Watch the latest episode of Animal People World News to find out…
- How South Korea is restricting animal testing to a last resort
- What a U.S. court ruling means for endangered animals in captivity
- How some “rescue” tactics actually support dog breeding
- Why Canada continues to subsidize the hunting of seal pups
- Why Australia’s live export industry may finally be nearing an end
- Who is behind the murder of wildlife rangers in the Congo
- What Hawaii and Samoa are doing to protect marine fish
Research by Kim Rogers Bartlett
Writing & editing by Wolf Gordon Clifton
Presentation by Aubrie Rose Keegan & Wolf Gordon Clifton
Theme music: “Cloudburst” by Sentient Pulse
ANIMAL TESTING NOW LAST RESORT IN SOUTH KOREA
South Korea has taken a major step toward ending animal testing. The National Assembly has passed an amendment to the country’s chemical evaluation law, requiring both government and private laboratories to prioritize alternative methods of testing new chemicals before resorting to the use of vertebrate animals. It will also ban repeated testing of chemicals whose effects on animals are already known. Animal testing of cosmetic products is already illegal in South Korea as of February 2017.
The new law will hopefully reverse a trend of increasing animal research in South Korea. Three million animals were used in experiments last year, more than three times as many as in 2008. Nine out of ten lab animals were rodents, and a third of all experiments involved suffering without pain relief, according to Korean government figures.
South Korea is not the only country to take recent positive steps for animals in laboratories. On March thirtieth, Japan abolished a federal requirement that all pesticides be tested on dogs. The tests, which involve feeding pesticide to beagles for one year and then dissecting the dogs to examine its effects, were determined to have little value in predicting risks to humans.
In the United States, meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency has begun accepting non-animal methods of pesticide testing. The spending bill recently signed by President Trump will defund medical testing on dogs at Veterans Affairs hospitals. A congressional bill to permanently prohibit such tests is currently under review.
U.S. COURT UPHOLDS SPECIES PROTECTIONS FOR CAPTIVE WILDLIFE
A landmark U.S. court ruling strengthens endangered species protections for wild animals held in captivity. On April eleventh, the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the owners of Cricket Hollow Animal Park in Iowa, on behalf of tigers and lemurs held at the roadside zoo. The tigers were kept in cages so filthy that four of the cats died of ill health over a two-year period, while the lemurs – naturally social animals – were housed in isolation with no enrichment.
The court ruled that such treatment not only violated animal welfare law, but also constituted “harassment” of endangered animals under the Endangered Species Act, upholding a previous decision in 2016 which the zoo owners had appealed. The Department of Agriculture has revoked the zoo’s license, and the animals are to be moved to other facilities better equipped to care for them.
The case sets an important precedent for prosecution of cruelty or neglect toward endangered animals held in captivity. Says Stephen Wells, director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, “The Eighth Circuit’s ruling puts roadside zoos, circuses and private owners on notice that they can no longer ignore endangered animals’ unique biological and psychological needs.”
In June 2015, the Fish and Wildlife Service granted endangered species protection to chimpanzees in laboratories, thereby ending invasive research on chimps within the United States.
Unfortunately, the Endangered Species Act is itself in legal peril. Earlier this month, the Trump administration selected Susan Combs, a fierce opponent of the Act, as acting secretary for fish, wildlife and parks. A pending executive order would eliminate protections for species classified as “threatened,” that is at high risk of becoming endangered.
DOG ‘RESCUE’ FUNDS BREEDING INDUSTRY, REPORT SHOWS
A number of non-profit rescue organizations have been linked to the commercial dog breeding industry, The Washington Post reports. Each year, representatives from a small but significant number of U.S. and Canadian animal groups converge on two dog auctions held in the state of Missouri. There, they bid on dogs supplied by commercial breeders. The purchased dogs are then adopted out in the name of “puppy mill rescue,” while their breeders return home with profits of hundreds or even thousands of dollars per animal.
The practice began with rescuers acquiring surplus or rejected dogs, who would otherwise be abandoned or killed, in exchange for small, nominal payments. Yet the commercial market for rescue dogs has since grown so large that breeders have started deliberately over-breeding to supply it. Some breeders now earn up to forty percent of their income from selling dogs to so-called “rescuers.”
Altogether, the Washington Post calculates that the rescue auction market has supplied two point seven million dollars to breeders since 2009, in payment for five thousand, seven hundred and sixty-one dogs. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of dogs without homes are put down in shelters every year. Says Julie Castle of Best Friends Animal Society,
“You can be part of [ending killing in shelters]by adopting your next pet from your local shelter or a legitimate organization… Buying puppies from puppy mill breeders and selling them to the public is not rescue. It’s the pet trade and it needs to be exposed.”
ANNUAL SEAL HUNT NOW UNDERWAY IN CANADA
On April ninth, Canada began its annual commercial slaughter of seal pups. Last year, some eighty thousand harp and grey seals were slaughtered off the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Seal hunting is commonly defended as necessary to prevent competition with cod fishermen. However, scientific studies have mostly found that cod are not seals’ preferred prey, and that the fish species’ decline is mostly a result of human overfishing. Many seal hunters are indigenous Inuit, for whom the practice is a traditional livelihood, and whose communities suffer disproportionately from poverty and hunger. The Canadian government subsidizes seal hunting, spending around three times more to support the industry than it brings in from sales of meat and skin each year.
Seal pups are killed between one and three months of age. Regulations require that hunters first shoot seals in order to quote-unquote “stun” them, and then club them over the head to ensure death. According to a 2002 veterinary report published in the Canadian Veterinary Journal, between one tenth and one third of seals remain conscious after the first shot. Most carcasses are abandoned after skinning, with more than ninety percent of meat going to waste.
Earlier this month, India announced that it would ban import of seal products, following the United States, Mexico, Russia, and the European Union in doing so. After Canada, the African nation of Namibia hosts the world’s second largest seal hunt. Over the past ten years, Namibia has exported four hundred thousand skins, and tens of thousands of gallons of oil, from slaughtered Cape fur seals.
OUTCRY OVER SHEEP SUFFERING ON AUSTRALIAN EXPORT SHIPS
Footage revealing the suffering of sheep exported live out of Australia is making waves among lawmakers and industry leaders. The video, collected by the organization Animals Australia, shows animals aboard a vessel that sailed from Australia to Qatar in August 2017. The tightly packed animals can be seen suffering from heat stroke while caked in their own waste. Twenty four hundred of the sheep died while at sea, including infant lambs born on the ship. Those who reached Qatar alive were documented being beaten and thrown about by slaughter workers leading up to their deaths.
Until now, campaigns by animal activists to end live export have had little success. Last year, Australia exported nearly two million live sheep, as well as close to a million cows, to be slaughtered for meat in countries across the Middle East and Asia. Yet the latest video has sparked mass outrage, including from politicians.
Australia’s ministry of agriculture has launched an investigation of the industry, and Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack has called to revoke the licenses of exporters found to have permitted abuse. The Australian Live Exporters Council has announced a number of industry reforms in an effort to regain political support, including appointing veterinarians and independent inspectors to oversee future shipments of animals.
Yet political pressure is mounting to shut down the live export industry for good. Member of Parliament Sussan Ley, herself a former defender of live export, has pledged to introduce a bill that would phase out the trade entirely.
“Having been a farmer for seventeen years, having represented rural Australia and sheep producers, I’ve got to say – if I’m calling time on this industry, I think time is well and truly passed. I am deadly serious. I want to see this live sheep trade permanently cease.”
WILDLIFE RANGERS KILLED BY MILITIA IN CONGO
In the Democratic Republic of Congo’s Virunga National Park, six park staff members were murdered on April ninth. They were attacked by members of one of Congo’s many armed militia groups. Five park rangers and their driver were killed. One ranger survived and has been treated for his injuries.
Virunga National Park has the highest biodiversity in all of Africa. It is home to two species each of gorilla and elephant, the giraffe-like okapi, and birds including the shoebill and barbet. Virunga’s wild animals are threatened by poaching, both for subsistence by local people and to supply the commercial bush meat trade. Militia and rebel groups and the Congolese military all participate in bush meat trafficking, as well as violent crimes against humans.
One hundred and seventy five rangers have now been murdered in Virunga National Park. Across Africa, more than seventy percent of wildlife rangers report facing life-threatening encounters with poachers, but only forty percent have access to proper equipment and amenities to protect themselves.
On April twenty-second, Virunga will compete in the Virgin Money Marathon in London, represented by Angele, one of the park’s first woman rangers. Says Angele:
“I wanted to be a ranger in Virunga so I could help protect the park and its amazing wildlife. I am excited and a bit nervous to travel to London as I have never left the Congo… but at least I don’t have to worry about avoiding the hippos!”
HAWAII & SAMOA ENACT PROTECTIONS FOR POLYNESIAN FISH
Finally, two Polynesian states have declared safe harbor for marine fish. On April twelfth, the U.S. state of Hawaii’s First Circuit Court declared void all existing permits to capture wild fish for aquariums. Until now, several million fish were captured every year from Hawaiian waters to supply the aquarium industry. The court decision to invalidate current permits still allows Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources to issue new ones, provided it considers each permit’s environmental impact beforehand. A bill to phase out all capture of wild fish passed the state congress in May 2017, but was vetoed by Governor David Ige.
It is now known that fish are sensitive to pain and distress, and in some cases surprisingly intelligent. Tusk fish and cod can use tools, while groupers and moray eels hunt together using body language to communicate. Yet fish captured for aquariums are treated with little regard for their welfare. For example, when fish are first captured from deep water, they are pierced with needles to deflate their swim bladders, so that they don’t explode in the shallow water of home aquariums.
Meanwhile, the nation of Samoa – not to be confused with American Samoa, a U.S. territory in the same island chain – has declared its waters a shark sanctuary. In March, Prime Minister Tuilaepa announced an end to all commercial fishing, sale, and trade of either sharks or rays. Samoan waters are home to nearly thirty species of these fish, including the blue shark. More than twenty million blue sharks are killed every year for their fins, which are considered a delicacy in East Asian cuisines.
Besides fish, Samoa’s birds are also in need of protection. Hunting of wild pigeons has been illegal since 1993, but remains common, claiming the lives of up to thirty-three thousand birds each year. Victims include the manumea or tooth-billed pigeon, Samoa’s national bird. The manumea is a close relative of the extinct dodo, and is itself perilously close to extinction. A recently launched Care2 petition calls for the Samoan government to protect this so-called “little dodo” by cracking down on pigeon hunting.