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Archive for February 2013

In the year of the snake, shed your skins

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By Paula Moore

As people around the world prepare to ring in the Year of the Snake, here’s a simple way to honor these mysterious, misunderstood animals: Keep them out of your wardrobe. Snakes and other reptiles should not have to suffer and die just for our cold-blooded vanity.

According to a recent International Trade Centre (ITC) report, the global trade in python skins—which is poorly regulated and often illegal—is threatening these animals’ survival. Half a million python skins are exported each year from Southeast Asia to be turned into designer handbags, boots and other accessories, and the extent of the illegal trade is thought to be on a par with the legal trade. Many snakes are illegally caught in the wild—and killed before they are able to reproduce—because it takes so long for farmed snakes to grow large enough for their skin to be usable.

Of course, for the snakes, who are beaten to death, decapitated or suffocated, it hardly matters whether the trade in their skins is “legal” or not. In either case, it is unethical. In Vietnam, for example, snakes are commonly killed by being inflated with air compressors. This “is functionally the equivalent of suffocating them … they inflate and suffocate and it kills them,” says Olivier Caillabet, coauthor of the ITC report.

Other snakes have hoses inserted into their mouths, and they are pumped full of water, which causes them to swell up like balloons, loosening their skin. Workers then impale the snakes on meat hooks, rip their skin off and toss the animals’ peeled bodies onto a pile. After hours—or days—of unimaginable suffering, the snakes finally succumb to dehydration or shock.

“Snakes are never killed in a good way,” says Dr. Clifford Warwick, a specialist in reptile biology and welfare. Neither are the other animals who are killed for the exotic-skins trade. Farmed alligators are bludgeoned to death or have a chisel smashed through their spinal cord with a hammer. Lizards writhe in agony as they are skinned alive. Crocodiles poached in the wild are caught with huge hooks and wires then reeled in by hunters when they become weakened from blood loss.

These animals are not unfeeling automatons. Snakes can feel pain, and they are keenly aware of their environment, thanks to their ability to sense chemical stimuli with their super-sensitive tongues and to feel vibrations. They may also have richer social lives than we ever imagined. Female snakes separated at birth can recognize relatives when they are reintroduced years later. One study found that female timber rattlesnakes, who often cluster together in groups of six or more in rookeries, prefer to associate with relatives than with strangers. Rulon Clark, a behavioral ecologist at San Diego State University, says that snakes are “so cryptic and secretive that, for many species, we really only have brief glimpses of their lives.”

We are also discovering more about the other reptiles who are cruelly killed for their skins. Researchers from Vanderbilt University in Tennessee found points along the jaws of alligators and crocodiles that are more sensitive to touch than human fingertips. This makes sense because mother alligators use their jaws as we might use our hands—to gently crack open their eggs and carry their babies. Alligators communicate with one another through hisses, yelps, coughs and other sounds, and crocodiles can recognize their own names, as a pair of dwarf crocodiles at a facility in England have demonstrated.

Reptiles might not win any popularity contests in the animal kingdom, but no sentient being deserves to be killed for something as frivolous as fashion. In the Year of the Snake and beyond, please help save animals’ skins: Don’t wear them.

Paula Moore is a senior writer for 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

February 13, 2013 at 4:43 pm

For chained dogs, it’s a long, cold, lonely winter

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By Teresa Chagrin

It was 20 degrees outside. The tiny gray dog, tethered to a tree, had no shelter and no way to stay warm. Her hair was falling out in clumps because of a severe skin infection, leaving her shivering and on the brink of hypothermia. Thankfully, the little dog, now named Suzy, was rescued after a concerned passerby called PETA’s Emergency Response Team, which mobilized a compassionate local humane officer. Many other dogs who are forced to face the winter on a chain or in a backyard pen aren’t as lucky.

A sweet pit bull named Daisy, alone in an Arkansas backyard, froze to death one subzero January night because the chain that she was attached to prevented her from reaching shelter. In North Carolina, PETA fieldworkers found three chained pit bulls—Mylie, Buck and Roscoe—dead inside their bare doghouses. They were just skeletons covered with skin and had no body fat to insulate them from the winter cold. Every bone in their bodies was visible.

Dozens of other dogs across the country die similar cold, painful deaths every year because their guardians—if they can even be called that—are ignorant of or indifferent to their needs. Every dog longs and deserves to live indoors with a loving human “pack,” but dogs who are relegated to the backyard are often deprived of companionship, adequate shelter and other basic needs.

Overturned barrels or plywood lean-tos offer no protection from howling winds and freezing temperatures. Old rugs and blankets, which people sometimes toss to dogs for bedding, freeze after they get wet. A basic dry doghouse stuffed with straw and covered with a flap, while no substitute for a loving home, is a luxury compared to what most chained and penned dogs are given.

Dogs’ fur coats don’t provide adequate protection from the elements—especially when it comes to short-haired, small, young or elderly dogs. Frostbitten ears, toes and tails, hypothermia and death are daily threats to dogs who are left outdoors in the winter. Older dogs who have spent winter after bitter winter on the cold, hard ground endure the added misery of aching, arthritic joints. While their families stay cozy and warm inside heated homes, many dogs who are left outdoors shiver themselves to sleep every night—if they can sleep at all.

The effort to stay warm burns extra calories, so dogs left outside often endure constant hunger or can even starve to death without an increase in calories. Dogs have died of dehydration in the middle of winter simply because no one noticed that their water bucket had frozen solid.

Even if they survive the winter, chained dogs have little to look forward to. Summer brings sweltering temperatures, flea and tick infestations, flies—who are attracted to the animals’ waste and bite their ears bloody—and the torment of hearing and seeing people outdoors but being unable to run, play or interact with them. In every season, the aching loneliness and crushing deprivation of solitary confinement remain.

If there are chained or penned dogs in your neighborhood, don’t let them suffer through another long, cold, lonely winter. Call the authorities if the dogs have no food, water or shelter or if their life appears to be in danger. Befriend their guardian, and offer to take them for walks. Take treats, food and toys along on your visits. Consider allowing them to sleep in your home on especially cold nights. Above all, urge their guardian to let them live indoors with the rest of the family—so that they will not only survive the winter but also have a life worth living.

Teresa Chagrin is an animal care and control specialist in People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals’ (PETA) Cruelty Investigations Department, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

February 4, 2013 at 9:44 pm