In this episode of Animal People World News, find out…
- How dogfighting was finally criminalized throughout Mexico
- Why Colombia’s Supreme Court ruled to protect bullfighting, but is now considering banning it
- What Alaska’s new divorce statute means for animal rights in U.S. law
- Why India’s ban on jallikattu bull wrestling was lifted, and what it could mean for other species of animal
- Why Nepal’s decision to allow wildlife farming is dangerous for animal welfare and conservation
- What Taiwan’s new ban on euthanasia means for abandoned pets, and shelter workers struggling to care for them
- How Egypt plans to farm Nile crocodiles for leather and meat
- What South Africa’s proposed quota on lion bone exports means for lions in captivity and the wild, and
- Why politician Pyo Chang Won is pushing for animal welfare legislation in South Korea!
Watch the full episode playlist below, or scroll down for specific stories.
Hello! I’m Wolf, like the animal, reporting for Animal People World News.
MEXICO BANS DOGFIGHTING NATIONWIDE
Dogfighting will soon be a punishable crime throughout Mexico. On January 23rd, Mexico’s Senate and House of Representatives passed an amendment to the Ecological Equilibrium and Environment Protection General Law. The reformed law now requires all thirty-one states and the capital district of Mexico City to enact penalties against dogfighting within a year. Once specific penalties are finalized, they will punish organizing, participating in, or attending dogfights nationwide.
Mexico’s decision to outlaw dogfighting follows a number of state-level bans, and massive campaigns by local activists and Humane Society International. In November 2016, HSI presented a petition to the Mexican government signed by more than two hundred thousand people. The national ban also helps crack down on U.S.-based dogfighters, who have sought to escape United States anti-dogfighting laws by holding fights south of the Mexican border.
COLOMBIA CONSIDERS BAN ON BULLFIGHTING
On January twenty-second, Colombia’s capital city of Bogotá held its first bullfight in four years. Bullfighting was banned in the city in 2012, but relegalized in 2015, when Colombia’s constitutional court ruled five to four that the practice was a form of cultural and artistic expression and could not be banned. Some ten thousand spectators attended the bullfight, as well as thousands of protesters, and members of the two factions clashed violently outside the arena. Riot police used pepper spray and teargas to disrupt the conflict, arresting eighteen people.
However, the same court that ruled to protect bullfighting two years ago is now considering banning it nationwide, agreeing to debate the opinion of a judge who believes it violates Colombian animal cruelty laws. Since 2015, Colombia has legally recognized animals as “sentient beings” rather than property, making one of the few countries in the world to acknowledge animal personhood. Cruelty to animals carries stiff penalties of up to three years in prison, and a fine of sixty times the minimum monthly salary.
ALASKA DIVORCE COURTS TO TREAT PETS LIKE CHILDREN
The U.S. state of Alaska has taken a significant step toward legal recognition of animal rights. Animals are legally classified as “property” throughout the United States. Accordingly, when it comes to divorce, courts have typically decided which party gets to keep the family pets as a matter of property distribution. Now, a new amendment to Alaska’s divorce statutes requires courts to consider the wellbeing of the animal as a factor in determining custody, and allows judges to assign joint custody in the same manner as with children. The law also allows animals to be included in domestic violence protective orders, and requires the owners of pets seized in cruelty or neglect cases to pay for the cost of their shelter.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund praised the new law, writing on its website that,
“As few laws exist that bring the interests of an individual animal before the court, Alaska’s new statute represents significant progress for animals in the legal system. … Alaska has taken an important step in recognizing our evolving social relationship with companion animals, and their value beyond mere property.”
JALLIKATTU BULL WRESTLING BAN LIFTED IN INDIA
In India, a ban on the traditional bull wrestling event known as jallikattu has been lifted following massive protests by its enthusiasts. Jallikattu is a so called sport associated with the Pongal harvest festival, in which bulls are forced to run through crowds of young men, who attempt to grab and hold on to the hump of the bull for a prescribed distance or time. Bulls are often beaten, stabbed with sharp sticks, fed liquor, or have their tails twisted or chili powder rubbed into their eyes to goad them into aggression. Many animals have been severely injured or killed in accidents, such as falling from high places or being hit by cars or trains, and jallikattu bulls are typically sold to slaughter once the festival is over.
For these reasons, the Supreme Court of India ruled in 2014 that jallikattu and similar practices violated the 1960 Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Jallikattu enthusiasts opposed the ban, claiming the practice as a part of their cultural and religious heritage. Bowing to public pressure, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests temporarily lifted the ban last year, allowing jallikattu and similar events involving bulls to continue. On January twenty-third, 2017, the state government of Tamil Nadu passed an emergency order to again permit jallikattu, following massive protests in support of the practice.
Many of the protests specifically targeted animal activists. Hundreds of protesters surrounded the home of animal rights advocates Nanditha and Chinny Krishna in Chennai, and a lawsuit filed with the Madras high court attempted to ban PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, from operating in the country. Other demonstrators resorted to violence, throwing rocks at police and even torching a police station, just hours before the ban on jallikattu was lifted.
The Supreme Court of India refused to halt Tamil Nadu’s new law permitting jallikattu, but has agreed to hear a plea filed by the Animal Welfare Board of India, arguing against the legalization of bull wrestling events. Animal rights activists fear that lifting the ban on jallikattu will lead to legal protections for other cruel spectacles involving animals. Already, residents of the state of Assam are lobbying to relegalize bulbul fights, a banned practice in which wild songbirds are captured and forced to battle. During a temple festival in Karnataka several weeks ago, worshipers threw four sheep to their deaths as offerings to the god Mailara, despite a current ban on the sacrifice. Meanwhile, forest officials in Tamil Nadu have helped organize so-called “fox jallikattu” events, in which wild-caught foxes are chased and wrestled in the same manner as bulls.
NEPAL LEGALIZES WILDLIFE FARMING
Wild animals in Nepal suffered a major blow on January thirtieth, when the Nepalese Parliament passed an amendment to the 1973 National Parks and Wildlife Conservation Act. The amendment authorizes the government to issue licenses to individuals and businesses permitting the keeping and breeding of wild animals for commercial purposes. Such purposes include their display in zoos, use in entertainment, and the harvesting, sale and export of their organs and body parts. Additionally, the government will itself supply so-called “seed animals” to farmers, claiming it will provide livelihoods to local communities and create an economic incentive for wildlife conservation.
The commercial farming of wild animals is obviously incompatible with animal rights or welfare. Between 2003 and 2009, commercial macaque farms in Nepal bred monkeys for export to the U.S. biomedical research industry. The parent animals were captured from the wild. Around thirty percent of their offspring were found to be diseased, and killed instead of being exported. After years of protest by animal protection groups, the farms were eventually deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court and shut down.
Farming of captive wildlife also threatens the survival of wild populations. Nepal is a major hub for illegal wildlife trafficking. Contrary to claims that farming wildlife helps prevent poaching, studies in other countries have shown that it has the opposite effect, increasing popular demand for wildlife products and providing legal cover for illegal products.
On Saturday, February fourth, hundreds of animal welfare and conservation activists rallied in front of the Kathmandu central zoo. The Jane Goodall Institute Nepal is leading a petition, letter writing, and social media campaign against the new law.
TAIWAN BANS EUTHANASIA OF SHELTER ANIMALS
In Taiwan, a new law banning the euthanasia of animals abandoned at shelters took effect on Saturday, February fourth. Until now, around seventy percent of the more than one hundred thousand dogs admitted to shelters each year have been euthanized. Limited funding and staff for shelters, a shortage of available homes, stray overpopulation, and ongoing commercial breeding of puppies have all contributed to Taiwan’s high kill rates.
The law’s passage follows the death of Chien Chih-Cheng, a veterinarian and animal shelter director who in May 2016 committed suicide using animal euthanasia drugs. Before her death, Chien did a television interview hoping to raise awareness of the plight of abandoned pets, describing the sadness of having to euthanize unwanted dogs. Instead, she became the victim of a merciless public smear campaign, with critics dubbing her a “butcher,” accusing her of killing for fun and saying she would go to Hell for having euthanized dogs.
In her suicide note, Chien again spoke to the tragedy of pet abandonment, writing,
“There is no less importance in the life of an animal than the life of a human. … I hope my departure will let all of you know stray animals are also life. I hope the government knows the importance of controlling the source [of the problem]… Please value life.”
Though all animal lovers agree with the ideal of ending euthanasia, many shelter workers have criticized the new law for not adequately addressing the root causes of pet abandonment. Says veterinarian Kung Chien-Chia,
“Zero euthanasia is a false policy if there are no supportive measures to reduce pet abandonment rates to zero. Shelters have limited spaces, personnel and resources, but the number of admitted animals will keep increasing.”
Besides banning euthanasia, the law also increases funding for animal shelters by forty percent, provides psychological support services for shelter workers, and imposes a fine of one hundred and twenty-five dollars on anyone who abandons a pet at a shelter. Hopefully it will make a positive difference both for Taiwan’s dogs and cats, and the compassionate people who dedicate themselves to their care.
EGYPT INVESTS IN CROCODILE FARMING
Egypt has begun a national program to commercially farm Nile crocodiles for their leather and meat. Construction of a new farm will begin on the shores of Lake Nasser this year, with commercial leather and meat production scheduled to begin by 2020. The project follows the downgrading of Egyptian crocodiles’ protection under CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species, in 2010, which now allows regulated farming of Nile crocodiles.
Egyptian Nile crocodiles were nearly driven extinct by hunting and habitat destruction during the early twentieth century. The creation of Lake Nasser, a huge artificial reservoir behind Aswan Dam, in 1970 opened up new territory for the species, and today there are more than thirty thousand crocodiles living in the area.
Some local communities fear and hate the reptiles, which occasionally prey on humans, though fewer than ten total attacks have been recorded in the history of Lake Nasser. Others hunt them illegally for their skins, or stuff them to sell as souvenirs. People in the Nubian village of West Suhail capture young crocodiles to keep as pets and tourist attractions. However, they disapprove of killing them for profit, and usually release the crocodiles into the lake once they grow large.
The crocodile farm will be stocked with up to seven hundred and fifty wild-caught individuals, and eggs gathered from the lake shore. Farmed crocodilians are typically slaughtered by shooting them with a bolt gun or severing their vertebrae, though being cold-blooded, they are difficult to kill outright and often remain alive during the skinning and butchering process.
SOUTH AFRICA SEEKS TO EXPORT LION BONES
The government of South Africa is seeking to allow the export of eight hundred lion skeletons per year. Lion bone is used as a substitute for tiger bone in some traditional Chinese and southeast Asian medicines, since international trade in tiger products is illegal under CITES, the Convention on the International Trade of Endangered Species. Lions are classified as less endangered than tigers, and CITES permits international trade in captive bred lions. A proposed ban on all lion products was defeated at the last CITES conference in October 2016, opposed by nations that profit from lion farming and trophy hunting.
There are up to eight thousand captive bred lions in South Africa, more than twice the wild population. Lions are farmed for commercial purposes including cub petting, lion walks, canned lion hunting, and harvesting of their body parts. Since the United States banned imports of lion trophies in October 2016, South Africa’s lion breeders have increasingly turned to the Asian bone market to sustain the industry. The proposed government quota would actually reduce the number of lion skeletons exported by around four hundred per year, but at the cost of legally sanctioning the trade in lion parts.
Besides opposing the obvious cruelty of lion farming and slaughter, critics also argue that the quota could increase poaching of wild lions, by increasing commercial demand for lion products and providing legal cover for illegally obtained bone.
SOUTH KOREA POLITICIAN PLEADS FOR ANIMAL PROTECTION
Finally, in South Korea, the politician Pyo Chang Won is leading an effort to strengthen legal protections for animals. Chairman of the National Assembly’s Animal Welfare Committee, Pyo last August introduced a bill to amend and strengthen the country’s Animal Protection Act. On January nineteenth, he reignited popular support for the bill by posting a photograph of himself and his adopted dog Mocha to Facebook, with a message to the National Assembly saying,
“I bow down with Mocha to sincerely request to review and revise the current Animal Protection Act.”
Pyo’s animal protection bill is cosponsored by sixty-four of the Assembly’s three hundred members, but must undergo review by Korea’s Agriculture, Forestry, Livestock, and Fisheries committees before it can be passed. If signed into law, it will:
- Expand the definition of cruelty to animals,
- Increase prison sentences and fines for animal cruelty,
- Bar convicted animal abusers from working in animal-related professions for a period of five years after completing their prison terms,
- Fine businesses for cruel acts committed by their employees, and
- Protect Good Samaritans who trespass on private property to rescue animals from danger.
The bill prohibits many common forms of abuse specifically associated with the dog and cat meat industry, such as killing animals by strangling, burning, or beating; tying animals to cars or motorbikes; or confining them in tight spaces. It does not itself ban the slaughter of dogs and cats for meat, though Pyo Chang Won makes clear that this is his eventual goal. In an essay he wrote titled “Dogs and I, and Animal Protection Law,” he describes the horror he felt as a child witnessing dogs killed for food, and the beginnings of his lifelong commitment to their protection.
“As a young boy, I made a promise to the dogs: that when I grew up and had strength, I would take care of them, protect them and that I would stop people from hurting them. … The introduction of my amendments to the Animal Protection Act is my first step to fulfill my promise I made to the dogs as a young boy.”