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Wildlife

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: House votes to end shark fin sales in the U.S.

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

The U.S. House just said a decisive and resounding “no” to the terrible shark fin trade, in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and dump them back into the waters to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

House members voted 310 to 107 to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737, a bill that would end all commercial trade in the United States, including all imports, exports, trade, distribution and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Americans overwhelmingly oppose this brutal trade, in which fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded globally each year. Worse, this trade—driven by a market for shark fin soup—is forcing many shark species toward extinction.

The action next moves to the Senate, where a third of the members have signed on to a parallel bill, S. 877.

While federal law already bans finning in U.S. waters, and 13 states and three U.S. territories have passed laws banning or limiting shark fin sales, our nation continues to be an end market for shark fins, with shark fin soup still appearing on the menus of some restaurants. The United States also serves as a destination for shark fins obtained on the high seas where finning is unregulated, or from countries lacking good policies or enforcement on finning.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have been working so hard to secure a law that decisively ends this trade in the United States once and for all. By passing such a bill, our nation can reassert its standing as a global leader on the important issue of shark conservation. When the U.S. leads on such efforts, other countries follow, as occurred with the ivory trade.

Sharks are now being killed 30 percent faster than they can reproduce. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2011, 16,815 metric tons of shark fins were traded worldwide. This commerce is unsustainable, and some shark populations have declined by as much as 90% in recent decades, resulting in a crisis not only for sharks themselves but for the balance of ocean ecosystems.

Along with our affiliates stateside and globally through Humane Society International, we have been working to end finning. We helped enact federal laws in 2000 and 2010 that prohibited finning in U.S. waters, and we have worked in a number of states to secure the passage of laws banning or limiting the sale of shark fins, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington. We are continuing to work on similar bills in other states. Three U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands—also have such bans.

Earlier this year, the Canadian Parliament passed a shark fin sales ban for which HSI had vigorously advocated, and we continue to work on ending shark finning and reducing the trade and consumption of shark fins globally.

Today’s victory for sharks in the U.S. House is a proud moment for those of us who have long sought to strengthen protections for these animals, and we are especially grateful to the bill’s lead sponsors, Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas. We now look to the Senate, where a counterpart bill has been introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. In April, the Senate Commerce Committee passed S. 877 with a voice vote, and we are hopeful the bill will soon be brought to the full floor for a vote.

Time is running out for sharks. These iconic predators are important in marine ecosystems and serve as key indicators of ocean health. Declining shark numbers can cause irreversible damage to fragile ocean environments and, ultimately, to our earth. By taking decisive action now, Congress—and our nation—can reverse the tide for this keystone species, and for the ecosystems that depend on them.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Scientists carry water for trophy hunting industry

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

For years now, trophy hunters have spun a web of lies to tie their ruthless killing of some of the world’s most at-risk animals to fake conservation benefits. A recent exchange in the prestigious Science magazine has laid bare links some scientists have with the trophy hunting lobby, and it has led to the magazine revising its own policy on how it identifies letter writers with ties to lobbying interests.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

In August this year, the magazine published an open letter, “Trophy hunting bans imperil biodiversity,” led by five scientists from Oxford University’s wildlife conservation research unit and the International Union for Conservation of Nature, and signed by 128 more. The letter claimed trophy hunting has a positive impact on conservation, and Amy Dickman, one of the letter’s lead authors, appeared on the BBC, where she claimed that imposing a complete trophy hunting ban is likely to cause "more animals to die.”

The letter from Dickman and the others also argued against anti-trophy-hunting legislation, like the CECIL Act (Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies Act) now in Congress, and claimed that banning imports of hunting trophies would undermine efforts to protect lions, elephants, and other endangered animals.

What the letter’s authors did not disclose—but was soon exposed by another letter, this time from a British non-governmental organization—is that four of the five authors of that letter, including Dickman, Rosie Cooney, Dilys Roe, and Maxi Pia Louis, had worked for organizations and projects that received funding from trophy hunting industry groups, including Dallas Safari Club, Safari Club International, Safari Club International Foundation, Russian Mountain Hunters’ Club, Wild Sheep Foundation, and NACSCO, a Namibian organization that supports trophy hunting initiatives.

Further, at least two of the signatories work for or advise Conservation Force, another trophy hunting group that has been working to weaken trophy import regulations and the Endangered Species Act in the United States.

Think about this for a moment: these are scientists affiliated with prestigious entities, like Oxford University and IUCN, who are publishing their scientific opinion in a prestigious journal without disclosing that they have ties to the industry that stands to benefit from the policy recommendations the scientists are advocating.

The editors of Science, in addition to making the authors of the original article declare their conflicts in writing in an addendum, immediately announced their policy on letters is now under revision to ensure that authors make readers aware of financial and advisory competing interests.

The magazine also published several more letters from other scientists and advocates who wrote in to refute the sham conservation claims made by the scientists supporting trophy hunting. We appreciate the magazine’s response and commitment to avoiding such a situation in the future by revising its policies.

There may also be good news forthcoming on the International Wildlife Conservation Council (IWCC), which we have been telling you about on this blog. This deceptively-named council created by the Trump administration is packed with trophy hunters and gun lobbyists who have successfully pushed our government to reverse several policies protecting endangered and threatened animals over the last three years. Last week, The Hill reported that the IWCC may soon be terminated, with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt telling members at a recent meeting that he “hasn’t yet decided” on the pathway forward for the committee. The pressure comes from a court challenge to the council, with its deep conflicts of interests, filed by the Humane Society of the United States and our partner groups.

Lawmakers in Congress are also stepping up the pressure against trophy hunting, and recently a bipartisan group of representatives, with the support of Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International, introduced a bill, the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, to prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

The trophy hunting industry is increasingly being exposed for what it is, and contrary to what they would have us believe, it is not an industry that benefits African economies, nor an industry that helps conserve endangered wildlife. All it really is, is a group of wealthy people who want to treat the world as their playground and mow down beautiful animals for fun so they can put their heads and hides on display in their living room. It’s time this industry is stopped in its tracks, and the deception is ended for good, and we are excited to see the progress being made on this on so many fronts.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

BREAKING NEWS: NIH reneges on promise, will not send 44 research chimpanzees to sanctuary

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

In a stunning about-face on its own promise, the National Institutes of Health today announced it will not send 44 chimpanzees, now held by the Alamogordo primate laboratory in New Mexico, to sanctuary.

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Photo by Crystal Alba/Project Chimps

Just last October, National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins reiterated the agency’s full commitment to retire all chimpanzees it owns or supports to the federal sanctuary Chimp Haven, saying that there would be very limited exceptions. These are animals who have spent their lifetimes in metal cages and they deserve to enjoy the rest of their days in an environment that simulates, to the best extent possible, the natural surroundings of a chimpanzee in the wild.

Dr. Collins had clearly stated that the only exception to retiring the chimpanzees would be in cases where relocation would severely or irreversibly accelerate deterioration of the chimpanzee’s physical or behavioral health. Today’s agency announcement contradicts that promise.

The NIH claimed that "it would be a serious risk to the chimpanzees’ health to move them." There were many flaws with the process that the NIH followed in deciding the chimpanzees’ fate: the panel was certainly not “independent” as it was made up of NIH’s own veterinarians and it did not include a veterinarian with sanctuary experience nor a primate behaviorist nor an ethicist. We expressed these concerns when the panel was created and had hoped they wouldn’t simply rubber-stamp the laboratory’s request to keep the chimpanzees confined at their facility for the rest of the animals’ lives while the laboratory continues to receive taxpayer dollars. Unfortunately, that is exactly what happened. There is no clear evidence that the long-term welfare of the chimpanzees was actually considered in making this decision.

We know that chimpanzees who are sent to sanctuary see an immense improvement in the quality of their lives. Since the inception of Chimp Haven, hundreds of chimpanzees, of all ages and health conditions, have moved there. There has not been a single death during transport and there are incredible stories of chimpanzees who have thrived at the sanctuary, including a chimpanzee named Grandma who was deemed as fragile when retired to Chimp Haven in 2005, yet lived happily there for another 10 years, reaching the age of 62.

We are putting NIH on notice that this fight is not over. Chimpanzees are our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, and we share 99 percent of our DNA with these sentient and intelligent animals. HSLF and the HSUS have been working for a long time to end the use of chimpanzees in experiments and to get them to retirement in sanctuary and we will not let the NIH blindside the American public and let the chimpanzees suffer through the rest of their lives in the confines of a laboratory. We’re now evaluating our options for judicial review to compel the NIH to honor its obligation under the Chimpanzee Health Improvement and Maintenance Protection (CHIMP) Act, which requires that all government-owned chimpanzees deemed no longer necessary for research be retired to the national sanctuary. The NIH has a responsibility to all Americans to ensure that these animals, who have suffered their whole lives, finally get the quality of life—and a retirement—they deserve, at Chimp Haven.

Please take a moment to send a message to the NIH and urge them to reassess their decision to not retire these chimps.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

ProTECT Act introduced in Congress to ban trophy hunting horror show

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

President Trump has called trophy hunting a “horror show,” but on his watch, the Department of the Interior has dismantled regulations to protect wildlife and made it easier to import trophies of endangered and threatened animals. We have been encouraging members of Congress to step up the pressure against trophy hunting by Americans, and today a bipartisan group of representatives introduced the Prohibiting Threatened and Endangered Creature Trophies Act of 2019 (ProTECT) Act, which will help prevent the hunting of any species listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The measure, introduced by Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, Ted Lieu, D-Calif., and Pete King, R-N.Y., would disallow permits for killing these animals at canned hunting facilities in the United States and ban the import of trophies of ESA-listed species, including lions, elephants, leopards and rhinos.

Trophy hunters pay enormous sums to travel the world to kill rare and iconic wildlife, with the primary motivation of obtaining animal parts (their heads, hides, claws or even the whole stuffed animal) for mere display and bragging rights. Many of the species trophy hunters target, including the African lion, African elephant, African leopard, and black rhino, are at risk of extinction.

Sadly, the United States is the world’s largest importer of hunting trophies; between 2005 and 2014, a staggering 1.26 million wildlife trophies were imported into the country. This number includes the trophies of thousands of federally-protected animals, including 5,600 African lions and 4,600 African elephants. 

The current administration has exacerbated the problem: in 2017, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) dismantled Obama-era regulations on trophy imports and announced that it would allow lion imports from Zambia and Zimbabwe. The agency signaled it would approve all trophy imports on a case-by-case basis, shielding these import permits from the public eye—a decision the HSUS, HSI and our partners have challenged in court.

The ProTECT Act would also cover endangered and threatened animals who are used for target practice here in the United States, in canned hunting operations. As difficult as it may be to believe, exotic endangered species like the scimitar-horned oryx, Dama gazelle, addax, Arabian oryx, barasingha, and yak can all be purchased by trophy hunters right here in our country and then shot in fenced enclosures with not even a shred of fair chase involved.

The FWS issues permits to allow these species to be killed in captive hunts in the United States and that’s a problem, because it creates an additional market for trophies from endangered and threatened species by fueling trophy hunters’ desires and may further encourage illegal poaching in the animals’ native habitat.

Hunters, trophy hunting trade organizations, and the current leadership at FWS argue that trophy hunting contributes to species conservation efforts abroad. But scientific studies have demonstrated the opposite, especially since the targeted species are already under siege by poachers, wildlife traffickers, and habitat loss. Trophy hunting depletes wildlife populations because hunters routinely kill the largest and strongest males, upsetting social equilibrium and diminishing species recovery efforts. Trophy hunting revenue doesn’t pass the cost-benefit test either. A 2017 economic report, commissioned by Humane Society International and conducted by Economists at Large, revealed that trophy hunting makes minimal contributions to African economies and jobs.

The majority of Americans deeply dislike trophy hunting and the import of hunting trophies into this nation. A 2017 nationwide poll released by the Humane Society of the United States showed that 69 percent of voters oppose trophy hunting altogether. Voters also oppose allowing American trophy hunters to bring home the bodies or parts of the elephants and lions they kill abroad by a margin of more than five to one.

Trophy hunting is a true scourge, and that’s why we invest so much time and so many resources to fight it both here and abroad. The ProTECT Act is a vital step toward ensuring the survival of the world’s most at-risk species, and we welcome it. It’s a top priority for the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Humane Society International, and the HSUS in Congress this year. It’s not too late to save these species from extinction, and our government can be an instrument of good on this issue. Please take a moment to ask your U.S. House Representative to support this important bill.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Illegal government advisory panel touts 'benefits' of trophy hunting

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

It may be hard to believe that a group of celebrity and professional trophy hunters, a director of the National Rifle Association, and the president of the world’s largest trophy hunting group are advising our government on wildlife conservation. But that is exactly what the International Wildlife Conservation Council, a panel appointed by the Trump administration, is tasked with—a privilege they have exploited abundantly over the last two years to ensure that U.S. policy favors trophy hunters. This week, at the panel’s fifth meeting since it was created in 2017, it became clearer than ever that this group does not have the interests of animals—or the wishes of a majority of Americans—at heart.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

Instead of spending their time considering the plethora of threats to African wildlife, which are driving many species to extinction, the members of the IWCC put on a pathetic display of ignorance, arrogance and manufactured “facts” to protect their own trophy hunting interests.

  • They ranted and railed—unjustifiably—against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) for not issuing as many import permits for trophies of endangered and threatened species as they would like. 
  • They criticized the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock U.S. law protecting at-risk wildlife, for getting in the way of trophy hunters importing their animal kills.
  • They aggressively questioned USFWS representatives for their agency’s support for giving giraffes international protection at the recent Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting. One council member went so far as to accuse the United States of making this policy decision based on “emotion” not science.
  • They repeated the tired old claim that trophy hunting acts as an incentive to local communities in Africa to protect wildlife while ignoring the well-documented corruption and mismanagement in the trophy hunting industry. In a recent example of such mismanagement, local community leaders in Zambia called for a halt on trophy hunting in the country because hunting revenues are not trickling down to their communities.
  • They harped time and again that Americans trophy hunting in Africa is at the heart of American culture and pushed the notion that American trophy hunting is a silver bullet guaranteed to solve development challenges in Africa. Trophy hunting, in fact, has very little benefit for African countries compared to ecotourism: of the at least eight African countries that allow trophy hunting, foreign trophy hunters make up less than 0.1 percent of tourists on average and they contribute 0.78 percent or less of the $17 billion in overall tourism spending in the studied countries. Trophy hunting tourism employment is only 0.76 percent or less of average direct tourism employment in study countries. A paper released this year estimated that wildlife tourism not related to trophy hunting generates $48 billion in revenues and supports 26 million jobs in Africa.

The group also failed to once acknowledge what multiple hunting industry reports and polls have shown in recent years—that 63 to 78 percent of Americans (including those associated with hunting communities) believe that trophy hunting is not an acceptable reason to hunt.

The IWCC symbolizes how far the United States has strayed from its position as a leader in wildlife conservation. Its very existence is illegal, because federal laws prohibit the establishment of advisory councils stocked with members who have political and financial interests in the agency action they’re influencing. The fact that the IWCC is mostly made up of trophy hunters and that one of them is the president of Conservation Force, which has filed dozens of applications on behalf of its trophy hunting clients to import body parts of at-risk animals like elephants, black rhinos, lions, and other imperiled species, makes it more of a trophy hunting trade association than a public policy panel.

The Humane Society of the United States and their partners are now engaged in a lawsuit challenging the legality of the IWCC. To our staff who attended this two-day meeting, it was abundantly clear that in addition to its other flaws, this panel is just a small group of elitist hunters clinging desperately to a colonial-American culture even as most Americans have moved on to a better appreciation of the risks wildlife face in our world today. They bring no value to the Department of the Interior’s understanding of wildlife conservation and should not be granted exclusive opportunity to influence our government through a special advisory panel just so they themselves can continue to hunt down—for fun—animals who are fast vanishing from earth.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Breaking news: California leads the nation by banning fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Moments ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom made history by signing into law two landmark bills: one banning the sale and production of all new fur products in California, and another prohibiting the trophy hunting of bobcats in his state.

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Photo by Megan Lorenz/iStock.com

California, a trendsetter in animal welfare and in fashion, is the first state in the nation to pass a ban on the sales of fur, and we applaud Gov. Newsom and the state’s lawmakers for recognizing that California citizens do not want their state’s markets to contribute to the demand for fur products. The fur industry causes the suffering and death of more than 100 million animals worldwide each year, and animals on fur factory farms are forced to live in cramped, wire-bottom cages, deprived of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, before being cruelly killed by gassing or electrocution.

The law, which will go into effect in January 2023, is a monumental victory in the Humane Society of the United States' decades-long campaign to end this cruel and unnecessary trade. Hawaii and New York have introduced similar measures, and we’ll continue working hard with other cities and states to convince them to follow California’s lead.

The other bill Gov. Newsom signed today makes it unlawful to trophy hunt bobcats in the state, although the measure allows the lethal removal of any individual animal posing a danger to humans, endangered and threatened species, or livestock. Other states have passed temporary bans on trophy hunting bobcats after their numbers dropped too low because of hunting, trapping and habitat loss, but the California law goes above and beyond by taking a proactive step to end needless and cruel trophy hunting before the animals are pushed to the verge of extinction.

The law puts bobcats on a small list of protected species in the Golden State, alongside California’s other wildcat, the mountain lion. Bobcats at present face numerous other threats to their survival, like the recent deadly wildfires and urban sprawl. And each year, hundreds of these animals are killed by trophy hunters in California. In fact, over the past decade, trophy hunters have killed more than 10,000 bobcats in the state.

We are thankful to Gov. Newsom for signing these bills and to all the lawmakers who voted for them. Our special thanks to Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who authored the legislation on bobcats, as well as the bill’s co-authors, Assemblymembers Richard Bloom, Laura Friedman and Tasha Boerner Horvath, and Senators Ben Allen, Cathleen Galgiani and Anthony Portantino. We are also grateful to Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who introduced the bill on fur sales last December. It had many notable supporters among politicians and the fashion industry, including the California Democratic Party, Los Angeles City Mayor Eric Garcetti, the San Diego County Democratic Central Committee, the City of West Hollywood, InStyle magazine, Stella McCartney, DVF-Diane von Furstenberg, 3.1 Phillip Lim, Hugo Boss, Patagonia, H&M, GAP, J.Crew, Madewell, Des Kohan, Hiraeth and Inditex/Zara. Animal protection groups and citizens across the state mobilized in favor of the legislation.

Year after year, California has been the hands-down pace-setter among American states on a number of key animal-related matters, including passing the world’s strongest farm animal protection law, prohibiting the sale of puppy mill dogs in pet stores, banning foie gras, and ending the sales of animal tested cosmetics. For nine consecutive years, it has topped our Humane State report card, which ranks states based on a wide set of animal welfare policies. Today, by speaking out against fur and for bobcats, the Golden State has once again proven why it continues to be our nation’s undisputed leader on animal protection issues.

P.S.: As we celebrate these victories, our thoughts are with the people—and animals—of California who are affected by the wildfires. The HSUS's Animal Rescue Team is keeping an eye on the situation and will be standing by to assist as needed.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Senator introduces bills to restrict private possession of big cats, primates

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Ten years ago, Americans were stunned by a pet chimpanzee’s vicious attack on a Connecticut woman, Charla Nash. The animal bit off Nash’s fingers and toes, tore off most of her face, and left her fighting for her life. The chimpanzee, Travis, was shot and killed by a police officer concerned for his own life. Two years after that incident, we were shocked once again by a report from Zanesville, Ohio, where a mentally disturbed man released his private menagerie of 50 tigers, lions, cougars, bears, wolves, and primates before committing suicide. In the ensuing chaos, law enforcement officials were forced to kill most of the animals.

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JP Bonnelly/The HSUS

Most of us find it difficult to comprehend why anyone would wish to keep a chimpanzee as a pet or house lions and tigers on their property. But, in fact, across the United States, thousands of these animals are being held in terribly inadequate conditions in private garages, basements, and backyards, and in ramshackle enterprises like roadside zoos and animal exhibitions. Their plight not only raises serious animal welfare concerns, but they are also public safety disasters waiting to happen.

That’s why Humane Society Legislative Fund and the Humane Society of the United States have made the passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act and the Captive Primate Safety Act in Congress a priority. Last week, Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., reintroduced both bills in the Senate. Sen. Blumenthal had met with Charla Nash, a constituent of his, after her attack, and quickly came to understand the danger and folly of private ownership.

The House version of the Big Cat Public Safety Act was introduced in February by Reps. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., and Brian Fitzpatrick, R-Pa., and has 148 bipartisan cosponsors. It has already passed the House Natural Resources Committee. A House version of the primate bill, introduced by Reps. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., and Fitzpatrick has 48 bipartisan cosponsors. The Captive Primate Safety Act passed the Senate unanimously back in 2006.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act, S. 2561 and H.R. 1380, would prohibit public contact with captive tigers, lions, and other big cat species, and it would prohibit the possession of big cats by individuals and roadside zoos and other businesses unless they are licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The bill would not impact professionally run zoos and sanctuaries or their conservation programs.

It is especially important that we stop roadside zoos, whose exhibitors make money by offering the public opportunities to pet, feed, or take selfies with infant animals, like tiger cubs, or even swim with them. Just a few months later, when the animals are too big to handle, they end up being warehoused at substandard operations and pseudo-sanctuaries, and the roadside zoos breed new litters to meet tourist demand. It’s a vicious cycle, with no relief for the animals trapped in it.

Animals owned by individuals fare no better. Last year, we told you about a tiger found in the garage of a deserted Houston home. When rescuers came upon the 350-pound animal, he was sitting in a cage on rotting meat, mold, maggots, and his own waste. The tiger has since found a permanent home at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch where he is finally living a peaceful and contented life.

The Captive Primate Safety Act, S. 2562 and H.R. 1776, would prohibit interstate or foreign commerce of nonhuman primates for the exotic pet trade, while exempting licensed facilities such as zoos, circuses, research institutions and sanctuaries. Right now, anyone in the United States can easily buy a primate from an exotic animal dealer or over the Internet. But primates are highly intelligent and social wild animals, and their natural behaviors make them unsuited for life as pets. Adults of even smaller primate species are powerful, unpredictable, and often aggressive. Primates can also spread potentially deadly infections and diseases to people, including tuberculosis and the Herpes B virus, exacerbating the health and safety risk.

Since the incidents in Connecticut and Ohio, most U.S. states have moved to ban the private possession of big cats and large primates—a change we pushed for and applaud. But to wipe this problem out for good, we need strong federal laws that will prevent unscrupulous people from forcing animals to spend their entire lives in abject misery, while creating a public safety nightmare. Please join us by calling on your Senators and Representative in Congress to cosponsor the Big Cat Public Safety Act and the Captive Primate Safety Act. Let’s make this the year we collectively, as a nation, say no to the exploitation of innocent animals who suffer immensely in roadside zoos or as pets.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Breaking news: Key Senate committee signals support for animals, like wild horses and whales, with spending bills

Today, the U.S. Congress once again provides good news for animals. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved two Fiscal Year 2020 bills that cover funding for the Department of the Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of Commerce—including federal agencies whose activities and programs have enormous consequences for animals. The proposed measures include a commitment for non-lethal management of wild horses and burros featuring increased fertility control approaches, funding to protect critically endangered north Atlantic right whales, and increased funding to implement the Endangered Species Act.

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Photo courtesy iStock.com

Similar to the bills passed by the House of Representatives, the 2020 bills also repudiate years of cuts to the budgets of key agency programs responsible for implementing these and other animal protection commitments.

Among the highlights of the bills that passed the committee today:

New milestones for wild horses and burros: The bill that covers the Interior Department provides $35 million to move the Bureau of Land Management’s Wild Horse and Burro Program away from calls to use lethal management methods like slaughter. The increased funding for a non-lethal program included in the FY 2020 report is for proven, safe, and humane fertility control tools and the onboarding of improved science as it becomes available, which does not include sterilization. The strategy, developed over years of negotiations with key stakeholders and proposed by the Humane Society Legislative, the Humane Society of the United States, and several other organizations, directs the BLM to work with key organizations to implement the program, which will involve vigorous application of fertility control alongside strategic removals, the relocation of removed horses and burros to pasture facilities, and increased focus on adoptions. This is the first time that lawmakers have championed such a multifaceted, non-lethal wild horse and burro management concept and is an historic achievement. We will continue to work with appropriators to ensure that scientifically-proven, safe, and humane reversible fertility control tools—which do not include surgical sterilization—become the heart of the BLM’s wild horse and burro management. Like the House of Representatives, the Senate is reinstating a prohibition on killing healthy wild horses and burros, including sending them to slaughter by the BLM.

Conservation of marine mammals: The bill covering the Commerce Department funds vital research and monitoring for the endangered North Atlantic right whale, providing $3 million for research and conservation efforts for the species, $1 million of which is to be dedicated for a pilot program to develop, refine, and field test innovative fishing gear technologies designed to reduce North Atlantic right whale entanglements. The legislation maintains funding of the Marine Mammal Commission, rejecting the administration’s bid to close this key independent federal agency tasked with addressing human impacts on marine mammals and their ecosystems.

Funding for wildlife protection programs: For years, Congress has cut funding for programs vital to wildlife protection, to the point where there is insufficient capital to ensure their effective functioning. The bill covering the Interior Department increases monies for the FWS’s Ecological Services program, which is central to on-the-ground activities to protect and recover ESA-listed species. The bill proposes $5 million more than Ecological Services received for FY 2019, and $17 million above the administration’s FY 2020 budget request. It also boosts funding for the Multinational Species Conservation Fund, designed to protect iconic global species such as elephants and great apes, by over $1 million from its FY 2019 level and by almost $7 million from the administration’s FY 2020 proposal.

Animal testing alternatives: The bill also provides level funding for EPA’s Computational Toxicology Program, which develops replacements for traditional animal tests, as required in the 2016 reauthorization of the Toxic Substances Control Act. With the recent historic announcement by the EPA’s Administrator Wheeler calling for an end to animal testing, it is imperative that Congress increase funding for the agency’s Office of Research and Development including the Computational Toxicology Program.

These bills are a testament to the importance of animal protection issues within all agencies of our federal government. The fights are real and we must keep the government honest about its commitments to protecting and preserving species on land and in the sea. As these bills are taken up by the full Senate, we are committed to seeing that these vital funding provisions for animals are included.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Breaking news: 17 states sue Trump administration for weakening Endangered Species Act

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Today, 17 U.S. states, the District of Columbia, and New York City filed a lawsuit to block the Trump administration from making harmful changes to how the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects endangered and threatened animal species and their habitats, is implemented by the federal government.

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Michelle Riley/The HSUS

The HSUS and a coalition of animal protection and conservation organizations represented by Earthjustice filed a similar lawsuit last month seeking to overturn the changes. We are pleased to see the attorneys general of 17 states—led by California, Massachusetts, and Maryland—along with those of two major cities—join their legal firepower with ours in what is shaping up to be one of the most important animal protection fights of the century.

“We’re coming out swinging to defend this consequential law—humankind and the species with whom we share this planet depend on it,” California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said in a statement announcing the lawsuit. “Now is the time to strengthen our planet’s biodiversity, not to destroy it."

This is encouraging news for those of us who have been raising the alarm over the changes, which were finalized last month, despite an outpouring of concern from citizens and groups like ours. More than 800,000 people spoke out in opposition when they were first proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service earlier this year. And soon after that the HSUS and other animal protection and environmental groups came together to file a lawsuit challenging this attempt to weaken core provisions of the Act, making it harder to grant and maintain protections for species facing extinction around the globe.

The new rules strip newly listed threatened species of vital safeguards, create hurdles to list species threatened by climate change, weaken protection of critical habitat, and make it easier for federal agencies to ignore the impact of government actions on listed species. They also direct regulators to assess economic impacts when making decisions about whether species should be listed, tipping the scales against animals who happen to live in areas targeted by business operations like mining, oil drilling, or development.

These changes are unacceptable because they have the potential to do irreparable harm to imperiled wildlife. With climate change threatening nearly one million plant and animal species, as a United Nations report pointed out earlier this year, it is more important than ever that we strengthen the Endangered Species Act, not destroy it. The future of our planet depends on it, and we are in good company as we fight to preserve it.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Grijalva’s PAW and FIN Conservation Act gets a House hearing

The Protect America’s Wildlife and Fish In Need of Conservation Act, (H.R. 4348)—also known as the PAW and FIN Conservation Act—introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and 23 colleagues, received an important hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee today. This critical bill would stop the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) from implementing irresponsible and dangerous rules designed to gut the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and decimate federal protections for our world’s most imperiled species.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

This is one of the most important animal protection fights of our time, because it will impact animals, ecosystems, and people for generations to come. The FWS and NOAA final rules in question, published in August by the Trump Administration, would block vital and necessary conservation measures to protect species threatened with extinction. Water, Oceans, and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) did the nation a great service by holding a hearing during which critics could address the dangerous executive overreach these rules entail. Now, we must work together to prevent their implementation.

To date, the ESA has saved more than 99 percent of listed species from going extinct. If it is weakened it will be much more difficult to ensure that threatened and endangered animals, including species like the grizzly bear, African lions and elephants do not go extinct. It’s wrong for the administration to ignore the intentions of Congress and to prioritize corporate profit over the protection of at-risk wildlife.

In addition to H.R. 4348, the committee discussed two other bills endorsed by HSLF: the Supporting Activities and Leadership Abroad to Move Amphibians Nearing Decline or Extinction to Recovery (SALAMANDER) Act, H.R. 4340, and the Critically Endangered Animals Conservation Act (H.R. 4341). These measures would authorize vital funding for amphibian and endangered species, respectively, whose populations are in dangerous decline.

Chairman Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) set the tone for the hearing by highlighting the weight of FWS’s recent decisions: “The changes [to the ESA] imposed by this administration would undermine the spirit and intent of the ESA and put more species at risk. At a time when scientists tell us we need to do more to address the anthropogenic causes of extinction, it’s inconceivable that the Fish and Wildlife Service and NOAA, the very agencies charged with protecting wildlife, could be making such devastating decisions.”

Speaking on behalf of the administration, Stephen Guertin, FWS Deputy Director for Policy, only offered reiterations of the FWS mantra that “the rules ensure that delistings are not held to a higher standard than listings” and “increase transparency for the public,” despite the rest of the hearing clearly demonstrating how with these rules, delistings are held to a much lower standard and, instead of increasing transparency, open a backdoor for political appointees to pander to industry over conservation.

The last several years have witnessed multiple threats to the Endangered Species Act, from both the executive branch and the Congress. We’ve stood in the gap, time after time, to defeat these measures, and we’re going to stand strong in this fight too, with congressional allies, with organizational partners, and with all those who want to uphold the strongest possible protection for wildlife species at risk.

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