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Wildlife

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.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Key House committee passes bills cracking down on trophy hunting, big cat captivity, and shark fin trade

A House committee today approved four key pieces of animal protection and conservation legislation to alleviate threats faced by some of the world’s most iconic and at-risk species, including a bill that would end harmful public contact activities with big cats, another that would crack down on the shark fin trade in the United States, one that would continue a critical conservation funding source, and a bill that would restrict the import of the body parts of endangered and threatened large animals killed overseas by trophy hunters.

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

We applaud lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle who voted in favor of these bills, showing how deeply Americans care about ending our country’s role in some of the worst wildlife abuses faced by animals here in the United States and globally.

The bills, detailed below, will next move to the full House floor for a vote.

The Big Cat Public Safety Act: This bill would ban the possession of big cat species by unlicensed individuals and entities and prohibit their use in businesses that exploit them by forcing them to participate in tourist activities. In the United States, many big cats—such as lions and tigers—are owned by unqualified individuals at roadside exhibits and shoddy circuses as well as by pet owners. As past HSUS investigations have revealed, the animals are bred indiscriminately and often spend their lives in inhumane, unregulated, abusive conditions. They are typically used for tourist opportunities like selfies and cub petting, and are discarded (even slaughtered for parts) after they grow big. As we have seen only too often, wild animals held in these types of situations often escape, creating a major safety hazard for citizens and for local law enforcement officials who are not typically trained to manage big cat escapes.

Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act: This bill would prohibit the import, export, trade, distribution, and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Some shark populations worldwide have declined by as much as 90 percent in recent decades because of this trade. Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in some parts of Asia but the sharks suffer terribly: fishermen slice off their fins and dump them back into the ocean to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. It is important we end the trade in shark fins here because the United States is an end market and transit point for shark fins obtained in countries where finning is unregulated or where finning laws are not sufficiently enforced.

Conserving Ecosystems by Ceasing the Importation of Large Animal Trophies (CECIL) Act: This bill would substantially restrict the import and hunting of any species listed or proposed to be listed as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. It’s named after the beloved African lion Cecil, who was shot by an American trophy hunter in 2015, sparking global outrage. Trophy hunting is exacerbating population declines of key species who already face extinction and many other threats besides, including poaching and habitat loss. This practice of killing wild and at-risk animals for bragging rights is hurting local economies in African countries by crippling their tourism industries and other opportunities for economic development. We also know that trophy hunting fuels other evils, like corruption and wildlife trafficking, and it’s time the United States cracked down on it.

Multinational Species Conservation Funds Semipostal Stamp Reauthorization Act: This bill extends the sale of the Save Vanishing Species Semipostal Stamp for as long as copies remain. This congressionally-created semipostal stamp enables consumers to support wildlife conservation every time they send a letter. To date, sales of the stamp have raised $5.4 million for international conservation of some of the world's most imperiled species, such as elephants, tigers, and sea turtles. Funds have supported more than 100 conservation projects in 35 countries, at no cost to U.S. taxpayers. Although about 50 million stamps remain in stock, the U.S. Postal Service discontinued selling them at the end of 2018 and can't resume sales until enactment of this reauthorization.

We are grateful for the leadership of House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Ranking Member Rob Bishop, R-Utah, for bringing these four bills to the committee’s attention, and we’ll be pushing for their passage on the House floor next. We want to ensure all four of these bills have a high cosponsor count before they go to the floor for a vote, so please contact your Representative today and urge them to cosponsor these important pieces of legislation.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

SAVE them; it’s the right thing to do

The North Atlantic right whale was once common across the entire Atlantic. Unfortunately, this ocean giant (at more than 50 feet long and weighing some 70 tons) became the focus of whaling efforts because the species was ‘the right whale to hunt’—thus its name. Right whales are huge but slow moving and so full of fat that they floated when struck. Subsequently, by the late 1800s, the right whale had been exterminated across most of its range and hunted to the point of extinction in North America. Their population now numbers only some 400 animals and, while whaling no longer threatens the species, it faces the modern perils of entanglement in commercial fishing gear and collisions with the large and fast ships that power across its remaining US and Canadian east coast range. It’s now the most endangered large whale species in the world.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Today, Senators Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Johnny Isakson, R-Ga., stepped up to help protect these majestic creatures by introducing the Scientific Assistance for Very Endangered North Atlantic (SAVE) Right Whales Act, which will fund promising research and recovery actions to halt the alarming loss of North Atlantic right whales in our coastal waters. Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla., introduced a companion bill in the House of Representatives (H.R. 1568).

The legislation would establish a grant program to fund collaborative projects between states, nongovernmental organizations, and stakeholders in the fishing and shipping industries with the goal of reducing the impacts of human activities on North Atlantic right whales. These funds—granted over a 5-year period—are desperately needed. With some energy and thought, we should be able to find ways to reconcile the interests of stakeholder industries while ensuring the survival of an iconic species that has suffered so much at human hands.

With our oceans warming, right whales are roaming further afield looking for food—they consume tiny plankton that live only in cold waters. That means that prior strategies of setting a short seasonal fishing closure in a small, high-use feeding area, or restricting traffic in a few busy shipping lanes along a predictable migratory route are no longer working to reduce the risk of whale deaths. In fact, some 28 North Atlantic right whales have been found dead just since 2017 with only 12 calves born in the same period.

This decline foretells disaster and demise for North Atlantic right whales unless we embrace the challenge of curbing the most serious threats to their survival, right away. Swift passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act will go a long way toward ensuring that this season’s newborn right whales will grow up not only to replenish their struggling species, but to flourish in a safer, healthier, and better marine environment. Please take a moment to contact your legislators and ask them to support this critical bill—we don’t have a moment to lose if we want to save this species.

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Breaking news: California lawmakers ban fur sales, bobcat trophy hunting

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Update: The bill to ban fur sales has also passed the concurrence committee and will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature.

In two historic votes for animals, California lawmakers have voted overwhelmingly to ban fur sales and to stop the trophy hunting of bobcats, who are often targeted for their distinctive look and coloration.

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Photo by Megan Lorenz/iStock.com

State senators this afternoon passed a ban on the sales of all new fur products. Last night the Senate passed the bobcat bill 31 to 8 (with one Senator not voting) and just this afternoon the Assembly concurred.

The fur sales bill now heads back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote, and, if all goes well, it will soon join the bobcat bill on Gov. Gavin Newsom’s desk for his signature.

Californians have repeatedly shown a deep concern for the well-being of animals killed for their fur and for trophies. Nearly 71 percent of them support banning fur sales statewide, and some of the largest cities in the state, including Los Angeles, San Francisco, West Hollywood, and Berkeley, have already banned fur sales.

The impact of a fur ban in California would be immense. The state is often listed right behind New York as one of the most fashionable in the country. A fur sales ban in California would further reinforce to fashion followers and to the fashion industry globally—which is already moving away from fur—that most consumers no longer want coats, stoles, and other accessories that involve raising and killing animals cruelly.

More than 100 million animals, like foxes, minks, and raccoon dogs are now killed each year for their fur. These animals live in cramped, wire-bottom cages on fur factory farms, deprived of the ability to engage in natural behaviors, and are cruelly killed by gassing or electrocution.

Some animals in the wild, like bobcats and coyotes, who are targeted for their fur, are trapped using archaic leghold traps. The animals suffer in these cruel traps for days, without food or water, and these indiscriminate traps also often kill or maim non-target animals, including endangered species and pets.

Over the past few years, the California legislature and the state’s Fish and Game Commission have taken steps to protect bobcats from such cruel practices, including a ban on trapping, a ban on the use of hounds to chase down bobcats, and a ban on the sale of bobcat fur originating from the state. Despite these protections, hundreds of bobcats continue to be killed in California every year, usually for nothing more than a trophy and bragging rights. 

Californians feel strongly about protecting bobcats: nearly 70% are opposed to trophy hunting these beautiful native carnivores. The bobcat bill that passed through the legislature will put a moratorium on trophy hunting bobcats, protecting this species and allowing the Department of Fish and Wildlife to gather much-needed scientific data on their population. Even without trophy hunting, bobcats still face serious threats to their survival in the state, like loss of habitat each year from human development, droughts stemming from the climate crisis that threaten bobcats’ prey base, and dangerous wildfires that continuously threaten their ecosystems.

We applaud Assemblymember Laura Friedman, who introduced the bill banning fur, and Assemblymember Sydney Kamlager-Dove, who put forth the bill banning bobcat hunting. Let’s take a moment today to celebrate these momentous victories for animals, and keep up the fight to get them across the finish line in coming days.

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

Thursday, September 05, 2019

U.S. says Michigan businessman who killed critically endangered black rhino can bring his trophy home

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

An American trophy hunter who killed a black rhino in Namibia will receive the Trump administration’s consent to bring his spoils home. This is the third time the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a permit to import a black rhino trophy since 2017, and it illustrates, yet again, how this taxpayer-funded agency is pandering to a few wealthy trophy hunters while showing a callous irresponsibility toward critically endangered species.

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Photo by Bill Gozansky/Alamy Stock Photo

The FWS notified us last week that it will issue the import permit to a wealthy businessman from Michigan who killed the animal in May last year in Namibia's Mangetti National Park. The man agreed to pay $400,000 to a Namibian government fund in exchange for the permit.

This pay-to-slay scheme has become increasingly common in the United States and elsewhere, with trophy hunters claiming that they are benefiting African economies and helping conservation efforts when they kill already imperiled animals. But as studies have shown, there is little evidence that the money actually helps threatened species or communities—in reality, it mostly goes toward lining the pockets of hunting companies and corrupt officials. What is clear is that trophy hunting is driving some animals—already under threat from poaching, habitat loss, and trafficking—to extinction.

There are fewer than 2,000 black rhinos left in Namibia and rhino poaching there is on the rise, with criminals targeting the animals for their horns. According to news reports, 27 black rhinos were poached in Namibia in 2017 and 57 in 2018. This is hardly the time for the United States—which should be leading conservation efforts to save these animals—to instead contribute to their decline by facilitating the ambitions of privileged Americans who want to kill them for trophies and bragging rights.

U.S. law is also very clear: under our federal Endangered Species Act, it is illegal to import trophies of endangered species unless such action is determined to enhance the propagation or survival of the species. Allowing this Michigan trophy hunter to import a critically endangered animal’s trophy, whose numbers in the wild are already dangerously low, clearly does not meet this standard.

In giving its blessing to such imports, our government is also ignoring the fact that most Americans do not support trophy hunting; polls show that more than 80 percent of Americans oppose trophy hunting of big game. A similar decision by the FWS to allow another American trophy hunter to import a black rhino trophy last year was met with outrage and disgust on social media.

President Trump famously derided trophy hunting as a “horror show.” But despite this, trophy hunters have found a willing partner in the FWS under his administration, and we have seen a steady rollback of laws protecting endangered species since 2017, including scaling back of protections for elephants and lions. Last month, the government finalized several regulatory changes to weaken the Endangered Species Act, the bedrock law that protects at-risk species and their habitats—a decision we are challenging in court.

There is no justification for a handful of people with deep pockets and friends in high places to continue robbing the world of its most prized and beautiful wildlife. And there is no justification for our government to continue making it easier for them to indulge in their dangerous hobby. We urge the FWS to stop issuing permits to allow trophy hunters to import the body parts of some of our world’s most endangered animals, and instead do what most Americans want—take the lead in saving these animals, for themselves, for the earth, and for all of us who would rather see an animal in the wild than as a head on someone’s wall.

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

Monday, August 26, 2019

U.S. proposes new rule to save endangered right whales

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

Right whales are critically endangered, with no more than 400 individuals surviving along the U.S. and Canadian coast. But we have an opportunity right now to help save this species. The National Marine Fisheries Service is considering a rule that would reduce one of the greatest threats to the survival of right whales, and it is critical that you weigh in.

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Photo courtesy of noaa.gov

Less than half of the world’s remaining North Atlantic right whales are female and, since 2017, only 12 calves have been born. In those same years 28 right whales were found dead either from being hit by large ships or becoming fatally entangled in commercial fishing gear used in lobster and crab fishing. The species is declining. Unless we act fast, right whales could face extinction, but not before they have endured terrible suffering.

Imagine a heavy rope tied tightly around your leg that you have to drag everywhere you go. The rope slowly cuts into your flesh, affecting your ability to walk, eat or sleep, and you could die of infection or starvation over a period of weeks or months. This is what right whales face when they become entangled in fishing gear. The proposed rule would restrict where and how often fishermen can set their gear, potentially sparing suffering—and the lives—of many whales.

In 2018, the Humane Society of the United States, along with partner organizations, filed suit against the National Marine Fisheries Service. We did so as it became clear that the U.S. government was not acting to impose restrictions on fisheries to reduce the increasing numbers of entanglement-related deaths in the United States. In 2012, in the wake of several fatal collisions with ships near the busiest port areas along the eastern seaboard, our coalition successfully petitioned the U.S. government to designate areas where ships are required to reduce speeds when and where right whales are expected to be present. In 2016, the NMFS dramatically expanded the boundaries of coastal habitats designated as “critical habitat” after we petitioned for—and sued to get—this additional protection.

The HSUS and Humane Society International have also pressed the Canadian government to take action to reduce right whale deaths in its waters. As a result, this year Canada restricted more fisheries and designated specific shipping areas with a seasonal slow speed requirement.

In Congress, HSLF and the HSUS are supporting passage of the SAVE Right Whales Act, H.R. 1568, introduced by Reps. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and John Rutherford, R-Fla. The act would authorize $5 million per year for research on North Atlantic right whale conservation over the next 10 years. The House of Representatives included additional funding for right whale conservation in its Fiscal Year 2020 appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) and we are urging the Senate to do so as well.

We also hope that the NMFS will go further in its proposed rule by creating seasonal closures to risk-prone fishing gear in key areas of the Northeast during the time when right whales are feeding in the area. This would include additional funding for research into fishing gear that does not pose a risk of deadly entanglement; the mandatory use of marked fishing lines in lobster and crab fisheries to identify and implement targeted risk reduction measures; and increased enforcement to ensure that fisheries comply with federal mandates.

Right whales have suffered terribly for many decades, and they are perhaps the world’s most endangered large whale species. Whalers named them right whales because they are slow-moving and live close to the coast, making them the “right” whale to kill. Their rapidly-declining numbers led to these whales gaining international protection in the 1930s, after which their numbers increased slowly, but they are declining once again as human activities threaten their survival.

You can help to ensure that our government acts to protect these creatures before it is too late. The NMFS recently held public hearings and has promised a court that it will propose new restrictions by early next year. Please leave your comment here and let the agency know you support these and additional protections. The time to help right whales is right now.

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

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