On February 1, a group of ALDF staffers including me joined Bruce Wagman, ALDF’s Chief Outside Litigation Counsel, for a trip to California’s Ano Nuevo State Reserve. Between December and March, Ano Nuevo is host to thousands of Northern Elephant Seals who haul out on the Reserve’s pristine beaches to mate and give birth. We were among the fortunate to bear witness to this incredible natural wonder. The experience is impossible to describe adequately but as I enjoyed the wonder of it all, I also found myself reflecting on the irony of these giants’ fragile vulnerability.
The Elephant seal commands superlatives. Adult males can weigh up to 5000 pounds, they can dive to depths nearing 5000 feet and hold their breath underwater for as long as 90 minutes. During breeding season, adult males are so busy guarding their "harems" of females that they won’t eat for three months. These adaptations have served the Elephant Seal for millennia and have made them one of the largest carnivorous animals on earth feeding on fish, squid and even sharks. They are a formidable creature to see up close and our guide reminded us that they can move as quickly as a running human being across the dunes they call home. Recognizing the Elephant Seals’ tremendous power added to the drama and mystique of the experience. We were humbled in their presence.
But despite their enormous size and exquisitely adapted life cycle, the seals are remarkably vulnerable. Defenses and life cycles that have evolved over millions of years are no match for the changes wrought by humankind in a mere 200 years. Elephant seals were nearly hunted to extinction in the 1800s for the value of the oil that could be rendered from their blubber. By 1892, only an estimated 50 – 100 Northern Elephant seals remained out of a population estimated to have been more than 300,000. Today, the seals are making a comeback due to protection from hunting and protection of the remaining habitats the seals need to mate and breed. While the outlook for the time being is good, threats remain due to global climate change and over fishing which impact the seals food supply and the very web of life in the oceans.
Visiting Ano Nuevo left me awestruck at the power and resilience of these magnificent creatures. But it also left me with a profound sense of moral responsibility. At this point in history, human beings have unequivocally "conquered" nature. It is we who will dictate through our action or inaction which species survive and which do not; which habitats will continue to offer refuge to our fellow earthlings and which will be converted to serve humankind as cropland, oil fields, housing tracts or strip malls. How we choose will certainly determine the fate of countless numbers of other animals and may very well determine our own fate.
Watch my home movie of a bull Elephant Seal. (Windows Media Player required.)
A decade ago, the state of Oregon banned the use of Compound 1080, known chemically as sodium fluoroacetate, for good reason. Considered to have the highest degree of acute toxicity, 1080 had been banned nationally during the Nixon administration along with other poisons aimed at predatory animals, but was legalized by the EPA in 1986 to aid the USDA’s control over wildlife. Now, Representative Peter Defazio (D-Ore.) and Predator Defense, a Eugene-based non-profit group, have teamed up to halt the use of 1080 and equally lethal M-44 sodium cyanide ejectors nationwide. H.R. 4775, the Compound 1080 and M-44 Elimination Act, deserves our support and needs our help.
So what’s the big deal? Besides being tasteless, odorless, colorless and highly concentrated, 1080 has no antidote. Wildlife Services, a branch of the USDA that traps, shoots and poisons over 1.7 million animals a year at taxpayer expense, began using the poison in the 1940’s as a way to kill rodents and other mammals. Today it’s still being used clandestinely to exterminate animals inconvenient to livestock and hobby ranchers, while leaving other animals – including humans – at risk. Wildlife Services – previously known as Animal Damage Control – supplies 1080 in the form of collars attached to livestock to kill predators such as coyotes, foxes and wolves. But the victims’ tainted carcasses may be eaten, up to months later, by scavengers like bald eagles that also may suffer similar effects. Ironically, research has shown that killing coyotes actually increases coyote populations and even the USDA admits that only a small percentage of livestock deaths are actually caused by predators. More die from disease or exposure.
Manufactured solely at Tull Chemical Company in Oxford, Ala., much of 1080 is exported to New Zealand where it is dropped aerially and, according to a growing anti-1080 lobby there, "kills everything that consumes it and goes on killing." And kill it does, but very, very slowly. Victims start to experience symptoms – extreme pain, violent vomiting, involuntary hyperextension of limbs, hallucinations, terror, convulsions and collapse – about a half hour or more following exposure, but the agony may go on for several days.
If all this sounds like an indiscriminate war on wildlife, wait, there’s more: the FBI has listed Compound 1080 – which easily dissolves in water and is so toxic, according to scientists, that a teaspoonful can kill a hundred people – as a potential tool for terrorists. According to DeFazio, the U.S. Air Force has called it a biological agent, fueling fears of bio-terrorism risks to water supplies from pre-1972 stockpiles that were never collected. 1080 has also been classified by the EPA as a male reproductive toxin.
Another poison H.R. 4775 would ban is the M-44 sodium cyanide device, packaged in a dispenser designed to eject sodium cyanide into victims’ mouths when activated and cause a relatively quick but painful death. Placed on public and private lands by government agents, these veritable land mines often inadvertently kill threatened and endangered species as well as companion dogs and cats and, because signage is often inadequate or nonexistent, have caused humans to become hapless victims as well. When several injured people sought help from federal authorities following exposure to M-44s, they were met with denial and defensiveness and found themselves nearly as voiceless as non-human victims. It took four years and nudges from Predator Defense and DeFazio for the EPA to decide to initiate a formal investigation into the poisoning of a Utah man who mistook a lethal contraption for a survey marker.
H.R. 4775 would prohibit the manufacture, processing and distribution of 1080 and M-44 capsules by requiring that the Secretary of Agriculture catalog, collect and destroy existing stockpiles during the 18 months following enactment. The bill would prohibit all use of 1080 and the use of M-44s by federal agents on federal or private lands. Following the 18-month period, possession of 1080 would be punishable criminally.
Tens of thousands of defenseless wild and companion animals die deplorable deaths every year because the U.S. ranching lobby is louder and wealthier than animal advocates. Although non-lethal livestock protection is available and more effective than extermination, we continue to pay for a pointless, futile slaughter. Shining a bright light on Wildlife Services’ secret land mines and the grave dangers they pose to all beings that come near them is long overdue. H.R. 4775, now in the hands of the Committees on Energy and Commerce, Agriculture, and Judiciary, is a crucial and prudent step in the right direction. But with strong opposition from the agriculture lobby, Predator Defense is seeking another 20 co-sponsors to add to the ten who have already signed on.
What can you do to help ensure this bill passes? Call or write your representative to ask him/her to co-sponsor the bill, and ask others to do the same. For contact info and current status of the bill, visit www.opencongress.org.
A few talking points:
- Compound 1080 and M-44s are extremely inhumane and indiscriminate, often killing or harming endangered species, companion animals and humans.
- Compound 1080 is one of the deadliest poisons on Earth and has no antidote.
- Compound 1080 is a potential terrorist threat to water and food supplies.
- Killing coyotes causes their populations to boom. See this letter by wildlife ecologist Robert Crabtree, PhD.
- Ranchers should use non-lethal husbandry practices – such as guard animals, proper fencing and night penning – rather than predator extermination.
For more detailed information, visit www.predatordefense.org.
Photos courtesy of Brooks Fahy, Predator Defense.
Eileen Stark, a former staff member of ALDF’s Criminal Justice Program, is a conservationist, free lance writer and landscape designer. She also volunteers with Predator Defense.
As the Director of ALDF's Criminal Justice Program, Scott Heiser has been busy fielding calls about pets left behind after families abandon their foreclosed homes. Often left trapped in the family home without food or water, the abandoned pets have little or no chance of survival. Although animal abandonment is a criminal offense, these cases often go uninvestigated. Scott give us his take on this epidemic and its silent victims.
We Americans like to "live large." For less than admirable reasons, we continue to buy vehicles that get terrible mileage, we supersize our meals and we use our houses as ATMs to temporally ease the load of consumer debt we incur while unsuccessfully attempting to satiate our lust for overconsumption. Given the underlying moral code embodied by these behaviors, it should come as no surprised that when the interest rates on our "subprime" mortgages for our oversized homes reset and we decide that we can no longer afford our houses, many of us simply choose to just walk way… Walking away from a contract to repay a debt is one thing, but there is a special place in whatever form of the afterlife you choose to believe in for those who leave their pets behind when they blow off their mortgages.
This profoundly irresponsible behavior has been widely reported on and it reminds me of a line from a pretty decent Train song from a few years back: "In a world that what we want is only what we want until it’s ours…" We want the big house, the big car and the cute adoring dog/fluffy cat. However, when the going gets tough, we just move on. Endurance, sacrifice? Not for the humans, but certainly for the animals left in the wake. The fact that animal abandonment is a criminal offense seems a token societal gesture given that most of these cases go uninvestigated, let alone prosecuted.
Take the case of Monty for example. Monty, his wife and kids moved into a house that this truck driving, law school dropout, could barely afford under the best of circumstances. They lived there for a few years—the yelling wasn’t too loud so the neighbors minded their own business. Soon enough, the inevitable became the reality and it was foreclosure time. The marriage ended—Monty moved into an apartment, his ex-wife and kids settled in at a family member’s place.
As Monty was packing the last of his personal items, a somewhat nosey neighbor asked Monty about the family cat, Roo, who was still in the yard. Monty replied that he would be back the next day to get Roo. You know the rest. Several days passed and it became fully apparent that Monty had left Roo to rot.
The somewhat nosey neighbor knew that the local police would, if they had time to take the call at all, simply deliver Roo to the animal shelter where the odds of avoiding over-population induced euthanasia were less than favorable—no meaningful investigation would ever be conducted. So, she borrowed a cat trap (despite repeated feedings by the neighbor, Roo was less than well socialized by this phase of his life given the lack of care Monty had dispensed over the years) and took him to the vet.
Roo was infested with parasites, substantially under weight and suffering from a scratched cornea. The somewhat nosey neighbor already had three cats and was not able to assume responsibility for a fourth. The vet, however, had a son who would come to the office from time to time after school. Just by luck, the vet’s son was in the same day as Roo and for no apparent reason, Roo took an immediately interest in the vet’s son—they just made an instant connection. This was completely out of character for Roo, who had to be tricked into a cage just to get him to the vet. Roo now lives with the vet’s son and this story, unlike so many others, actually has a happy ending.
The point to all this? Honestly, I’m not really sure. Perhaps it’s a reminder to appreciate what you already have and stop wishing for more—geez, I just know I’d be truly happy if I only had… Or, maybe it is a simple nudge to be the somewhat nosey neighbor when the circumstances dictate.
A couple of news stories caught my attention today that I thought were worth sharing. Good news for animals is always a great way to end a Friday!
New animal fighting law put to test
The Honolulu Advertiser, February 22, 2008
A 39-year-old Louisiana man arrested at Honolulu Airport for allegedly smuggling cockfighting gaffs into the United States from the Philippines will be one of the first people in the nation to be prosecuted under a new federal law, U.S. attorney for Hawai'i Ed Kubo said yesterday.
Safeway's animal welfare standards making industry waves
East Bay Business Times, February 21, 2008
A few weeks after Safeway Inc. announced plans to expand its animal welfare standards for suppliers, another major grocery chain has followed suit.
Harris Teeter, an upscale supermarket chain based in Charlotte, N.C., with nearly 200 stores throughout the Southeast, has announced a new animal welfare plan.
There has been a lot of coverage in the international press this week about a series of in-depth, undercover investigations into the practice of transporting farmed animals great distances (generally under hideous conditions) from the farms where they were raised to the blades that will ultimately slit their throats. On February 13, the UK’s Indpendent ran a very in-depth feature, including, on their website, investigative video footage provided by "Handle with Care," a coalition of international animal protection organizations, exposing the fact that "Millions of animals are suffering unnecessarily at the hands of meat traders by enduring cruel, drawn-out journeys across the world to be slaughtered on arrival."
It seems nonsensical. After a lifetime on a factory farm, why this final indignity--during which "thousands of animals die en route from disease, heat exhaustion, hunger and stress," only to be butchered in a foreign land? The Independent explains:
Many live exports are undertaken to make the fraudulent claim that the animals are home-reared. In Spain, thousands of horses are illegally crammed into lorries for a sweltering 46-hour journey to Italy. Canadian pigs, in conditions just as obscene, are condemned to a 4,500-mile journey by land and sea to Hawaii, so that, when slaughtered, their carcasses can be sold as "Island Produced Pork". For nine days, hundreds of pigs are crammed together in the dark, standing in their own excrement. Exhausted and hungry, they become ill, vomiting from motion sickness and waiting for long periods without food.
An article in Canada’s Globe and Mail went into further detail about the Canadian pigs’ ill-fated journey. I learned that each year, about 15,000 pigs are crammed into containers and are trucked and shipped from Alberta to the Aloha State via Oakland, California.
Oakland?? On my commute to the Animal Legal Defense Fund’s headquarters office here in the Bay Area, I drive past the Port of Oakland every day, watching the massive cranes that loom along the skyline like enormous giraffes lifting giant containers that I have always assumed contained things like Hyundais and plasma screen televisions. They look almost peaceful. Never once has it occurred to me (and as a longtime animal activist, these things do tend to occur to me) that there were living animals, hidden from sight, on the massive ships that I see each day on their way out to sea.
Folks, I have been lucky enough to make the trip from Oakland to Hawaii of my own volition, and despite the small fortune it cost for the privilege of a creaky, half-reclining seat on a sub-par airline, I endured leg cramping, inadequate food provision, and the wails of despair of a number of my economy-class travel companions, many of whom (primarily babies, but still) were in fact traveling in their own excrement. It was bad enough, is what I’m saying, and at least there was a mai tai waiting for me at the end of it. What these pigs must endure is to me, quite simply, unimaginable.
"Buying local" has become a hot-button term recently in the discourse around food politics. All of these new entries into the cultural (and, you’d better believe, marketing) lexicon--"sustainably grown," "locally produced," "ecologically friendly"--does anyone know what all of this is supposed to mean, exactly?
To me, this week’s exposé on the horrors of long-distance transport also offers a warning to be wary when considering vague food labels like "Island Produced Pork." It sounds so very idyllic, and it’s intended to. Consumers are becoming more and more aware of and concerned about the lives of animals raised for food, and that’s a good thing. Meanwhile, marketers are becoming more and more savvy about selling an image of local and, implicitly, "humane" meat production that may bear no resemblance to reality.
*Thanks to DawnWatch.com for keeping a keen eye out for animal-related news coverage like this from around the globe.