As part of my 2016 round-up of our accomplishments and activities, today I run through the 10 most popular blogs for the year – the ones that got the most page views (I write about 275 blogs a year, or one each weekday). These include four blogs covering a bill signing or a final rulemaking action by the Obama Administration, including measures to protect downer calves, to restrict predator killing on tens of millions of acres of federal lands in Alaska, and to reduce animal testing for chemical safety tests. There were also big-news items that broke into the top five, most notably the killing of Harambe the gorilla in Cincinnati and Under Armour’s sponsorship of an Ohio couple who killed a black bear in Alberta with a spear. The reforms that we secured from SeaWorld and Walmart – two big brands – also captured the nation’s attention, and yours. Rounding out the summary are blogs that recounted one of our biggest puppy mill rescues of the year, and a continuing investigation into horse soring.
The HSUS put the issue of downer calf slaughter on the national radar with a pair of damning undercover investigations at the slaughter plants of Bushway Packing, Inc. in 2009, and Catelli Bros. in 2014. Our undercover videos showed workers abusing and hitting juvenile animals too sick or injured or weakened to walk to their own slaughter. We estimate that thousands of veal calves, most of them only a few days or weeks old, collapse on their way to slaughter each year, but a 2009 federal regulation that banned killing downed cattle for human consumption did not include downer calves. In July, the Obama Administration closed this loophole by finalizing a rule banning the slaughter of downer calves. The victory was celebrated by animal lovers around the United States, making this the most read blog of 2016.
In May, a boy slipped past his mother and entered the enclosure of Harambe, a gorilla at the Cincinnati zoo. Zoo officials, worried that the boy’s life was in danger, shot and killed Harambe, setting off a moral debate over our relationship to animals and the keeping of these highly intelligent animals in captivity. As I wrote, the death of Harambe was deeply tragic, but it also an opportunity to remember that in our world, the mass killing of animals for sport or entertainment or fur fashion or for palate preference continues. The best kind of remembrance we could offer Harambe was to use this time to examine, as individuals and as a society, whether it’s okay to kill animals for utterly gratuitous purposes, knowing that there are functionally equivalent or superior options available to us.
Josh Bowmar, a man from Columbus, Ohio, engaged in a stunningly unethical trophy hunt for a black bear in Alberta. He baited the animal, conducted the hunt during the spring, when mothers are nursing dependent cubs, and used a homemade seven-foot-long spear to kill her. Following a national furor, Under Armour, the Baltimore-based sportswear giant, cut ties with Bowmar and his wife, Sarah, who had acted as a brand ambassador for the company. But a cautious statement issued by Under Armour was underwhelming: the company said it opposes spearing terrestrial wildlife, but did not come out against any other forms of cruelty in hunting, including the crossbow Sarah Bowmar used to wound a bear in Alberta, whose intestines spilled while he ran away in pain and terror. Under Armour also failed to come out against baiting and hunting in spring – unacceptable practices that occur in more than a dozen states.
4. Obama Administration grounds aerial hunting and inhumane predator killing in Alaska wildlife refuges
For years, in Alaska, trophy hunters have gunned down untold numbers of bears and wolves — often they’ve been spotted from air and then shot after landing, killed over bait barrels of meat scraps and jelly donuts, clubbed or shot in their dens, and hunted down with lights at night. It’s called “intensive predator management,” and it’s become part of the wildlife management paradigm of Alaska. In August this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service prohibited these cruel killing methods – some of the most wanton and misguided ever — to slaughter grizzly bears, black bears, wolves, and coyotes on our public lands in Alaska. The new protective regulations cover more than 76 million acres of Alaska’s National Wildlife Refuges, and are similar to protections enacted on the state’s more than 20 million acres of National Park Service Preserves early in the year.
In a pathbreaking announcement for captive marine mammals, SeaWorld, in cooperation with The HSUS, announced in March that it would end all breeding of its orcas and it won’t obtain additional orcas from other sources. The company also announced, after negotiations with The HSUS, that it would phase out its theatrical orca shows in favor of orca exhibits that highlight the whales’ natural behaviors, and have no orcas at all in any new parks around the world. SeaWorld agreed to redouble its efforts to conduct rescue and rehabilitation for a wide variety of marine creatures in distress and to join The HSUS in our advocacy campaigns against commercial whaling, sealing, shark finning, and other cruelties. Finally, in September, SeaWorld announced it would revamp food policies at all of its parks for 20 million visitors, including switching to cage-free eggs and gestation crate-free pork, and providing more plant-based meals.
In 2015, The HSUS obtained still photographs and reports from U.S. Department of Agriculture inspectors who examined horses abused by Larry Wheelon, a well-known trainer and horse show judge in the Tennessee walking horse industry. The photos and reports revealed that Wheelon and his associates intentionally injured and “sored” horses’ feet to produce an artificial, exaggerated gait known as the “big lick.” That exposé was on one of our 10 most popular and widely read blogs of last year. The issue continues to resonate with readers in one of this year’s most popular blogs, in which we released to the public, for the first time, USDA video footage that graphically documents the blatant cruelty perpetrated inside Wheelon’s training barn. The video shows a USDA inspector evaluating the injuries to the tormented horses and confirms in a dramatic way what the still photographs told us about the cruelty these people committed in that barn.
Our Animal Rescue Team has deployed hundreds of times over the years to rescue animals from natural disasters and human-causes crises. This year, we were called to assist at a puppy mill in Madison County, Arkansas, where we found 295 dogs, including puppies, living in the midst of the dead and decomposing bodies of other dogs. The animals were in extreme distress, many of them caked in mud, standing ankle-deep in feces, severely matted, and in desperate need of medical attention. Once our Animal Rescue Team had removed all the animals and transferred them to a temporary shelter, our Emergency Placement Partners stepped in to help rehabilitate the dogs and find them homes. You can watch the story of one of the rescues, Daniel, in this video.
In June, President Obama signed into law a bill that upgrades the Toxic Substances Control Act, a 40-year-old federal law regulating the use of chemicals. The bill contains – for the first time in any broader environmental and health protection statute – an explicit decree from Congress to minimize animal testing and to create a clear preference for the development and use of alternative methods and strategies. This was a hard-fought battle for The HSUS and its allies, and it will accelerate the movement away from animal tests for chemicals, pesticides, biocides, cosmetics, and other potentially dangerous substances in risk assessment protocols or for safety substantiation.
In April, Walmart, the world’s largest retailer and America’s biggest food seller, announced that it will source all of its eggs from cage-free sources. We worked with Walmart to embrace the five freedom principles for animals last year, and on its historic cage-free policy. The effects will be felt by millions of hens in cruel battery cages, because Walmart accounts for 25 percent of all groceries sold in the United States. Walmart’s announcement came in the midst of an exodus away from battery cages by virtually all of America’s largest food producers and retailers, and cemented the fact that the era of confining hens in cages in America’s food system is officially sunsetting.
Until recently, American soldiers who committed acts of cruelty against animals on military bases outside the United States could not be charged because U.S. state cruelty laws cannot be applied internationally. In October, President Obama signed an executive order closing this loophole. The new provision under the Uniform Code of Military Justice will now apply anywhere in the world where the military is stationed and will be on a par with states’ animal cruelty statutes. It was especially important for us to get this provision included because of some high-profile cases of animal cruelty on military bases that have been in the news in recent years.