The HSUS and Humane Society International are the rare humane organizations with very active and robust wildlife protection programs. We fight for species and habitats, but also against cruelty to individual wild animals, whether scarce or abundant. That latter instinct is what leads us to challenge many uses of captive wild animals and also to fight particularly abusive practices – from captive hunting, to shooting bears over bait, to the trade in wild animal parts. Here’s a rundown on some of our 2016 accomplishments, in a world where dozens of battles rage every day, with strong forces aligned against us.
ADVANCING PROTECTIONS FOR CAPTIVE WILDLIFE
Wild animal acts: SeaWorld in partnership with The HSUS announced it would no longer breed its orcas and would phase out its theatrical orca performances. SeaWorld will also work with us to advocate against commercial whaling, the Canadian seal hunt, shark finning, and the collection of wild-caught fish for the pet trade. California followed with a law banning the breeding of captive orcas and their use for entertainment purposes. This broader movement questioning whether certain marine mammals should be held captive also got a major lift when the National Aquarium in Baltimore announced it will move its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins to a seaside sanctuary over the next four or five years. And the broader campaign against wild animal acts received its biggest boost in May when Ringling Bros. ended the use of elephants in its shows, ahead of schedule. We led efforts to pass the first two state laws in the country to protect elephants – banning the use of bullhooks on elephants in Rhode Island and California. In addition, we were instrumental in passing an ordinance banning the use of bullhooks on elephants in Minneapolis.
Exotic pet trade: The HSUS has been a leader in the fight to end keeping dangerous wild animals as pets. This year, we helped close a loophole in the Endangered Species Act regulations so that all captive tigers in the United States are now treated equally under that law, which should help prohibit the breeding of tigers for sale in the exotic pet trade. This effort, along with a 2012 petition we filed with coalition partners to the United States Department of Agriculture to ban public contact with large cats, bears, and primates, resulted in the USDA taking preliminary action by issuing a formal notice that public contact with big cats four weeks of age or younger is a violation of the Animal Welfare Act. Maine also banned the keeping of wild cats, bears, primates, wolves, crocodiles, alligators, and other dangerous wild animals as pets.
PROTECTING NATIVE CARNIVORES AND ENDING INHUMANE OR UNSPORTING WILDLIFE PRACTICES
Bears: After a massive outpouring of public concern, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to forego its controversial black bear hunt for 2016. We also joined as co-petitioner to list the Florida black bear as endangered under the Endangered Species Act to protect a subspecies being hemmed in on all sides as development continues at a brisk pace in Florida. We continue to fight a proposal by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to prematurely remove grizzly bears in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from the protections afforded to them under the Endangered Species Act. If delisting happens, trophy hunting follows, and that’s not something that the American public supports for America’s largest carnivores.
Bobcats: After a hue and cry from citizens, and an HSUS legal petition to the legislature, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission voted to withdraw a proposal to initiate a bobcat hunting, hounding, and trapping season. Bobcats have been protected in the state since 1989 and this victory prevents, at least for the foreseeable future, the killing of these gorgeous animals for their pelts and heads. We helped to kill a bill in Iowa that would have doubled the amount of bobcats that could be killed. The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Board voted down a proposal we strongly opposed that would have expanded the bobcat hunting season. We’re fighting in Illinois to restore protections for bobcats.
Mountain lions: The HSUS, with coalition partners in Wyoming, successfully defeated a bill that would have legalized the trapping and snaring of mountain lions in that state. Wyoming also approved reduced hunting quotas for mountain lions in key ecosystems in and around the Grand Teton region. A report released this year by The HSUS, “Cecil 2: Trophy Hunting America’s Lion,” highlighted the five deadliest states for cougars. It showed that over the past decade alone, 29,000 mountain lions were killed by trophy hunters. New Mexico moved in the wrong direction this year, authorizing trapping of America’s biggest cats (a dangerous decision The HSUS has sued to reverse), but we were able to fend off an increase in mountain lion trophy-hunting quotas in Washington.
Gray wolves: We blocked the inclusion of a rider to delist wolves in the Great Lakes and Wyoming in the federal omnibus spending bill this year. Also, the State of Michigan Court of Appeals sided with wolf-protection advocates, and declared unconstitutional the Michigan legislature’s attempt to force a trophy-hunting and trapping season on the state’s small population of wolves. The ruling restores the people’s decision to protect wolves in two 2014 initiatives. As the year ends, however, we’re facing a renewed effort in Michigan and in Congress to strip these protections, and we’ll need your help in the coming days, weeks, and months to beat back these very dangerous maneuvers.
Wildlife on national refuges and national preserves: In one of the most notable gains for wildlife of the year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service finalized a rule prohibiting cruel hunting methods and ruthless “predator control” culls on more than 76 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge lands in Alaska. This came months after the National Park Service enacted a similar rule last October prohibiting these cruel hunting methods on more than 20 million acres of national preserves it manages in the state. These methods were used to slaughter native predators in order to artificially inflate game populations for sport hunting, and include baiting brown bears, trapping bears with cruel leghold traps and snares, using airplanes to scout, land, and shoot brown bears, and killing mother black bears, wolves, and coyotes and their dependent young at their den sites.
PROTECTING ELEPHANTS, RHINOS, AND OTHER WILD SPECIES
Voters approved our Oregon ballot initiative (Measure 100) by a 70-30 vote. It bans the intrastate trade of 12 types of animals most targeted by wildlife traffickers, including whales, sea turtles, elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, sharks, rays, and pangolins. A similar measure we backed with the Vulcan Foundation passed in Washington State last year by a nearly identical margin. And just last week, a state court judge in California upheld a similar law that HSUS helped deliver in the Golden state.
The import of lion trophies to the United States was significantly reduced due to the species being listed as protected under the Endangered Species Act (which The HSUS and HSI petitioned for in 2011) and the United States announced that it will not allow the import of lion trophies from captive bred lions killed in canned hunts in South Africa. A near-total ban was announced on the import, export, and interstate trade in African elephant ivory in the United States. Hawaii, long a safe haven for illegal ivory, banned the sale of elephant ivory, rhino horn, and parts and products of more than a dozen imperiled species.
At its 2016 meeting, with an HSI team actively working toward such ends, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna, a treaty created to stop species from becoming endangered or extinct due to international trade, increased or added new protections for 113 species of wildlife. It also recommended that all countries close their domestic ivory markets. CITES bans on international trade in rhino horn and elephant ivory were also retained when proposals to reinstate such trade were not approved.
After three years, our project in partnership with the Vietnamese government to reduce demand for rhino horn continues to be very successful. When the project started, 51 percent of Vietnamese adults surveyed believed that rhino horn had medicinal value and 4.2 percent had purchased rhino horn in the previous 12 months. Three years later, only 28 percent believe rhino horn has medicinal value and only 2.3 percent of the sample had purchased rhino horn in the previous 12 months.
PROTECTING MARINE WILDLIFE
Georgia Aquarium announced that it will no longer seek to acquire dolphins or beluga whales from the wild. We filed an amicus brief in earlier litigation in support of the National Marine Fisheries Service, successfully urging the court to uphold NMFS’ denial of a permit for the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales. Rhode Island became the 11th state to pass a bill prohibiting the sale, trade, purchase, and transportation of shark fins. We won a court case filed by The HSUS and NRDC to stop the use of high-intensity sonar by the U.S. Navy in the Pacific Ocean. And we partnered with a wide range of organizations, including SeaWorld, to urge Californians to vote Yes on Proposition 67, the statewide ban on single-use plastic bags, a threat to marine life.
ADVANCING HUMANE WILDLIFE MANAGEMENT
We had one of our best years saving prairie dogs yet with over 1,600 prairie dogs saved and relocated to safe pastures. We convinced the U.S. Forest Service to throw out its prairie dog management plan amendment for Thunder Basin National Grassland, successfully defending 18,000 acres (home to 180,000 prairie dogs). This year marks a 10-year partnership with Saving Florida’s Gopher Tortoises and The HSUS to save Gopher tortoises in Florida. This year alone over 900 tortoises were saved from impending entombment and relocated. Our team also provided training in humane wildlife conflict resolution techniques to more than 1,700 animal control and police officers, shelter staff, wildlife rehabilitators, and members of the public from more than 250 communities in the United States in 2016.
At The HSUS and HSI, our fight to protect wildlife, big and small, is being waged on many different fronts, both here in the United States and globally. In 2017 we will continue to speak out and act on behalf of both imperiled species and individual creatures facing cruelty.