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Zoos’ dirty little secret

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By Jennifer O’Connor

People around the world were justifiably outraged when a healthy young giraffe was killed because he didn’t fit into a Danish zoo‘s breeding plan. A second giraffe execution was in the works before public condemnation put a stop to it. But the only real surprise is how forthcoming these zoos were about it, since disposing of unwanted animals is typically the industry’s dirty little secret. Zoos everywhere, including right here in North America, routinely find ways to unload animals they no longer want or need.

Baby animals bring visitors through the gates. But little ones quickly outgrow their ticket-selling appeal. There’s never enough space for all the adult animals. Many of them are simply warehoused in off-exhibit buildings designed solely to cage and house animals with no place to go. Stored like used car parts, all they can do is wait for relief that never comes. Others are traded or sold to other zoos or roadside menageries.

The vast majority of animals who are bred in zoos are not endangered, and most of the ones who are in trouble aren’t going to be released into their natural homelands in order to bolster wild populations. For every elephant born in a zoo, two more die, yet zoos continue to subject elephants to painful and frightening artificial insemination, just to churn out more cash cows. Chai, an elephant at the Woodland Park Zoo in Seattle, has been subjected to the procedure 112 times, with only one successful birth—a calf who later died. According to investigative reporter Michael J. Berens, the overall infant-mortality rate for elephants in zoos is an appalling 40 percent—nearly triple the rate of elephants in the wild. In a 25-year period at the Houston Zoo, 14 out of 14 elephant calves died—a 100 percent failure rate.

Even though the U.S. is overrun with tigers in backyard menageries, sleazy roadside zoos and sham sanctuaries, zoos still allow tigers to breed, because cubs are marketing goldmines. No tiger born in a zoo will ever set foot in an Asian jungle or help wild populations rebound. They will help a zoo’s bottom line.

Gorilla families are led by one dominant male, but so many male gorillas are born in captivity that zoos are being forced to find ways to create all-male “bachelor” groups. But as these juvenile males mature into adulthood, conflicts naturally arise. Caged gorillas have no way to escape an aggressive cagemate.

And let’s not forget the zoo community’s most lucrative marketing coup: the panda. In China’s breeding centers, cubs are typically taken from their mothers before they reach 6 months of age to force females to go into estrus again. Female pandas are fertile only for a day or two, so when a female shows signs of going into heat, she’s poked and prodded and her vagina is swabbed to determine whether she is ovulating. Males are electroejaculated (a probe is inserted into his rectum to produce electrical stimulations that cause ejaculation) and the semen, often from more than one male, is then inserted into the female with a laparoscope.

Like all bears, panda moms are protective and nurturing. But the conditions of China’s loan program require that cubs be returned “home” within two years of birth. Treated as commodities, the young pandas and their mothers will likely never see each other again.

Zoos are businesses whose “merchandise” is living, feeling animals. As long as society considers it acceptable to keep animals in captivity so that humans can while away a couple of hours gawking at them, this merciless and mercenary cycle will continue.

Jennifer O’Connor is a senior 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

February 26, 2014 at 10:32 pm

2011: A surprisingly good year for animals

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By Heather Moore

2011 was tough—when people weren’t bemoaning budget cuts, lining up outside job fairs or fretting over the stagnant housing market, they were listening to worrisome news about the war in Afghanistan, political shootings and natural disasters. But things weren’t all bad. There were signs of progress and reasons to be positive, especially when it comes to issues that impact animals. As we head into the new year, let’s reflect upon some of the things that made 2011 memorable for animals.

Eight of the nation’s largest financial institutions, including MetLife, Goldman Sachs, PNC Financial and U.S. Bank, stopped using glue traps after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) explained that animals who get stuck in them often suffocate and die slowly. The Social Security Administration, Georgia Institute of Technology and Toronto District School Board—the fourth-largest school district in North America—also agreed to use more humane methods of rodent control.

While this is hardly revolutionary, it is indicative of a larger social movement to reform practices that harm animals. Many people are now less likely to accept activities that cause suffering—and it shows in our laws and business practices.

In 2011, West Hollywood became the first city in the U.S. to ban the sale of fur. City council members in Toronto and Irvine, Calif., banned the sale of cats and dogs in pet stores. Rodeos and circuses that feature exotic animals were also prohibited in Irvine, and Fulton County—the most populous municipality in Georgia—banned the use of bullhooks, sharp steel-tipped devices that are commonly used to beat, jab or yank on elephants.

The American Zoological Association (AZA) announced that bullhooks will be forbidden at all AZA-accredited zoos by 2014. The Toronto Zoo decided to close its elephant exhibit and send its remaining elephants to a facility that does not use bullhooks. And the U.S. Department of Agriculture slapped Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which routinely uses bullhooks to “discipline” captive elephants, with a $270,000 fine—the largest settlement of its kind in U.S. history—for repeated violations of the Animal Welfare Act.

Also in 2011, eight top advertising agencies pledged never again to feature great apes—who are often torn away from their mothers shortly after birth and beaten in order to force them to perform on cue—in their advertisements. Capital One pulled an ad featuring a chimpanzee and pledged not to use nonhuman primates in its advertisements again. The blockbuster film Rise of the Planet of the Apes featured CGI animation to create realistic-looking apes without exploiting and abusing animals.

U.S. Army officials announced that monkeys will no longer be used in a cruel chemical nerve-agent attack training course at Aberdeen Proving Ground. The University of Michigan, Primary Children’s Medical Center in Salt Lake City and Naval Medical Center San Diego began using sophisticated simulators instead of live cats for intubation training. And the world’s largest tea-maker, Unilever—maker of Lipton and PG tips—stopped experimenting on pigs and other animals just so that it could make health claims about its tea.

Aspen, Colo., became the first city in the U.S. to launch a comprehensive Meatless Monday campaign—local restaurants, schools, hospitals and businesses are now promoting plant-based meals on Mondays. The board of commissioners in Durham County, N.C., also signed a “Meatless Mondays” resolution, and several more celebrities, including Russell Brand, Eliza Dushku and Ozzy Osbourne, went vegan in 2011. The Rev. Al Sharpton also ditched meat from his diet.

Many of these developments were brought about, at least in part, by PETA, but everyone can bring about change simply by resolving to be kinder, greener and healthier in the coming year. By taking simple steps such as buying cruelty-free products, choosing meatless meals, wearing animal-friendly fashions and enjoying animal-free entertainment, we can all help make 2012 even better than 2011.

Heather Moore is a staff writer for the PETA Foundation, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; www.PETA.org.

 

These tourist traps are the pits

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If your family is planning a vacation in the waning weeks of summer, there is an easy way to save time and gas and avoid bringing home awful memories: Simply drive past decrepit roadside zoos and other cruel tourist traps that use animals. Vacationers with money to spend keep these archaic exhibits in business, and animals will continue to suffer and die as long as people heed the call of highway billboards and pull over.

I’ll never forget my own family’s summer trip through Tennessee. Growing restless in the back seat of the car, my sisters and I nagged our dad to stop and see the Three Bears Gift Shop in the Pigeon Forge tourist area. That stop became family lore about how our trip ended with three girls bawling their eyes out after seeing depressed, mouldy-looking bears in concrete pits being pelted with food. Decades later, Three Bears still exists, and another generation of bears is living in the same deprived conditions. Take my word for it: Don’t go.

Bears in the Cherokee area of North Carolina are in similarly abysmal conditions. Three roadside zoos—Cherokee Bear Zoo, Chief Saunooke Bear Park and Santa’s Land—display neurotic, hungry bears in desolate concrete pits or cramped cages in which they pace back and forth, walk in endless circles, cry, whimper and beg for tourists to toss them a morsel of food. Bears are intelligent, curious and energetic. They enjoy digging, constructing cozy nests, climbing and searching out berries and other treats. The bears in Cherokee’s zoos have nothing to do but walk a few steps or sleep on a concrete floor.

The otherwise glorious destination of Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, is marred by a place called T.I.G.E.R.S. This outfit rips baby animals away from their frantic mothers to be used as photo props. Do not be fooled by any claims of altruism—it’s all about the money. The operator of this roadside zoo also hauls animals around the country. Last year, an adult tiger escaped, and some years earlier, a lion mauled a model during a photo session.

If you’re thinking of heading to Six Flags in Vallejo, California, or Jackson, New Jersey, please cross these theme parks off your list. Elephants are forced to perform tricks and give rides to park visitors. Since 1995, eight elephants have died at the Six Flags Vallejo park, which still uses cruel bullhooks to “control” elephants. In one three-month period, 26 animals died at the New Jersey location.

Don’t let SeaWorld’s well-financed advertising department lull you into thinking that this is the right place for your family. Dolphins and orcas are confined to a life of swimming in endless circles in barren, concrete tanks. Nearly two dozen orcas have died in SeaWorld facilities in the last 25 years, but none died of old age. Dozens of bottlenose dolphins have also perished. If discount tickets are still enticing you, consider this: Do you want to take the chance that your child might experience the same horror as those who witnessed an orca batter a SeaWorld trainer to death last year?

When you hit the road this summer, please include compassion on your itinerary. Don’t pass a few hours at places where animals will continue to languish in misery long after you’re back home.

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

Dear Mr. President: Remember the elephants

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

Britain’s last remaining “circus elephant,” Annie, recently packed her trunk and went to live her final years on hundreds of acres of rolling lawns on a country estate. Her retirement came after the release of undercover video footage showing that circus workers kicked and thrashed her and jabbed her in the face with a pitchfork. Annie is almost 60 years old and has spent her life in a circus, which, for elephants, means “in chains.” The look on her face as she was forced to pose with the circus owner is enough to break any kind person’s heart.

Meanwhile, Ringling Bros. is still dragging its “beast wagons” around the U.S. Anyone who cares about animals should stay away from this, the “Saddest Show on Earth.”

Three elephants who are traveling with Ringling, Karen, Nicole and Sara, suffer from what veterinarians say is chronic lameness and other problems, including arthritis, cracked toenails, which make putting weight on their feet painful, and scarring on their chins, the result of being struck many times by bullhooks—weapons resembling fireplace pokers with a metal hook at one end. Forty-two-year-old Karen also has a type of tuberculosis that is communicable to humans. She was banned from entering Tennessee earlier this year, but other states have failed to take similar action, putting children at risk and surely exacerbating the stress on Karen’s immune system. 

Pop star Pink has written to President Obama, urging him to get the U.S. Department of Agriculture to act to stop circus cruelty. She included with her letter a copy of the 16-page complaint that PETA has filed with the USDA Office of General Counsel (OGC) detailing three cases of egregious animal abuse by Ringling.

The incidents are shocking. Riccardo, an 8-month-old baby elephant, had to be euthanized after breaking both his legs while being put through a rigorous “training” regimen. Clyde, a lion, baked to death in a boxcar when Ringling refused to stop the train—simply because it was running late—to cool him off and give him water during a long journey through the Mojave Desert. And Angelica, another elephant, was beaten by one of her handlers, despite the fact that she was chained and could not move.

These are all violations of federal law and need to be acted upon. In 2006, the USDA assured then-Sen. Obama, who had contacted the agency on behalf of his constituents, that if violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) were found, prosecution would follow. The agency’s own investigators found AWA violations and recommended enforcement action, but nothing happened.

In the case of Riccardo, Ringling employees were quick to say that the baby pachyderm broke his legs while playing and that he hadn’t begun training, although it was later revealed in a lawsuit over beatings inflicted with bullhooks that Riccardo had in fact been undergoing a training program and had had ropes tied to his legs and trunk when he fell. In the case of Clyde, a former Ringling lion handler described in an affidavit how Ringling tried to deceive the USDA by installing a sprinkler system inside the boxcar in which Clyde perished after the fact. According to USDA investigators, Ringling also refused to hand over crucial evidence, even after receiving a subpoena. 

There is much more, but the key issue is whether our new OGC General Counsel Ramona E. Romero will do the right thing. As Pink points out, it is high time that the USDA made good on its promise to protect animals used and abused under the big top. Elephants may be the symbol of the Republican Party, but people of goodwill on both sides of the aisle should stick up for these sorely abused animals.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 1536 16th St. N.W., Washington, DC 20036; http://www.PETA.org.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

April 28, 2011 at 5:00 pm

The saddest show on Earth

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By Ingrid E. Newkirk

Elephants have the largest brains of any mammal on the face of the Earth. They are creative, altruistic and kind. They use tools to sweep paths and even to draw pictures in the dirt and scratch themselves in inaccessible places, and they communicate subsonically at frequencies so low that humans cannot detect them without sophisticated equipment. Imagine, then, what it must be like for them to be told what to do, courtesy of a bullhook—a rod resembling a fireplace poker with a sharp metal hook on the end—at every moment of their lives. Yet this is what life is like for elephants used in circuses, who are constantly beaten and kept chained, sometimes for days at a time.

It takes a lot to get circusgoers to see beyond the headdresses and glitter to that metal-tipped bullhook sinking into an elephant’s soft flesh behind her ears and knees. But I hope that PETA’s new undercover investigation of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus will help open some eyes.

PETA’s investigator caught Ringling employees digging sharp metal bullhooks into the sensitive skin behind elephants’ knees and under their trunks. Eight employees—including an animal superintendent and a head elephant trainer—used bullhooks and other objects to strike elephants on the head, ears and trunk. Employees whipped elephants and a tiger, including on or near the face. One elephant, Tonka, repeatedly exhibited signs of severe psychological stress but was nevertheless forced to perform night after night. The footage can be seen at http://www.PETA.org.

All of this was going on while Ringling was already on trial in a federal court in Washington, D.C., answering charges that its elephant-handling practices violate the federal Endangered Species Act.

In their natural homes, elephants live for more than 70 years; their average life span in captivity is just 14 years. Because of stress, travel in boxcars and time spent stabled in damp basements, many captive elephants have arthritis, lame legs and tuberculosis.

Left to their own devices in their homelands, elephants are highly social beings who enjoy extended family relationships. Aunts babysit, mothers teach junior life skills such as how to use different kinds of leaves and mud to ward off sunburn and insect bites, babies play together under watchful eyes, lovemaking is gentle and complex and elephant relatives mourn their dead.

In captivity, elephants are deprived of all these experiences. Life under the big top means “pay attention to your trainers, feel the bite of their implements in your flesh, don’t stumble or falter even if you feel tired or ill, obey, obey, obey.” It means leg chains between acts, the loss of all comfort and warmth from your father and mother and no long-term friends.

Behaviorists tell us that elephants can and do cry from the loss of social interaction and from physical abuse. Yes, cry. If you wonder how these magnificent beings keep from going mad—waiting in line night after night, eyes riveted on the person with the metal hook, ready to circle to the music in their beaded headdresses—perhaps the answer is, they don’t. PETA’s investigator at Ringling documented stereotypic behavior, which is typically seen in animals who are suffering from extreme stress caused by a lack of anything to do, the inability to move around, severe frustration and desolation.

Sometimes, elephants stop behaving like wind-up toys and crush the bones and breath out of a keeper, make a break for it, go berserk or run amok. But most simply endure. Their spirits were broken during their capture and, later, God help them, when they were trained for the ring. Otherwise, they would all use their immense strength to fight back against the human hand of tyranny. They would refuse to be kept chained between performances like coats on a rack, refuse to be backed up ramps into railroad cars and trailers like so many cars being parked out of the way.

Ringling and other circuses have made it clear that they have no intention of stopping their abusive practices. And the law—which provides minimal requirements for cage size and little else—does not protect animals in circuses. It’s up to us to say “enough is enough.”

Ingrid E. Newkirk is the president and founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, 501 Front St., Norfolk, VA 23510; http://www.PETA.org. Her latest book is The PETA Practical Guide to Animal Rights.

Written by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

July 23, 2009 at 5:59 pm

Posted in circuses

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