China’s ivory trade clampdown, Ringling closure, B.C. grizzly hunt ending among top wildlife victories of 2017
By Monday, China shuts down the latest tranche of its 177 ivory-carving factories and retail outlets. This is a breathtaking outcome, with the government delivering on its pledge to end its domestic ivory trade. China’s leaders, after beginning talks on the issues with their U.S. counterparts in 2015, made the commitment, recognizing that domestic consumption of ivory was a major factor in driving the killing of elephants throughout Africa. It is perhaps the signature campaign win – in practical and symbolic terms – in the global campaign to protect wildlife, even as we contend with other extraordinary challenges, from wildlife trafficking climate change to habitat destruction to the trophy hunting of rare species.
This year, we also worked to get Gucci and Michael Kors – two of the biggest brands in luxury fashion – to end their use of fur, from fur-bearing animals caught in the wild or tortured on fur factories. This also was the year that the iconic Ringling Bros. shuttered its operation and thereby ended the best-known traveling wild animal circus in the world.
Today, I provide a summary of other big gains in the wildlife protection field in 2017, reminding readers that The HSUS and our affiliates fight for all animals, including the wild creatures who inhabit our planet.
Advancing protections for captive wildlife
Clearly one of the big gains in wildlife protection – and certainly in the animal protection movement at large – is the progress made in shutting down wild animal acts in circuses. In May, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus closed after a 146-year run using wild animal acts, giving momentum to national and global efforts to stop subjecting animals to lifelong captivity, coercive training techniques, and unceasing travel in box cars and cages. Two of our biggest states – Illinois and New York – banned the use of elephants in circuses, and dozens of local governments took even stronger action to stop any wild animal acts, including Los Angeles and New York City. Abroad, Scotland and Italy banned wild animal acts, adding to the roster of nations that no longer tolerate this form of exploitation.
The HSUS has been a leader in the fight to end keeping dangerous wild animals as pets. This year South Carolina severely restricted the keeping of big cats, bears, and great apes. There are now only four states left with little or no laws restricting private possession of dangerous wild animals (Alabama, Nevada, North Carolina, and Wisconsin). We worked to defeat petitions in Colorado which would have exempted the Zoological Association of America – a sham accrediting organization — from the state’s prohibition on dangerous wild animals and allowed for the private possession of kangaroo species and sloths. We also succeeded in our federal litigation to uphold the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s prohibition on the import of giant constrictor snakes destined for the inhumane pet trade, and in litigation to ensure that captive facilities holding endangered species do not exhibit them in a manner that undermines conservation.
Stopping trophy hunting and cruel killing of wildlife
I wrote in detail about Canada’s province of British Columbia banning the trophy hunting of grizzly bears – perhaps the biggest worldwide gain against trophy hunting to date. We also celebrated President Trump’s pronouncement of trophy hunting of elephants and other animals as a “horror show,” as he called for putting a hold on a decision by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to allow American hunters to bring back tusks, heads, and other body parts from elephants and lions they’d shot in Zimbabwe and Zambia. A recent federal court of appeals ruling upheld the need for the United States to strictly scrutinize imports of trophies of species threatened with extinction and invalidated the process used by the FWS to liberalize imports.
We’ve been active on the domestic front too:
Gray wolves: We won in the federal courts to preserve Endangered Species Act protections for wolves in the Great Lakes, forbidding trophy hunting, trapping, and hounding seasons that would have resumed in three states and that claimed more than 1,500 wolves between 2012 and 2014. We’re continuing to fight congressional attempts that would delist wolves in the Great Lakes. The Idaho Department of Fish and Game also voted down a proposal to allow bait for wolf hunting.
Black bears: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted to forego the controversial black bear hunt for 2017, but it also voted to table the hunt for the next two years – sparing this unique but dwindling subspecies of the American black bear. We also defeated legislation in Connecticut that would have opened up a trophy hunting season for black bears in the state for the first time in more than 100 years. In addition, we helped defeat a proposal in Vermont that would have opened up a spring bear-hunting season and allowed baiting of black bears, and another proposal in Virginia that would have expanded the bear hunting quota by a whopping 25 percent; after opposition from The HSUS and others it was reduced by half.
Mountain lions: The U.S. Appeals Court for the Ninth Circuit upheld California’s ban on not only killing mountain lions for trophies, but also on importing mountain lions killed in other states. A federal court in New Mexico threw out the state’s second attempt to dismiss our lawsuit challenging the state’s barbaric cougar trapping season. The South Dakota Game, Fish and Parks Commission voted against a proposal to expand hounding of mountain lions on public lands throughout much of the state. We successfully defeated four bills in Oregon that would have repealed a ballot measure we passed in 1994 to ban bear baiting and hounding of mountain lions.
Wildlife killing contests: We led the effort to pass a law placing a moratorium on cownose ray killing contests in Maryland, and continue to work toward seeing these cruel events stopped altogether. We also launched our new, comprehensive toolkit, “Wildlife Killing Contests: Ending the Blood Sport in Your Community,” which provides advocates with guidance on how to combat this practice.
Ending wildlife trafficking and domestic poaching
Nevada became the seventh state to outlaw the trade in parts and products from wild animals threatened by poaching and wildlife trafficking and the 12th state to end the sale of shark fins. Species protected in the new Nevada law include elephants, rhinos, sharks, lions, tigers, leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, pangolins, sea turtles, rays, narwhals, walruses, and hippopotamuses. New Jersey and Nebraska passed legislation to join the Interstate Wildlife Violator Compact. The compact is a nationwide law enforcement network aimed at preventing lawbreakers who have lost their hunting, fishing, and/or trapping privileges in one state for committing poaching crimes or violations, from carrying out those activities in other states. Only two states in the country (Hawaii and Massachusetts) have yet to join.
We also successfully challenged the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to withhold copious wildlife trade data from the public.
Advancing wildlife fertility control and other forms of humane wildlife management
The HSUS has long been the leader in advancing fertility control as an alternative, method to manage wildlife populations, replacing lethal culling and unnecessary removals and gathers. We have three ongoing field programs that highlight the effectiveness of fertility control to manage wildlife populations in a humane manner: 1) We concluded our first year of a five-year fertility control project to stabilize and reduce the wild horse population in Vieques, Puerto Rico, by treating more than 270 adult females with immunocontraception (ZonaStat-H). The island is estimated to have more than 2,000 horses; 2) we launched the first-ever project designed to promote the humane, sustainable management of wild burros by assessing the feasibility of using immunocontraception to manage a wild burro population in the Black Mountain Herd Management Area in northwestern Arizona; and 3) we completed the fourth year of a multi-year project administering immunocontraception to white-tailed deer in Hastings-on-Hudson, New York. After years of ground-breaking research, the immunocontraception we have been using was officially registered for deer (ZonaStat-D) by the Environmental Protection Agency.
With the Botstiber Institute for Wildlife Fertility Control, we hosted the 8th International Conference on Wildlife Fertility Control in Washington D.C. and brought together scientists, veterinarians, managers, policy-makers and advocates from a range of disciplines to discuss advances within the growing field of wildlife fertility control.
For this field season, our teams traveled to seven different project sites, translocating 1,147 prairie dogs to protected conservation areas and improving 801 acres of habitat. We partnered with state and local agencies, NGOS, tribes, scientists, and developers to make it all happen for this imperiled keystone species. We conducted two projects in Montana creating and restoring large-scale prairie dog ecosystems to not only support the prairie dogs themselves, but also their associates, including North America’s most endangered mammal, the black-footed ferret. We worked in South Dakota to help more than 280 prairie dogs and create additional protected habitat.
After working with The HSUS for the past two years, the New York City mayor’s office decided not to round up and kill Canada geese this year, for the first time in the past seven years. (More than 5,000 geese have been killed in yearly roundups since 2010.) The city is using egg addling and other humane methods suggested by The HSUS. Montgomery County, Maryland, also decided not to round up and kill geese this year. We are also providing egg addling training to park staff in Boston. After the cities of Arcadia and Costa Mesa, California, abandoned plans to trap and kill coyotes, city leaders passed humane coyote management plans instead.
Hands-on training: Our team provided local and statewide trainings on humane wildlife conflict resolution techniques, reaching an audience of nearly 1,000 animal control and police officers, shelter staff, wildlife rehabilitators, and park staff. In addition, we consulted with and provided information about humanely solving conflicts with wildlife to community leaders in more than 250 communities in 2017.
Global successes for wildlife
After a 30-year battle, commercial tuna fleets won’t be able to flood the U.S. market with tuna caught by chasing dolphins and setting nets on the air-breathing mammals, after the World Trade Organization ruled in October that the United States has not engaged in unfair trade practices with Mexico by placing restrictions on tuna imports. Rakuten, the largest Japanese online retailer and other prominent businesses, have banned all sales of elephant ivory. Lions, leopards, giraffes, chimpanzees, sharks, and other key species received overwhelming support for critical international treaty level protections at the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals, this year’s largest and most important multilateral conservation meeting. HSI’s direct involvement included coordinating with and advising government representatives in the listing efforts. Working with enforcement agencies in India, HSI assisted in seizing four pieces of ivory, more than 20 kilograms of deer antlers, and more than a kilogram of pangolin scales from illegal trade. Five individuals were arrested. Also in India, our HSI team helped end the sales of wild animals, including elephants and birds, at the Sonepur fair. As part of our continuing campaign to end the demand for rhino horn in Asia, we educated more than 6,000 high school students in fun and educational events on the evils of using rhino horn.
While we celebrate the gains, this has also been a year of setbacks. There has been an extraordinary attack on wildlife in Alaska, with Congress and the Department of the Interior teaming up to unwind rules to protect predators on national wildlife refuges and national preserves. Congress also opened up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling, and there are attacks to reduce the size of a number of critical national monuments. The Interior Department rolled back a director’s order to phase out the use of lead ammunition and fish tackle on national wildlife refuges, in the face of overwhelming evidence that the toxic compound left behind kills millions of wild animals and also poses a threat to human health.
These fights are too big and too important to stay on the sidelines, and in the year ahead, we’ll be in the lead, fighting to protect species and habitat and fighting cruelty to wildlife wherever we see it.