Humane Society International, which works around the world on issues ranging from fighting wildlife trafficking to ending the dog meat trade and abuse of farm animals, is celebrating a number of victories in recent days:
Vietnam destroys two tons of ivory and rhino horn
Vietnam sounded a clarion call against elephant and rhino poaching this past week by destroying nearly two tons of ivory and rhino horn, along with a number of wild tiger and bear body parts confiscated from the illegal wildlife trade. Vietnam is one of the world’s largest consumers of rhino horn, and this is a major victory for HSI, which has been working with the Vietnamese government since 2013 to reduce ivory and rhino horn demand in the country.
The ivory and rhino horn destroyed in Vietnam are estimated to be worth more than $7 million and came from the slaughter of an estimated 330 African elephants and 23 rhinos. The event featuring the destruction of the ivory and rhino horn took place ahead of the Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade, which begins this week. Participants at the conference will call for tangible and unified action against the illegal wildlife trade. Ha Thi Tuyet Nga, director of the CITES Management Authority of Vietnam, said she hoped the destruction event would convince citizens in Vietnam and around the world to stop buying ivory and rhino horn and instead lend their voices to the call to protect elephants and rhinoceroses in the wild.
Vietnam now joins 20 countries in four continents that have destroyed their seized ivory and rhino stockpiles, with 26 such events taking place since 2011 alone.
These actions come in the midst of an unprecedented poaching and trafficking crisis that threatens elephants and rhinos: between 2010 and 2012, poachers killed an estimated 100,000 elephants to feed the global demand for ivory. Elephants in Central Africa have experienced a 65 percent reduction in their populations, and they will be wiped out if the poaching continues. In September 2016, the Great Elephant Census, the first pan-African aerial survey of savanna elephants in decades, revealed a disturbing 30 percent decline of the species since 2007. As for rhinos, only about 29,000 rhinos of five species remaining in the wild, even as poaching of these iconic animals for their horns continuing to escalate. Over the past decade, poachers killed more than 6,000 rhinos across Africa, with more than 1,300 poached in 2015 alone. And the problem is spreading, as evidenced by the emergence of new poaching “hotspots” where poachers did not previously target rhinos.
HSI’s multi-faceted campaign to reduce the demand for rhino horn in Vietnam has reached an estimated 34 million people—approximately one third of the country’s population. According to national poll results, over the three years of the campaign, the percentage of people who believe that rhino horn has medicinal value, and those who use and buy rhino horn, has decreased significantly.
HSI recently opened an office in Hanoi to expand and enhance our work on wildlife and other pressing animal protection issues in the country.
Pizza, the world’s saddest polar bear, gets a reprieve
In another positive development over the weekend for HSI and its partners, the Grandview Mall in China announced it will move Pizza, dubbed the “world’s saddest polar bear,” from a small glass cage in the mall to an ocean park in North China where he was born, reuniting him with his parents.
HSI released a video last month that showed Pizza exhibiting signs of mental distress in his unnatural surroundings – a small, glass-fronted enclosure inside a mall with no snow or ice. The polar bear spent most of his day pacing in his enclosure, even as children and adults banged on the glass wall to get his attention and take selfies with him. His only contact with the world outside was an air vent in the wall. Although mall authorities are saying this is a “temporary” move while the mall is renovated, HSI and its local partners in China are urging the mall to make it permanent.
This is a sign of real progress, a clear indication that our collective voices have been heard, but it is not the end of the story. No amount of renovation can ever make a shopping mall a suitable home for a wild animal like a polar bear. So we applaud the authorities at Grandview Mall for making the decision to release Pizza into what we hope will be a better living environment, and you can be sure that we will be monitoring the situation closely.
McDonald’s South Africa to go cage-free starting next year
We have one more HSI victory to celebrate today, in South Africa. McDonald’s South Africa has announced plans to begin phasing in cage-free eggs at all of its restaurants starting next year.
In South Africa, most egg-laying hens are confined in wire battery cages, where each hen has about the space of a single sheet of paper to spend her whole life. This latest move will spare thousands of animals each year from a miserable life.
HSI has worked with food industry leaders around the world on their recent cage-free egg pledges, including Sodexo and Compass Group — two of the world’s largest food service providers — and Arcos Dorados, the largest McDonald’s operator in Latin America.