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Archive for May 2012

Zoos: Don’t ‘get the party started’

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By Jennifer O’Connor

What do blaring techno-pop, psychotropic drugs and zoos have in common? The answer, of course, should be “nothing,” but in an effort to keep revenue flowing in, zoos and aquariums around the world are welcoming events ranging from raves to weddings at their facilities—at a high cost to the resident animals. It’s bad enough that animals are confined to these facilities in the first place. They shouldn’t also be reduced to party props.

Recently released toxicology reports suggest that two dolphins at a Swiss zoo died after ingesting a heroin substitute shortly after a weekend-long rave was held near their tank.

Reports speculate that the drug had been dumped into the tank during the rave “accidentally” or as a practical joke, but Shadow and Chelmers died slowly and in agony. Chelmers’ keeper described his last hour: “He was shaking all over and was foaming at the mouth. Eventually we got him out of the water. His tongue was hanging out. He could hardly breathe.”

Zoos are marketing their facilities for birthday parties, corporate receptions and nighttime “safaris,” even though the commotion and noise can leave animals anxious and unsettled. Three guides at a rave at the Georgia Aquarium admitted that music at such parties upsets the animals and causes them to fight. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that inspects zoos, has acknowledged that allowing nighttime visitors can agitate primates. At the San Diego Zoo, an inspector asked zoo officials to reevaluate nighttime display of the gelada baboons, as they appeared to be stressed out.

Aren’t zoos and aquariums supposed to be focusing on the comfort and well-being of the animals? It seems we haven’t progressed much in the years since a former zoo director admitted, in a 1984 article, that the animals are “the last thing I worry about with all the other problems.”

By their very nature, zoos leave animals vulnerable to the whims and wishes of zookeepers and visitors. Animals in zoos have been poisoned, left to starve, deprived of veterinary care and burned alive in fires. They’ve been beaten, shot, pelted with rocks and stolen by people who were able to gain access to the cages. Many have died after eating coins and trash tossed into their cages. A giraffe who recently died in an Indonesian zoo was found to have a wad of 44 pounds of plastic in his stomach made up of food wrappers thrown into his cage by visitors.

It’s no wonder that zoos are increasingly desperate to attract visitors: Parents who still take their children to the zoo are becoming as rare as the dodo bird. Most people are starting to agree that sentencing animals to life behind bars is ethically indefensible, and in response many zoos are adding trains, sky rides, carousels and water attractions to entice visitors to come through the gates.

Visitors to Disney’s Animal Kingdom are “educated” about threatened wildlife on a thrill ride once called “Countdown to Extinction.” And let’s not forget coyly named fundraisers such as “Woo at the Zoo” and “Jungle Love,” at which visitors pay to watch animals have sex. Accompanied by candles and Barry White tunes, tourists sip and sup while awaiting “action.” How does this foster even a scintilla of respect for animals?

Zoo events may be a novelty for visitors, but for the imprisoned animals, it means that their already-limited period of peace and quiet has been stolen from them. Parties and picnics belong in the park or in backyards, not outside the bars of a caged animal who can’t decline to attend.

Jennifer O’Connor is a staff writer with the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

 

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Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 31, 2012 at 7:50 pm

Time to ban foie gras

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By Alisa Mullins

With California’s foie gras ban poised to take effect in less than two months, some of the Golden State’s chefs are scrambling to mount a last-minute campaign to overturn the ban. Birds raised for foie gras are force-fed up to 4 pounds of grain and fat every day via a pneumatic tube that is rammed down their throats—a process that former California Sen. John Burton colorfullydescribes as “doing the equivalent of waterboarding.”

California should uphold its ban on foie gras—and the rest of the U.S. should follow the state’s progressive lead.

Burton, who spearheaded California’s ban and built in a seven-year grace period specifically to allow California’s lone foie gras producer, Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras, to come up with an alternative to force-feeding birds, has no patience for the chefs’ last-ditch appeal.

“They’ve had all this time to figure it out and come up with a more humane way,” he said. “I’d like to sit … them down and have duck and goose fat—better yet, dry oatmeal—shoved down their throats over and over and over again.”

Force-feeding causes the birds’ livers to swell to as much as 10 to 12 times their normal size, resulting in a painful disease known as hepatic steatosis (which makes foie gras a diseased organ and therefore illegal to sell in the U.S., according to a lawsuit filed this month by several animal protection groups). The birds often suffer from internal hemorrhaging, fungal and bacterial infections, and hepatic encephalopathy, a brain disease caused when their livers fail. They can become so debilitated that they can move only by pushing themselves along the ground with their wings.

A journalist who visited Sonoma-Artisan Foie Gras in 2003 reported that force-fed ducks “moved little and panted” with the effort, and an employee admitted that “[s]ome [ducks] die from heart failure as a result of the feeding, or from choking when they regurgitate.”

A recent undercover investigation at the farm revealed filthy, bedraggled birds (failure to preen is a sign of illness or distress), birds panting and struggling to breathe, birds who were too ill to stand, and even the bodies of dead birds among the living. An average of 20 percent of ducks on foie gras farms die before slaughter, 10 to 20 times the average death rate on a regular duck farm.

Force-feeding birds has been denounced by every expert in the field of poultry welfare. Dr. Christine Nicol, a tenured poultry husbandry professor at the University of Bristol, believes that foie gras production “causes unacceptable suffering to these animals. … It causes pain during and as a consequence of the force-feeding, feelings of malaise as the body struggles to cope with extreme nutrient imbalance and distress ….”

Foie gras production is so cruel that it has been banned in more than a dozen countries, including Israel, the U.K., Germany, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and Switzerland, and it will be outlawed throughout the European Union by 2020.

Really, the only people defending foie gras are those who produce it and cook with it, and with thousands of other delectable ingredients available, it’s hard to imagine why chefs are fighting tooth and, er, bill to hang onto this deadly “delicacy.” Their objections should be filleted, puréed, flambéed and stuffed. Surely, any creative chef worth his or her artisanal sea salt can make do without a tortured duck’s liver.

Alisa Mullins is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.  

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 24, 2012 at 5:48 pm

Racing to the death

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By Paula Moore

Imagine if someone invaded your home, tore you away from your family, drove you hundreds of miles away and then let you go. You don’t know where you are, and you’re desperate to get back home. You’re surrounded by hundreds of strangers, all as confused as you are. You’re scared and hungry and must fight to stay alive through all weather extremes. Some of the others succumb to exhaustion or starvation. Some are killed by hunters or predators. It may sound like a plot twist from The Hunger Games, but it’s real.

This is the fate of birds who are forced to fly for their lives in the abusive and often illegal pastime known as pigeon racing. That the victims of this cruel sport are animals and not humans should not make their suffering any less appalling.

PETA recently completed a 15-month undercover investigation into some of the largest pigeon-racing operations in the U.S. PETA’s investigators documented massive casualties of birds during races and training, rampant “culling” (killing), abusive training and racing methods and illegal interstate gambling.

In many of the races—which can be up to 600 miles long—more than 60 percent of the birds become lost or die along the way. Because these birds were raised in captivity and cannot fend for themselves in the wild, those who don’t make it home will likely starve to death. Pigeon racers even have a name for races that are particularly lethal: “smash races.”

During one race in Queens, for example, only four out of 213 birds ever returned. Out of nearly 2,300 baby birds shipped to the Phoenix area for training for the 2011 American Racing Pigeon Union Convention Race, only 827 survived to race day. Of those, only 487 birds had completed the 325-mile race by nightfall.

Pigeons are among the most maligned urban wildlife, yet they are complex and fascinating birds. Their hearing and vision are both excellent and have been used to save lives in wartime and to help find sailors lost at sea.

A study released in December showed that pigeons can learn abstract numerical rules—something that until recently, we thought only humans and other primates could do.

They are also loyal mates and doting parents. Both parents share in the care and nurturing of their hatchlings. Pigeon racers exploit these qualities by separating birds from their mates and babies so that they will race their hearts out, frantic to get home. After the racing season is over, the babies—no longer of any use to the racers—are often killed.

One racer told PETA’s investigators that the “first thing you have to learn” in pigeon racing is “how to kill pigeons.” Another recommended killing these gentle birds by drowning them, pulling their heads off or squeezing their breasts so tightly that they suffocate. Any bird who isn’t considered fast enough or isn’t wanted for breeding is killed.

Like other forms of animal exploitation, pigeon racing is driven by money. PETA penetrated racing organizations in which a quarter of a million dollars is bet on a single race. Pigeon racing generates an estimated $15 million a year in illegal gambling proceeds and involves felony gambling, racketeering and tax evasion. Not surprisingly, the high stakes lead to cheating. Some racers administer performance-enhancing drugs—including steroids and morphine—to their birds. One racer even admitted that he kills hawks—federally protected birds—because they prey upon his pigeons and then disposes of their bodies.

Pigeons are rock doves, a symbol of peace, and they deserve to be left in peace. PETA is calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate and prosecute unlawful pigeon-racing operations. The rest of us should shun this cruel sport. Animals should not have to pay with their lives for someone’s sick idea of entertainment.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.peta.org/.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

May 16, 2012 at 6:14 pm