Every weekday, on A Humane Nation, I share news and analysis about the work of The HSUS and its affiliates, and comment on the broader issues in society relating to animal protection. Given the growth in awareness, and the enormous public engagement with animal welfare, there’s a fever pitch on our issues, with breaking news stories like Ringling Bros. phasing out its traveling elephant acts, the killing of Cecil the lion, and the end of chimpanzee research sometimes taking over the news cycle. There’s no mistaking that the world is changing for the better when it comes to humanity’s concern and treatment of animals.
This year, we won so many key battles, and readers showed the greatest interest in those blogs that chronicle our progress and that are celebratory moments for our cause. And you’re deeply interested in our exposing abuses, including the soring of Tennessee walking horses. Of the 250 or so blogs I wrote during the year, here are the most popular ones (starting with the most popular), which collectively paint something of a narrative highlight reel for 2015.
1. Walmart embraces animal welfare
When the nation’s largest food retailer announces it is embracing farm animal welfare, it is huge news. My blog about Walmart adopting the “five freedoms” principles for farm animals, effectively giving up the use of extreme confinement and other abusive practices in animal farming, signaled a pivot point in American agriculture and food retail. This was the year’s most read blog, appropriate since Walmart is one of the biggest companies in the world.
2. Largest U.S. food service company goes 100 percent cage-free
Amidst a cascade of announcements we made this year about corporations setting timelines for switching to 100 percent cage-free eggs, one of the most high impact focused on Aramark, the largest U.S.-based food service company. Aramark runs dining operations at thousands of locations across the country, including healthcare institutions, universities, school districts, stadiums and arenas, and businesses. After already working with The HSUS to switch all of its 30 million shell eggs a year to cage-free, the company is now switching all 200 million eggs worth of liquid eggs it uses each year in the United States to cage-free by 2020, improving the lives of roughly 750,000 chickens each year.
3. HSUS FOIA request yields damning evidence of soring by walking horse trainer
Our campaign staff at The HSUS are relentless about pursuing wrongdoers, even when the justice system fails to act. A Freedom of Information Act request we filed yielded hundreds of pages of damning information, including grim and grisly photographs, documenting the abuse of Tennessee walking horses by Larry Wheelon, a trainer who walked free last year based on a technicality after prosecutors brought charges against him for alleged illegal soring and aggravated cruelty. Photos of Wheelon’s barn revealed a chamber of horrors: walls lined with heavy logging chains, weighted high heel shoes known as stacks, huge containers of soring agents like mustard oil, cinnamon oil, WD-40, and unlabeled concoctions containing any number of substances banned by the USDA for use on horses at shows.
4. Sored champion horse passes away
Readers are very focused on our investigations work. And not long after The HSUS conducted an undercover investigation at ThorSport Farm, a top training barn for Tennessee walking horses that revealed horrific abuses, we got the sad news that one of the horses sored with caustic chemicals at ThorSport, He’s Vida Blue, had passed away from complications from colic. His death ended a lifetime of suffering and confinement in the “Big Lick” sector of the Tennessee walking horse show world. Most horsemen will admit that the illegal practice of soring increases the chances of death from colic.
5. Invasive experiments on chimpanzees end
In September, I announced that a century of invasive experiments on chimpanzees in the United States would soon come to a halt, after Science writer David Grimm reported that no researcher has applied for a permit from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to conduct additional invasive experiments on chimpanzees in the United States. This was just weeks after the Service announced it would grant our legal petition seeking an end to a highly questionable “split listing” of chimpanzees that provided strong safeguards for animals in the wild while leaving captive chimps effectively unprotected and at the mercy of laboratory experiments and exotic animal dealers.
6. Natural Bridge Zoo permit revoked after HSUS undercover investigation
In April, following a legal complaint filed by The HSUS, the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries temporarily suspended the public exhibition permit for the Natural Bridge Zoo, a ramshackle roadside menagerie that puts hundreds of sad animals on display and offers photo ops with abused and neglected tiger cubs. The permit was revoked soon after a searing report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture which in turn was prompted by an undercover HSUS investigation that revealed 31 violations of the Animal Welfare Act at the menagerie.
7. Ringling Bros. ends elephant acts
One of the year’s most landmark announcements came from Ringling Bros. which said it would stop its use of elephants in its circus acts by 2018. Ringling has fought animal welfare groups at every turn, making this announcement even more significant because it shows the company’s leaders are no longer in denial about the world today where consumers are unwilling to ignore animal cruelty. Ringling cited the number of cities and counties that have recently adopted ordinances to restrict the use of elephants in circuses as contributing to its decision.
8. HSUS investigation of top walking horse training barn
In August, The HSUS revealed findings of an undercover investigation documenting tremendous cruelty to Tennessee walking horses at a winning facility that trains horses for the breed’s National Celebration. Our brave investigator worked at ThorSport Farm in Murfreesboro, Tenn., and documented major trainers in the act as they hurt horses and prepped them for the Celebration. Grooms and upper-echelon trainers applied caustic chemical substances to horses’ legs, wrapping them in paper towels, thick cotton, and common horse leg wraps – sometimes while their owners looked on.
9. Cecil the lion killed by trophy hunter
In July, the American public roared in protest against the cruel practice of trophy hunting, following news that a Minnesota dentist, Walter Palmer, had hunted and killed a much-beloved lion, Cecil, who was lured out of Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park. Palmer’s cruel act focused the world’s attention on ending trophy hunting and set the stage for a series of global reforms. Thus far, 45 airlines have banned transport of trophies of the Africa Big Five — African lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, and Cape buffalo. France banned lion trophy imports. Here in the United States, we soon expect to get lions listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act, which will make it much more difficult for American hunters like Palmer to import lion body parts as trophies.
10. President Obama announces landmark ivory trade ban
In July, President Barack Obama, on a visit to Kenya, announced a proposed rule to curtail wildlife trafficking and address the devastating elephant poaching crisis. Two months later, he once again announced a commitment to curbing the domestic trade in ivory and wildlife trafficking, along with President Xi Jinping of China. These reforms were highlights in a year when Washington state voters overwhelmingly passed a landmark measure against wildlife trafficking and California governor Jerry Brown signed a similar measure in our nation’s biggest state.