Watch the latest episode of Animal People World News to find out…
- How the UK military is combating bird trapping in Cyprus
- Why conflict is erupting over Australia’s feral horses
- What the new U.S. farm bill may mean for animals
- How human drug use can harm freshwater fish
- Why vegan activists in France face a growing political backlash
- Why Congo porcupines are being targeted for hunting
- Why the dog meat trade may be coming to an end in China and South Korea
- How the World Cup is impacting Russia’s stray dogs
- Why two new studies present a ‘paradox’ for dog spay/neuter
- How Koko the gorilla changed scientific understanding of animals
VICTORY AGAINST BIRD POACHING IN CYPRUS
In the island nation of Cyprus, a major victory has been won against the ongoing problem of bird poaching. Cyprus is located along a major migratory route, and every year becomes a grave site for up to two point five million songbirds, who are killed to supply a traditional dish called ambelopoulia. Trappers lure the birds using recorded calls, and capture them in nets or by coating branches in glue. The birds are cooked whole and served in restaurants across the island.
Bird trapping has been illegal in Cyprus since 1974, but the law is seldom enforced, and ambelopoulia can be ordered easily in restaurants across the island. Blackcaps and song thrushes are the most commonly targeted birds, but the organization BirdLife Cyprus has recorded the consumption of one hundred and fifty-five different species, some of them endangered.
Fortunately, one of the biggest sites for poaching is now under military protection. The British military base of Dhekelia, on the southeast coast of Cyprus, has cracked down on poaching within its jurisdiction. British armed forces minister Mark Lancaster ordered the crackdown, saying he was inspired to take action after receiving letters from concerned citizens. Officers have managed to reduce poaching by an estimated seventy-two percent, saving nearly six hundred thousand birds over the past year.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, the government of Malta has been convicted by the European Court of Justice for allowing the trapping of seven species of finches. Since 2014 Malta has permitted the capture of more than a hundred thousand birds, in violation of European bird conservation law. Although finches in Malta are captured for the pet trade rather than for food, BirdLife Cyprus says that the case sets a useful precedent for ending Cypriot bird trapping as well.
FERAL HORSE DILEMMA DIVIDES AUSTRALIA
In Australia, battle lines have been drawn over the issue of “brumbies,” or feral horses, with state governments taking radically different stances toward the animals. On May twenty-third, New South Wales passed a law to protect the horses of Kosciuszko National Park as part of the state’s cultural heritage. Conversely, the state of Victoria recently announced a plan to remove up to thirteen hundred horses from its own parklands.
Conservationists argue that the non-native brumbies endanger native plants and destroy habitat for native animals. Lethal culling has long been the norm for managing horse populations in Australia, including such methods as shooting brumbies from aircraft. New South Wales’ Wild Horse Heritage law will prohibit killing horses, while encouraging humane alternatives such as live trapping and adoption and contraceptive injections. By contrast, Victoria’s ministry of the environment says it will prioritize non-lethal methods, but allow captured horses to be killed if rehoming them proves too difficult.
Horses were first introduced to Australia by European colonists during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Hooved animals were never native to Australia previously, although large plant-eating marsupials once filled a similar ecological role, until driven extinct by human hunting and climate change. Today, there are around half a million feral horses scattered across Australia. It bears mention that sheep, another large herbivore non-native to Australia, are commercially raised for meat and wool by the tens of millions.
U.S. FARM BILL THREATENS STATE ANIMAL WELFARE LAWS
The United States is close to passing a new Farm Bill for 2018, and its potential implications for animals are massive. Especially dangerous is an amendment to the bill introduced by Iowa representative Steve King, which would strike down regulations on trade between states. State-level bans on puppy mills, regulations on humane farming and slaughter, and other laws protecting animals in industry would be overturned, along with regulations on issues like food safety and child labor. Future animal welfare legislation would become nearly impossible except at the federal level.
The King amendment, or Protect Interstate Commerce Act, is included in the farm bill passed by the House of Representatives, but not the version passed by the Senate. As there are many major differences between the two bills, a committee must now combine both documents into one final farm bill before it can be signed into law. The Humane Society Legislative Fund is currently lobbying committee members in an effort to strike the King amendment from the final draft.
In more positive news, both the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill will prohibit the killing or sale of dogs and cats for food. Although there is currently no significant dog or cat meat trade within the United States, activists hope that banning it will set an example for other nations to follow, as well as prevent the industry from ever taking hold on U.S. soil. The Senate farm bill would also provide funding for domestic violence shelters to care for pets, allowing victims to more easily flee their abusers without having to abandon their animals.
The farm bill is not the only pending U.S. legislation to impact animals. Congress members from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho have introduced a bill to allow the killing of up to one hundred sea lions per year, in the name of protection endangered salmon on whom they prey. Meanwhile, the Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed legalizing the hunting of red wolves. Red wolves are a critically endangered species, with only thirty-five known animals still living wild. Of these, all but twelve wolves living in a single refuge in North Carolina would now be sentenced to death. The Fish and Wildlife Service is accepting public comments online until the end of July.
HUMAN DRUG USE FOUND TO HARM FRESHWATER FISH
Recreational drug use has cascading harmful effects on wild animals and ecosystems, according to a new study in the journal Science of the Total Environment. Human users of cocaine excrete trace amounts of the drug in their waste, which ends up in rivers via sewer systems. In this study, researchers exposed European eels to trace amounts of cocaine, equivalent to that found in rivers near major European cities. The eels showed signs of severe stress, including hyperactive behavior, increased cortisol, weight loss, and muscle damage that impaired their swimming and breathing ability.
The eels in the study were exposed to cocaine for just fifty days, but in nature, eels may spend up to twenty years in drug-polluted rivers during their freshwater life stage. The European eel has become critically endangered in recent years, with other threats including overfishing, river dams, and climate change.
Eels are not the only species impacted by drugs in waterways, nor are illegal drugs like cocaine the only culprits. Previous research has shown that salmon suffer from exposure to common pain medications and antidepressants found in U.S. Pacific Northwest waters. Large-scale solutions include upgrading waste treatment plants to better remove drug residues, and changing the way healthcare providers dispose of unused medicines. In the mean time, individuals can help by avoiding medically unnecessary drug use, and not flushing expired drugs down the toilet.
FRENCH VEGAN MOVEMENT FACES GROWING BACKLASH
In France, animal rights activists are facing a growing backlash from lawmakers and the meat industry. On June twenty-first, the French butchers’ federation appealed to the Interior Ministry for police protection against vegan activists. The butchers accuse activists of assaulting them with fake blood and vandalizing their shops, breaking windows and spraying graffiti, tactics they describe as “authoritarian” and a form of “terrorism.” The letter also cites an instance of a vegan activist posting on Facebook that she had, quote, “zero compassion” for a butcher killed in a March terrorist attack. The activist in question was sentenced to seven months in prison for her comment.
While the butchers’ federation claims that French food culture is under attack by vegans, legally speaking the opposite is true. In April, France passed a law making it illegal to market vegan foods as alternatives to animal products, restricting terms like “meat,” “cheese,” and “sausage” exclusively to foods of animal origin. French president Emmanuel Macron, who pledged during his election campaign to install cameras in slaughterhouses and phase out cages in egg farms, has instead distanced himself from animal protection since taking office. In April, he even called to overturn France’s ban on hunting with dogs, and resume the long-abolished tradition of presidential hunts.
The United States may be following France in its approach to vegan cuisine. In May, the state of Missouri banned the word “meat” from being used to describe vegan meat alternatives. The U.S. Cattlemen’s Association is currently lobbying the Department of Agriculture to implement a similar ban nationwide.
CHINESE MEDICINE THREATENS PORCUPINES IN CONGO
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, porcupines are being killed in increasing numbers to supply Chinese traditional medicine. The animals are sought as a source of “bezoar stones,” hardened masses of indigestible material found in their stomachs. Bezoars from various herbivorous animals have been used in traditional medicine for centuries, and are currently marketed as cures for everything from wounds and fevers to cancer and diabetes.
In the Congo, porcupines have long been hunted as a source of food, and their meat can easily be found in local restaurants. However, demand for bezoars has rapidly accelerated in recent months due to increasing Chinese immigration and economic activity. O.I.P.A., the International Organization for Animal Protection, has documented numerous cases of Chinese paying local villagers to hunt porcupines. A porcupine bezoar can sell for nearly two hundred U.S. dollars, though on average, only one out of every two hundred animals killed actually contains one.
Porcupines are just one of many species hunted to supply the bushmeat trade, including critically endangered primates, elephants, and bats. Some six million tons of bushmeat are taken from the Congo Basin each year, both for subsistence and commercial sale and export. Defenders of the trade argue that local people are dependent on hunting wildlife for their protein needs, and that switching to livestock farming would be even more destructive for wild ecosystems. The alternative solution of promoting plant agriculture has to date received little consideration, even though plant-based proteins require far less land or water to produce than meat, dairy, or eggs.
CHINESE DOG MEAT FESTIVAL UNDERWAY AS SOUTH KOREA MOVES TO BAN
The infamous Yulin Dog Meat Festival was held again in southwest China during the last ten days of June. During the festival, dogs are bludgeoned to death and sometimes boiled or skinned alive. Most of the animals are stolen pets trucked in from other regions of China, while a few come from small-scale dog farms. The festival has been held every year since 2010, when it was established to promote the local economy in the city of Yulin.
Historically, dog meat was rarely if ever eaten in most parts of China, but became more common during the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s and 70s, when many people began eating dogs, cats, and wildlife in order to survive famine. Today, some ten million dogs and four million cats are eaten every year across China.
The practice is increasingly controversial, however, both internationally and within China. This year, eighty-five Chinese animal protection organizations joined forces with Humane Society International, petitioning the Chinese government to shut down the festival and rescuing one hundred and thirty seven dogs from being slaughtered. A number of Chinese politicians have spoken out against the dog meat trade, and the Yulin city government has not officially sanctioned the festival since 2014. Fewer than one thousand dogs were slaughtered in 2016, down from as many as fifteen thousand at the event’s peak.
Meanwhile, South Korea has made progress toward abolishing its own dog meat trade. Dogs are not legally recognized as food animals under Korean law, but neither has their consumption been officially banned. On June twenty-first, the city court of Bucheon convicted a dog meat farmer of illegal slaughter, stating that meat consumption is not a legally valid reason to kill dogs. The case sets an important precedent for the criminalization of dog meat – particularly with the approach of Bok Nal, the dates of July twelfth, July twenty-second, and August eleventh on which dog meat soup is a traditional dish.
WORLD CUP HOUNDED BY RUMORS OF DOG MASSACRES
The World Cup, the world’s largest soccer tournament, is now underway in Russia, and will continue until July fifteenth. In the weeks leading up to the World Cup, rumors emerged of street dogs being massacred in the eleven cities hosting games. Government officials deny the rumors, dismissing cases of dogs who have died from poison as individual acts of cruelty rather than systematic culling. A viral photograph claimed to show a large-scale Russian dog cull turned out to be a hoax, having actually been taken in Pakistan almost two years ago.
Nonetheless, Russian authorities have captured many street dogs and locked them away in shelters, often with little space or sanitation. While some cities have partnered with animal welfare organizations to house captured dogs, others have enlisted private companies, including waste disposal firms. Parliament member Vladimir Burmatov visited one of the shelters firsthand, describing the dogs as “malnourished” and stating that many were being put to sleep to free up space.
If dogs are not only being locked away but deliberately killed, it wouldn’t be the first time Russia has exterminated strays to prepare for sporting events. In 2014, the city government of Sochi systematically poisoned dogs before hosting the Winter Olympics. Similar incidents could be avoided in the future were FIFA, the International Federation of Association Football, to add an animal welfare clause to its tournament host contract.
NEW STUDIES CARRY BIG IMPLICATIONS FOR DOG SPAY/NEUTER
Spay and neuter has long been a major focus of animal protection efforts worldwide, as a means to humanely control dog and cat populations without resorting to killing. Two recently published scientific studies carry big implications for how spay/neuter campaigns can best be implemented for the good of animals and humans alike.
The first study, published by veterinary scientists McGreevy et al. in the journal Plos One, reports that early-age neutering of male dogs can increase the risk of behavioral problems. Dogs neutered before reaching puberty were found to show higher rates of fear and aggression than dogs neutered later in life. This presents a “paradox,” as the authors put it: On the one hand, sterilization reduces the total number of unwanted animals. On the other hand, by increasing unwanted behaviors, it can also make pets more likely to be abandoned, and stray animals more hostile to humans and so less likely to be tolerated. The research suggests that spay/neuter advocates might have greater long-term success by sterilizing only adult dogs, and by focusing their efforts on females, who tend to be less aggressive than males whether spayed or intact.
The second study, also published in Plos One by Corrieri et al., is a case study of dogs living in Bali, Indonesia. Comparing free-roaming dogs to animals who had been taken into homes as pets, the researchers found that street dogs were less excitable and less aggressive toward either humans or animals than those who lived in houses. When it comes to spay/neuter tactics, these findings suggest that returning stray animals to their territory after recovery is better for their welfare than adopting them into homes… at least in theory. In practice, this depends heavily on how well people in a given society tolerate animals, and whether free-roaming dogs are at high risk of abuse or killing.
Bali itself showcases the complexity of these factors. Dogs are celebrated in Balinese culture, and communities traditionally care for the free-roaming dogs in their midst. However, the arrival of rabies, first confirmed on the island in 2008, triggered government culls which led to the killing of hundreds of thousands of dogs, many of whom had already been sterilized, vaccinated, and returned by local animal groups.
SIGNING GORILLA KOKO PASSES AWAY AT 46
Koko, a Western lowland gorilla famous for her use of sign language, passed away in her sleep on June nineteenth. She was forty-six years old, a typical lifespan for gorillas in captivity. Born in 1971 at the San Francisco Zoo, Koko’s ability to learn American Sign Language marked a turning point for the scientific study of non-human intelligence. Over the course of her life, she mastered more than two thousand words, and invented her own signs to describe new concepts. Koko was also an artist, painting images of birds, flowers, and even abstract concepts such as “love.”
Koko proved that the ability to use language is not unique to human beings. Her case, studied by scientist Francine Patterson and The Gorilla Foundation, paved the way for further discoveries of language use throughout the animal kingdom. These include:
Research with African grey parrots, showing they can learn over one hundred words along with basic grammar and arithmetic.
The discovery that orcas, or killer whales, possess distinct dialects of calls shared between groups of pods.
Prairie dogs’ ability to describe the size, shape, speed, and color of objects using different sounds.
Honey bees’ use of so-called waggle dances to describe the direction and distance of food sources.
And the invention of a computer program that can learn and translate the meaning of bat calls.
Says The Gorilla Foundation of Koko’s passing:
“Koko’s capacity for language and empathy has opened the minds and hearts of millions. Her impact has been profound and what she has taught us about the emotional capacity of gorillas and their cognitive abilities will continue to shape the world.”