A photo that caught my eye this week was this picture of a group of elementary schoolchildren in China holding up a banner that demands: “Stop Seal Slaughter! Stop Seal Trade!”
The banner was one of many recent signs of protest across the country, culminating in an admission by Gail Shea, Canadian fisheries and oceans minister, that animal advocates had essentially succeeded in preventing Canada’s bid to sell seal meat in China from going through. It was a significant victory for Chinese animal activists, who have been working hard to mobilize public and government sentiment against the trade, and for the staff of Humane Society International (HSI).
That’s just one example of the change happening in the way people in China view – and treat – animals. The work of those involved with animal welfare in China spans areas ranging from wildlife issues to protecting companion animals, farm animals and animals used in laboratories.
The Be Cruelty-Free team at HSI and its local partner, Capital Animal Welfare Association, have been pursuing the goal of a complete Chinese ban on animal testing of cosmetics. They have been meeting with Chinese policymakers and regulators to advance the acceptance of non-animal tests and accelerate the move away from animal testing. Late last year, HSI welcomed an announcement by China's Food & Drug Administration that from June 2014, China plans to remove its mandatory animal test requirements for domestically manufactured cosmetic products.
There’s also been groundbreaking work aimed at ending the dog meat trade – a trade that most Chinese now oppose. The latest development on this front was a startling incident this week, in which two dog thieves were beaten up by dog owners after being caught stealing dogs to sell them to restaurants. We at The HSUS don’t condone violence to fight animal abuse, but this incident demonstrates that the Chinese will no longer ignore dog trafficking.
Last year, HSI and its local partners rescued hundreds of dogs headed for the butcher’s knife at the Yulin dog meat festival. HSI has participated in raids on trucks crammed with dogs headed for slaughter, saving the lives of hundreds of animals, and provided funding for veterinary attention and to help shelter victims while loving new homes are found for them.
Other examples of work done by HSI and its partners in China include sharing expertise on wildlife issues with zoo directors and conservationists to help improve welfare and care of zoo animals (including inviting two zoo directors to spend time at the Houston Zoo), stopping American rodeos from entering the country, scuttling a proposed foie gras plant, and successfully persuading the government to stop serving shark fin soup at official functions.
In 2010, after learning of Canada’s intention to make mainland China a “dumping ground” for seal products that had already been rejected by citizens of Canada , the United States and the European Union, Chinese activists mobilized to form the Chinese Coalition Against Seal Trade, with practical assistance from HSI. Rebecca Aldworth, director of HSI/Canada, traveled to mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan to meet with members of the group, as well as with Chinese officials, business leaders and reporters.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese saw HSI’s graphic videos of seal slaughter, and a special online report on Canada’s seal hunt attracted nearly 30,000 messages of condemnation from the Chinese people. The Chinese Coalition Against Seal Trade wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the Canadian Senate and Wang Qishan, who was in charge of China’s international trade.
The banner signed by the schoolchildren condemning the seal slaughter was sent to the Canadian Embassy in Beijing. These young people are part of an effort that has really paid off, for the seals, and for the activists and organizations working to end the abuse of these beautiful animals, and it was great to see these schoolchildren sending out a message—loud and clear—that they will not tolerate cruelty to animals. These are markers of success in the biggest nation in the world, and some of its most important.
P.S. China has just announced that people who eat animals listed as rare or endangered – including the panda, golden monkeys, Asian black bears and pangolins – could face 10 years or more in prison. Knowingly buying any wild animals killed by illegal hunting will carry a maximum penalty of three years in jail. This is yet another very significant development for animals in the most populous nation in the world.