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November 26, 2014

Making Gains Against the World’s Biggest Spectacle of Animal Sacrifice

With our team on the ground, Humane Society International (HSI) and its partners are making pretty remarkable progress to halt the largest religious sacrifice spectacle in the world -- in the mountain nation of Nepal where nearly half a million animals could be hacked to death later this week.

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Buffaloes for sacrifice are collected in a pit at the site of the Gadhimai Festival in Nepal. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Participants in the sacrifice have been hauling and carrying water buffaloes, goats, sheep, pigs, chicken, and pigeons to Nepal’s Bara district, just 100 miles outside the capital city of Kathmandu, for the Gadhimai festival.

This is how N.G. Jayasimha, who heads the HSI office in India, described the sacrifice in an op-ed this week for The Guardian: “One by one they have their roped heads yanked down, their kicking hind legs restrained, and then their heads sliced off with a machete. Others are so exhausted from travelling hundreds of miles to the festival without food or water, that they simply languish even as all around them buffaloes and goats are being decapitated. I have even seen calves trying to nuzzle comfort from the severed heads of their mothers lying on the ground.”

As Jayasimha goes on to write, the sights and sounds are unimaginable. Pools of blood, animals bellowing in pain and panic, wide-eyed children looking on, and devotees covered in animal blood.

The bloody spectacle has been repeated every five years for more than 250 years now, but surely it has no place in the 21st century.

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HSI board member Nanditha Krishna (left), and Manoj Gautam of Animal Welfare Network Nepal (right) try to convince Mangal Chaudhry, chief priest of the Gadhimai Temple. to stop the animal sacrifice. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

Over the past months, HSI staff members, along with our partners, Animal Welfare Network Nepal and People for Animals in India, have adopted a multi-pronged approach to persuade the Nepalese and the Indian governments and religious leaders to stop the animal sacrifice and reduce the number of animals reaching the sacrificial site.

Estimating that 70 percent of the animals killed in Gadhimai are transported illegally across the border from neighboring India into Nepal, we successfully petitioned the Supreme Court of India on the issue. We won, and the high court issued an order directing the Government of India to stop animals being illegally transported across the border for sacrifice. The court also asked animal protection groups and others to devise an action plan to ensure the court order is implemented.

HSI worked with India’s Ministry of Home Affairs to issue a directive to the Indo-Nepal border forces, to stop and confiscate the animals, and to date 114 arrests have been made and more than 2,500 animals have been seized at the border, on their way to the festival. This is an incredible outcome given the long history of this spectacle.

The HSI/India team and its partners are working directly with the Department of Livestock Services in Nepal to build controlled zones and quarantine stations for each animal brought to the sacrifice. Our team has met with temple officials and the Nepal government, including a rare audience with Nepalese President Ram Baran Yadav and Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, and members of parliament. We urged them to bring an end to the mass animal sacrifice at Gadhimai.

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Alokparna Sengupta (right) of HSI/India and Manoj Gautam of Animal Welfare Network Nepal talk to men taking buffaloes for sacrifice at the Gadhimai Festival. Photo: Kuni Takahashi/AP Images for HSI

We also requested that language promoting animal welfare and compassion towards all living creatures be added to Nepal’s constitution, similar to language in India’s constitution, and that legislation be introduced to tackle animal cruelty in the Kingdom.

We have a formidable group of people working for us, including HSI board member Dr Nanditha Krishna who has succeeded in banning animal sacrifice in 52 villages in India. Right now, in Gadhimai, our team is making one final attempt to persuade the temple priest to cancel the sacrifice. Meanwhile, our work to stop animals from getting to the sacrifice site in the first place continues full steam as Jayasimha and his team along with our partners patrol the India-Nepal border and the festival itself.

“It is a life-saving mission I know I must make,” Jayasimha wrote, “but I go back to Gadhimai full of dread and fear. I know it is going to be hard, but someone needs to help these animals.”

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Join HSI in the fight to protect animals around the world, from ending animal sacrifice to fighting puppy mills and the use of animals in research.

Ask Nepal to stop the Gadhimai sacrifice »

November 25, 2014

Brazil Adds Its Might to the Movement to End Gestation Crates

Brazil, the largest pork producer in Latin America, struck a body blow to inhumane sow gestation crates today with two major announcements. First, BRF, Brazil’s largest pork producer, announced that it will eliminate the lifelong confinement of breeding sows in gestation crates on company-owned and contract farms – a move expected to affect more than 300,000 animals. At the same time, the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply signed formal agreements with the Brazilian Association of Pig Farmers and the European Union (EU) to encourage the country’s pork producers to end the use of these pre-birthing crates. Under the agreements, Brazilian pork producers will be provided with research and training to facilitate their successful transition to more humane group housing systems.

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 HSI has been working for more than five years with pork producers, food retail companies, and the Brazilian government to shift away from gestation crates (above) and towards more humane group housing systems. Photo: The HSUS

The announcements by Brazil’s national government and by BRF, producer of the brands Sadia and Perdigão, come on the heels of 2014 announcements from other major pig-producing nations to phase out the crates.  The European Union’s ban on the continuous use of gestation crates came into effect in 2013. Australia’s phase-out ends in 2017, New Zealand’s ends next year, and Canada’s in 2024. The South African pork industry is considering a phase-out of crates by 2020.  This is nothing short of momentous movement in the global campaign to halt the use of crates, and The HSUS and Humane Society International have been catalysts for this action.

Gestation crates are barely larger than the animals’ bodies. Sows confined in them typically suffer from severe health problems, including infections, weakened bones, overgrown hooves, poor social interaction, lameness, and the psychological torment of being immobilized for months and years on end. Our team at HSI has been working for more than five years    with pork producers, food retail companies, and the government in Brazil - to shift away from gestation crates and towards more humane group housing systems.

HSI’s work in Latin America has already led Arcos Dorados, the largest McDonald’s franchisee in Latin America, to ask all of its pig suppliers in Latin America in April this year to present plans to promote group housing systems for breeding sows.

In August, Nestlé, the world’s largest food company, followed suit by committing to phase out crates throughout its global supply chain, including in Brazil. More than 60 multinational food companies – including McDonald's, Burger King, Subway, Sodexo, and Compass Group (GRSA in Brazil)—have agreed to eliminate gestation crates from their supply chains. Nine U.S. states have banned, or are phasing out the use of crates, and a bill is sitting on New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s desk to ban them in the Garden State.

With every new corporation or country that turns away from crates, we get that much closer to the end of the era of extreme confinement of animals on factory farms.  Today’s move by global agricultural giant Brazil is a great cause for celebration, a symbol of hope, and a reminder of the universal appeal of our values of decency and compassion for all life.

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You can help end gestation crates too. Join us in this fight today! 

November 24, 2014

Pets for Life: Keeping Animals in Loving Homes and Out of Shelters

The Hurricane Katrina crisis – 10 years ago, next year – was a wake-up call for our movement on so many levels. One takeaway: most disadvantaged and underserved people with dogs or cats love their animals, but typically they have been unable to afford or access basic services for them. Many of the animals we rescued from neighborhoods in New Orleans and other communities were not spayed or neutered and had never been inside a veterinary clinic. But it wasn’t as if they didn’t love their animals. There was a gap between what the caretakers wanted and what they were able to provide, mainly because of economic means. A lot of us who went down to New Orleans got a lesson in not making judgments about people and staying focused on providing services to sync up the compassion of people in poverty with the actual care their animals needed.

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Thanks to Pets for Life, Ming Ming's scratched eye  was treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. Photo: Valerie Gardner

An estimated 23 million pets in the United States are in homes where their caretakers live at or below the poverty level, and that typically leaves the animals without access to veterinary care. That’s three or four times the number of pets who end up in shelters each year. Spay/neuter rates among these animals average less than 20 percent -- the exact opposite of the national average of 80 percent. Almost 90 percent of pet owners in these high-poverty areas have never reached out to their local shelter or animal service providers, and close to 80 percent of their pets have never seen a veterinarian.

Our Pets for Life program is aimed at addressing this circumstance, by taking veterinary care and services to some of the country’s most underserved neighborhoods. By bringing these services, including spay and neuter programs and wellness care, to neighborhoods with the most pressing needs, we are working to both cut down on the population of homeless pets and to provide a better quality of life for the animals themselves, ensuring they remain in loving homes. And thanks to our partner, PetSmart Charities®, which has invested almost $2 million in this program since 2013, we have just managed to extend this lifesaving program to five new jurisdictions.

To help implement this program, the Central Oklahoma Humane Society in Oklahoma City, the Nevada Humane Society in Reno, the Santa Fe Animal Shelter and Humane Society, Humane Ohio in Toledo, and the Washington Humane Society in Washington, D.C. will each receive $50,000 from PetSmart Charities, in partnership with The HSUS. From The HSUS they will receive hands-on, in-depth training, consistent guidance, and ongoing support. This expands the reach of our Pets for Life Program to more than 25 cities across the country.

The HSUS has been running our Pets for Life programs on the ground in Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles since 2011, focusing on community outreach and securing very tangible results. Through October of this year alone we have provided direct care services to over 15,000 dogs and cats and spayed/neutered over 10,000 – for the benefit of the animals and to the joy of the people caring for them.

We first identify an area of focus where a large percentage of people live at or below the poverty level and where there are little to no pet care resources – animal care “deserts,” as we refer to them. We then reach out to the community directly with services and information. Our teams go door to door in the neighborhoods, we often provide transportation for the dogs and cats to their spay-and-neuter and wellness care appointments, and we keep showing up. We aren’t just there for one day, we maintain a continuing presence and become the trusted resource on pet issues. We also focus on the humans along with their companion pets.

Recently during a day of outreach, knocking on doors in Atlanta, members of our Pets for Life team met Valerie and her dog Ming Ming. Ming Ming’s eye was swollen, red and irritated. Instead of assuming Valerie didn’t care or that this was a situation of cruelty or neglect, we talked to Valerie and found out she was very worried for her dog, but she was unemployed and didn’t have the money to get Ming Ming’s eye looked at. So PFL stepped in and we took her to see a veterinarian. Ming Ming had a scratched eye that was treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory medication. “Ming Ming’s eye is healing nicely!” Valerie wrote to our team shortly after. “We thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” 

In addition to such direct community outreach, and perhaps even more importantly, we’ve been mentoring dozens of other dog-and-cat care organizations in how to implement the program, developing a new, risk-based strategy that is one of the most viral ideas in our movement. These groups are now actively extending their own reach to underserved areas and putting these practices to work, so that every pet – regardless of where he or she lives – has access to wellness services, spay-and-neuter, and other critical information and resources.

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You can help us grow the Pets for Life program and continue its success across the country today.  

November 21, 2014

The HSUS Celebrates a 60-Year Quest to Stop Cruelty to All Animals

It was 60 years ago, on November 22, that four individuals founded The HSUS, with grand ambitions but only a few nickels in their pockets. At the time, there were just 500 or so local humane organizations scattered across 3,100 counties. Like islands, with scant connection and sense of unity, they lacked resources and, to a degree, a connection to a cause larger than their own operations. They were often disassociated from the larger dynamics driving animal homelessness and cruelty. It was within this context that our founders stepped up to provide effective national leadership and vision. The HSUS didn’t seek to duplicate the work of local groups, but helped them run better and to grow the humane movement as a whole.

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Fred Myers (above) and other founders of The HSUS realized that we would not be able to rescue our way out of the problems -- we needed to prevent cruelty.

Above all, Fred Myers and the other founders of The HSUS resolved to confront national cruelties beyond the reach of local societies, and to restore the broad scope of the early humane movement’s focus on a full array of animal cruelties. They crafted an ambitious motto: “Every field of humane work—Everywhere!” They somehow scraped together enough dollars to sustain an organization aligned with their vision and committed to helping all animals.

In the post-World War II era, their first campaigns helped pass a federal humane slaughter law and restrict the seizure of pets from shelters for use in animal experiments. They realized that we would not be able to rescue our way out of the problems -- but needed to prevent cruelty by raising awareness, professionalizing our entire field of work, and driving sound public policies and corporate reforms. 

If Myers and the others could see us today, I think they’d be very pleased that The HSUS, more than any other organization, has framed the debate about animal protection in society. They could never have anticipated the range and reach of our work in 2014. With nearly 1,000 staff members and consultants, and millions of volunteers and other supporters, we’re confronting the biggest forms of cruelty, no matter how maligned or disregarded the animal or how entrenched the abuse.

  • Three decades ago, just four U.S. states had felony penalties for malicious animal cruelty and only a dozen made dogfighting a felony—with a half dozen states actually allowing legal cockfighting. Today, malicious animal cruelty and dogfighting are felonies in all 50 states, and cockfighting is banned in all states. It’s a federal felony to engage in animal fighting or to sell videos depicting animal cruelty.
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    The HSUS has successfully campaigned to lead the veal industry to completely phase out veal crates by 2017, among other successes for farm animals. Photo: Farm Sanctuary
    A decade ago, nearly all veal calves, pregnant pigs and egg-laying hens were confined in crates and cages so small that the animals could barely move. Since then, we’ve successfully campaigned to lead the veal industry to completely phase out veal crates (by 2017) and gained wide acceptance from leaders in the egg industry that they must abandon barren battery cages. We’ve also caused several big pork producers to phase out gestation crates, and more than 60 major food retailers—from McDonald’s to Costco to Safeway—to stop buying from factory farms that confine the animals so severely. Prop 2, our landmark 2008 ballot measure to give farm animals more space to live, is set to take effect on January 1st, 2015.
  • Just this year, with Humane Society International helping drive the reforms, the European Union and India – with nearly 1.7 billion consumers between them -- forbid selling any cosmetics products tested on animals in-country or anywhere else in the world. The U.S. government is moving nearly all the chimpanzees it owns from laboratories to sanctuaries and has stopped funding research that involves dogs and cats acquired from “random source” dealers.
  •  Only three nations in the world continue to conduct commercial whaling, while whale watching is now a multi-billion-dollar industry. We’ve reduced Canada’s seal slaughter by 75 percent, upholding an EU ban on imports of seal skins, and restricted the import of tuna that is not dolphin-safe, into the United States.
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    We’ve reduced Canada’s seal slaughter by 75 percent. Photo: Kathy Milani/HSI
    Today, 45 states restrict the keeping of dangerous wild animals as pets, and the federal government restricts importing and transporting a wide range of species, including several species of large, constricting snakes and big cats, for the pet trade. We have helped pass more humane breeding standards for dogs in 35 states, and, at the federal level, banned imports of dogs from foreign puppy mills, and finally achieved federal oversight of Internet sellers of dogs and cats. We’ve normalized the discussion of spay-and-neuter and adopting, and helped drive the reduction in euthanasia over the last 40 years from 15 million dogs and cats to three million today.

 We are heartened by this progress but mindful of immense challenges ahead. Here’s what we see in the years to come:

  • Ending euthanasia of healthy and treatable pets in the United States and protecting street dogs globally: In the United States, by expanding our Pets for Life mentorship programs, we’ll be helping communities where there are an estimated 23 million pets living in poverty and where their caretakers do not have access to spay/neuter and other critical wellness services.  HSI will expand its sterilization and vaccination programs, focusing on Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which together have an estimated 25 million street dogs.
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    HSI will expand its sterilization and vaccination programs, focusing on Bangladesh, Costa Rica, Mauritius, Mexico, Nepal, Panama, the Philippines and Puerto Rico, which together have an estimated 25 million street dogs. Photo: Alex Rothlisberger/Michelle Cintron
    Reducing suffering for billions of animals on factory farms: We will continue to take this issue head on—seeking the elimination of extreme confinement and promoting the substitution of more humane practices, conducted principally by family farmers. Because we believe it not a practical goal to raise nine billion animals humanely and sustainably, we’ll encourage consumers to reduce their meat consumption, just a bit, starting in the United States. Making better food choices—say, by skipping meat one day a week—will yield enormous results for human health, the global environment and animal welfare.
  • Securing animal cruelty laws throughout the world: Today, approximately half the nations around the globe have some form of anti-cruelty legislation. We will seek to convince at least 20 additional countries to adopt statutes in the next 10 years, with the ultimate goal of building a comprehensive, global legal framework against cruelty, as we’ve done across the United States.
  • Curbing wildlife cruelty and ushering in a new era of humane wildlife management: We will target the worst abuses of wildlife and urge a more enlightened paradigm of wildlife management, characterized by use of non-lethal methods to control wildlife conflicts, a more active use of fertility control and other technologies to manage wildlife populations humanely, and the promotion of non-consumptive wildlife tourism. We’ll push states to ban the use of highly toxic lead ammunition by sport hunters, outlaw the possession of dangerous wild animals as pets and at roadside zoos, and halt the reckless killing of marine mammals and terrestrial predators, especially by inhumane means.
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    The HSUS and HSI will drive progress toward replacing animal testing with transformative research and technologies. Photo: iStockphoto
    Replacing animal testing and research with 21st century science: The HSUS and HSI will drive progress toward replacing animal testing with transformative research and technologies, adding Brazil, China, Russia and the United States to the community of nations that forbid cosmetics testing on animals. We’ll also work with the leaders of the world’s top scientific nations—in the European Union, United States, Canada and Japan—to fully replace animal tests with a new conceptual framework and advanced, human-biology-based technologies, with the goal of substantially ending toxicity testing on animals by 2025.

And, of course, we’ll continue fighting to stop the slaughter and soring of American horses, end the killing of dogs for their meat in Southeast Asia, restrict the private ownership of wild animals, stop the trade in ivory and rhino horn, end shark finning, rescue animals in need, and do so much more.

More than anything, animals need a powerful, strategic organization that can provide immediate relief and rescue, as well as shape opinion and drive corporate and public policies. That’s what you have in The HSUS. But as we take our movement to the next level of success, we need your active support and participation more than ever. Let’s look back with pride on the past 60 years and celebrate this milestone in our history. But let’s also unite to drive even more meaningful reform in the months and years ahead.

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P.S. A humane future also begins with you. Have a look at our vision for what lies ahead, and tell us yours as well.

November 20, 2014

The Intersection of Gestation Crates and Presidential Politics

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie faces a threat to his brand of “straight talk” and “no nonsense” with the full-blown national controversy over his veto last year of a bill to ban gestation crates, and his apparent recent pledge to an Iowa pork producer to veto a revised version of that bill -- despite an extraordinary level of popular support for the measure in the state he was elected to serve. Last night, New Jersey native Jon Stewart focused on Christie and his inclination to again veto the legislation to ban the use of the two-foot-by-seven-foot immobilizing metal crates. You’ll be hard pressed to find a funnier and more cutting deconstruction of political maneuvering and posturing anywhere else on American television.

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An HSUS survey shows Republican caucus-goers are far more inclined to view Christie favorably if he signs the bill banning inhumane sow gestation crates. Photo: The HSUS

“My job is to stand up for the people of New Jersey and fight for them and that’s what I’m going to do regardless of the politics,” Christie says in one clip Stewart played to represent how the governor talks about his approach to policy making. In a second clip, the governor declares that he “always put the people of New Jersey and my oath ahead of petty personal politics.”

It’s the disconnect between that kind of talk and his actions on the gestation crate issue that’s causing the controversy for Christie – a chief executive who has a creditable record of signing pro-animal bills during his tenure, including measures to upgrade the state’s anti-cruelty law and to combat horse slaughter and the trade in ivory. Given that support for the gestation crate bill in New Jersey is as close to unanimous as it gets in American politics – with 93 percent of New Jersey voters favoring Senator Ray Lesniak’s bill – there’s just no compelling reason to veto the bill except for the perceived political assessment of how this issue plays in Iowa. Iowa is the nation’s top pig -producing state, with about a fifth of the nation’s pigs and an estimated one million sows in extreme confinement in gestation crates. But those numbers should not be confused with popular support, and The HSUS has released a survey that shows Republican caucus-goers are far more inclined to view Christie favorably than unfavorably if he signs the bill. 

Iowa Republican Governor Terry Branstad – who signed legislation to legalize mourning dove hunting after decades of protection for the song birds, signed an ag-gag bill into law two years ago, and is suing to strike down California’s ban on the sale of eggs from hens confined in small, barren battery cages – has urged Christie to veto the bill.  As the state’s top Republican, now entering his sixth term, Branstand’s endorsement is one of the most coveted in the state. 

In addition to Stewart’s riff, the pigs got an additional assist when Jessica Chastain, Stewart’s guest last night, was so moved by the gestation crate piece that she started talking about it and how cruel it is to keep the sows in confinement so severe that the animals cannot even turn around.

This morning the gestation crate legislation also got a boost from a major conservative voice for animal protection. Matthew Scully, a speechwriter for six Republican presidents and Republican nominees and a fan of Christie, wrote a 2000-word essay on the crates legislation for the conservative website, National Review Online, noting that “the governor of New Jersey is not a man to be pushed around” by the pork industry, and that he should sign the bill because it’s the right thing to do and is in his political interest. 

In his critically acclaimed book Dominion, Scully visited a pig factory farm in North Carolina, the second-largest pig -producing state, and that account remains one of the most moving narratives in contemporary writings about animal protection. Scully gave readers a feel for his powerful convictions and his observations in this piece where he calls cruelty as it is, regardless of who and how powerful the perpetrators are:  

Living creatures, every bit as intelligent and sensitive as dogs, lie trapped by the millions in a sunless hell of metal and concrete, for years unable to walk or turn around, afforded not even straw to lie on — because even that little kindness, like giving the pigs extra space, would throw off the miserly economics of the enterprise. All of this, we are emphatically assured, is right and necessary — not only for the sake of more cost-efficient production, holding down the all-important price of bacon, but also for the benefit of the animals themselves. Does anybody really believe this, even the people who insist that it is true?

You can help stand up for pigs who can’t turn around. If you live in New Jersey, contact Gov. Christie’s office today. If not, sign our petition to end the use of gestation crates.

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Watch Jon Stewart discuss Chris Christie's 'pig problem':

November 19, 2014

Japan May Defy International Court Ruling on Whaling

I guess it’s no big surprise that Japan has advanced a new proposal to kill whales for commercial purposes in Antarctic waters, again under the guise of “science” and “research.”  In late March 2014, the highest court in the world -- the International Court of Justice (ICJ) -- ruled that Japan’s previous program in these waters, JARPAII, was not based on science and thus was in violation of the moratorium on commercial whaling. Following the ruling, Japan indicated that it would abide by the decision and the rule of law. Indeed, there will be no whales killed for the first time in over a century in the Southern Ocean in the current season – a triumph for our cause and a respite for the whales.

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Japan’s new plan calls for a quota of 333 minke whales, which exceeds the number of animals that the whalers have actually killed in recent years. Photo: iStockphoto

However, at this year’s annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Portoroz, Slovenia, Japan made it clear that it intended to respond to the detailed criticism in the ICJ ruling. Japan also indicated that it would resume its take of whales in the icy waters that include the IWC-designated Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, which Japan does not recognize, in a renewed 2015-2016 whaling program.

Japan’s new plan, NEWREP-A, calls for a quota of 333 minke whales -- a sharply reduced quota over that of the prior plan, JARPAII, but one that exceeds the number of animals that the whalers have actually killed in recent years. Over the 12-year time horizon for the plan, the aggregate kill would be nearly 4,000 whales, if it all comes to pass. 

JARPAII targeted 855 minke whales, 50 humpback whales (although it never took any humpbacks) and 10 fin whales annually, and it is at least good news that Japan’s modified plan, coming after the court’s ruling, calls for no taking of humpback or fin whales.

At Portoroz this year, after intense debate, the member nations of the IWC approved New Zealand’s resolution to uphold the ICJ ruling and to impose strict review standards on any new proposals for scientific whaling. The IWC vote means that the Japanese plan must be carefully considered by the IWC’s Scientific Committee, using standards set by the ICJ, and then by the commission itself. Japan, unfortunately, will undoubtedly dismiss the anticipated criticism as political or emotional and will increase its effort to justify the logic of its proposal, a pseudo-scientific rationale for dressing up a commercial catch as an exercise in research. In the end, should Japan succeed, a few biological samples will be sent to laboratories while a ton of whale meat infiltrates the commercial marketplace.

It is difficult to fathom why Japan continues this archaic and cruel slaughter when it meets no pressing domestic need for protein, does so much to tarnish Japan’s image as an enlightened nation and a civil society, and, as a practical matter, harpoons and blows up the biggest creatures ever to live on the planet. What’s even more confounding is that the whole whaling industry is a financial boondoggle, surviving only because of the subsidies, the largesse, and the ceaseless diplomatic maneuverings of Japan’s national government.   

The ICJ ruling should have given the island nation an escape path to terminate its whaling programs. Whale meat already goes to waste, and young people in Japan are thoroughly uninterested in eating the slabs, steaks and cubes from whales. 

In fact, whale watching and appreciation is growing at a rapid pace in the country, and there is a more favorable ethos toward animals and the environment taking hold. The fact is, of the 200 nations in the world, Japan stands with just two others in attempting to justify a commercial hunt for these most remarkable creatures. 

It’s not too late for the country to restore its honor and reverse course on this important issue.

November 18, 2014

Poachers and Trophy Hunters Conspiring to Hurt Endangered Rhinos

Shooting a rhino for sport seems about as challenging as shooting a parked bus. The prehistoric-looking beasts are big and not fleet of foot. They confront a threat by charging it, not running away. That doesn’t serve them well as a hunting guide and a trophy hunter get within range with a high-powered telescopic rifle to bring down the endangered animals for their heads and horns.

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Last year more than 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone and this year’s tally as of October 24th was 899 – that’s three rhinos poached each day. Photo: Dr. William Fowlds

But despite the absence of any challenge, there is an elite class of people that will go to great lengths, and will pay a pretty penny, to shoot a rhino. Corey Knowlton bid $350,000 at a January auction of the Dallas Safari Club for the privilege of shooting one, claiming he wanted to help the species. He needs a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow him to import the rhino's body following the hunt in Namibia, and The HSUS is opposing the import allowance.

Additionally, Michael Luzich, a Las Vegas investment manager, bid $200,000 for a permit to kill a rhino and is also seeking a permit to bring the trophy into the United States, which The HSUS is also opposing.

But the high-minded talk of conservation in such circles always seems to break down quickly when there’s talk of their not being able to import the heads of slain animals into the United States. The Dallas Safari Club says it will return Knowlton’s money to him if the federal government doesn’t allow him to bring back the head. 

The whole fascination with killing a rhino is bizarre to me.

"I'm a hunter," Knowlton told WFAA-TV in Dallas. "I want to experience a black rhino. I want to be intimately involved with a black rhino."

All of this farce is playing out in the wake of a major federal investigation about a rhino-killing scam that stretched from Alabama to South Africa. The owners of Out of Africa Adventurous Safaris -- Dawie Groenewald and his brother, Janneman Groenewald --  were charged with conspiracy to sell illegal rhinoceros hunts in South Africa (in order to defraud American hunters), money laundering and secretly trafficking in rhino horns. The operation was run out of Alabama and George Beck, the same U.S. Attorney who so deftly handled the prosecution of a ring of illegal dogfighters I wrote about last week, is handling the criminal charges against the alleged perpetrators.

According to a statement from the federal authorities, the defendants are charged with selling illegal rhino hunts by misleading trophy hunters. The defendants are alleged to have failed to obtain the necessary permits required by South Africa, and to have cut the horns off some of the rhinos with chainsaws and knives. The indictment alleges that the defendants then sold the rhino horn on the black market. 

Eleven illegal hunts are detailed in the papers filed in federal court, including one in which the rhino had to be shot and killed after being repeatedly wounded by a bow, and another in which Dawie Groenewald used a chainsaw to remove the horn from a sedated rhino that had been hunted with a tranquilizer gun. 

We are grateful to the federal authorities for breaking up this scam and this unconscionable conduct, with people on two continents conspiring to profit from and participate in trophy hunting and rhino horn sales.

The whole business of the commercial killing of rhinos, at a time when the species is at risk of extinction, needs to end. Last year more than 1,004 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone and this year’s tally as of October 24th was 899 – that’s three rhinos poached each day. At this rate, the 2014 rhino poaching figure for South Africa will be 1,100, exceeding last year’s record-setting poaching level.

News reports have quoted a USFWS spokesperson Gavin Shire as saying that the agency is applying extra scrutiny to the import permit requests because of the rise in poaching. The USFWS should deny the permits to the Safari Club hunters and follow that the first rule of conservation, as stated by Aldo Leopold: preserve all the parts. And let’s hope that U.S. Attorney Beck is able to deliver meaningful sentences to the ringleaders of the Out of Africa scam, just as he did with a group of miscreant dogfighters in his home state.

November 17, 2014

For Christie’s Sake, Ban the Crates

I can understand Chris Christie’s dilemma – either signing an enormously popular bill to ban gestation crates in New Jersey or caving in to the veto demands of Iowa Governor Terry Branstad, whose support is coveted by every aspiring Republican presidential candidate who trudges through Iowa. There’s no mystery that Christie is closely examining the idea of running for president, and that the state’s first-in-the-nation caucuses often winnow the field and set up the front-runners. 

Sow in gestation crate
A recent poll found 93 percent of New Jersey residents want to ban gestation crates. Photo: The HSUS

But defying Gov. Branstad might be just what Christie needs to prove he’s no handmaiden of the political class in this country or of a trade association whose views are way out of step with mainstream sentiment.

Any rational observer of the debate over gestation crates must conclude that they are on their way out. The overwhelming bipartisan votes in the New Jersey Assembly and Senate in favor of Senator Raymond Lesniak’s anti-cruelty legislation, along with all of the favorable media attention, are just the latest indicators of the public’s strong opposition to the cruel practice of locking breeding pigs in tiny crates for nearly their entire life. The Star Ledger, New Jersey’s largest paper, correctly noted that the use of gestation crates  “is inhumane treatment, that is beyond debate.”

This issue has been on state ballot three times – first in Florida and then in Arizona and California – and each time voters approved the ban by ever-wider margins.  In Arizona, the conservative sheriff of Maricopa County, Joe Arpaio, was the pitchman for the HSUS ballot initiative to ban the crates. In 2006, 62 percent of Arizonans voted for the ban. California voters approved a similar ban with nearly 64 percent of the vote, with the measure even winning in much of the state’s more conservative and agriculture-dominated Central Valley.

Six other states, by act of their legislatures or state rulemaking, have passed laws to phase out the crates, including the major pig-producing states of Colorado, Michigan and Ohio.

But those public policy gains are less compelling than the revolution that’s occurring in the food industry. More than 60 of the biggest names in food retail have said they want to cleanse their supply chains of pork from outfits that confine the sows so severely. In announcing it would phase out its purchase of pork from farms that confine sows in crates, McDonald's – which buys perhaps 15 percent of all pork bellies in the United States -- said gestation stalls “are not a sustainable production system for the future. There are alternatives that we think are better for the welfare of sows.”  Denny’s said that banning gestation crates “is best for our company, our guests, and our continued work to improve animal welfare.”

During the last 30 months, almost every big name in food retail has gotten on board, including fast-food giants Burger King and Hardee’s, supermarket chains Kroger and Safeway, food service providers such as Aramark, Compass and Sodexo, and middle-America restaurants such as Bob Evans and Cracker Barrel.

But the argument that really clinches the case is that some of the biggest pig producers have decided to get out of the crates business.  Smithfield and Cargill have made pledges to rid their production systems of that form of extreme confinement. Tyson has indicated it wants to move in that direction. 

So if these big players are saying it’s the right thing to do, you know it’s also economically feasible for them to do so.

Australia, Canada, the European Union and South Africa are already there, or on their way.

As Christie contemplates banning gestation crates, there can be no question that his home-state residents favor the policy. A recent poll found 93 percent of them want to ban the crates.

And while Governor Branstad and the Iowa Pork Producers Council are urging Christie to veto the bill, they are now representing an extreme and losing proposition.  The world is moving forward, and that includes the vast majority of Iowans. In fact, one poll showed that only two percent of Iowa Republican caucus-goers would be less likely to support Christie if he signed the bill, while 37 percent would be more likely to support him. The Des Moines Register said “crates may no longer have a future in pork.”

Chris Christie can show he’s his own man, doing the job he was elected for in New Jersey. Or he can pander to a few Iowa politicians and a trade group that is in denial about the imminent demise of gestation crates not only in the United States, but throughout the world.

The nation, and not just New Jersey animal advocates, are watching to see if he passes a basic test of decency and political acumen, or whether he buys a pig in a poke.

November 14, 2014

Lead Ammo Policy Tests the Rhetoric of Hunting Lobby

The trophy hunting lobby in the United States conveniently and selectively invokes “science” in defense of reckless practices. In Maine, in arguing against Question 1 (to ban bear baiting, hounding and trapping), the National Rifle Association, U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance, and Sportsmen’s Alliance of Maine told voters to “trust the biologists” because the state’s chief bear biologist – himself a bear trapper and baiter – and the politicians who run the agency were aligned with them.

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Every year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and animals, including birds of prey like the bald eagle, die of lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey. Photo: iStockphoto

But will they “trust the biologists” when more independent-minded scientists ask them to end retrograde practices?

What immediately comes to mind is lead ammunition, where there is a mountain of science that says that this toxic substance indiscriminately kills millions of wild animals each year. There are affordable and effective forms of ammunition that are widely used in its place, and there can be no rational argument that there is no practical alternative.

Last week, the international community, and specifically its wildlife scientists and policy-makers, made a significant statement in declaring that the hunting lobby across the globe must halt its use of lead ammunition. The Eleventh Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals adopted a resolution urging the phase-out of lead ammunition in all environments over the next three years, and agreed to guidelines to prevent the risk of poisoning of migratory birds.

The Convention on Migratory Species is an environmental treaty, administered by the United Nations Environment Program, which meets every three years to set the global conservation agenda. Although not legally binding, its resolutions have great weight and constitute a set of important, science-based declarations on wildlife management issues.

Because of its acute toxicity, lead has already been removed from various paints, gasoline, pipes, children’s toys and a host of other household items to protect human health. Every year, an estimated 10 to 20 million birds and other animals die of lead poisoning, either by ingesting lead shot or fragments directly, or by feeding on lead-contaminated prey. But, despite the more than 500 scientific studies affirming its serious impacts on wildlife, and alternatives readily available in the marketplace, lead-based ammunition remains one of the greatest sources of lead discharged into the environment.

As many as 29 countries have implemented some variation of regulation for the use of lead ammunition, and The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service began requiring non-toxic ammunition in hunting migratory waterfowl in 1991, after biologists and conservationists estimated roughly two million ducks died each year from ingesting spent lead pellets. And California passed legislation last year to phase out lead ammunition to protect the endangered California condor. The NRA and the groups that fought us in Maine, saying “trust the biologists,” are many of the same groups that fought the 1991 federal rule and vigorously fought California’s legislation against lead ammunition.

At the recent UN Summit, the United States was a dissenter on the anti-lead resolution, indicating that lead ammunition should be regulated at the state level. While it’s true that state agencies have a critical role to play, the federal government is the biggest wildlife manager in the United States. This is why, in June, The HSUS and its coalition partners petitioned the Department of Interior to phase out the use of lead ammunition for hunting on federal lands managed by the National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which, between them, control more than 150 million acres of federal lands.

I applaud the international community for addressing this important issue and aiming to reduce the use of lead ammunition. Momentum is building around the globe. But the U.S. government must also do its part and so must the states in passing policy reforms that will end the use of this toxic substance in hunting – and that means standing up to folks in the gun and hunting lobby who invoke scientists who agree with them and who are often captured by the industry.

The conservation-minded leaders within the hunting community are faint voices, and the loud and politically identifiable leaders are the anti-environmentalists and anti-conservationists at the NRA, Safari Club International, National Shooting Sports Foundation and U.S. Sportsmen’s Alliance. They treat conservation as a talking point or a historical artifact, but not as a continuing commitment. They cast the idea of sacrifice and the common good as part of a scheme to erode their rights. No true wildlife advocate should support the use of lead ammunition in hunting, given that the killing continues long after the bullet leaves the gun barrel.   

November 13, 2014

Dogfighting Smackdown

Yesterday, we closed an important chapter in a long-running anti-cruelty case when a federal judge in Alabama handed down tough sentences for a number of active participants in a dogfighting network that spanned four states. One defendant, dubbed by U.S. District Judge Keith Watkins as “the godfather” of this ring, was sentenced to eight years in a federal penitentiary—the longest prison sentence ever handed down in a federal dogfighting case. Testimony indicated that Donnie Anderson hosted 80 fights in which nearly 500 pit bulls fought for hundreds of spectators who bet as much as $100,000 per fight.

Dog with kong
Dogs like this one, rescued from the multi-state dogfighting ring last year, were battle-scarred but still gentle as we approached them. Photo: Kathy Milani/The HSUS

The case came to light in August 2013 when I joined dozens of my colleagues from The HSUS and staff members from the ASPCA in southern Alabama as we teamed with federal and state law enforcement officials to carry out the second largest dogfighting raid ever in U.S. history. We freed 367 dogs from heavy chains and worn, barren patches of dirt, and from the clutches of a group of dogfighters intent on risking the animals’ lives for profit and amusement. Law enforcement, working under the direction of U.S. Attorney George Beck, Jr., arrested 15 suspects that day and in the days that followed, and the number of dogs seized surpassed 400 in total.

When we arrived on the scene on that hot August day, we saw that the dogs had been battle-scarred and neglected, but they were still so gentle as we approached them and gave them copious belly rubs and fresh water – the sort of human behavior they had probably only dreamed of but never experienced. For the last 15 months, we’ve been working with volunteers to care for them at an enormous expense to our organization but as a necessary follow up to the raids – in order to get them into a better place to start their new lives. Some of them have already found wonderful homes, and thanks to the Dogfighting Rescue Coalition many more will go on to good homes. 

It is with a special sense of pride that I look back on this case because The HSUS has worked so hard to upgrade federal laws against animal fighting, enabling federal and state officials and our own Animal Rescue team to take the needed actions on the ground and bring the law down on these criminals.  (Even this year, we upgraded the federal law yet again, making it a federal crime to attend or bring a minor to an animal fight.)

Judge Keith Watkins imposed three- and five-year sentences on three other big players in an effort to “promote respect for the law.” The judge also ordered that after their release from prison, each defendant serve a two- or three-year term of supervised release. While on supervised release, the defendants are prohibited from possessing dogs. Further, a hearing will be scheduled in the future where the defendants may be ordered to pay restitution to The HSUS and ASPCA for the cost of caring for the seized dogs. Some defendants will be required to attend a drug rehabilitation program because of the large cache of narcotics discovered at the sites.

Throughout the hearing, Judge Watkins commented on the extreme cruelty committed both due to the dogfighting and the conditions in which these dogs were forced to live. Many of the dogs in this case were emaciated and very ill with skin conditions, eye infections and wounds that were never properly treated, if at all. He estimated that the defendants had injured or killed between 420 to 640 dogs in the course of this dogfighting operation. Also noted was the amount of drugs, weapons and violence intertwined with dogfighting. Testimony also revealed several instances when children were brought to dogfights—a crime that now carries a felony penalty of up to three years in prison, thanks to a provision we worked to include in the Farm Bill passed earlier this year.

Over the last quarter century, The HSUS has helped change the legal framework in this country, working to make dogfighting a felony in all 50 states and also a federal crime. And year after year, we’ve worked to train thousands of law enforcement personnel on investigating this criminal behavior and to remind law enforcement officials and prosecutors that when you see dogfighting in action, you see people who typically have no quarrel with breaking the law.

By bringing cases to the attention of law enforcement agencies, by upgrading the law, by caring for the victims of fighting, and by training agencies and officials and helping them to build cases on the ground, we are helping to establish a zero-tolerance policy for dogfighting in this nation. We are grateful to all of our partners in this important case, and we want to acknowledge in particular the diligent and serious-minded work of Judge Watkins and U.S. Attorney Beck in taking this case seriously. These criminals did not get a free pass for their crimes, and that’s as it should be.