The Cruelest Show on Earth finally comes to an end

You know who I mean.

The big top tent of Ringling Bros circus will come down for the final time, at long last, after 146 years of well-documented animal cruelty and abuse.

Of particular attention to animal welfare activists has been the ‘breaking’ of elephants and the cruelty they suffer at the hands of their ‘trainers’; training which, by the way, is not required to submit to any legal welfare protection agency.

The happy news comes 5 years after the last British circus to exploit wild animals, the Great British Circus, drew to a close in 2012. Ringling Bros finally retired their elephants in 2016 to a conservation centre in Florida, losing their star attraction.

The company cited economic reasons for its closure, claiming that the train travel business model was no longer viable. Ticket sales have been dwindling, as they have with Seaworld since the truth of its cruelty towards wild animals became public knowledge because of documentaries such as Blackfish.

Animal activists can I think be more optimistic and see that people’s tastes in what classes as “entertainment” are certainly changing and fewer people are comfortable with bearing witness to animal humiliation and abuse for human amusement.

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TripAdvisor to stop selling tickets to cruel animal attractions

Some rare good news in animal welfare! TripAdvisor has announced this week that it will no longer sell tickets to tourists attractions that profit from animal exploitation and cruelty. Instead of profiting from sales to such attractions, the Viator owned company plans to promote animal welfare.

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National Geographic explain why and how animal attractions like elephant rides, dolphin encounters, and tiger zoos are cruel to wild animals:

When being trained to carry visitors, elephants go through a “crush,” which often involves being beaten with nail-tipped sticks and immobilized in small cages. Tigers and lions often are drugged to make them sedate and safer for tourists to pet and take photos with. Dolphins kept captive for tourists to swim with are unable to hunt, roam, and play as they would in the wild, which raises their level of stress and can result in behavioral abnormalities.

Other tourism agencies have already moved away from supporting venues that profit from the imprisonment and maltreatment of wild animals, so it is hugely significant that the biggest company in this business has rejected the idea of exploiting wild animals for profit. It used to take the position that it was not TripAdvisor’s job to steer users to or from any type of attraction; now, the company has realised it has a responsibility to no longer support and profit from a business model that involves animal cruelty, especially at a time when the public has defiantly turned its back on SeaWorld.

A lot of people taking elephant rides and visiting tiger temples or dolphin shows don’t realise that the animals are maltreated; that they have suffered horrific abuse in order to perform tricks for tourists; that wild animals are drugged so tourists can take selfies with them. This is an important step in highlighting the practices behind these attractions and educating tourists to be more responsible and consider the treatment of the animals before they give their money to supporting these businesses.

 

Corruption and the illegal wildlife trade

A new report published by The Guardian yesterday has exposed key wildlife trafficking crime groups and the corrupt government officials enabling them.

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The investigation was carried out by Freeland over 14 years and identifies through Thai government surveillance the main crime networks and individual traffickers who have profited around $23bn through illegally trading in animals, including endangered species, such as elephants, tigers and rhinos.

‘The Bach brothers’, two Vietnamese siblings, allegedly control one of the main trade routes in endangered species and are some of the key suspects in the report.

Why and how is this criminal trade so lucrative? It is the fourth most profitable illegal trade, after drugs, people and arms trafficking. A pair of rhino horns, for example, can sell for 200 times the original price in Vietnam and 400 times in China. Around 5% of rhinos are alive today compared with four decades ago, and around 1,000 are killed by poachers each year. Just to be clear – the rhinos are ‘detusked’ and left to bleed to death.

Rhino horns have been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine, and used to treat rheumatism, fever, gout, headaches, and all sort of other ailments, despite having no scientific basis in fact. Rhino horn is mainly made of keratin and has no proven ability to cure anything.

The Guardian report reveals that the known wildlife trafficking kingpin, Vixay Keosavang, has apparently brought his operations to a close, since the US put a $1m reward on his capture. This is the only monetary reward historically offered for a wildlife trafficker, and seems to have been almost instantly effective in halting his business. Since then, however, new players have taken over – the Bach brothers, who are:

well-known locally for their criminal activities, which also include vehicle smuggling; the Bachs run legitimate businesses in wholesale agriculture and forest products, construction materials, electrical equipment, hotels, and food services.

Today, the Guardian has also revealed  that senior officials in Laos have profited through a 2% tax on trade involving tigers, rhinos and elephants. For over a decade, the office of the Laos prime minister has cut deals with three leading traffickers to move wildlife through borders. The statistics are truly shocking:

In 2014 alone, these deals covered $45m (£35m) worth of animal body parts and included agreed quotas requiring the disabling or killing of 165 tigers, more than 650 rhinos and more than 16,000 elephants.

This trade is illegal and prohibited by the International Trade in Endangered Species.

Laos continues to be a full member of Cites, despite having been suspended in 2015 for failure to produce a plan to tackle the ivory trade, and again this year for failure to implement a plan to tackle the ivory trade. This new evidence proves that not only has Laos shown little interest in confronting the illegal trade in wildlife, it has actually profited substantially from taxing the trade.

You can read about the WWF’s efforts to stop the illegal wildlife trade here.

If we are to end this horrific trade in wild animals, we need an international approach that must involve robustly tackling the demand, enforcing the laws, and investing in the areas that are targeted by poachers, to promote education about the ecological need for diverse habitats and species, and to enable local communities to protect wildlife on their doorstep.

Most importantly, we need to kill the demand in Asia and China.

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Will the plastic bag charge in England make any difference?

From 5th October, if you go into a supermarket in England and fill up your trolley with the weekly shop, you better hope you brought your own bags with you. From now on, any shop in England with over 250 employees will have to comply with a new law to charge 5p for every plastic bag used by customers.

The scheme has already been underway in Wales, Scotland and Ireland, and it is hoped that the law will see an 80% reduction in plastic bag purchase in England. The aim is to reduce the use of plastic bags, which are littering our countryside and oceans and harming the animals that often become entangled in them.

Here are some frightening statistics to digest:

The magnitude of the paper bag problem can be better understood when one takes a look at the staggering statistics of how many bags are produced each year, and how few bags are actually recycled. It has been estimated that over one trillion plastic bags are used worldwide each year and .5% to 3% of all bags winds up recycled. In 2006, the United Nations found that each square mile of the ocean has 46,000 pieces of plastic in it.

But is this small charge enough? Will people still use them? And what can we do about the plastic bags already in existence, which are taking hundreds and hundreds of years to degrade..

While a decrease in production of plastic bags will undoubtedly be beneficial, it doesn’t go far enough in solving the huge problems caused by all plastics in the environment. I’m looking at you, plastic bottles.

Plastic bottle tops are currently not recyclable, and as with plastic bags they often end up at the bottom of the ocean, and in the stomachs of a variety of animal species that mistake them for food. One albatross that was recently found dead on a Hawaiian island had a stomach full of 119 bottle caps.

Next step is to ban plastic bottles. Read the rest of the One Green Planet article to understand the health impacts of plastic bottles.

Canada Heading Towards An Animal Testing Ban

I recently had a debate on WP with someone about the issue of testing cosmetics on animals. Instead of offering logical, unbiased arguments, this person eventually chose to ban my comments from their post, a pretty cowardly and insecure act from someone who claimed I lacked confidence in my position. Luckily, I’m too self-assured and angered by injustice to be silenced.

Peter Dinklage joined the #BeCrueltyFree campaign and has been associated with Cruelty Free International for the last few years.

Canada is the latest nation progressing towards a Cruelty-free ban, which would see an end to testing cosmetic products on animals. The EU brought in a ban in 2013, though many major cosmetic companies allow others to carry out animal tests on their behalf, so that they can sell their products in China, which lags behind other nations in animal welfare on this issue.

Senator Carolyn Stewart Olsen has recently introduced a bill to implement a Cruelty-Free Cosmetics Act, which will not only ban animal testing for cosmetics, but also prohibit the sale of imported products that have been animal-tested in other parts of the world.

Despite viable alternatives, such as artificial human skin, cosmetics are often still tested on animals, in a system that is outdated and unnecessary.

100,000 animals from around the world are blinded, poisoned and killed yearly in cosmetic tests; this includes rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs and rabbits.

The advantages of non-animal tests are outlined by the New England Anti-Vivisection Society, and they include:

  • more reliable test results that can be safely applied to humans
  • fewer errors and miscalculations in interpreting data
  • far more cost effective
  • takes a fraction of the time to produce results
  • less hazardous waste created from dead, toxic animals, therefore more environmentally friendly.

If you want ethical products, look for the Leaping Bunny label. Boots and Superdrug offer many excellent cruelty free, inexpensive own brand products.

Shabani the Handsome Gorilla

I kind of get it. I can see how you might think a silverback is sexy – they seem to be made entirely of muscle. But what do young Japenese women find so attractive about Shabani, the famous hunky gorilla of Higashiyama Zoo and Botanical Gardens?

It’s his brooding good looks, and the fact that he’s a loving dad. Two words keep coming out from all the social media associated with Shabani:

ikemen: It’s the Japanese slang for “handsome guy”. The word is a combination of “I-ke” (pronounced “ee-kay”), which is an abbreviation of a word meaning “cool” or just “good”, and “men” derived from the English.

Ikumen: Another slang word meaning “a hands-on dad who looks after his children” – “iku” being an abbreviation of the word “iku-ji” which means “raising children”.

This fascination with the ‘human-ness’ of this gorilla has shown that by examining the facial expressions of some animals we recognize deep cognition, striking sexuality and strong family relationships. This is not to anthropomorphize Shabani, but to attribute animal qualities to humans; zoomorphism, in the sense that personifying animals reminds us we are a highly evolved animal species.

“Thinking Deep Thoughts.”

Reluctant Yulin Dog Meat Festival Aftermath Post

I wanted to avoid writing about the Yulin dog meat festival, as social media has been buzzing this last few weeks with haunting images of dogs and cats crammed into tiny wire cages, on their way to an inhumane slaughter. I don’t need to argue that the boiling, beating and murder of stolen beloved pets is morally wrong – that’s a given. But this is a good time to point out that the mass production of billions of chickens, pigs and cows, all kept in unnatural and unpleasant conditions, is not too far removed from the perverse Yulin dog eating festival.

Dog eating is dying out in China, despite the popularity of the new Yulin festival. Attitudes to animals are changing in China, and the festival attracted animal rights activists, who went to rescue as many dogs as they could afford to.

Yang Xiaoyun, retired school teacher, paid about 7,000 yuan ($1,100; £710) to save 100 dogs on Saturday.

We’ve all seen farmyard animals packed tightly into trucks on their way to slaughter in the UK – a more humane slaughter, perhaps, than the hideous fate that awaited the stolen Chinese pets this month. Pigs are highly intelligent creatures and they, like domestic pets, do not deserve to suffer a horrific journey to the abattoir. You might not agree that animals shouldn’t be eaten, but it is undeniable that sentient creatures deserve freedom from the kind of daily torture that occurs on a massive scale globally every day.

I’m not going to make the case that current animal husbandry is unnecessary cruel. There have been plenty of investigations – you can Google it yourself. I’d just like to put the grotesque nature of the Yulin dog festival into perspective: 10,000 dogs and cats once a year. 56 billion farmed animals each year.

Ricky, a lucky dog rescued by Dr Peter Li of the Humane Society International.