At The HSUS, there’s never a dull moment. We are still intensely focused on follow up to the slaughter plant investigation in southern California. And I am recently back from Canada and its extraordinary seal nursery. We are organizing worldwide opposition to the seal hunt, which is regrettably scheduled to resume later this month—though we aim for this year to be its last. Meanwhile, we’ve been stacking up new laws against dogfighting and cockfighting in states across the country—with major wins recently in Idaho, Oregon, Virginia, and Wyoming.
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Testifying at today’s hearing.
Today, I appeared before the U.S. House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, and Oceans to testify in favor of H.R. 5534, the Bear Protection Act, and H.R. 2964, the Captive Primate Safety Act (you can read my full testimony here).
Last Congress, the leader of the full committee was Rep. Richard Pombo, one of the most anti-animal politicians ever to walk the halls of Congress. He’s now in the private sector thanks in part to the work of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. The Democrats took control of the House in the last election, and the new chairman, Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, is an outstanding animal advocate and conservationist. So, too, is the Subcommittee chairwoman, Madeleine Bordallo of Guam. Who says elections don’t have consequences?
Congressmen Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and John Campbell (R-Calif.) are the co-authors of the Bear Protection Act, and that legislation seeks to halt the highly lucrative trade in bear viscera such as the gallbladders and bile that is principally in demand in the Asian communities at home and abroad. In short, it’s an anti-poaching bill, and it seeks to stop the reckless practice of killing bears for their internal organs for commercial profit. There are 34 states that ban the sale of bear gall bladders, and the Bear Protection Act is designed to complement those state laws and to establish a bright-line policy that the trade in bear gall bladders and other internal organs has no place in this nation. (Click here to see excerpts of my testimony on bear protection.)
This legislation enjoys broad support in Congress. But it does have its critics, principally Republican Don Young of Alaska, who greets guests to his Capitol Hill office with the actual hide of a grizzly bear he shot some years ago mounted on his wall. He says he is the only licensed trapper (he says he uses steel-jawed leghold traps) in the Congress. He’s the ranking Republican on the Natural Resources Committee and I must confess he’s a pretty colorful and entertaining guy. He’s mellowed a bit from the old days when he used to mimic the sounds of rabbits caught in leghold traps. Today, he bloviated on the Bear Protection Act for awhile, and even attacked a major hunting advocate, Ray Schoenke, the president of the American Hunters and Shooters Association, for supporting the bill. It was mostly bluster and little substance. Young doesn’t have much of an argument against this anti-poaching bill, especially because his home state has a law against selling bear parts, except for the fur.
The other bill, the Captive Primate Safety Act, introduced by Reps. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-Texas) and Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), will amend the Lacey Act by adding nonhuman primates to the list of animals who cannot be transported across state lines as pets. It does for primates what the Captive Wildlife Safety Act—which Congress passed unanimously in late 2003—did for lions, tigers, and other big cats. A companion bill in the Senate (S. 1498), introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and David Vitter (R-La.), was approved by the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works last July and is awaiting floor action.
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Dr. Goodall speaks about the Captive Primate Safety Act.
That bill had the support today not only of me, but also legendary primatologist and animal advocate Dr. Jane Goodall, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (you can watch portions of Dr. Goodall’s and my testimony here). Simply put, monkeys and chimpanzees and other primates are wild animals, and should not be pets. They can attack people, they can spread disease, and the average pet owner cannot provide even the bare minimum level of care these complex, wild animals require in captivity. People sometimes get them as infants, and they grow too difficult to manage, but there is no place for them to go. These social, intelligent animals may spend their lives confined to small cages—a far cry from their life in the wild. It is estimated there are 15,000 primates in private hands in the United States.
The images in the media of monkeys and chimpanzees, sometimes dressed in human clothing and living as members of human families, present an entirely unrealistic picture of what keeping a primate requires. There’s just no reason for people to have them as pets. If they want a pet, they should get a dog or cat, preferably from a shelter.
We’ll follow up and work with the Natural Resources Committee to drum up support for the legislation. We hope both bills will be on the floor soon.