Never an excuse for malicious cruelty to domesticated or wild animals

By on July 5, 2017 with 13 Comments By Wayne Pacelle

In late December 2015, Hawaii conservation officers found a dead bird the size of a small child buried in a nest on the Hawaiian island of Oahu, and a stick next to the nest. Sadly, that marker was a faint indicator of a crime committed by a group of young men. Officers would later determine that several alleged perpetrators battered and even dismembered at least 15 Laysan albatrosses with a bat, a machete, and a pellet gun. They also smashed the eggs of the large, rare, and federally protected birds. The scene of the crime was the Ka‘ena Point Natural Area Reserve, the site of a 26-year-long conservation effort to protect the birds. In one violent spree, the perpetrators had unwound the work of government agency staff and volunteers to restore these birds to an extraordinarily beautiful and fragile ecosystem, and turned a refuge for these wild animals into a killing ground.

The investigative trail led authorities to six students who attended a prestigious Honolulu prep school, three of whom were eventually charged – one as an adult. The conservation officers report that the boys severed the birds’ feet to collect their I.D. bands as souvenirs, and posted the photos of the mutilated birds on social media, according to reporting by the Washington Post.

While leaders of the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources are calling for stiff penalties, including jail time, for the perpetrators, there is a brouhaha brewing now because the slowly churning justice system may instead give the boys just a slap on the wrist, reducing the number of charges and offering them leniency as first offenders. That’s deeply distressing, given the heinous, premeditated nature of the crimes, and also knowing that this sort of behavior is often predictive of other extreme anti-social behavior and violent conduct.

There’s a body of evidence to show that people who do this sort of thing in childhood often repeat that behavior later in life. Our justice system has been properly recalibrated to mete out meaningful penalties so that perpetrators learn never to behave in this manner again toward animals. Many state anti-cruelty laws also have provisions that call for counseling of young people who demonstrate malice toward animals, since there’s an obvious mental pathology at work.

Hawaii has taken important steps to protect wildlife as a matter of policy. Last year Hawaii enacted one of the nation’s most comprehensive laws to protect imperiled wild animals, such as elephants and rhinos, from the illegal trade in their parts. The law took effect just a few days ago – on June 30th. This law will deal a heavy blow to unscrupulous wildlife dealers, considering that previous surveys found 89 percent of elephant ivory items for sale in the state were from illegal or unknown origins and that Hawaii was the nation’s third largest ivory market.

Clearly, these young men were not involved in wildlife trafficking. But they were involved in cruelty to wildlife, and the law must speak when it comes to their behavior. It was not that long ago that The HSUS launched a national campaign to strengthen all of our nation’s anti-cruelty laws. In the mid-1980s, malicious cruelty was a felony in only four states. In 2014, we completed the effort to make animal cruelty a felony in every state, and just last week, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf held a signing ceremony, the likes of which we rarely see, for legislation that makes extreme cruelty a first-offense felony (only two other states, Mississippi and Iowa, allow felony penalties for a second or subsequent offense only).

A bill introduced in the Hawaii legislature this year seeks to make the torture, mutilation, or poisoning of Hawaii’s indigenous birds a felony. The legislature should take up the bill when its biennial session resumes in 2018, and pass it into law.

But there must be a closely correlated campaign to help strengthen state laws to protect wildlife from poaching and extreme acts of cruelty. Our anti-cruelty policy work will be closer to completion when that happens.

While the correlation between animal cruelty and other extreme and violent behavior may seem self-evident to those of us steeped in this cause, many law enforcement agents are still learning about the predictive aspect of violence against animals. Through our Law Enforcement Training Center, we partner with enforcement agencies, prosecutors’ associations, and domestic violence groups nationwide to address this relationship and how a multidisciplinary approach to animal abuse and domestic violence keeps our communities safer. Cases like the one in Hawaii remind us what’s at stake and how leniency is not warranted when people do really awful things to animals.

Public Policy (Legal/Legislative), Wildlife/Marine Mammals

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  1. Sandy Weinstein says:

    they should all be charged with felonies, send to jail and charged as adults. if they are just given a slap on the wrist they will do it again and again, etc.

  2. Brian says:

    Lock them up for a couple of years. Yes, they should be considered a danger to society. I hope these sadistic “young men” (humiliating to men) are known for their crimes and that the film student’s record of cruelty proceeds him. Let them all know fear and pain. Finally……why?

  3. Kathy says:

    Cutting off their feet and hitting them with baseball bats? Unbelievable cruelty. Guys in the cities found with abused pit bulls and/or fighting equipment are sent to jail. A slap on the wrist for murdering and torturing endangered animals does not send the proper message.

  4. Doris Muller says:

    I suspect all these*conscienceless* human predators have one thing in common: they are all drug personalities. It’s terrifying what humans will do when their brains are altered due to their being drug heads.

    “Cases like the one in Hawaii remind us what’s at stake and how leniency is not warranted when people do really awful things to animals.” BTW, this sentiment should apply to the vicious activities of the Bureau of Lethal Management (BLM). This government office is allowed to be above the law.

    • K. Douglas says:

      They are not “drug personalities” – they all go to the most prestigious prep school in the state – Punahoe. They are privileged little punks who believe they are above everyone else as well as the law.

      • Doris Muller says:

        K. D. how do you know they are not drug personalities? Do you know them personally? The animal abuse and animal killing crimes that make the headlines are just the tip of the iceberg. Most vicious crimes against animals are done in secrecy. The most privileged among us are very skilled at hiding their addiction, and they have a circle of peers who also indulge or who simply choose to overlook the behavior, and everyone goes merrily on their way. Regardless of legality, drug use is an excepted norm among many societal factions. The fact that these sociopath’s attend a “prestigious prep school”, are “privileged”, or are “little punks” does not dictate that they are not drug personalities.

  5. Cobie says:

    Besides jail time, these abusers and their parents should pay for all damages and fund the project to help these birds recover. Their names should be on an animal abuser list; society should aware of these and other sadistic humans.

    • Jacqueline Carr says:

      I agree with you 100 percent and would add that the courts should require that they do closely supervised community service work to help wild animals in some way. If there punishment is multi-layered as you suggest plus this addition they and their parents will hopefully truly realize how heinous a crime these evil spoiled children have committed against these innocent creatures.

  6. Frances Leard says:

    No animals deserve to be abuse or killed by these sick low life cowards. If these liberal judges would give them harsh penalties, some of this torture might end. They deserve years behind bars and see how tough they really are.

    Thanks for your dedication over the years to end abuse and killings on all animals.

  7. Kalama Mom says:

    The 18 yr old charged as an adult will do 45 days in jail, 200 hr community service and his crime will remain on his record–and he is reportedly not the instigator, it is the younger juveniles, whose treatment is not known. Definitely justice was NOT served for these defenseless, majestic birds…whose colony–for many years to come–will be affected by this criminal behavior from supposedly well educated Punahou students! Shame!😥

    If you’ve seen these lovely birds skimming the incoming waves with the tips of their long wings at Kaena point…it’s unthinkable that these thugs have not been tried as adults and thrown in jail!

  8. denise hogan says:


  9. Katy Byrne says:

    Why is this not all over the news? Does Wayne get interviewed in
    the New York Times often? This should be a “given” because the
    public needs much more educating. People do not understand
    the correlation between crime done to people and kids and done to animals….and that correlation will be the main way to wake people up…..stories of horrible crime linked to children and animals
    might stay with people and cause them to take more action.

  10. M C says:

    The more helpless the victim, the more heinous the crime. If they let these entitled idiots off with lenient sentences they will only move on to kill people. Hopefully it will be the children of the people who let them off so easily. Those people shouldn’t be allowed to procreate either .

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