April 23, 2014

Creating Safer Communities for Cats and Wildlife

Every year, Spring delivers babies. And these newborn birds and mammals are particularly vulnerable to predators, including outdoor cats. Too often, folks have lined up on one side or the other – for feral cats or for wildlife. 

Yellow warbler
John Harrison/THE HSUS
Whether you’re a 'bird-person' or a 'cat-person' there is a common ground that will create safer communities for all animals.

Here’s where we stand: We’re for both.  All animals deserve protection. And in terms of the debate and on-the-ground care of cats and wildlife, we have experts and professional staff in both realms dedicated to finding humane solutions.

Our broad engagement for all species is one reason we’re involved in a broad public debate over outdoor cats, as in a recent op-ed exchange in the San Diego Union-Tribune that included a submission by The HSUS’ Wildlife Scientist John Hadidian and San Diego Humane Society CEO Gary Weitzman, and another by a representative of the San Diego Audubon Society. 

The HSUS aggressively promotes public education programs and humane management practices, including spay-and-neuter programs for owned cats as well as colony management programs like Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR).  These programs reduce the number of outdoor cats by urging people to keep pet cats indoors, thereby cutting down on reproduction among free-roaming or community (feral and stray) cats and stabilizing and reducing their numbers over time.  This, we believe, is the only positive way forward, since the vast majority of citizens will never accept mass round-ups and euthanizing of feral cats.  Our approach is the best practical option. 



Cat
iStockphoto
Indoor cats can live long, healthy, happy lives and keeping your cat indoors can save the lives of other animals.

The outdated strategy of trapping and killing feral cats is generally ineffective. Moreover, if that were the only alternative, we’d lose overnight the enormous investments in cat management made by TNR practitioners and cat lovers.  And they would never participate in a round-up and kill approach, so there’s no way such a round-up could ever succeed.

While TNR and other sterilization projects may not produce substantial results overnight, they can reduce impacts over time.  What’s more, the vast national community of cat lovers can make the largest possible difference of all to help baby wildlife– simply by keeping their cats indoors or safely confined to their property.

There are more than 70 million owned cats in the United States but only 60 percent of these live safely indoors. Indoor cats can live long, happy, healthy lives, and keeping your cat indoors can also save the lives of other animals. Getting cats spayed or neutered and keeping collars and visible identification on them at all times can help decrease the overall population of community cats, keeping both your cat and wildlife safe.   If your cat really wants to explore the great outdoors, consider building or buying a catio or screened-in porch area for them to relax and bird-watch at their leisure.  Many adventurous cats can also be trained to enjoy walks on a harness and leash.  

Even if you don’t live with cats, there are many things you can do to protect all animals. These include:

  • Getting involved with a local effort to boost indoor cat programs.
  • Promoting the use of collars and visible ID.
  • Supporting programs that work to manage community cat populations.
  • Spaying and neutering any unowned cats that you or your neighbors may be feeding.
  • Subsidizing the cost of spaying or neutering for cat owners who cannot afford it.
  • Supporting local wildlife rehabilitation facilities to help injured birds and other animals.
  • Making your backyard safer for wildlife by using humane deterrents to keep outdoor cats out of your yard.

Whether you’re a “bird-person” or a “cat-person” there is a common ground that will create safer communities for all animals. An easy first step is to sign The HSUS’ pledge to keep cats and wildlife safe. 

April 22, 2014

The HSUS’ 2013 Annual Report: Helping Animals in Crisis, Driving Transformational Change

We are deep into 2014 already with several successes under our belt, including the defeat of the King amendment, major announcements from Smithfield Foods and Tyson Foods about phasing out gestation crates for breeding pigs, a ruling from a United Nations court reeling in Japan’s illegal whaling, and major gains in Congress on ending the use of chimpanzees in government laboratories and new prohibitions on attending animal fighting spectacles.  But 2013 didn’t turn that long ago, and today I release our annual report for last year on our accomplishments and activities. 

As you’ll see, we continued to make gains in all of the areas where we made major investments, and we fortified the financial position of the organization in a meaningful way through wise stewardship of your donations, with 81 cents of every dollar going directly toward animal protection programs.

Transparency is one of our core values, and we tell our story every day in A Humane Nation, All Animals, HumaneSociety.org, on Facebook, and through other communications platforms.  But for a single document, our annual report provides the most comprehensive overview of our work.  I hope you’ll dig in, as a way of gaining a richer understanding of our work. I’ll leave it to you to review my President’s essay and the pages that follow it. 

We do have the most comprehensive programs in the United States and throughout the world to help all animals.  Here’s just some of what we do:

  • Aiding shelters, especially when natural disasters and cruelty cases overwhelm their capacity to respond.
  • Leading the nation’s most ambitious projects to reduce pet overpopulation and thereby reduce pressure on local shelters and rescues.
  • Providing sanctuary, rehabilitation, veterinary treatment, and other direct care for more animals than any other group – more than 118,000 animals assisted in 2013 alone.
  • Combatting puppy mills, organized animal fighting, wildlife poaching, Canada’s commercial seal slaughter and many other large-scale animal abuses.
  • Managing a coast-to-coast network of nature preserves, through our Humane Society Wildlife Land Trust.
  • Working to end the suffering of street dogs in countries around the globe.
  • Combatting the trade in wildlife here and abroad, whether it’s sharks, elephants, rhinos or other creatures whose parts put them at risk. 
  • Joining with hundreds of America’s major corporations in food retail (e.g., McDonald’s, Safeway and Costco), fashion (e.g., Armani and J.C. Penney), cosmetics (e.g., Lush, Aubrey Organics and Jack Black) and household products sectors (e.g., Procter & Gamble and Unilever) to conduct more humane procurement, production or testing practices.
  • Fighting factory farming and providing a new vision for agriculture, including supporting sustainable family farmers who answer to higher animal welfare standards – both in the United States and the developing world.

The HSUS’s critics caricature our work, reinvent it as something it’s not, or complain that we should be doing more of one thing or another.  Mainly, they just don’t want us focusing resources on animal cruelty problems of their making. I understand their perspective, and you should too.

Because we are tackling the biggest problems for animals, we get big results.  But we also face fierce resistance from those committed to the status quo.  That’s unfortunate, but inevitable.  It’s the price of progress.

I hope this annual report inspires you to deepen your engagement, and reminds you to act as a practitioner of animal protection and as an ambassador for our organization.  We cannot do this work without the participation of people like you, throughout the country and now throughout the world.

April 18, 2014

Discover Multiple Ways to Help The HSUS Fly

So many people support The HSUS because we are the top animal-care provider in our field and also the most influential and impactful advocacy organization, battling against dogfighting, puppy mills, the trade in ivory and rhino horn, commercial whaling, factory farming, and so many other problems.

Puppy Mill
Skymiles donations have helped staff travel on critical animal rescue missions, including puppy mill rescues

But in addition to making a gift to The HSUS, you can help bolster programs with our corporate supporters.

Over the past year, donations of Delta Airlines Skymiles have helped our staff travel on critical animal rescue missions, including puppy mill rescues that saved the lives of thousands of dogs. Surveys you took on SurveyMonkey have so far contributed nearly $800,000 to help the vast spectrum of animal protection programs we work on here at The HSUS, from farm animal protection to companion animal welfare to wildlife protection.

Now, we have new arrangements with Amazon and Discover that make it easier than ever for you to support animals without making too much of an effort. Here’s a short inventory of some easy ways to help:

    ● The new HSUS Discover it® credit card: Every time you use this card, Discover contributes a portion to The HSUS. But with this customized credit card you benefit too, with cash rewards and the ability to see your FICO credit score for free on each monthly statement. Visit Discover.com/HSUS to learn more and apply. Current Discover cardholders can easily convert their existing card by calling the number on the back of their card and requesting the new HSUS card.

    ● Delta SkyMiles Skywish program: This program makes it easy for you to donate your miles to a charity of your choice, and The HSUS is one of the charities featured in the SkyWish program. Visit Delta.com/SkyWish to donate your miles.

    ●AmazonSmile: Amazon.com’s charitable arm donates 0.5 percent of the purchase price of qualifying items to The HSUS when you select it as the charity of your choice. To sign up, visit Smile.Amazon.com and select The Humane Society of the United States.

    ● SurveyMonkey Contribute: By signing up to be a panel member, you will receive surveys from SurveyMonkey clients who need your opinion. For every survey you take, SurveyMonkey will donate 50 cents to help animals in need and you'll be entered to win a $100 Amazon gift card. Sign up here for SurveyMonkey Contribute.

    ● Vehicle Donation: This program turns your used car, van, truck, RV, motorcycle, boat or even airplane into a charitable contribution for The HSUS. Proceeds from the sale of donated vehicles pump much-needed dollars into our programs. Donate your used vehicle today.

As I travel around the country, so many people ask me how they can help. I tell them that becoming a dues-paying member of The HSUS and its affiliates is an essential step. They can also volunteer in numerous ways, from assisting with disaster response, building humane communities in cities around the country, grassroots activism and direct care at our animal care centers. In addition, they can apply to become a District Leader or an intern with The HSUS. But by getting the Discover Card, takings surveys through SurveyMonkey, donating accrued Delta miles, shopping through AmazonSmile, or donating an old vehicle, you can magnify your impact.

I hope you’ll think about doing one or more of these actions today. Every small step makes a big difference for animals and for The HSUS.

April 16, 2014

Full-Court Press in the Courts

HSUS member card 60Back in the late 1950s, The HSUS printed this mission statement on its membership cards: “Every Field of Humane Work—EVERYWHERE."  But even our founders could not have anticipated how today The HSUS and its affiliates bring so many tools to the fight. 


The recent landmark legal victory in the International Court of Justice against Japan’s commercial whaling activities in the Southern Ocean has had me thinking about our work in the courts. In 2005, my colleague Mike Markarian and I reached out to Jonathan Lovvorn, then an attorney at a public interest law firm, about heading and building a dedicated legal unit for animals. Less than a decade later, we’ve grown our team to 24 litigators—aided by a network of over 1,000 pro bono lawyers from the nation’s top law firms—and this team is working like never before to help all animals, on both the domestic and international stages, and to bring new levels of firepower to our cause.

Fifteen years ago, the Humane Society International’s legal team helped devise the theory under which Australia would take Japan to court over its illegal whaling.  But it’s our current legal team that is developing a skilled approach to animal law, developing ideas about how to defend animals under contemporary legal frameworks, and putting those ideas into play in the courts.

Harp Seal
THE HSUS
Our international legal team has been working to defend the European Union’s historic ban on the sale of seal products

Our international legal team has been working to defend the European Union’s historic ban on the sale of seal products. Canada and Norway have challenged Europe’s ban at the World Trade Organization (WTO), in yet another attempt to prop up their collapsing sealing industries. It hasn’t been enough to close markets for seal products; we’ve had to work hard to defend those trade restrictions in the international sphere.  We’ve already scored one big victory in the WTO’s recent ruling upholding Europe’s ban–the first time that a WTO panel has upheld a law on moral grounds for animal welfare reasons, and a fantastic precedent for future action to stop the global trade in exotic wildlife, ivory and other cruelly produced products. Now the case is on appeal, and our team is there, fighting for all commercially hunted seals.

On the domestic front, our team has been working to block a lawsuit trying to roll back California’s protections for egg-laying hens. In 2008, we passed landmark reform for California’s farm animals through Proposition 2, and two years later we persuaded California’s legislature to extend Proposition 2’s protections to all eggs sold in the state. That infuriated factory farmers, who have persuaded six states—Alabama, Kentucky, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the Governor of Iowa – to sue California in a last-ditch effort to overturn its protections for egg-laying hens. Our litigators are determined to stop them, and we’ve brought in heavyweight pro bono partners from the law firms Latham & Watkins and Schiff Hardin to help our team defend this farm animal protection law.

Foie Gras ducks
Ariana Huemer/Farm Sanctuary
Out litigators successfully defended a California law banning the sale of foie gras, and the cruel practice of force-feeding geese and ducks so their livers blow up to several times their normal size

In fact, our litigators have been very active in protecting humane progress in California recently. In the last few months, they’ve successfully defended California laws banning the sale of both shark fins and foie gras. We advocated strongly for the passage of both laws which ban two cruel practices—cutting the fins off live sharks before dumping them back into the ocean to drown, and force-feeding geese and ducks so their livers blow up to several times their normal size. But once we helped to pass these laws, we faced inevitable lawsuits from special interests who claimed, incredibly, that they had a constitutional right to continue these abusive practices. In the end, our litigators helped persuade federal courts to reject both challenges, with both courts ruling that the laws expressed California’s legitimate interest in combating cruelty.

That sentiment was strengthened by a $155 million judgment that our litigators secured in California (though the defendants were only able to pay $4 million of that amount to the federal government, and a smaller share to The HSUS). The judgment came in a government fraud lawsuit filed by The HSUS and later joined by the Department of Justice, stemming from our 2008 undercover investigation into the Hallmark Westland slaughter plant in Chino, California. That investigation revealed shocking and widespread mistreatment of “downed” dairy cows – cows who are too sick or injured to walk.

Horses held for slaughter
Kathy Milani/THE HSUS
Working with our federal affairs team, our litigators stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening in the United States and are now working to adopt a federal legislative ban on exports of live horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico

And, of course, our litigators have continued to fight in our long-running battle to end the slaughter of American horses. When the ban on the federal inspection of horse slaughter expired last year, they partnered with Front Range Equine Rescue to save horses from slaughter. While our federal affairs team advocated on Capitol Hill for a legislative solution, our litigators successfully stopped any horse slaughter plants from opening here. That teamwork resulted in a ban on horse slaughter on American soil, and we are now working to adopt a federal legislative ban on exports of live horses for slaughter to Canada and Mexico.

Our legal team consults with law enforcement, drafts state and federal legislation, advises community advocates on legal strategies to help animals, brings critical cases and so much more.  It’s as if the animals have a major law firm working for them every day, helping drive reform and bringing new and critical gains to the cause of protecting all animals.

April 15, 2014

Seal Slaughter Resumes in Canada

Canada’s bloody commercial seal slaughter resumed yesterday, although with many fewer boats and participants than in past years. The offseason fishermen who seek to kill seals do so only because the federal government provides subsidies to help buy up the pelts. But their actions lead to an extraordinary loss of life in this seal nursery.  Today, I offer my latest video blog and commentary.  

You can help stop Canada’s senseless seal slaughter by making a donation to The HSUS’ Protect Seals campaign, which is hard at work to shut down the commercial sealing industry.

April 14, 2014

Even More Winds of Change Blowing for Whales

The latest pulse of good news for whales comes from an unlikely source – the tiny eastern Caribbean nation of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, the site of whaling since 1875, when the immigrant Scotsman William Wallace launched a whale hunt there.  But recently, a number of whalers led by Orson 'Balaam' Ollivierre have decided to lay down their harpoons and join the whale watching industry as an alternative.

Whale tail
iStockphoto
Whalers now realize there’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This sort of personal transformation is driven by the forces of economic progress and opportunity.  There’s more money to be had from watching these Leviathans than killing them.

This is the latest in a cascade of decisions and actions that are bringing us considerably closer to the end of whaling on our planet.

On March 31, the International Court of Justice ruled that Japan’s whaling program in the Southern ocean was in violation of the global commercial whaling moratorium which has resulted in a suspension of Japanese whaling there and created great uncertainty about Japan’s future whaling.  On April 2, President Barack Obama announced sanctions against Iceland under the Pelly Amendment for trading in whale meat, just as eight Icelandic members of parliament proposed a resolution asking the finance and economic minister to assess whaling from the perspectives of Iceland’s fishing and tourism industries, as well as its impact on Iceland's global position and stature with other nations.

And when it comes to the plight of whales in captivity, we’re seeing dramatic progress too.  On Friday, by a vote of 2-1, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit rejected SeaWorld’s appeal of the 2012 OSHA regulatory safety finding that resulted in a prohibition on contact with whales in the water at SeaWorld.  The panel ruled that SeaWorld had violated its obligations as an employer by exposing its trainers to the "recognized hazards" of working with killer whales, and rejected the claim of a SeaWorld attorney that physical contact with killer whales was critical to his client’s core business.

Orca 1
iStockphoto
As people begin to appreciate the opportunity to see whales in their natural environments, an enterprise like SeaWorld that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market. 

While SeaWorld is going to fend off California legislation, at least for some time, to ban the use of orcas in entertainment displays, the federal court ruling is a blow to the mega-entertainment company which must decide whether to appeal the decision to the U.S. Supreme Court.  But before SeaWorld officials look to the nation’s highest court for a bailout, they might take a good hard look at the sweep of events concerning the protection of whales in the wild.  Whales, majestic creatures of the nation’s oceans, are meant to swim free, wild and unmolested. As more and more people throughout the world begin to appreciate and value the opportunity to see whales and to protect them in their natural environments, an enterprise that puts them on display as performers in small pools will find a diminishing market, just as the commercial whalers realize that there’s almost nobody who wants to eat whale meat.  Courts, parliamentarians and onetime whalers are all building a new consensus that ensures a square deal for whales in the coming decades. 

April 11, 2014

One More Big Whack Against Gestation Crates, With Progress Throughout Latin America

Today, Arcos Dorados--the largest operator of McDonald’s restaurants in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the world’s largest McDonald’s franchisee—demonstrated its commitment to improving animal welfare by introducing a new requirement for its pork suppliers to document plans to limit gestation crate use and promote group housing for sows within the next two years. The result applies to 20 Latin American countries, including Brazil and Mexico (two of the company’s largest markets).

Gestation Crate
THE HSUS
Pigs confined in gestation crates have no room to turn around or take a step forward or backward.

Gestation crates –cages that are so small that pigs confined in them cannot even turn around or take a step forward or backward—are already banned in the European Union and in nine U.S. states, and they are being phased out in Australia, Canada, India and South Africa. However, millions of mother pigs in Latin America spend their lives confined to these inhumane crates.  Today’s announcement comes after more than a year of dialogue between Humane Society International (HSI) and Arcos Dorados, and follows McDonald’s commitment to end the use of gestation crates in its U.S. supply chain. 

 

We’ve seen that when a few major corporations lead on animal welfare, others often follow.  After McDonald’s made its anti-crate pledge in the United States, dozens of other food retailers throughout the country got on the bandwagon in the succeeding months to eliminate gestation crates from their pork supply chains.  Smithfield Foods, the world’s largest pork producer, has also pledged a complete phase-out of crates globally.  Arcos Dorados’ decision is important and promising, and an important step forward in our efforts to end the use of gestation crates in Latin America.

Humane Society International is working on the ground in Brazil, Costa Rica, Mexico and many other countries to end the lifelong confinement of breeding sows in gestation crates. We’re urging multinational food retailers that are already phasing out gestation crates in the United States to extend their crate-free policies to Latin America and beyond, and petitioning local restaurants, food companies and producers to also adopt more humane practices.

We are working on public and corporate policies to end extreme confinement of farm animals, and we are also making our case directly to consumers.  A week ago, we released this video, thanks to Allen and Jill Johnson, in which we asked people on the street to try out what it’s like to be crammed into a gestation crate for four minutes, and already nearly a million people have viewed it. As you will see in the video, most people could not last in the crate for four minutes, but the pigs who are confined each spend four years on an average in the crates. This is not what any decent person wants to see an animal endure.

As this dramatic news about Arcos Dorados makes clear, HSI’s multi-faceted campaign to globalize animal welfare principles is gaining ground, and we hope you’ll continue to support the full range of our efforts to eliminate the worst elements of factory farming worldwide.

April 10, 2014

This Isn’t ‘Chicken Little’ Talk About USDA’s Poultry Slaughter Rules

Now would be the right time for leaders at the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to step back and nix their dazzlingly reckless rush to proceed with a rule that provides for stepped-up poultry industry self-regulation - dubbed "Modernization of Poultry Slaughter Inspection" - at chicken slaughter plants, which are concentrated in states in the South.

Sad Hen
Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Birds are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.

The latest indicator that the USDA plan is a major step backward is that the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), part of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has offered a rare public rebuke of a sister agency for misinterpreting its research findings on poultry slaughter line speeds.  Yesterday, NIOSH issued a letter criticizing the administrator of the USDA's Food Safety and Inspection Service for claiming that the health agency's study of slaughter operations in South Carolina did not recommend a slowing of line speeds.  "This statement is misleading," the NIOSH letter says. "Line speed affects the periodicity of repetitive and forceful movements, which are key causes of musculoskeletal disorders. Many of the NIOSH recommendations address the design of job tasks to minimize these factors."  The USDA, said NIOSH, had cherry-picked details from the study and was wrong to say that NIOSH's research showed that increasing line speed "was not a significant factor in worker safety."

It's sad but evident that the USDA intentionally misread NIOSH's study in its zeal to create additional political momentum for a rule that few people outside the poultry industry want or support.  In fact, consumer, worker safety and animal welfare advocates have all raised concerns about the proposal, submitting nearly 200,000 signatures in protest. And 68 members of Congress, led by Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., have co-signed a letter to the USDA urging the administration to withdraw its proposed rule until all stakeholder concerns are fully addressed.

Hens
Photo: Compassion Over Killing
Line speeds at poultry slaughter plants are already too fast. Speeding them up even more will compound the birds’ misery and produce more food safety problems.

The Washington Post has reported that line speeds are already too fast and that at least 1 million chickens are not properly stunned or slaughtered and drown to death when they are dumped into the scalding tank. This also jeopardizes the food supply, as the drowning birds may inhale the water contaminated with fecal material into their bodies. Speeding up the line even more would compound inhumane slaughter and food safety risks at poultry plants.

It's particularly troubling that USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack and his colleagues would put their energies into fast-tracking this proposal when there are other rules waiting for action that would demonstrably improve food safety and animal protection.  It's time to put this rule on the shelf and start focusing on standards that actually further food safety and animal protection.  One rule that's long overdue is to close the downer calf loophole by requiring immediate humane euthanasia for downer calves, just as the agency requires now for adult downer cows.  We've been waiting for over four years for the agency to issue this new policy, and we've conducted two undercover operations that reveal the worst sort of animal cruelty at calf slaughter plants.

More than half a century since The HSUS and other groups successfully made the case for a humane slaughter law, the USDA's failure to include birds under its protective aegis remains a true scandal, and one of the greatest sources of animal suffering and food safety risk in our nation. Moreover, if the USDA wishes to take on the issue of poultry slaughter and food safety in a serious way, it should be advocating that birds be protected under the terms of the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act which requires that animals be rendered insensible to pain before slaughter.  The USDA does not consider birds to be covered by the Act, even though chickens and turkeys represent 95 percent of all animals sent to slaughter.  Speeding up line speeds will only compound the birds’ misery, and produce more food safety problems and occupational injuries for workers engaged in extraordinarily demanding, repetitive motions as they handle and dismember birds by the billions on the slaughter lines.

April 08, 2014

U.S. Move Offers Reprieve to Elephants in Tanzania, Zimbabwe

This picture of three men providing a protective shield around one white rhino in Kenya shocked me.  Is this what we’ve come to, with the last few rhinos having armed guards that resemble a Secret Service detail around a head of state?  Is the trade in wild animal parts this ruthless, this voracious that this is what it takes to keep some of the most majestic animals alive?

African elephant
iStockphoto
The governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe allow trophy hunters to legally kill elephants, adding to the many threats that plague these great beasts.

Yes, in some cases, it is.  But we need more than armed guards defending animals against poachers.  We need good policies on trade in their parts, to deter people from killing these animals not just for trinkets but also for trophies.

That’s why the announcement by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this week to temporarily stop imports of sport-hunted trophies of African elephants from Tanzania and Zimbabwe is a much-needed reprieve for these animals. Elephants in these countries have been hit hard by poaching for the illegal ivory trade, yet the governments of Tanzania and Zimbabwe have continued to allow trophy hunters to legally kill elephants, contributing to the threats that plague these great beasts. Last year alone, poachers killed perhaps as many as 50,000 elephants for their ivory tusks, with most of the ivory on its way to China for carving and re-sale.

Both Botswana and Zambia, and now the United States as it pertains to Tanzania and Zimbabwe, have recognized that trophy hunting is harming wild populations and must be shut down. Between the U.S. import bans and Botswana’s and Zambia’s export bans, more than 500 elephants will be saved from American hunters’ bullets this year.

In 2012, the most recent year for which data are available, the parts of 594 African elephants were imported to the U.S. as trophies: 204 were from Zimbabwe and 36 from Tanzania.

Of these 594 elephants, 44 percent or 261 came from Botswana, but the good news is the president of that nation banned trophy hunting beginning in 2014. Zambia, from which the trophies of seven elephants were imported to the United States in 2012, has since banned trophy hunting.   Their economies are much more dependent on wildlife tourism than trophy hunting, and they are increasingly seeing the issue in terms of both economics and ethics.

Hunters can still import African elephant trophies to the United States from Namibia and South Africa. The parts of 18 African elephants from Namibia and 68 from South Africa were imported to the U.S. as hunting trophies in 2012.

At a time when we ask poor Africans to stop killing elephants to trade in ivory trinkets, is it too much to ask rich Americans to stop killing elephants for trade in trophies for display in their homes?

April 07, 2014

See World From Orca’s Eyes

It’s been just a little over four years since the captive orca whale Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in Orlando. But largely due to a powerful documentary, “Blackfish,” so many Americans now see the issue of cetaceans in captivity from a different perspective, and there are serious questions about whether a business model built around captive display of orcas is either economically sustainable or morally acceptable.

OrcaiStockphoto. 
Orcas are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds

The HSUS has long opposed the display of captive whales and other marine mammals for entertainment, and in the early 1990s we created a program to make our case to the public. Orcas, in particular, are noted for their striking appearance, their intelligence, and their very strong social bonds, which rival those of elephants and higher primates.

Yet we could not have imagined the sequence of events that has unfolded since Brancheau’s tragic death in February 2010. In May 2012, a federal judge affirmed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) determination that SeaWorld had exposed its trainers to a hazardous environment, violating federal law, and affirmed OSHA’s recommendation that trainers never again be allowed in close contact with the animals unless protected by a physical barrier.

In 2012, St. Martin’s Press published the riveting book “Death at Sea World” by David Kirby, who spoke around the nation about the hazards for trainers and orcas at SeaWorld. “Blackfish” added the visual details to the narrative, and when it aired on CNN a number of times during 2013, it drew huge audiences, especially among young people. When I spoke just a month ago at the University of Oklahoma’s business school, it seemed as if all the students had seen the film.  The film had become a cultural phenomenon, and we recognized its director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, at our Los Angeles 60th anniversary gala a little more than a week ago.

We believe the book and the film provided an important backdrop as The HSUS and other groups pushed the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 2013 to reject a bid by the Georgia Aquarium and SeaWorld to import 18 wild-caught beluga whales from Russia.  And they also set the stage for the introduction of legislation to end the captive display and performance of orca whales in California. 

In fact, on Tuesday, California state lawmakers serving on the Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee in Sacramento will conduct a hearing on AB 2140, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, introduced by Assemblyman Richard Bloom, to phase out orcas in captivity in California.  Assemblyman Bloom’s legislation, if approved, would end the captivity of orcas for the purpose of entertainment in California. The HSUS supports AB 2140, and California residents can use our online alert to contact their Assembly members.

Scientific opinion over the last two decades or so has coalesced behind the case against keeping orcas and other marine mammals in captivity. We are too aware now of their intelligence, social needs, longevity, ranging habits and size, and it’s just harder and harder to accept their turning tricks for audiences day after day.

A few days ago, there were news accounts that attendance at SeaWorld facilities is down 13 percent. The company’s owner since 2009, The Blackstone Group, is filing to sell another 15 million of its shares in SeaWorld (SEAS), after selling off 18 million in December 2013.  That would make Blackstone a minority shareholder, which must make its ownership feel better given the run of events.  In the meantime SeaWorld is acquiring some of those shares, in effect trying to buy itself.  At this point, that may be the only option, since I cannot imagine many companies investing in an enterprise built around the controversial practice of captive display of orcas.  I don’t expect the public will want much to do with such an industry in the years ahead, and the sooner SeaWorld embraces a new model for doing business, the better.