose of this treaty is to honor, recognize, and reinvigorate the ancient relationship we have with the grizzly, and to restore the balance where we are the stewards and grizzly is the guardian of our lands.”
The treaty was signed in two ceremonies on Friday and Sunday, and is only the third cross-border tribal treaty in a hundred and fifty years. Other parties actively fighting the delisting and hunting of Yellowstone grizzlies include the Humane Society of the United States, the Center for Biological Diversity, and scientist and activist Jane Goodall.
PENGUIN STOLEN IN PROTEST UNLIKELY TO SURVIVE
From South Africa, a cautionary tale of how not to advocate for animals. On September 22nd, two students broke into Bayworld, a marine park in Port Elizabeth, and stole a male African penguin named Buddy. Intending to protest the keeping of animals in captivity, the students released Buddy into the Indian Ocean. Unfortunately, Buddy was born and raised in captivity, with no preparation to live on his own in the wild. His chances of surviving more than a couple weeks are considered very slim. Part of a captive breeding program for his species, which is endangered, Buddy was father to two chicks, both of whom have since died. The students who stole him are being charged with malicious damage to property and theft. Bayworld is requesting public help to find Buddy, whose flipper is tagged with the number TWO SIX SIX.
IMPORT RULES TO PROTECT MARINE MAMMALS
The United States will no longer accept imports of salmon from countries that kill marine mammals. U.S. fisheries have long been forbidden from killing or seriously injuring marine mammals, under the 1973 Marine Mammal Protection Act. New regulations effective January 1st, 2017 will apply the same standards to U.S. trading partners, with a five-year phase-in period for countries to adopt regulations equivalent to those under U.S. law. The new rules will affect Canada and the United Kingdom especially strongly, as both countries’ largest salmon export markets are in the United States. Official data show fish farms in Scotland killing an average of 7-8 seals per month this year, while in British Columbia more than 7,000 seals and sea lions have been killed since 1990. Reports of seals, sea lions, dolphins, and even whales killed by fish farmers in Chile, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Ireland, and the Faroe Islands place those countries under legal scrutiny as well.
EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT INVESTS IN ANIMAL WELFARE
Last week, the European Parliament approved an investment of one million, eight hundred fifty thousand euros to go toward new animal welfare endeavors in Europe. Once finalized, the investment will be divided between three pilot projects:
One million euros will go toward phasing out experiments and testing on animals, fostering partnerships, information exchange, new education programs and courses to develop alternatives to animal research.
Two hundred and fifty thousand euros will go toward the protection of large wild carnivores. Specifically, the project will attempt to forge understanding and common ground between livestock farmers and other land users, who largely wish to exterminate predators, and activists and members of the public who seek to preserve them.
Finally, six hundred thousand euros will go toward ending surgical castration of piglets. Meant to prevent boar taint, a foul taste or odor in pork caused partly by male hormones, castration is done without anesthesia on piglets seven days old or younger, causing pain, trauma, and infections. The project will encourage widespread adoption of less inhumane methods to prevent boar taint.
PIGS KILLED TO COMBAT FEVER IN EASTERN EUROPE
While Parliament’s investment may improve welfare for pigs in the long term, in Eastern Europe pigs are currently suffering massive culls to combat outbreaks of African swine fever. In the past month, Russian companies have killed more than 30,000 pigs in efforts to contain the virus. Under orders from president Vladimir Putin, the government is now working on a National Strategy to eliminate swine fever. According to Russian chief veterinary officer Nikolay Vlasov, this will entail either closing all small farms, which large businesses accuse of having spread the disease, or killing every wild boar in Russia to, quote, “break the epizootic chain.” Similar efforts to combat swine fever – by closing farms, culling pigs, and imposing stricter oversight upon the industry – are under consideration in Ukraine, Estonia, and Poland.
HORSES COMMUNICATE THROUGH SYMBOLS
Researchers at the Norwegian Veterinary Institute have shown that horses can learn to communicate with humans via symbols. Twenty three horses were taught to touch one of three images to express whether they wanted to wear a blanket: a horizontal bar meaning “put blanket on,” a vertical bar meaning “take blanket off,” and a blank image meaning “no change.” All of the horses tested readily learned the skill. The results not only show advanced cognition in horses, but that animals can learn to express their own interests in ways intelligible to humans.
BUMBLEBEES FOUND TO HAVE EMOTIONS
Finally, another, perhaps more surprising discovery in animal cognition shows that bumblebees possess emotions. Scientists at Queen Mary University of London found that bumblebees display optimism bias, more eagerly exploring new food sources and more quickly recovering from predator attacks if previously rewarded with sugar water. The effect was found not to be a simple sugar high, but a cognitive process involving dopamine, the same neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward in humans. Previous studies on bees have shown other surprisingly advanced abilities, including navigation by land marks, body language, and even abstract reasoning, despite the insects possessing less than a million total brain cells.
Bumblebees are in decline worldwide, due to a combination of factors including disease, pesticides, climate change, and habitat loss. In the United States, the Fish and Wildlife Service recently recommended one species, the rusty patched bumble bee, for protection under the Endangered Species Act. As around a third of all crops are pollinated by bees, their dwindling numbers carry grave significance for human life as well.
This reports 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!