“Sad day” for Tony the Tiger

This afternoon, I was scrolling through my twitter feed when I came across this tweet from the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF):

 

Who is Tony the Tiger?

According to the ALDF, Tony is a 13 year-old Siberian-Bengal tiger who has been on display at a Louisiana truck stop for more than a decade. Owner Michael Sandlin found himself at the center of multiple lawsuits when ALDF decided to take action to free Tony from captivity. Ultimately, the Louisiana Court of Appeals ruled that Sandlin’s permit to keep Tony was unlawfully issued by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries.

But Tony has yet to win his freedom. A bill called “SB 250” has now passed the Louisiana State Senate and House. ALDF warns: “SB 250 would create a ‘retroactive exemption’ to Louisiana’s ban on possessing dangerous wild animals. Specifically, it would allow Tony the Tiger to remain caged as a truck-stop curiosity where he is subjected to noise and diesel fumes 24-hours a day.”

Several celebs have showed their support for Tony, including Leonardo DiCaprio and Kristin Bauer, who plays a vampire named Pam in True Blood, an HBO series set in Louisiana.

Here’s a video of Bauer speaking out about Tony’s captivity:

You can show your support, too, by spreading Tony’s story on social media. Louisiana residents can contact Governor Bobby Jindal to express their disapproval and urge him to veto the bill.

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A dangerous playdate: kids cuddle cubs at Japanese safari park

This morning, I came across a video on MSN with the headline, “don’t try this in a couple of years” and teaser, “visitors at a Japanese safari park get up close & personal with lions, & it’s safe — for now.” A screenshot displays a toddler posing with a lion cub.

I’ve written a few posts now focusing on the issue of interaction between humans and exotic animals. Around the same time I launched this blog, I visited Big Cat Rescue, an accredited sanctuary that doesn’t allow interaction with cats and encourages visitors to avoid venues that do. So obviously, this video piqued my interest.

While adorable lion cubs roll around on screen, a narrator explains that at this park, which is located near Tokyo, visitors are allowed to play with the cubs, who were born in March. Zookeepers claim that until the cubs are 3-months-old, it’s safe for humans to play with them. Then, a man wearing a lion hat says (with translation in voiceover) that he would love to raise a lion cub, except that it’d be too expensive to feed one. We then see his son in the background, petting the cute little cubs.

Don’t get me wrong, I was completely enamored by the site of the baby lions, too. They look downright cuddly. But I’m curious about the effect that this environment has on them. Apparently, when they’re old enough to start fending for themselves, they’ll join the rest of the lion pride at the park. I feel as though being exposed to crowds of people petting them and snapping photos of them on a regular basis has to influence the cubs’ behavior in some way. And “safe” is a little vague. Safe for who, exactly? From the testimony given in the video, it appears as though allowing visitors to “get up close and personal” with the cats gives people the false impression that the exotic cats could be treated as pets, rather than as the wild animals that they are.

This fact sheet, created by Big Cat Rescue, reveals additional issues with cub handling, including:

  • Health risk for cubs: Cubs are most vulnerable to disease transmission from birth to 12 weeks.
  • Health risk for humans: When young animals experience high levels of stress, they are more likely to “shed pathogens.” Humans are at risk of getting bacterial infections, ringworm, E. coli, Toxoplasmosis, Staphylococcus, and Streptococcus as a result of bites and scratches or kids sticking their fingers in their mouths after petting the cubs.

BCR reports that in the U.S., there is a “4 week gap” where the public can handle big cat cubs — when they’re between the ages of 8 weeks and 12 weeks. Policy enacted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) maintains that “tiger cubs under 8 weeks are too young for public exhibition and cubs over 12 weeks are too dangerous for public exposure.” However, BCR proposes imposing stricter policies and methods of enforcement to end the practice of big cat cub handling altogether.

Therefore, I don’t think “don’t try this in a couple of years” is a sufficient disclaimer for the above-mentioned video. How about: Don’t try this, ever.

Animal rights law around the world: Turkey

This week, Turkey passed amendments to its Animal Rights bill, setting tougher standards for pet ownership. Israeli newspaper Haaretz reports some of the changes:

  • Re-defined conditions for a pet’s “comfort and wellbeing”
  • Requirement for prospective pet owners to participate in a training program and graduate with an “animal-care certificate”
  • Requirement for a pet owner to have “suitable accommodation that meets the pet’s ethological needs”
  • Requirement for a pet owner to care for the animal’s health
  • Criminalization of abuse, with penalties of fines (2,000 lira/$942 for torturing an animal) or prison sentences
  • Penalty for walking a dog without a leash and muzzle (500 liras/$236)
  • Requirement to “take precautionary measures to prevent environmental pollution”
  • Requirement for ethics councils to approve animal experiments
  • Penalty of up to two years in prison for bestiality
  • Still unregulated: animal sacrifice

 

 

Lawyer Steven Wise argues “Animals are Persons Too”

Lawyer Steven Wise is a major player in the growing field of animal rights law. According to The New York Times, he greatly influenced the development of animal rights law as an area of study in the 1980s and became the first person to lecture on the subject at Harvard Law School in 2000.

In an Introduction to Law and Politics class I took this past fall, I learned about the rise of animal rights law and the difficulties animal rights groups faced when filing lawsuits, because they had to be filed on behalf of human plaintiffs who suffered by witnessing the mistreatment of animals. But Wise thinks that animals should be treated as people, not things — meaning that lawsuits could be filed on their behalf instead.

An Op-Doc (defined as a “short, opinionated documentary”) called “Animals are Persons Too” follows Wise on his journey to obtain “personhood” rights for highly intelligent animals, including chimpanzees, elephants, whales and dolphins. Wise, who has dedicated 30 years to formulating his groundbreaking strategy, is in the process of filing lawsuits on behalf of four NY chimpanzees (Tommy, Kiko, Hercules and Leo) — something that has never been done in the U.S. He is assisted by a team of animal law experts, called the Nonhuman Rights Project (Nh.R.P.).

Wise was also featured in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday. The piece describes how Wise first encountered Tommy, who was living in a dungeon-like cage in a trailer after his original owner, David Sabo, had died. The piece quotes the legal memo drafted by Wise and his team, providing an account of the poor conditions in which Tommy was kept:

“Like humans, chimpanzees have a concept of their personal past and future . . . they suffer the pain of not being able to fulfill their needs or move around as they wish; [and] they suffer the pain of anticipating never-ending confinement.”

What Tommy could never have anticipated, of course, huddled just up the road that morning in his dark, dank cell, was that he was about to make legal history: The first nonhuman primate to ever sue a human captor in an attempt to gain his own freedom.

The article also outlines Nh.R.P’s future endeavors, which include plans to file lawsuits on behalf of bonobos, orangutans, gorillas, dolphins, orcas, belugas, elephants and African gray parrots.

 

 

Central Park’s horse-drawn carriages: should they stay or should they go?

Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed ban on horse-drawn carriages in New York’s Central Park, which would entail replacing the carriages with electric cars, or “E-carriages,” has sparked debate, with advocates on both sides fighting fervently to further their cause. Supporters of the ban express concerns about animal welfare, while opponents argue that the horses are well cared for and maintain that dismantling the industry is unnecessary.

What people are saying:

Earlier this month, actor and New York City resident Liam Neeson wrote an opinion piece in The New York Times in support of the carriages:

“Horses and their caretakers work together to earn a decent livelihood in New York, as they have for hundreds of years. New York’s horse-carriage trade is a humane industry that is well regulated by New York City’s Departments of Health and Mental Hygiene and Consumer Affairs. Harry W. Werner, a past president of the American Association of Equine Practitioners, has visited the stables and ‘found no evidence whatsoever of inhumane conditions, neglect or cruelty in any aspect.'”

This issue has been featured as the cover story in The New Yorker, with artwork depicting a carriage filled with horses being pulled by the driver. Artist Bruce McCall says:

“I’m on the side of the defenseless animals, but the other point about horses for me is that they clog traffic. I drive a lot in New York, and getting behind one of those carriages is a roadblock. They commandeer the road; they’re turning onto Seventh Avenue or Eighth Avenue to go to or from the stables, and all traffic has to stop for them. They always take precedence, and that seems weird. A nineteenth-century traffic jam in this day and age seems silly.”

Helen Rosenthal (D-Manhattan) supports the ban:

“It’s an animal rights issue for me. I think that in this day and age, and given other options, we don’t need to continue the practice.”

Meanwhile, Rory Lancman (D-Queens) does not:

“The horses get better health care and more vacation days than most New Yorkers, 300 drivers get to support their families with good middle-class jobs, and tourists have yet another reason to visit and spend money in the city.”

Major players:

Supporters of the ban include animal rights group NYCLASS, Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF), and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA).

Opponents include Historic Horse-Drawn Carriages of Central Park, Horse and Carriage Association of New York City, and the Teamsters union, which represents carriage drivers.

Latest developments:

Last Thursday, animal rights activists protested following an incident near the Plaza Hotel, where, according to an Oklahoma tourist, a horse named Spartacus was startled by a bus, fell on the sidewalk, and was pinned down by his carriage.

 

Yesterday, a Manhattan Supreme Court judge ruled that the NYPD must release records regarding horse carriage incidents, which were requested under the Freedom of Information Act by the Animal Legal Defense Fund.

 

 

Now trending: #EarthDay, #EndangeredSong

Happy Earth Day, everyone! In honor of the occasion, The Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute and National Zoo has launched its Endangered Song Project.

Today, only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. The International Union for Conservation of Nature has placed the species on a “critically endangered” list. The tigers are protected by Indonesian laws, which include provisions for jail time and fines. But, according to World Wildlife Fund, “despite increased efforts in tiger conservation—including law enforcement and antipoaching capacity—a substantial market remains in Sumatra and the rest of Asia for tiger parts and products. Sumatran tigers are losing their habitat and prey fast, and poaching shows no sign of decline.”

Smithsonian is partnering with Portugal. The Man, an indie rock band from Alaska, in a campaign to help protect this species from extinction.

According to WUSA9, 400 custom polycarbonate records have been made to release the song “Sumatran Tiger.” These 400 copies, which represent the 400 tigers, will only last for a number of plays — they need to be digitized and shared on social media with #EndangeredSong, or else the song will go extinct. Who’s getting these copies? Music artists, bloggers, wildlife conservationists, etc. And the digital versions have already begun to appear:

 

 

Here’s what you can do:

1. Search for digital uploads on SoundCloud, Myspace, Bandcamp, reddit, and YouTube.

2. Donate.

Online fundraising for SUPPORT OUR EFFORTS TO SAVE SPECIES

3. Check out this video to learn more, and start sharing!

Animal researchers call for privacy measures

Animal researchers at public universities across Florida, including the University of Florida, University of Central Florida, Florida International University and the University of South Florida, are pushing for a bill that will protect their personal information from animal rights activists. According to The Independent Florida Alligator, the bill aims at protecting researchers from harm and harassment.

The Eleventh Hour for Animals, a group dedicated to “exposing the taxpayer-funded animal torture industry inside the University of Florida,” has published phone numbers, home addresses and pictures of UF animal researchers on its website.

Because UF is a public university, information about the animal researchers and the facilities they conduct their research in is public record. In Marino v. University of Florida, in the District Court of Appeal of Florida, the judge held that UF had to provide records to Camille A. Marino, Eleventh Hour for Animals founder and executive director. Marino had requested records on 33 primates in captivity, and the University had refrained from providing all of the records, citing exemptions under Florida Statutes.

If the bill currently moving through the House of Representatives is approved, the personal identification of researchers would be exempt in animal records on treatment and care, research protocols and approvals, purchase/billing records and facility and lab records.

Search continues for dognapped pitbull

In December, a young, malnourished pit bull named Ginja was brought to Buffalo Animal Shelter after police broke up a nearby dogfighting ring. According to The Buffalo News, Ginja’s owner, Shannon Richardson, was charged with six violations of the New York Agriculture and Markets Law, which outlines minimum standards of animal care.

A month later, Ginja was reported missing. Initially, $2,000 was raised through the fundraising efforts of local animal rights activists. Recently, a New York City animal rescue group called Guardians of Rescue has contributed $5,000 to the reward fund.

Animal Rights attorney Matt Albert and a group of advocates going by the name of “Ginja’s Gang” are working alongside Guardians of Rescue to bring Ginja home safely. They hope that the financial incentive will encourage those with connections to the dogfighting ring to step forward and provide information about Ginja’s abduction and current whereabouts, as she most likely continues to fight for her life.

 

Rescue mission for Sochi Strays

Animal rights activists have worked fervently to rescue the thousands of strays from the streets of Sochi, Russia – the host city of the 2014 Winter Olympics. Ten dogs arrived in Washington, D.C. yesterday, and more are expected to arrive in the U.S. in the next few days. According to Forbes, the rescue mission was conducted by billionaire Oleg Deripaska’s shelter, PovoDog, along with Humane Society International and the Washington Animal Rescue League.

Check out this vid of the rescue pups waiting to be adopted:

Lions and tigers and bears… in your backyard?

When I was little, my parents got me a subscription to National Geographic magazine. I’ve always been an animal lover and avid reader, and I was captivated by the vibrant, stunning images of wildlife. Sadly, I’m no longer a subscriber (which I plan to change, immediately). But I did have the chance to read this month’s issue, which included a thought-provoking article on people who keep exotic animals as pets.

Writer Lauren Slater reveals, “It’s believed that more exotic animals live in American homes than are cared for in American zoos.” That’s a startling idea. This past weekend I visited Big Cat Rescue (you can find my blog post about it here) and met several exotic cats that had been kept as pets.

According to the article, “Privately owning exotic animals is currently permitted in a handful of states with essentially no restrictions: You must have a license to own a dog, but you are free to purchase a lion or baboon and keep it as a pet.” During my tour at BCR, our guide revealed that in Florida, you don’t have to tell your neighbor that you have a pet tiger. Or even if that pet tiger escapes.

Carole Baskin, founder of Big Cat Rescue, is quoted in the article: “The worst offenders are the tiger petting zoos that churn out 200 cubs a year so people can have their picture taken with them.”

At the raucous auctions held in muddy fields or paved parking lots, auctioneers hold out adorable tiger cubs with scrumptious soft scruffs or display tiny chimps in baseball hats and T-shirts that say, “I (heart) you.” But people don’t realize that all too soon that adorable tiger will outgrow its role as family pet and end up confined in a chain link enclosure.

When I was in ninth grade, my high school hosted a jungle-themed homecoming dance. A little white tiger was brought in, and for 5 dollars, students could pose next to him in the gym and have their pictures taken. At the time, I thought this was extremely cool, and I bragged about it to all my friends.

Now, though, I know better, and I’m horrified that the school played a role in perpetuating this ongoing problem. At BCR, I learned that white tigers bred for show can only be used for 8-12 weeks, after which many are killed. Many are given laxatives to keep their weight down and forced to stay awake for extended periods of time.

I wonder what became of the little tiger who attended our dance – what kind of conditions he was kept in and where he ended up when he grew too big to be hauled around to events and put on display.

As much as seeing exotic animals brings me joy, I know that they’re not here for my entertainment. I get joy from interacting with them in alternative ways, like taking tours of accredited sanctuaries, supporting animal rights legislation by signing petitions and sharing my newfound knowledge with others.

It might sound cool to own an exotic pet, like a kangaroo or a chimpanzee, but these wild animals are not meant to live in a backyard or garage, and the ramifications of keeping them as pets are severe, both for humans and animals.