Tuesday, April 20, 2010

U.S. Supreme Court Strikes Down Law Banning Dogfight Videos

The United States Supreme Court struck down a law banning videos of dog fighting and animal cruelty on the basis that it violated people's First Amendment right of free speech and that the law was vague and overly broad. I'm proud of Justice Alito that desented from the majority opinion and was in favor of the law. For more information on this dedcision please visit http://www.cnn.com/2010/CRIME/04/20/dog.fight.videos/index.html?hpt=T1. I will be posting the actual opinion of the Justices soon.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wild Animals in Captivity (Circues, Zoos & Aquariums)

In July of 2009 , Bolivia passed the most comprehensive law banning the use of ALL animals in circuses. Bolivia, however, isn't the first county to adopt such laws. In 2005 Australia adopted a law banning wild animals in circuses. Many other countries have banned the use of wild animals in circuses, including Canada, Brazil, Columbia, Greece, Israel, Singapore, and Sweden. Earlier this month the UK issued a ban of the use of wild animals in circuses. A couple of states and municipalities in the US have banned cruel treatment of animals used in circuses (such as use of a bullhook--an iron stick with an iron hook on the end of it that is used to control elephants), however that doesn't go far enough. Another issue in the use of animals in circuses in the transportation. These large animals are shoved in trains without room to even turn around and forced to go hours without stopping for food, water or fresh air. Wild animals for the most part don't live in captivity as long as they do in the wild. Nor do they reproduce as frequently, if at all. More importantly, their quality of life is greatly diminished by being forced to perform tricks for human entertainment as opposed to roaming miles a day in the wild with their families (many wild animals, especially elephants, are highly social creatures). Due to their inability to act on their instincts, many wild animals suffer health problems. For example, elephants walk approximately 30 miles a day in the wild! Since they are unable to do this in captivity, they quickly get arthritis and other ailments in their legs and backs, not to mention it is extremely difficult to control their weight in captivity.

Although for reasons illogical to me, a federal court recently dismissed a lawsuit against Ringling Brothers for violating the Endangered Species Act. However hidden cameras show the trauma these animals face on a daily basis. Furthermore, Ringling Brothers has been cited and fined numerous times by the United States Department of Agriculture for violating the Animal Welfare Act by its mistreatment of animals, include failure to provide veterinarian care. For more information specifically on Ringling Brothers, please visit http://www.circuses.com/ringling.asp.

A dilemma now is what should be done with the animals in countries that have banned circuses. For a recent article on this issue , please visit http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20100416/ap_on_re_la_am_ca/lt_bolivia_circus_animal_ban from Yahoo News. Frankly, I believe the owners and the government should play an major role in financing housing for these animals in retirement sanctuaries. Fortunately, however, there are many sanctuaries for abused and retired circus animals that will care for them for life through donations received by supporters. A local example of such a sanctuary is Big Cat Rescue (http://www.bigcatrescue.org/).

The same issues arise in animals in zoos and marine animals kept in aquariums or marine parks. As recently illustrated by the recent death of a trainer by a orca (killer whale) at Sea World, wild animals are not meant to be in captivity. Many of the animals in zoos, circuses and marine aquariums are captured from the wild and often taken away from their mothers when they are only weeks or months old. To see a database of all of the marine animals in captivity and the manner in which they were acquired, please visit http://www.sun-sentinel.com/sfl-marine-mammal-database,0,5047535.htmlstory.

In 2003, Lowry Park Zoo imported 11 wild juvenile African Elephants from Swaziland under the guise that it was a "rescue" because Swaziland, a tiny country bordering South Africa, at the time didn't have the capacity to care for the orphaned elephants (orphaned because their parents had been murdered by poachers). Despite the fact that MANY reputable elephant sanctuaries in Africa were willing to take the elephants, Lowry Park Zoo received a permit under CITES to import the elephants. It's important to note than when a wild animal is taken from the wild and placed in captivity or a wild animal is born into captivity, it's almost impossible for that animal to be released back into the wild and to be able to survive.

Many people without much knowledge on the subject claim that keeping animals in captivity is "saving the species". However what's the purpose of the species being saved if it's not being saved in its natural habitat? While many animals used in circuses, zoos and aquariums are endangered, taking them from their habitat obviously hinders their ability to reproduce in the wild. There are several sanctuaries in Africa that take orphaned elephants, have experts work closely with the juveniles and adult elephants in their natural habitat, and enable them to eventually be released into the wild. The key to this, however, is that they are in their natural habitat and not kept in confinement.

I wonder every day why humans think that it's acceptable to force wild animals to live in unnatural environments for the purpose of human entertainment? Shouldn't the concern for the animals' well being and the world's interest in biodiversity out way human entertainment?

For more information regarding wild animals being kept in captivity, please visit one of many wonderful websites on the topic, http://www.bornfreeusa.org/.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

15 Reasons to Boycott the Circus

1. Government inspection reports reveal ongoing mistreatment of animals in circuses. Because of continued abuse of circus elephants, there is a pending lawsuit against Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.

2. Many people claim that circuses are conservation programs for endangered species (such as the Asian elephant). However no circus animal has ever been released to the wild and the conservation claim is merely a way to justify the exploitation of animals for profit.

3. Sweden, Austria, Costa Rica, India, Finland and Singapore have all banned or restricted the use of animals in entertainment. However, the US lags behind.

4. Elephants are trained to perform unnatural acts by the use of a “bullhook”, which is a 2-3 foot long club or stick with a sharp metal hook attached to the top. It is repeatedly used to beat, hit and poke the animals, often leaving permanent scars. There are numerous undercover videos and testimony from past circus employees corroborating this information.

5. Heavy, metal, and short chains are used to confine circus elephants. The elephants are chained by one front leg and one back leg, preventing them from laying down. The chaining of elephants also prevents them from interacting with other elephants, which is a natural behavior for elephants as they are very social creatures.

6. Ringling Brothers typically transport the elephants from city to city by train, chained by one front foot and one back foot and unable to lay down. They are also kept in cramped conditions for over eight hours without stopping for water. They are trained for 11 months and the one month they are not being trained, they are still confined in horrid conditions.

7. Elephant transportation vehicles lack climate control and are forced to stand for hours in their own waste.

8. In the wild, elephants live in large, sociable herds and walk up to 25 miles every day. In addition to the physical abuse of circus elephants, they are also deprived of their freedom to roam and engage in their instinctual behavior which includes socializing with other elephants.

9. Although minimum legal protections are provided in the Animal Welfare Act, the law does not provide adequate protection for circus animals. Often a veterinarian isn’t even on site and local vets are not knowledgeable about the unique medical needs of exotic animals. Circuses are frequently cited by the USDA, the agency responsible for enforcing the Animal Welfare Act, for failure to keep veterinary records, for providing moldy or rancid food and no water, for storing chemicals near the animals’ food supply, and for stocking expired medications.

10. Every major circus that uses animals has been cited for violating the Animal Welfare Act. These circuses are almost always given a slap on the wrist and forced to pay a minimal fine.

11. Enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act is very difficult because the USDA, the agency responsible for enforcement, only has 100 inspectors to monitor conditions at approximately 12,000 facilities.

12. Although poaching is a problem in Africa, there are wildlife conservation parks that are constantly patrolled to ensure the safety of animals. Elephant poaching has decreased since the highly enforced ban on the possession and sale of ivory. In recent years, the elephant population has significantly increased due to conservation efforts.

13. Although circuses claim that they are a form of educating the public about elephants, there is no education in watching the exploitation of elephants that are cruelly trained to perform unnatural acts. Circuses teach children that it is acceptable to exploit animals. No research has been shown that attending circuses increases public concern about the status of an endangered species.

14. Elephants in the circus, regardless of how much they are “trained”, are still wild animals capable of and have a history of lashing out, escaping, and thus posing a risk to public safety.

15. Elephants in the circus often carry diseases such as tuberculosis (aka “TB”) and can infect humans with this disease. Note that there is no cure for this disease in either elephants or humans.

2010 International Whaling Comission Conference

The International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international commission currently consisting of 88 member nations, was established under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) in 1946 to regulate "whaling" (the hunting of whales) in order to ensure that whales were not being over-hunted and to provide for the conservation of whale stocks. The ICRW established specific time periods that whales could be hunted, established quotas, size limits on whales that can be taken, and designated certain areas as whale sanctuaries (currently there are whale sanctuaries in Indian Ocean and Southern Ocean off Antarctica in which whaling is prohibited). The ICRW was signed by member nations in response to overzealous whaling and the vast destruction of whale stocks. Prior to and during the 1940s, whales were harvested for oil, bone, and baleen for lighting, heating oil, corsets, umbrellas, and a variety of other issues.

Due to the fact that whale species were becoming threatened and even endangered, a moratorium on the commercial hunting of whales was signed in 1982 and went into effect in 1986. The moratorium remains in effect to date, as a three-forths majority vote is needed to overturn the moratorium.

A loophole in the moratorium allows member nations to hunt whales for the purpose of scientific research. Japan uses this loophole as a way of bypassing the moratorium and serves whale meat, which is considered a delicacy for the most part, in restaurants across Japan and other parts of Asia. Iceland and Norway, on the other hand, initially used the same loophole, but subsequently decided to flat out disregarded the moratorium and withdrew from the treaty. The only reason that Japan has not withdrawn from the treaty is for fear that it will face retaliation with fish embargos, mainly by the U.S. Japan, however, continues to hunt whales in the Southern Ocean despite the fact that it is a whale sanctuary.

Although native populations throughout parts of the world are allowed to continue whaling for subsistence, this is an extremely minute proportion of the whales being slaughtered.

Since the implementation of the commercial whaling moritorium in 1986, the United States has always opposed commercial whaling due to the fact that several species of whales are endangered. President Reagan championed the global ban on commercial whaling in the early 1980s. The Clinton Administration strongly supported the creation of the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica. The Bush administration held the line against commercial whaling.During his campaign, President Obama promised that the U.S. would provide leadership in "strengthening the international moratorium on commercial whaling" and that "allowing Japan to continue commercial whaling is unacceptable." However, in the most recent IWC conference which took place in March 2010 in St. Petersburg, Florida, the U.S., for the first time ever, is siding with Japan and advocating that the moratorium be overturned allowing commercial whaling to resume. The IWC conference is currently in recess until the beginning of June 2010, in which it willl resume in Morocco. With the U.S. now siding with Japan, there is now an excellent chance that other nations will change their positions to match that of the U.S., which may establish the three-fourths majority needed to overturn the commercial whaling moratorium. Not only would the moratorium be overturned, but hunting in the whale sanctuaries would be allowed.

Obama's reasoning behind the U.S's change in policy is that if the moratorium were overturned and commercial whaling were to resume, it could be regulated by quotas and whaling would be sustainable in the long-term. However, quotas aren't currently working. Japan is allowed to "take" 900 whales per year for research purposes and aside from the fact that the whales end up on the dinner plate, Japan exceeds that number every year without conquences. Obama's theory that allowing commercial whaling will conserve whaling (as opposed to whales) over a significant period of time is flawed in that all member nations will begin commercial whaling, which would be allowed in the whale sanctuaries, and the enforcement of quotas is almost impossible.

Many species of whales, which have existed long before humans have roamed the earth, such as the blue whale, are critically endangered and we don't have the luxury of allowing commercial whaling to resume in an illogical attempt to conserve whaling on a long term basis. If commercial whaling resumes, many species of whale will become extinct within years.

It's a tragedy that the Obama administration has reneged on its promise to strengthen the moratorium. Australia, on the other hand, has vowed to file suit against Japan in the International Court if Japan continues to violate the moratorium. Australia is currently the only country willing to stand up to Japan.

Hopefully, the three-fourths majority will not be reached to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling, otherwise, several whale species will become even more endangered while other whale species will become extinct.