The one word doing the greatest harm of all to animal welfare

Woman with leather jacket and bag

Leather jackets and bags aren’t necessary but nobody’s perfect

I HAVE a friend who recently gave up all animal products, including consuming dairy and eggs and wearing leather, after watching the Cowspiracy film and reading about how these products support the entrenched cruelty of modern factory farming.

She had long before that been vegetarian, but had shied away from making the leap to being vegan because she had an enormous fondness of and nostalgia about a much-loved “cool” leather jacket and a favourite pair of well broken-in leather shoes. Given that my friend wasn’t going to ditch these possessions, surely, she reasoned, adopting a vegan diet would make her a huge hypocrite. Continue reading

Luna Lovegood gets mad: Harry Potter star Evanna Lynch acts against live export trade

Evy Lynch

Evanna Lynch stands up for farm animals

WHAT would Luna Lovegood make of it? Her Hogwarts classmates would most certainly have raised an eyebrow, being more familiar with dragons, hippogriffs and unicorns than farm animals.

But Harry Potter star Evanna Lynch took a stand for tens of thousands of Europe’s calves, as she launched a campaign against their export to “shocking and brutal” fates.

Miss Lynch – famous for playing the blonde Ravenclaw pupil with “a permanently surprised look” in the wizard-school films – was acting on behalf of the real-life animals sent beyond EU borders and subjected to “horrendously cruel” handling and slaughter. Continue reading

The day the world united in defence of superior species (and humanity)

Elephant protester

Protesters in London spoke passionately of the need to prevent elephants’ extinction

EVERY now and then, the world has a unifying moment. A moment of a mass, shared sense of joy and inspiration, of determination and hope. The fall of the Berlin Wall was one; the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony was one. This, a weekend in 2015, might just have been another.

In cities around the globe, tens of thousands of people took to the streets with one shared aim – to save two of the planet’s largest and most awe-inspiring species from extinction.

Many had travelled long distances to be there, had booked hotel rooms and cancelled social events for a march that they said it was a privilege to attend. Continue reading

Global stampede for elephants and rhinos

Tens of thousands of people worldwide call for action against China to halt to the massacre of wildlife heading for extinction

THERE is a sensational creature on this Earth. It discovers water sources and nurtures waterholes that allow other animals to also thrive, even in dry seasons; it enriches forests by tearing down old trees and ploughing nutrients back into the soil, giving life to all creatures great and small; spreads plant seeds, and it creates woodland clearings to let sunlight penetrate in, regenerating growth cycles. In short, this animal is pivotal to the ecosystems on which swathes of land masses depend.

Further, it is highly intelligent and sensitive, with complex and wide family bonds; it demonstrably experiences a host of emotions, from love, attachment and happiness to alarm, grief, and fear. Herd members have highly developed communications systems that remain a mystery to human beings.

This amazing creature – the elephant – even earns an income for its host countries, through binocular-toting tourists anxious to catch a glimpse of it – and to shoot it through a camera lens.

Yet humans are rapidly wiping it out.

Less than a century ago, Africa was home to more than five million elephants. Today they are under threat of extinction, and if they continue to be shot, poisoned and snared at current rates, they could disappear, conservationists calculate, within a decade.

The rate of their demise is alarming: at least 96 are killed around the world every day – that’s one about every 15 minutes – or at least 35,000 a year, although experts believe the number could be as high as 50,000 a year. It’s the highest rate of killings ever, and is nothing short of a massacre.

Elephants have strong social bonds and experience a range of emotions.

But this weekend, the world will be on the march in an effort to stamp out the trade that feeds the slaughter.

Marches are being held in 133 cities around the world, attended by ordinary people who care that the iconic species could be wiped out within their lifetimes, that today’s generation is the one that allowed this to happen. The slogan of the march is “Extinction is for ever”.

Action call

The Global March for Elephants and Rhinos will call on world leaders to take more action than ever to halt sales of ivory – which are sending elephants towards extinction – and also to put a stop to demand for rhino horn, which is similarly endangering wild populations.

Last year, an estimated 50,000 people around the world joined the march; organisers hope this year’s number will exceed that.

In Europe, 20 cities are hosting rallies; in Africa, 32. Even in Asia and the far East – the hub of demand for animal parts, 13 events will be held in cities. From North and South America to Australia and New Zealand, marchers will be calling for urgent action.

In China, a survey showed most people think tusks grow back ‘like fingernails’.

Rhinos are targeted ruthlessly for their horn, which is wrongly thought to treat various ailments

At the end of the marches, organisers will present a “memorandum of demand” letter to government leaders, calling for measures including:

  •  applying pressure to China to state when it will implement its stated plan to halt the ivory trade and shut down ivory-carving factories and ivory trinket shops
  • calling on China to destroy its stockpiles of ivory and punish anyone found illegally dealing in ivory or rhino horn.
  • reclassifying African elephants as two species – Savannah and Forest elephants, both to be listed as endangered
  • cracking down on the capture and international sales of baby elephants
  • halting imports and exports of elephants, rhinos and lions and their body parts and “trophies”

BBC presenter Nicky Campbell, a passionate and articulate defender of big wildlife, will be among the guest speakers in Downing Street before the letter handover. Organisers in London say there will also be a special VIP celebrity, but are keeping the name under wraps.

The big threats

The threat that rhinos face is just as great as elephants. One is killed approximately every nine hours – more than 1,000 every year – out of a global population of 29,000.

Poaching animals for their tusks or horns is believed to be the fourth-biggest international gang crimes – after the smuggling of drugs, people and guns, and is driven by huge demand from Hong Kong, Vietnam and the Philippines, but most of all China. Wealthy consumers in these countries prize useless trinkets made of ivory, and misguidedly believe crushed rhino horn has medicinal value.

Demand is so high that the price of rhino horn exceeds that of gold, diamonds, or cocaine, according to a study in Science Advances.

As poaching has grown, so has worldwide anger, but China is showing no signs of listening. In the US, embassies have reportedly refused to accept letters from protesters, marking them to be returned to sender.

They are, apparently, shielding the Chinese people from the uproar: many people seemingly are unaware that an elephant has to be killed for its tusks to be taken. One survey in China found seven in 10 respondents believed that tusks grew back like fingernails.

The price of becoming isolated is a bullet
Dame Daphne Sheldrick

It’s not entirely about ivory and rhino horn. Habitat destruction is also responsible, as human populations grow, spread and destroy forests, leaving populations isolated within shrinking pockets of wilderness. Inevitably, this imbalance leads to clashes as hungry elephants discover human-planted crops – and help themselves. Often, these scenarios end in tragedy.

As Dame Daphne Sheldrick, an international authority on wildlife and founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust put it: “Remnant elephant communities isolated from one another and holed up in small refuge areas immediately become ‘problem animals’ every time they put a foot out, since they find themselves in conflict with human interests. The price of this is a bullet.”

The loss of beasts that bring so many benefits to other wildlife and vegetation is having severe knock-on effects on Africa’s ecology, according to Science Advances. “The rate of large herbivore decline suggests that ever-larger swaths of the world will soon lack many of the vital ecological services these animals provide, resulting in enormous ecological and social costs,” its report said.

Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia, Kenya and Chad are all in the spotlight for allowing criminal poaching gangs to flourish, although last year a deal between Mozambique and Zambia to protect a vital wildlife corridor between the two countries gave conservationists one small cause for optimism.

CITES and charities

In the latter 20th century, most hopes rested on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. But CITES, which meets every two years, was heavily criticised for allowing countries to have exemptions from the 1989 ban on ivory trading for stockpiles. Critics accused it of being plied by politicians and lobbyists.

Now, a host of charities are involved in tackling wildlife crime gangs, with work such as funding rangers and protection helicopters to rescuing orphaned babies. Some, such as WWF, try to link conservation with economic development so that villagers understand the benefits of keeping elephants alive.

Another point of anger is the practice of removing baby elephants from their families and exporting them – or “kidnapping” them.

This year, 24 were imported to China – arguably in breach of CITES’ regulations, which allow the trade only “to appropriate and acceptable destinations”. Photographs and videos of the 24 suggested they were being mistreated and were in ill health, National Geographic reported. One animal had large wounds on her back legs, and all showed signs of distress, according to an expert.

The marches – being held this weekend to tie in with World Animal Day on Sunday – will also call for an end to canned lion hunting, in which lions are bred in captivity specifically to be shot dead by game-hunters.

Fewer than 30,000 lions remain in the wild, say march organisers. It’s just another victim of the relentless march of humanity.

Images: Pixabay / Nuzree / Javier Abalos Alvares

Annual dolphin hunt at Taiji: open letter to the prime minister of Japan

Dolphins swimming

Dolphins belong in the oceans. Image: Gavin Harrison

THOUSANDS of people worldwide joined mass protests outside Japanese embassies at the beginning of September to object to the start of the “killing season” for dolphins off the country’s coast. As they did so, one of the world’s leading activists against the annual dolphin “drives”, Ric O’Barry, was arrested, causing uproar among supporters.

It was the latest symptom of repeated clashes between Japanese authorities and demonstrators trying to disrupt the hunting at Taiji cove, now infamous for its annual killings. Continue reading

Badger cull useless against TB in cattle, new study shows

Badger licks woman

Badgers can feel love and pain too. Image: piX dust / Flickr

TUBERCULOSIS in cattle could be eliminated within 20 to 25 years in Britain if England adopted the tactics used in Scotland and Wales – which don’t involve badger culling, new research shows.

Reducing badger numbers in Somerset, Gloucestershire and now Dorset is “making very little difference” to the spread of the disease, whereas methods used by the Scottish and Welsh authorities are successfully reducing it, scientists found.

The key to eradicating bovine tuberculosis is more frequent testing of cattle, according to the experts from Queen Mary University of London.

The researchers, who compared approaches used in England with those north and west of the borders, found that infections were falling and more herds were free of TB in Scotland and Wales than in England. This could mean those countries were likely to eradicate the disease, the scientists concluded.

But the same was not true in areas where the Westminster Government is relying on culling badgers to try to minimise infection.

Secrets of Scotland and Wales

The findings were released days after a fresh cull began in Dorset, which follows culls in Somerset and Gloucestershire. Farmers blame badgers for spreading bovine tuberculosis, forcing them to have infected cattle put down and, therefore, harming their business.

One of the researchers, Professor Matthew Evans, who specialises in ecological forecasting, said: “Killing badgers makes very little difference to the spread of the disease.

“The most important thing is to test the cattle more often, because then you detect infected animals in herds.”

Cattle going undetected in herds, infecting others, are by far the most common reason why herds suffer repeated TB breakdowns, not badgers

— Professor Alastair Macmillan

In Wales, where farmers have been testing their cattle every six months for signs of the disease, the incidence is lower, Prof Evans said. In cattle housed together, disease can spread more rapidly than those permanently outdoors, evidence suggests.

Scotland has long had very low levels of bovine TB, and there is believed to be no evidence of it being spread among badgers. The Scottish Government’s measures to control infection include tissue sampling of cows at farm visits, risk assessment and stricter tracing of cattle.

“All our evidence suggests testing cattle more often is the way forward,” the professor added. “We think that eliminating TB from the cattle herd is potentially possible within 20 to 25 years.”

Protesters against the cull plan to launch legal action to try to halt it. Brian May, the Queen guitarist and most high-profile campaigner against the cull, said he hopes a judicial review will be lodged within days.

Dr Aristides Moustakas, another researcher at Queen Mary University of London, said: “It is clear that the Welsh policy of frequent testing up to every six months and the Scottish policy of risk-based surveillance are producing reductions in the both the incidence and prevalence of TB in cattle.”

Badgers: 2,450 killed

Professor Evans added: “Testing cattle frequently is the most effective way of reducing bovine TB. Farmers and policymakers should not ignore this evidence, which is based on the Government’s data.”

Professor Alastair Macmillan, of Humane Society UK, said frequent cattle testing was particularly important as the sensitivity of diagnostic tests is not very high, so cattle incubating TB are not detected and can remain in the herd to infect others. “These cattle are by far the most common reason why cattle herds suffer repeated TB breakdowns, not badgers,” he said.

Professor Macmillan, a former government adviser on animal health, added: “The Government must heed this evidence, and stop wasting time and resources on killing badgers to no effect. All efforts must instead be focused on far more frequent cattle testing and strict cattle movement control. How much more research and scientific evidence does this Government need before it listens to the rational facts?”

Analysis of government spending on the cull and pilot culls since 2012 shows that each badger killed has cost between £6,775 and £6,850.

At least 2,450 animals have been killed in the past two years. A further £12 million is expected to be spend targeting badgers this year in the three counties involved.

Brian May, the Queen guitarist and most high-profile campaigner against culling, led a protest in Westminster yesterday with a hearse and floral tributes to the animals killed.

Main image: Gwydion M Williams/Flickr

Why I will always weep for my precious boy

Malevich, King of our household

Malevich, King of our household

MALEVICH chose us as much as we chose him. There was a knowing, pleading look to his innocent eyes as he gazed up at us on our first meeting. He seemed to sense that we would make decent new parents.

If you’ve ever been to a rescue centre, you’ll know how sad it is that you can’t take them all home, and give them all a new life. My husband and I had walked up and down the pens at 20743663671_19c40e0762_k (1)Cats Protection, peering in, reading the name tags and notes, our hearts twisting at the thought of picking one because it meant effectively rejecting the others. Many were asleep. Some were docile, others were young and lively but had to be homed with a sibling. And then, in the very last pen, was a sole black beauty.

Alert and desperate to be let out, but without the mischievousness of a kitten, Marley struck the perfect balance between curiosity, tolerating humans and a cat’s natural superior indifference to people.

Some rescue animals would have used the opportunity of freedom from the pen to shoot off, but Malevich (his given name was Marley, but I wanted a unique formal name for him; though we still used Marley for short) was mature enough to stick around, without demeaning himself by reciprocating any affection.

Evidently, in his six years, he had not learnt to receive love from any owners – but we weren’t about to let that situation continue. Continue reading