OREOs…THE KEY TO WORLD PEACE

800

Oh, my goodness, look at all these! Golden Oreos, Cookie Dough Oreos, Mega Stuff Oreos, Birthday Cake Oreos—perhaps the system of free enterprise is not as terrible as I once feared,” saith Pope Francis.

Now, I must admit there is some question as to the legitimacy of this photograph, and of the Pope’s comment about the wide selection of Oreos and the free enterprise system. None of this sounds “Pope Like”. However, this did get me thinking about the wonderful Oreo. Could it somehow be the key to World Peace? Think about it. And one might even say the original Oreo was years ahead of its time. The Oreo was touting the harmony of ebony and ivory long before Paul McCartney and Stevie Wonder made this into a hit song.

That said, before you write this article off and suggest I return to animal activism, there is some seriousness and legitimacy to this discussion. Not so much the Oreo, although wouldn’t that be wonderful if world peace were attained so easily. After all, who doesn’t like Oreos? And with the introduction of Almond Milk, Lactose Free Milk, and Soy Milk, even the poor lactose-intolerant souls can now join the rest of us in dipping our Oreos in a cold glass of milk. In fact, I might celebrate the completion of this narrative by having an Oreo…with milk of course.

So, the photograph of the Pope holding up the bags of Oreos was published in The Onion.com and perhaps it is legitimate. Who knows? However, the Pope’s visit to the United States certainly created a lot of excitement, interest and perhaps some compassionate momentum that is so desperately needed in today’s world…particularly in our treatment of animals. And his words were so eloquently spoken, I won’t even attempt to paraphrase or regurgitate in my own words. So, let me simply quote him below:

“We have only one heart, and the same wretchedness which leads us to mistreat an animal will not be long in showing itself in our relationships with other people. Every act of cruelty towards any creature is ‘contrary to human dignity.”

“Because of us, thousands of species will no longer give glory to God by their very existence, nor convey their message to us. We have no such right.”

“In assessing the environmental impact of any project, concern is usually shown for its effects on soil, water and air, yet few careful studies are made of its impact on biodiversity, as if the loss of species or animals and plant groups were of little importance. … As a result, some species face extinction.”

“It is not enough, however, to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited, while overlooking the fact that they have value in themselves.”

“It is contrary to human dignity to cause animals to suffer or die needlessly.”

“Everything is related, and we human beings are united as brothers and sisters on a wonderful pilgrimage, woven together by the love God has for each of his creatures and which also unites us in fond affection with brother sun, sister moon, brother river and mother earth.”

There was a time when I believed coincidences to be just that. However, in recent years, I have come to conclude that the occurrence of similar events over a short period of time is only coincidental if we choose to accept that belief. I would like to believe that there is a link between Cecil the Lion’s tragic story, the world release of the Blood Lions documentary, and the Pope’s visit to the United States. And critical events often occur in the sequence of three. Could all these be connected?

Cecil brought outrage and anger; unveiled much of what the pro-hunting community would have preferred to remain under the radar, so to speak. He also helped to enact some immediate change, as well as positive momentum toward more potential change to protect the animals. Blood Lions will be released to the world in just a few days, and based upon previous screenings in South Africa and for select groups; this documentary will cause similar…if not greater outrage than Cecil and demand for further change. And with the Pope’s edict on the treatment of animals, 1.2 billion Catholics around the world at least have the moral and ethical obligation to follow his direction.

Given that 41.3% of the Catholic population is in Latin America, perhaps this is good news for the jaguar. And according to the BBC, Africa actually shows the greatest increase in Catholicism, with an increase in Catholics from 45 million in 1970 to 176 million in 2012. So, perhaps, this may drive the African communities to do more to protect the lion, leopard, cheetah and other exotic species. And with another 85 million in North America, I don’t know if the Pope’s message will sway hunters to put down their rifles and pick up their cameras. But perhaps, a few legislators may now feel obligated to do something.

3386869

 

Source: http://www.DevotionToOurLady.com.

And of course, aside from the 1.2 billion Catholics on the earth, this does not factor in non-Catholic Christians and other religious groups that are also likely to be influenced by the Pope’s guidance and leadership. And this piece was never intended to be a discussion of the religions; however the geographical shift of Christians (including Catholics) is intriguing.

According to Pew, Christians comprised approximately 35% of the world’s population a century ago and 32% today. So, the overall percentage is similar. However, as noted in the chart below, there has been a dramatic drop of Christian population in Europe – from 66.3% in 1910 to only 25.9% in 2010. Yet, the Sub-Saharan Africa Christian population has increased from 1.4% to 23.6% and Asia-Pacific Christian population from 4.5% to 13.1%.

christianity-graphic-01

So according to Pew, there are nearly 2.2 billion Christians on this earth today. This is a sizeable portion of the overall world’s population that should be influenced by the Pope’s message; and with some obligation to answer and follow his message. But that is not to suggest that other religions: Muslims (23.2%), Hindus (15%), Buddhists (7.1%), and others, including non-affiliated, shouldn’t be influenced by the Pope’s message as well. It is compassionate and ethical and right. We all should be influenced by this message and influenced to act.

THE SIXTH MASS EXTINCTION

Scientists have noted that five times in the past, the Earth has been struck by cataclysmic events; so severe and swift (in geological terms), that they obliterated most kinds of living things before they ever had a chance to adapt. Those scientists are now saying that the Earth is on the brink of a sixth such “mass extinction event.” And unlike the previous extinctions, this is all on us.

In 2003, Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson calculated that Earth would lose half its higher life forms by 2100 if the current rate of human disruption continued; and scores of scientific studies have sought to bolster that claim. And whether you buy into the gloom and doom of a mass extinction, there are few that would disagree that we are losing wildlife at an alarming rate; with the primary influencing factor clearly being habitat loss.

Think about this: In 1800, there were an estimated 1 billion people on this earth. In 1900, there were 1.6 billion people. Today there are 7.2 billion people and projections indicate nearly 11 billion people on this earth by the turn of the century. That is incredible, truly unsustainable growth – at least as it relates to the negative impact on our world’s wildlife.

Another 4 billion people between today and the turn of the century will need a place to live and loss of habitat will continue to have a devastating impact on wildlife. Unfortunately, the truth of the matter is that much of this cannot be stopped. However, there is so much we can do to slow these rates down…improving our sustainable habits, increasing environmental conservation, improving density planning, taking a more aggressive approach to clamping down on poaching, and eliminating non-productive hunting practices (i.e trophy hunting of threatened and endangered species).

world_population_1050_to_2050

So, can the conflux of Cecil, Blood Lions and the Pope influence our behaviors to the good? The answer is an adamant yes. But we must all look deep within ourselves and ask the question of whether we are all doing everything we can to make a difference. Otherwise, these beautiful creatures below will be gone long before I breathe my last breath in this world. So, have an Oreo on me and let’s make some positive change.

Big Cat Threatened Poster

Advertisements

BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT – H.R. 3546 – IT IS TIME!!

tiger-collage

“You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

On September 17, 2015, H.R. 3546, a bill entitled The Big Cat Public Safety Act was formally introduced in the United States House of Representatives.  This bill, issued in previous sessions, has steadily picked up steam and will finally put an end to back yard breeding and exploitation of big cats and their cubs in America!

Your voice will be heard; and it is as easy as clicking a few links and filling out your name and address.  Just click the link below and follow the instructions. 

http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51389/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=13966

And remember Edmund Burke: “Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”  

We can make a difference.  We can do this.  And if you are motivated to take the next step, pick up the phone and call your congressional representative and ask them to champion this bill.  Write a personal letter.  Share this bill with your friends. 

We owe this to those that do not have a voice.  Do it for Cecil.  Do it for all the Big Cats and do it for all wildlife. 

Below is the link to the actual bill, should you wish to read it.

 

http://bigcatrescue.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/HR-3546-big-cats-bill-Official-Bill-Text.pdf.

It is simply right and it is time.

 

IS THE ENDANGERED SPECIES ACT AN ENDANGERED SPECIES?

Let’s take an easy quiz. Of the twelve animals below, can you name at least ten that you have either seen in your lifetime, or at least have some familiarity?

American Alligator        Bald Eagle                 California Condor
Florida Manatee             Florida Panther       Green Sea Turtle
Grizzly Bear                      Key Deer                     Southern Rocky Lynx
Peregrine Falcon            Whooping Crane      Red-Cockaded Woodpecker

Pretty simple, right? In fact, I would be surprised if you named any fewer than all twelve. But had it not been for the passage of the Endangered Species Act (16 U.S.C. §1531 et seq. 1973), most, if not all of these animals would probably have become extinct years ago?

Probiscus Monkey
Probiscus Monkey – source: The Scientific American
Endangered Species

When President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act (ESA), he said “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed. It is a many-faceted treasure, of value to scholars, scientists, and nature lovers alike, and it forms a vital part of the heritage we all share as Americans.”

Yet imagine the United States of America proudly touting the extinct bald eagle as the national bird. Imagine Florida’s state marine animal – the Florida Manatee, and Florida’s state animal – the Florida Panther – gone forever.

Imagine the world without the comical and human-like face of the Probiscus monkey. Imagine Santa Claus no longer able to rely upon reindeer transportation. A little humor, but unfortunately; the ESA itself has been under attack. And if certain people have their way, the Act itself could actually disappear.

th
The American Bald Eagle

Unfortunately, the propagandists are attacking the Endangered Species Act with misleading data, suggesting the Act has been a failure; when that is simply incorrect.

Recently, a U.S. Senator responded to a proponent of the Endangered Species Act, and commented that the ESA has had only had a 1% success rate. And based upon that number, who would argue that the ESA has been a failure of epic proportions?

However, that particular statistic was extracted from a radio interview that occurred a few years ago; and as such, was grossly taken out of context. This said, it is deeply concerning that a U.S. Senator might base an opinion; or even worse, base a legislative vote on an oft-handed comment, without researching the source or to understand the basis behind it.

And when referenced as a stand-alone quote, this might lead the reader to conclude that the ESA should just be repealed entirely, and allow those animals on the endangered list to just fend for themselves. And of course, leaving humans to govern themselves in these matters would essentially be the same as designating the fox to guard the hen house. The resulting carnage and decimation would be of epic proportions. These animals simply would not have a chance of survival without the Endangered Species Act.

All this said, the actual quote from U.S. Representative Cynthia Lummis (R-WY) in an August 23, 2013 interview with Wyoming Radio was as follows:

“Our goal is not to repeal the Endangered Species Act. Far from it. Our goal is to make the Endangered Species Act work. We have a law where only 1 percent of the species that have been listed have actually been delisted. To me, that indicates a law that is failing in its ultimate goal which is to list species, recover them, and then delist them.”

And although this may not be an overwhelming vote of confidence for the ESA, this at least defines what the 1% actually represents, and emphasizes a need to make this work.

THE ONE-PERCENT CROWD

So, where does this 1% originate? This particular statistic was likely provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services. In a recent report, they identified 2,105 species as being endangered; and of those, a total of 28 species are deemed to be fully recovered and delisted. This equates to 1.3%.

However, the argument of the ESA as a failure relies upon the assumption that delisting is the primary purpose of the Endangered Species Act. And emphatically, supporters of the Endangered Species Act optimistically state their hope and desire that these endangered or threatened animals will eventually re-populate through these protections so that they can be delisted.

That said, the primary purpose of the ESA is to protect and ensure that those animals listed as either endangered or threatened do not become extinct. And for this reason, the Act has been of a great success.

And as William Robert Irvin, President and CEO of American Rivers stated “By the time species are listed as threatened or endangered, their numbers are so low that preventing extinction is the major challenge, with recovery and delisting a remote consideration. The law acts as an emergency room. Recovery requires much longer treatment through actions under the full panoply of conservation laws and programs.”

The Endangered Species Act “requires federal agencies, in consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the NOAA Fisheries Service, to ensure that “actions they authorize, fund, or carry out are not likely to jeopardize the continued existence of any listed species or result in the destruction or adverse modification of designated critical habitat of such species”.

THE ESA’s 93% SUCCESS RATE

In celebration of Endangered Species Day 2012 (the 30-year mark of the ESA), the Center for Biological Diversity studied in detail the actual success of the ESA and published these results on the website http://www.esasuccess.org and in the report On Time, On Target: How the Endangered Species Act Is Saving America’s Wildlife.

This report can be read in its entirety via the following link: http://www.esasuccess.org/pdfs/110_REPORT.pdf; and it offers a stark contrast to those detractors suggesting the ESA has failed.

Their study focused on the actual recovery rate of 110 different species, which represented a range over all 50 states, included all major taxonomic groups and a diversity of listing lengths.

Of these species, they determined that 90 percent of the species were recovering at the rate specified by their federal recovery plan. They also determined that it takes an average of 25 years for a species to fully recover and that 80% of the species have not even been listed long enough to warrant an expectation of recovery. Their analysis also concluded that the average age of listing was 32 years while recovery plans require approximately 46 years of listing.

ArcticPeregrineFalcon_SteveMaslowski_USFWS 7057
Recovery of the Arctic Peregrine Falcon

In fact, the study’s findings were similar to a 2006 analysis of North American species which found that 93% of the species were either stabilized or improving since placed on the endangered species list, and 82% of those were on pace to meet recovery goals. So, few would argue that these figures represent anything less than a high degree of success.

However, some would want you to believe that an endangered species should miraculously recover to sustainable levels the next day or next week after being placed on the endangered species list. Those could be accused of either living in a bizarre world of delusion; or perhaps they simply wish to use an unreasonable time-table in an effort to undermine the ESA.

Redwolf-usfws52
Recovery of the Red Wolf

Yet, one desiring to lose weight doesn’t suddenly drop 100 pounds in a single week. A person desiring to retire at age 65 doesn’t suddenly start to save at age 64 and realistically think he or she will save enough money in one year to retire. One doesn’t plant a seed in the ground and expect a flower to blossom the following day. Most of the species on the endangered species list have experienced a decline in population measured in decades. Why would we expect a recovery of an endangered species to defy logic and happen overnight.

Gray Wolf, Canis lupus, Wikimedia Commons / Retron
Gray Wolf, Canis lupus, Wikimedia Commons / Retron

17711
SO WHY IS THE ESA UNDER ASSAULT

Obviously, misleading information such as “the 1% success rate” of the Endangered Species Act doesn’t help. And frankly, the drive to dismantle or overhaul the ESA is primarily driven by Republicans who believe that (1) State’s rights dictate that the states and not the federal government should have the primary role in the protection (or lack thereof) of these species; and (2), the Endangered Species Act harms economic growth through development restrictions.

20138_600

And those points do have some validity worthy of debate. However, never in that debate would there exist legitimate justifications to simply repeal the Endangered Species Act. But unfortunately as with so many other animal rights issues, the battle almost always comes down to man versus animal. And because the animal doesn’t have the deep pockets to influence legislation, and does not have a voice to argue for his rights, the animal often ends up on the losing end.

Thankfully, there are many groups that exist to serve as the animal voice. However, I do find it rather humorous that those critical of the ESA also base this criticism on the fact that millions of taxpayer dollars must be spent annually to defend the Act. However, the blame is often directed at the animal welfare groups because they are the ones forced to litigate, just to ensure the Federal Government actually upholds the very act they passed 40 years ago. One might argue that if the federal government actually upheld the ESA legislation rather than cater to special interests, the animal welfare groups would not be forced to serve as the government’s deputy enforcer. In other words, they are blaming the effect and not the cause.

IS THE ESA BROKEN

The simple answer is No. Regardless of its critics, the original analysis provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services referenced earlier in this article included 2,105 endangered species. Of that total, only 10 species have actually become extinct over its history. This equates to a 99.52% success rate.

Can it be improved? It would be rare to find a piece of legislation that could not be tweaked or improved; particularly one that has existed for 42 years. However, I have always been a proponent of properly enforcing existing legislation before completely gutting, re-writing or re-crafting new laws. And the reality is that those who criticize the ESA and argue it as a failure secretly probably prefer it to not exist at all.

Most importantly, the Endangered Species Act needs to stay the course. Those supporting the act need to continue to tout its successes because there are many. Fortunately, many of the animals mentioned in this article have flourished under the Endangered Species Act; a number of species have been delisted from the Act; and given time, others may be eventually removed.

Unfortunately, many other animals are considered to be somewhere in the range of “Near Threatened” to “Wild Extinct”. The International Union of Nature (IUCN) maintains the Red List of Endangered Species worldwide (http://www.iucnredlist.org/); and as noted on the chart below, of the 77,000 or so species analyzed by The International Union of Nature (IUCN), nearly 23,000 of these, or 30% fall in these categories. So, our work is far from done.

Total Threatened Species to Total Species Assessed

Threatened Species Graph

Blue Line – Total Species Assessed; Red Line – Total Species Threatened

PROPORTION OF EXTANT SPECIES

Extant Species
EX – Extinct, EW – Extinct Wild, CR – Critically Endangered, EN –Endangered, VU – Vulnerable, NT- Near Threatened, DD – Data Deficient, LC – Least Concern

SO WHAT TO DO

Educate and Communicate. Those in favor of dismantling or substantially gutting the Environmental Species Act will continue to use the meritless, misleading 1% success rate number. And unfortunately, many people will simply accept this figure as fact. However, numerous sources regarding the ESA have been referenced in this article to further educate the reader, and I encourage anyone to read up on the act itself and to better understand it’s importance.

Unfortunately, so few people fail to recognize the long-term environmental impact resulting in the loss of any animal or plant life. But think about a chain supporting a swing set. What happens if one of those chain links break? The entire swing comes crashing to the ground. Our ecosystem is no different. Eliminate an apex predator such as the lion or tiger and suddenly you have a mass overpopulation of deer and antelope. Eliminate the honey bee and almonds and other fruits depending upon their pollination suddenly disappear…not to mention honey.

Understand the Endangered Species Act, because while those mammals, insects and plants are the direct beneficiaries of the protections provided by the ESA, we will all ultimately suffer from their loss. Write your state and local representatives. Project your voice on social media. Get the word out. The Endangered Species Act has a 99% success rate, and that is the story that needs to be told.

RANDOM SUNDAY MORNING THOUGHTS – 09/27/15

As many of my readers probably know, my passion for writing was inspired by the tragic story of Cecil the Lion.  Frankly, Cecil was a wake-up call for me, as if I had been in a Rip Van Winkle-type unconsciousness and was suddenly thrust on the floor and awoken abruptly to reality.

And although I had some vague understanding of what was going on in the real world, I was rather oblivious to the level that this was occurring.  And I don’t limit that to the controversial practice of trophy hunting and so-called conservation.   I mean oblivious to so many questionable practices in general.  It’s as if someone left the moral compass at home and we are now all wandering through the woods, completely lost, with no idea how to follow the path of true north.  It’s as if we evolved to a certain level, then just stopped growing; and no longer having no ability to transcend to a greater level of consciousness.

Now, let me slightly correct that statement slightly.  As I entire my fifth decade on this planet, I’ve been around enough to know there is a lot of bad out there.  I’m not naive by any stretch of the imagination.  But, I must admit that Cecil has awoken my animal spirit and has become a driving force in my desire to write.

Initially, writing Cecil’s story was simply therapeutic.  And although I would not say it was entirely driven by a selfish need, my first piece – “An Agent of Change” was written primarily to release my own anger.  I was angered that this happened, angered that this type activity actually existed, and frustrated that there was nothing I could really do.

But then, something odd occurred.  People actually liked what I wrote.  I received positive feedback such as “this is the best piece I’ve seen written on this subject”; and this encouraged me to write more.

So, three weeks ago, I set up this blog site and aptly called it Libra Lionheart.  I wanted a catchy name, something that captured the essence of the stories I wanted to tell.  Lionheart seemed to be a perfect word, as it gave me an opportunity to pay tribute to Cecil for lighting this fire.  At the same time,  is there a better word in the English language than lionheart – “a person of exceptional courage and bravery”?  And Libra simply represented my zodiac sign.  Technically, I’m on the cusp, so I am one of those lucky people who get to choose their zodiac sign.  However, Virgo Braveheart would make a great for an actor, but as blog site, not so much.

All this said, little did I know that in three short weeks, 400+ people would think highly enough of my blog posts and articles to actually follow me.  So let me first say that I am humbled and honored and flattered to receive such high praise.  However, this also suggests to me that perhaps I need to increase my activity level on my site.

My original intention was to publish thought-provoking and well-researched opinion and knowledge pieces…and of course, that will not change.  I still desire to do that.  However, the reality is that these research pieces take time to write.  So all this said, I am now committed to greater activity, and will inject some shorter pieces or knowledge and informational pieces that hopefully will be beneficial as well as entertaining.

So, thank you again to all those following my posts, and thank you for your encouragement.  And thank you for correcting my original belief that there was nothing I could do about Cecil or other travesties in life.  I remind myself daily of the Edmund Burke quote ” Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

 

No Animal Acts for Shrine Circuses

If you missed this recently, from the IDA (In Defense of Animals), the largest producer of U.S. Shrine Circuses announced he will be retiring all wild animal acts. Below is the announcement:

Bill Cunningham, the owner of The George Carden International Circus, the largest producer of US Shrine Circuses in the country, announced earlier this week that he will be retiring all wild animal acts.

As early as next week, Shrine Circus will be in full performance, but wild animals will be nowhere in sight.

While Bill’s motives are questioned by some of the other Shrine Circus representatives, who claim he had issues with the “suppliers” of the animals used and abused for entertainment, we’re thrilled about the outcome nonetheless.

Bill has made a statement that he is retiring all the acts due to the ‘immense psychological stress’ experienced by the animals.

“No lions, no tigers, no elephants. Our stars are the human performers that willingly participate and dazzle our audiences” says Bill.

Whether or not Bill’s change of heart is sincere, or actually a retaliatory response to his ongoing challenges with his animal ‘suppliers’, the end result is the same.

What is certain, is that as awareness grows about the suffering of circus animals, and audiences change into ones who won’t tolerate animal use and abuse, the breeders and suppliers of these vulnerable and exploited animals will face a shrinking market for their ‘commodities’ and animals will not be bred into existence or caught in the wild just to suffer meaningless and miserable lives in servitude.

Fabricated altruism, or not, this is one step further towards the day when no animals will be brought into existence just to amuse humans at their own expense.

 

ECONOMICALLY SUPERIOR, BUT MORALLY INFERIOR

As discussed in my recent article “The Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act”, I referenced the fact that there were no less than 41 countries that had established either full or partial bans of the use of exotic animals in circus acts. (www.stopcircussuffering.com) Yet the United States Congress has failed to push through similar legislation; although certainly not for a lack of effort.

Photo from Washington Times article “Britain bans wild animals from traveling circuses”
Photo from Washington Times article “Britain bans wild animals from traveling circuses”

On November 3, 2011, H.R. 3359 was introduced to the 112th Congress by Representative James “Jim” Moran of Virginia and cited as the “Traveling Exotic Animal Protection Act”. This bill presented ten compelling reasons as to why this act deserved passage into law:

1. The traveling circus is detrimental to animal welfare due to the adverse effects of captivity and transport;

2. The severe confinement, lack of free exercise and the restriction of natural behaviors, animals are prone to health, behavioral, and psychological problems.

3. The tricks performed require extreme physical coercion techniques, including the restriction of food, the use of elephant hooks, electric shocks, metal bars, whips and other forms of abuse;

4. The welfare of the animals subject to the conditions in a traveling circus (constant travel, limited facilities, long periods of restricted movement, and physical coercion) will inevitably be compromised, which can lead to increase risks to public safety.

5. Animals in traveling circuses pose an additional risk to public safety because such animals have wild instincts and needs and have demonstrated unpredictability;

6. The use of collapsible, temporary facilities in traveling circuses increases the risk of escaping exotic and non-domesticated animals seriously harming workers and the public;

7. Traveling circuses bring people dangerously close to exotic and non-domesticated animals by displaying animals in inappropriate, uncontrolled areas that are not suited for the exhibition of such animals;

8. It is not possible to provide exotic and non-domesticated animals with facilities sufficient to maintain the optimum physical and mental health of the animals because of the suffering caused to the animals by the nature of circuses, in which restriction of movement, separation from natural groupings, restriction of food and water, and physical abuse are prevalent;

9. Due to the mobile and transitory nature of traveling circuses, law enforcement authorities cannot properly monitor the conditions of the animals or follow up on previous infractions by traveling circuses; and

10. Restricting the use of exotic and non-domesticated animals in circuses is the most cost-effective and efficient way to safeguard both animal welfare and public safety.

This bill was again introduced in the 113th Congress as H.R. 4525 and as of December 11, 2014 had garnered the support of a total of 31 co-sponsors…30 Democrats and 1 Republican; but had yet to move from the House Sub-Committee on Agriculture to the floor of the House for further debate.

The question of course is why? This bill is 5 pages long, contains no earmarks, no hidden agendas, and no legal ease. It is straight forward in its wording and requires no legal counsel to understand the intention of the bill. And few would disagree with the rationale referenced in the ten points above.

The logical answer might be that Congress was focused on broader issues such as domestic policy and international affairs, and simply  have not had the time to seriously consider this bill. And there are certainly domestic and world issues that will keep any of us up at night.

However, sub-committees are formed is so that all 435 House members and 100 Senators need not be immediately concerned with every piece of introduced legislation. The sub-committees vet those specifically assigned bills, then determine which ones are selected for further discussion before presented before the full body of the House or Senate for further debate.

Or perhaps it is because the members of the Agricultural sub-committee were paying attention to the desires of their constituents and were simply abiding by the wish of the people.

However, according to OpenCongress.org, there were 72 letters submitted by the respective constituents, and of those, only 7 were against this bill. For those mathematically challenged, that would be 90% in favor of this legislation and 10% against.

Perhaps, it is in the fact that Republications outnumber Democrats on the Agricultural Sub-Committee 26 to 19; and the Republicans tend to be proponents of smaller government; and may view this as a state issue rather than a federal issue. And of course, state and local government do have the authority to pass similar restrictive legislation in their respective jurisdictions.

And for the record, according to http://www.bornfreeusa.org, a total of 46 state and local jurisdictions have indeed established local restrictions concerning traveling shows and circuses.

However, the most likely culprit is in that fact that campaign contributions and lobbying have a significant impact and influence on legislative matters. If they didn’t, then campaign reform would never be debated, and lobbyists would not exist.

According to Influence Explorer, an organization that collects data from reputable and independent organizations such as Center For Responsive Politics, the National Institute on Money in State Politics, Taxpayers for Common Sense, the Project on Government Oversight and USA Spending.gov, one of the better known traveling circuses has contributed in excess of $600,000 to various Congressional representatives, excluding addition contributions made to various Political Action Committees. This organization has also spent $2,110,000 on lobbying efforts.

This should not be construed as a criticism of the lobby profession, as lobbyists are necessary to educate legislators as to the nuances of various pieces of legislation, its purpose, its benefit, etc.

Nevertheless, lobbyists are also advocates of their client.  Therefore, the “spin” will always be to the benefit of the party paying the lobbyist(s). So, of course, the lobby advocating on behalf of the circus industry will naturally present evidence and arguments in an attempt to compel the legislators to vote against this bill. The reality is that this is the nature of the beast of American politics; good or bad.

So, the question is, do you believe campaign contributions and lobbying efforts influence a lawmaker’s decisions? And is there any surprise that the general trust of politicians remains at such low levels? As noted below, the American National Election Study (ANES) polled Americans as to their trust in government.

Those polled indicated only a 9% trust factor in their Republican leadership, while the Democrats fared slightly better with a 32% positive rating. So in essence, 91% of Americans don’t trust Republicans and 68% of Americans don’t trust Democrats. Not exactly a reassuring statistic.

Source: American National Election Study (ANES), 2012
Source: American National Election Study (ANES), 2012

IN SEARCH FOR A MORE COMPASSIONATE WORLD

Political views aside, there are very few countries that offer the opportunities and the freedoms found in the United States. So, we must always try to strike that balance. We do not want an over-arching government that restricts its citizen’s rights. At the same time, trusting people to police and regulate themselves doesn’t work either. So, laws and lawmakers will always be necessary to ensure protections of the general public.

Unfortunately, our track record in animal protection is certainly not one many would be proud. And contrary to what many people believe about animal rights activists, these groups are not arguing that animals rights are superior to human rights, or even equal to that of humans.

What they seek are assurances that the animal’s voice has some say so in the debate. And because animals haven’t quite mastered the human language, someone must speak on their behalf.

Does that mean you have to agree with every cause taken up by PETA, The Humane Society of the United States, the ASPCA, the World Wildlife Fund, the International Fund for Animal Welfare and the many other international, national, state and local animal rights organizations? Of course not.

But, you should at least understand the underlying tone of the message. And that is simply that we are not the only living, breathing creatures on this planet. We need to do a better job of sharing this world with these other souls. And we also need to do a better job in general, finding more compassion and kindness, care, and respect; not just toward the animals, but also to our fellow man.

And perhaps some of us need to upgrade our moral compass entirely; because the magnet is broken, the needle is spinning out of control and it definitely no longer points true north.

IF THEY CAN DO IT…

If I were a legislator, I would be embarrassed. I would be embarrassed to be one of the 565 members of the United States Congress and to know that 41 other countries have taken the lead on this issue; yet we have failed to pass any meaningful legislation of substance on this issue.

And with all due respect to the other 41 countries, most would agree that the United States is economically leaps and bounds ahead of many of these other nations. However, the failure to act on common sense legislation certainly raises the question as to whether or not we are morally inferior. Actually, this doesn’t raise the question. Apparently, we are.

And for a moment, forget about the standard defensive positions of (1) jobs would be lost and (2) this is another example of an over-arching government meddling in the affairs of private citizens. Look at this this way.

According to the ASPCA, approximately 37% to 47% of U.S. families own at least one dog and 30% to 37% own at least one cat. No matter where the percentages fall, a significant portion of the population owns one or the other.

And if not a dog or a cat, perhaps a bird, a hamster, a rabbit or another animal. So, would you want your dog or cat housed in a cage similar to this below for 24 hours a day, seven days a week…barely enough room to even turn around; with the only true escape being during actual performances and rehearsals?

(Photo Credit: sino-us.com)
(Photo Credit: sino-us.com)

Is it easier to be devoid of emotion because these lions don’t have a name, or because they are not your loved pet? Because when I look in their eyes, I see a soulful spirit. I see a smart, intelligent animal. I also see sadness. And if they could talk, they would ask you for their freedom…something the majority of us probably take for granted.

THE SHOW MUST GO ON

Would banning exotic animals from circus acts impact profits and impact jobs? Probably…if we just continue doing everything the way it’s always been done. So, can a circus survive and thrive without animal acts?

That question can be answered rather easily… Cirque du Soleil. Guy Laliberte, founder of Cirque du Soleil, had projected record profits of $250 million on revenue of $1 billion in 2011.   And a BBC.com article published in December 2013 discussed how this company had been a consistent generator of $1 billion+ in revenue per year.  Cirque du Soleil also employs 5,000 humans (no animals), has been seen by more than 150 million spectators and in more than 300 cities around the world.

As noted in blueoceanstrategy.com, “what makes this rapid growth all the more remarkable is that it was achieved in a declining industry “ and that “alternative forms of entertainment – ranging from various kinds of urban live entertainment to sporting events to home entertainment – cast an increasingly long shadow.”

But Cirque du Soleil was smart and began targeting to a whole new group of customers: adults and corporate clients – those prepared to pay a price several times as great as traditional circuses; and did not necessarily cater to children, who are the draw of the typical circus. So, can circuses survive and thrive without animal acts? Yes, but they must change with the times…as we all must do.  It is true that the seven words of a failing business are famously quoted as “That’s the way we’ve always done it” or “We never did it that way before.”

I don’t know what must be said or proven to convince Congress that this bill – which I presume will be introduced again in the current legislative session; and the more substantial and impactful Big Cat and Public Safety Act are worthy of law.

These bills are ethically and morally correct.  They are justified and warranted. And yes, this will require certain businesses to reinvent themselves; and it is possible that some might not survive this change at all. However, our decisions need to begin reflecting a better balance of profitability, creativity, compassion and ethics.

Decisions can no longer be based solely on the desires of the few, and need to begin consciously considering the impact the decisions have on our world and environment today, as well as tomorrow.

THE BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY ACT

web1_09.03.15.obie_

Tiger cub ”Obie” – 2015 mascot for the Massillon High School football team.

The Big Cat and Public Safety Protection Act is simply the most important piece of legislation to ever be introduced to protect lions, tigers and other exotic wild cats. This bill will be introduced in the 2015 legislative session of the United States Congress; and in 2014, had the bipartisan support of 119 lawmakers. We are optimistic that this bill will obtain enough support to finally be passed into law this year; and is supported by all the major animal welfare organizations, including the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, and others.

BC7

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THE BIG CAT PUBLIC SAFETY PROTECTION ACT ?

• It would end the private possession and breeding of lions, tigers, leopards, snow leopards, clouded leopards, cheetahs, jaguars, and cougars, as well as any hybrid of these species.

• It would include a grandfather provision for current big cat owners to continue keeping these animals as long as they are registered with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but they could not breed and the exemption would only apply to big cats they currently own.

• Exemptions would be granted to all Zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), certified related facilities that coordinate with the AZA Species Survival Plan for breeding of species listed as threatened or endangered, wildlife sanctuaries that do not breed or allow public handling of animals, wildlife rehabilitators, state colleges and universities, and select traveling circuses in compliance with the Animal Welfare Act.

WHY DO WE NEED THIS LEGISLATION?

First and foremost, it protects humans and it protects animals. It is estimated that there are somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 big cats currently held in private ownership; but of course, the exact number is a mystery. But in the past 21 years, there have been 22 reported deaths, 248 maulings, 260 escapes, 144 big cat deaths and 131 confiscations as a direct result of the private ownership of the big cats. These big cats include tigers, lions, cougars, leopards, jaguars, cheetahs and others.

Secondly, it is necessary to protect the welfare of the animals. Big cat owners generally fall into two categories. Private owners often take in a pet lion or tiger cub, believing they would make a wonderful pet. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of 400 lb., 500 lb., or 700 lb. animals that make good pets and once fully grown, the private owner then realizes he or she is incapable of managing or taking care of the big cat. Consequently, the animals are frequently abused and often spend their entire lives in cages with barely enough room to move.

And in many cases, that realization is made long before the cat even becomes fully grown. Take for example the 3-month old Bengal-Siberian Tiger cub recently found wandering the streets of Los Angeles. He had been declawed and had a hernia in his abdomen.

Bengal Tiger Cub

The other private owners are those for-profit operations that disguise themselves as conservationists and would have you believe that they have the big cats’ best interests at heart. They do not. They intensively breed big cats to feed the trade. They prematurely take the cubs away from their mothers, subject them to the constant handling of hundreds of paying customers that are willing to pay good money to hold and be photographed with a cub. The cubs are often drugged and sedated so that they will be calm and behave during this interaction. Once the cubs are too big, they are sold to roadside zoos, sold as backyard pets, sold on the black market for their hides and bones, or just killed outright.

BC3

The deplorable living conditions of the big cats are the rule and not the exception. Even the regulations promulgated by the USDA under the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) set minimum standards that allow these cats to spend their entire lives in small, concrete and chain link cages that are in effect prison cells.

And even when these minimum standards are not met, the USDA only has about 100 inspectors nationwide to police over 2,700 exotic animal exhibitors and thousands of other animal facilities. These facilities are often cited but only the worst of the worst are ever shut down. As a result, the vast majority of big cats live in conditions that any compassionate person would view as cruel and inhumane.

DON’T BE FOOLED BY THE CRITICS

Do not be fooled by groups such as the Zoological Wildlife Foundation, a group that touts itself as a conservation group, but provides wild animals for events and gives educational tours at its facility in Miami. They attempt to argue that the bill would prove disastrous for conservation efforts because it would limit the breeding and sales of the big cats.

The Zoological Wildlife Foundation argues that those facilities that keep, rent out and host events featuring wild animals can be big business; with those dollars going to conservation efforts and charities worldwide. Well, of course. Anyone with a profitable business could contribute these dollars to conservation efforts or to any charities they chose. Trophy hunters could just donate $50,000 to a charity or conservation cause of their choice, rather than spend it on a license necessary to kill a trophy lion. I could donate my discretionary income to a charity or I could use this to buy myself a brand new car. A poacher could decide to stop poaching. The point is just because they could invest these dollars on conservation causes certainly does not mean they will. And after all, the road to hell is paved with good intentions.

And they further argue against this legislation because simply, it would put them and many others that depend upon the exploitation of the big cats out of business. And the exploitation and exhibiting of big cats does absolutely nothing for conservation. Undercover operations by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service over the past decade have demonstrated that there is an illegal trade in big cat parts, including skin and bones. The more these parts are supplied from the captive big cat population, the more the market for these parts grows, and the more demand grows for the real or premium product (i.e. parts from big cats poached from the wild).

And of the estimated 5,000 captive tigers in the United States, only about 250 of these are considered pure bred subspecies and these are all housed in AZA accredited zoos. The remainder is considered generic (i.e. cross bred between two or more subspecies). So, they have no conservation benefits whatsoever.

In my research, I read an email published through opencongress.org and was compelled to include certain sections of this letter for response. I do this because there are probably other critics of this legislation that have similar opinions which quite frankly, are based upon misguided beliefs and incorrect analyses. Understanding the intent of this legislation is important. Therefore, I have provided this email below, with an applicable response to each section.

Email Comment “A small group of feline sanctuary owners think they are the only people who should be allowed to possess wildlife, and PETA, HSUS and Born Free are promoting this act because it furthers their main goal of forcing captive populations into extinction. These animal rights extremists truly believe two things – “ better dead than bred”, and “they belong in the wild”. The Big Cats and Public Protection Safety Act combine both these crazy goals, making big cat species unavailable for photography, movies, circus, television, movies, stage shows, private possession, outreach education, nature centers, or independent zoos.”

BC1

Response: First of all, I do not like and have never cared for the word “extremist”…particularly when it is used to make a blanket generalization across a wide swath of people. Dictionary.com defines an extremist as someone who supports or advocates extreme doctrines or practices, and the British version of Dictionary.com defines an extremist as a person who favors or resorts to immoderate, uncompromising, or fanatical methods or behavior.

In all walks of life, there will always be those people who meet this definition of extremist. However, to suggest that legislation designed to protect exotic cats from living in deplorable, abusive, and horrendous living conditions, to protect the general public that is at risk if these animals were to escape, and to take steps to crack down on the black market of illegal trade of these exotic animals is not exactly what I would view as that promoted by extremists.

Further, I would speculate that the majority of Americans, if they read this legislation, would be in favor of this. And if this is the act of extremists, then count the 119 congressional representatives that supported this bill last year as part of that group!

And ask this “small group of feline sanctuary owners” to state their ultimate goal and they will unequivocally emphasize their desire to go out of business. These sanctuaries only exist as a safety net for the big cats that are deserted by their former owners because surprise, surprise – big cats do not make good pets. They are the safety net for those roadside zoos that are mercifully shut down after years of abusing, neglecting and mistreating these beautiful animals. They are the safety net for those animals that are no longer considered cute enough to be displayed in public. So, the idea that they believe “better dead than bred” is incorrect. Without these dedicated organizations, all of these exotic animals would have been euthanized or killed long ago.

And these animals do belong in the wild. Yes, of course. Why would anyone think otherwise about lions, tigers, cheetahs, leopards, elephants, wolves, polar bears, rhinos, hippos, etc.? They definitely belong in the wild.

Finally, why do these animals need to be made available for photography, movies, circuses, television, stage shows and private possession? Many of these groups are the cause and the exact reason this legislation has been introduced in the first place. All wild and exotic animals can be filmed freely in their natural habitats in the wild. They can be seen via National Geographic and other nature specials. Type African Lion into YouTube and you get 326,000 videos. At an average of 5 minutes per video, that is enough to watch 3 years of non-stop videos just on African lions, without eating, sleeping or anything else. And in reality, we don’t need lions or tigers in movies…there are plenty of movies with story lines that have nothing to do with the big cats, and when was the last time you watched a movie that involved a lion or a tiger? And the Lion King doesn’t count because that was animated.

Circuses and stage shows? Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Brothers Circus announced that they would finally end the use of elephants in their traveling circus by 2018. Alana Feld, the company’s executive vice president stated “clearly there’s been somewhat of a mood shift among our consumers. We’re not reacting to our critics; we’re creating the greatest resource for the preservation of the Asian elephant.”

Whether that decision was truly based upon some type of moral or ethical epiphany, or was influenced by those critical of the use of elephants in their acts really is not important. What is important is that they did this for the elephants. And if they can do this for the elephants, then they can do it for the big cats.

And if countries like Austria, Belgium, Bosnia, Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Malta, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal , Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, the UK, much of Canada, Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Columbia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Australia , India, Israel, Singapore, and Taiwan can make the humane and right decision to ban most if not all exotic animals in circus acts, is it that difficult for the United States to step up and do the same? We are not stepping out on the limb and taking the lead on this. According to http://www.stopcircussuffering.com, there are 41 other countries that have already done this. We can do this, too.

The only groups referenced in this email deserving further conversation and debates are the outreach education centers, nature centers and independent zoos. The simple answer is that any organization desiring to own exotic animals must be AZA accredited. I am not going to profess my expertise on what one must do to qualify for this accreditation. However, nothing would prevent the AZA to coordinate efforts with these groups and those that truly meet standards in place to protect these animals would receive such accreditation.

BC2

Email Comment: Federally licensed cat breeding facilities that would be affected by this act are mainly zoos and wildlife educators. Private breeders of wild felines also breed species not held by AZA members, such as Bengal and mixed tigers, Asian and African leopards. This act would drive these felines into extinction in America.

Response: Correct, but these are not North American species in the first place. Leopards are primarily found in their native Africa; Tigers in India and Pakistan, and Lions from Africa and Asia. Additionally, the private breeders of the exotic animals are the biggest part of the problem. The recipients of these breeding programs are private owners who have already proven an inability to be responsible owners; roadside zoos that subject these animals to horrendous living conditions; captive farms that expose these animals to the cruel and controversial practice of canned trophy hunting, and sold on the black market for their pelts and bones. The point is that with exception of zoos, and even that is a debatable topic in the 21st century, these exotic animals never belonged in the United States.

Zoos are a topic for another day, but I do agree that zoological parks can provide great educational opportunities. However, the history of the modern zoo dates back to 1793 with the opening of the Paris Zoo. So, for nearly 200 years, the zoo was essentially the only place one could visit to see live animals. With the advent of television which provides access to nature programs; the internet which provides an unlimited access to information on any animal (type in African Lion and you get 14.5 million hits); and YouTube, which provides us unlimited access to video footage of any animal you could possibly think about, some could argue that the zoo has essentially become unnecessary.

Life evolves. We evolve. The horse and buggy used to be the primary mode of transportation in the United States. I would surmise that outside of Amish country, not a lot of people rely on the horse and buggy for transportation anymore.

Email Comment: Non-AZA member zoos and breeding centers provide valuable wildlife viewing opportunities in communities all across America, especially in the more rural areas that do not meet the high traffic requirements of the AZA. This bill would prevent these zoos from breeding or obtaining new big cats to exhibit to the public.

Response: Breeding centers, whatever these are, sound similar to private breeders and that has already been addressed. As far as the accreditation requirements, there are currently 218 zoos and aquariums nationally that have taken the necessary steps to meet the AZA requirements.

And according to the AZA, the Accreditation Commission evaluates every zoo or aquarium to ensure it meets the AZA’s standards from “animal management and care, including living environments, social groupings, health, and nutrition.” They also evaluate “the veterinary program, involvement in conservation and research, education programs, safety policies and procedures, security, physical facilities, guest services, and the quality of the institution’s staff.” And they also evaluate “each institution’s finances, its governing authority and its support organization.”

The reality is probably true that some of the rural zoos may not generate enough foot traffic to meet the AZA’s financial standards. However, if the facility cannot meet the financial demands, then it is almost certain that the veterinary program, conservation and research, education programs, safety policies, security physical facilities, guest services and staff quality are also going to suffer as well …which of course, will also impact the quality of life of the animals.

So will this impact some of these zoos? Unfortunately yes. However, these zoos have the responsibility of ensuring the highest quality standards of life for these animals, and we should also demand this.

BC8

Email Comment: The Big Cats and Public Protection Safety Act is a deceptively named piece of legislation that seeks to force the extinction of American-held wild feline species. By implying that American held big cats are being involved in the global black market, without any evidence to back up this statement, and using the phrase “public safety” in the Act’s title and supporting language, this animal rights agenda is dishonestly packaged.

Response: There is nothing deceptive about the name. If you wish to focus on the public safety aspect of this legislation: 22 deaths, 248 maulings, 260 escapes, 131 seizures. But of course, it is true that the act must include Public Safety in the title because there are many out there that do not have the compassion for animals. If this bill was entitled the “Protect Big Cats Act”, it would not create the same level of support. That is unfortunate, because of course, the animals do deserve this type of protection. But call it what you will. The act protects both humans and the big cats. Is that a bad thing?

Finally, to address the issue as to “no evidence to back up the fact that Americans are being involved in the global black market of selling these exotic cats”. First of all, the black market is a shadow market that trades in illegal traffic or in officially controlled or scarce commodities. Economic activity is not recorded and taxes are not paid. If the black market was transparent in its activities, what was bought and sold, it wouldn’t be a black market.

However, according to the Animal Legal Defense Fund, the illegal trafficking of rare and exotic wildlife is estimated to be a $10 to $20 billion dollar industry; and according to United For Wildlife, the illegal wildlife trade is the fourth most lucrative trade industry, only surpassed by drugs, human trafficking and the arms trade.

With a trade that substantial, poaching alone could never support this type of demand. Is the United States the only country with citizens involved in this black market activity? Of course not. However, with an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 exotic big cats in private ownership in the U.S., and a $10 to $20 billion illegal trade industry, I don’t believe it is a stretch to assume that there is a measurable connection between the two.

This legislation is simply the most important piece of legislation to ever be introduced to protect lions, tigers and other exotic wild cats.

SO WHAT CAN I DO?

First, download the Big Cat Public Safety Act fact sheet and share with your friends and lawmakers. http://www.ifaw.org/sites/default/files/BigCatsPublicSafety_0.pdf

Secondly, listen to a radio interview with Howard Baskin , CFO of Big Cat Rescue; or research this issue so you can better understand the plight of these big cats. Not only those in captivity, but of the lions that roam the African and Asian plains. Learn more about Cecil. Learn more about the canned hunting of wild animals. Learn of the plight of the tiger and the leopard. Learn about the crisis faced by the elephants and rhinos. Knowledge is power and the more you know, the better you can communicate the issues and make positive change.

Third, find your United State Senators and Representatives with this link, including name, phone number, mailing address and email address: https://www.opencongress.org/people/zipcodelookup. Then click on this link and email your congressional representatives:
http://salsa4.salsalabs.com/o/51389/p/dia/action3/common/public/?action_KEY=13966

Fourth, keep your eyes and ears open. If you see what appears to be a potential abusive situation, report it. Facebook and social media have proven that pressure from the masses can successfully force action. Governmental agencies simply do not have the manpower to oversee and monitor on their own. They depend upon citizens to speak up and report cases of animal abuse…including exotic animals as well as domestic pets.

Remember, we must speak for those who can’t. As stewards of our environment, it is our responsibility to protect these magnificent creatures. Passage of the Big Cat Public Safety Act in 2015 will represent a significant victory for both the big cats and for the general public.

THE ETHICAL FAILURE OF OUR TIMES

As recent controversies consume our society today – whether it is the tragedy of Cecil the Lion, the highly controversial subject of trophy hunting, government corruption, or a school cheating scandal, I read these stories with amusement. And with amusement, I don’t suggest with enjoyment or humor. Rather, amusement in the fact that there is a common thread in each. There always seems to be a justification or defensible reason as to why a particular action is taken, although the defense almost never includes an ethical or moral justification.

For example, few would argue that those that hunt lions, leopards and other wildlife on the African plains do so for the love of the hunt, the thrill of the kill and the opportunity to bring back a trophy. And that “trophy” obviously can serve no other purpose than as a boast of superiority – whether that superiority is representative of our supposed dominion over the earth; or of that one hunter’s perceived superiority over another human. And they do so because it is “legal” to do so.

“An incredible day hunting in South Africa! Stalked inside 60-yards on this beautiful male lion … What a hunt!” – Melissa Bachman. (November 2013).

This statement confirms that I will never understand trophy hunting. How do you describe an animal as “beautiful”, yet at the same time desire to kill him? When I flip on the television to watch the Barrett-Jackson Auto Auction, I’m not thinking to myself: “That is a beautiful car. I would love to take that out for a spin and smash it into the wall and see how much damage I can do?” I don’t go out and buy a beautiful tie to so I can take it home and throw it in the trash. So, why does attitude seem to exist within trophy hunters?

I have searched for an adequate understanding of the justification, but even the scientific journals struggle to truly pinpoint this ritualistic behavior. However, I ran across a fascinating, albeit disturbing 2003 study performed by Amy Fitzgerald and Linda Kalof of Michelin State University. In their study, they analyzed 792 “hero shots” (i.e. the post-kill photos of hunter and prey we are all familiar seeing). The majority of the photographs as Fitzgerald noted, “seemed to be arranged to show the hunter’s dominance over the animal. The hunter tended to be pictured above standing or sitting above the animal, demonstrating the power dynamic.”

In the majority of the photos, “the animal had been cleaned up, blood scrubbed away and wounds carefully hidden from view, making the animal look almost alive – as if the hunter had somehow tamed the giant, wild animal into submission.”

In their study, they went further to discuss what is clearly some type of show of power via dominance over the animal kingdom, which is certainly not a new tradition. It was not usual for a King to hold his version of a canned hunt, where a lion or other majestic animal was released in front of a chariot of the king, for the purpose of being shot. And these “hunts” were held in front of an audience to validate the king’s power.

The curator of a bow-hunting club Pope and Young attempted to explain trophy hunting as “a way of honoring that animal for all time.” Again, this is bizarre and disturbing.

In October 2013, an article entitled “The Dark Triad and Animal Cruelty: Dark Personalities, Dark Attitudes and Dark Behaviors” was published, and linked the personality traits of some hunters to a triad of behaviors, known as the Dark Triad. That triad includes:
(1) Narcissism, or the egotistical admiration of one’s own attributes and a lack of compassion;

(2) Machiavellianism, or being deceitful, cunning and manipulative; and

(3) Psychopathy, or lacking remorse or empathy, and prone to impulsive behavior.

All this said, the amusement I referenced earlier is in the fact that the hunter almost never touts the love for trophy hunting as some type of personal self-interest, and will never admit it is a selfish hobby designed for ego and self-worth.

Rather, the attempt is to present this as some type of altruistic and charitable effort of conservation in the greater interest of the animal. Or, they suggest that by killing a weak or older animal, it is some form of compassionate euthanasia so that the animal doesn’t have to suffer a lengthy and cruel death through starvation or attack by another animal. Or, they argue that trophy hunting is okay because the local community can share in the meat.

This is bizarre rationalization and aside from the fact that any truth hidden in these arguments is minimal at best, these are coincidental by-products. This would be like me shooting a homeless person and claiming that I was saving him from the anxieties of worrying where he would get his next meal or where he would sleep at night. Or me abusing a child and rationalizing I was doing so to make the child a stronger adult. The defense simply does not justify the act.

It is clear that trophy hunting as an activity has existed for hundreds of years, so perhaps this is not just a reflection of today’s society. However, in addressing today’s moral compass, or lack of moral compass – particularly today, one wonders how many of us have seemingly become void of compassion, empathy, or sympathy? Has the corruption, and the greed and the evil always existed but is now magnified today through the prolific growth of social media, 24-hour news stations, and cable television stations than outnumber the days in the year? I would say it is both; but also theorize that the proliferation of these events has manifested into an even greater problem because there are many that see the scandal, they see the corruption and conclude that if everyone else is doing this, I might as well do it too. And there seems to be a lot of “what’s in it for me?” attitude.

Unfortunately, much of the wrong today is based upon a very black or white interpretation as to whether the act in question is legal or illegal; and the ethical component never receives any true consideration. “Could I – Should I” is the correct and logical analysis that we as the earth’s stewards should consider in our daily decision making. The simple fact is that we cannot possibly legislate every act or action to be legal or illegal.

For example if I am sleeping in on a Sunday morning, and the neighbor cranks the lawnmower up at 8:00 a.m., is he breaking the law? It would be a stretch to argue this as disturbing the peace, and even if I called the police to complain, would they really waste their time driving over to investigate?

If I were patiently waiting for a parking place, and suddenly another car came wheeling around the corner and pulled into the space before I could react, have they broken the law?
Rude? Inconsiderate? Disrespectful? Yes to all three. But not illegal, no.

But at some point, morality and ethics must become part of the equation. There are too many smart people that are paid to create loopholes in our legal system. There will always be a lobbyist or campaign contribution that will incentivize a legislator to tweak a bill or a law just enough to work in the loophole. When will we ask the question “But Should I? Yes, it is legal to do this, but is it really right to do this?” And I hypothesize that this is not a difficult question to ask or answer. Unfortunately, it is the fear of the answer that prevents us from asking the question, and for that reason, we avoid the question.
Thankfully, the majority of us do ask that question, and we do consider how our actions will impact other people or the environment. Most respect their neighbors and therefore, will not cut their grass at 8:00 a.m. on a Sunday morning. And for those of us that have this level of respect, compassion and consideration for others, we probably have this same level of respect and compassion for wildlife and for the environment.

I do believe that most of these trophy hunters know down deep that they are failing ethically and they are failing morally. Thus, there is the attempted justification that killing somehow meets a misguided definition of conservation, that it is a humane act or that it benefits the local communities. We tend to justify any wrong action that we may take. And for those people, they may never change. And if the scientific journals have diagnosed traits of narcissism, Machiavellianism, or psychopathy in these trophy hunters, chances are they are not going to change their behaviors either.

The reality is that there are certain people that will simply do what they want to do and will always have the attitude of “the hell with everyone else and everything else”. We will not change these people. But for the rest of us, we can lead by example, and include ethics and morality into our everyday decision. And perhaps, just perhaps, make this world a more compassionate place to live.

WHY CECIL, WHY NOT YEMEN?

WHY CECIL, WHY NOT YEMEN?

11796318_408414136019533_2851950361659066372_n

Reading about the current food shortage crisis in Yemen (The UN reports that 1 in 5 are food insecure and in urgent need of external assistance.), the killing and / or maiming of eight children every day, and the death of over 400 children since eruption of the recent violence in that war torn country, I pondered the how’s and why’s of tragic events; and why we as humans are driven to action by certain tragedies, yet are accepting of other tragic events as “that’s just the way it is” and go about our lives?

In the broader picture, as I sip my morning coffee and my evening wine (clearly, this article was not pieced together in a single morning), I was thinking about this story and comparing it to the tragic and senseless killing of Cecil the Lion. Cecil’s story became national and world news, went viral over social media, and continues to instill demand for change. Yet, there is barely a mention of Yemen’s plight in the newspaper, and I would venture to guess that the majority of the world has no idea this is even going on; and maybe don’t really care.

At the same time, think about these statistics published on the website “It’s My Life”:

• Every 6 minutes, an American dies in a hospital, either from a medical error or lethal infection.
• Every 10 minutes, an American is killed in an accident at home.
• Every 11 minutes, an American is killed in a traffic accident.
• Every 13 minutes, an American dies due to accidental poisoning.
• Every 29 minutes, an American is murdered.
• Every day, 28 Americans are killed by a drunk driver.
• And every day, a total of 2,600 Americans die from all combined events – natural and unexpected.

So, 2,600 deaths occurring every single day, seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; and no time off for holidays and vacation. And, of course, these are just U.S. statistics.

Expand these statistics worldwide and add starvation, terrorism, and deaths attributable to the escalation of war. Then add discriminatory practices based upon skin color, gender, and sexual orientation. And don’t forget human trafficking, drug addiction and disease.

People, we have a lot of problems! And each of these problems demands attention and warrants action. Yet, how many of us contemplate these tragic events and how many of us truly take action? These events all anger us, but my guess is very few of us truly demand change.

The question is – Why don’t we? Or shall I ask, why do we select certain causes to champion and others we just accept as fact? It is a difficult question to answer and I am no different from anyone else. I too have certain causes that are dear to my heart, and others, not so much. But does that make me a bad person because I choose some causes over others? Most would say I am not.

What if someone provides financial support to aid workers in third world countries, while California wildfires destroy hundreds of homes; and displace hundreds of families who escape with nothing more than the clothes on their backs? Should we be helping people in our country of origin before we help someone in another country? This is not a judgment question, because both need help and both deserve help.

I raise these points because many people have been impacted deeply by the death of Cecil the Lion and have demanded justice and action. However, many of those impacted haven’t simply read the story and stewed in silence. Hundreds of thousands (or perhaps millions by now) have signed petitions, have emailed and written their governmental representatives, protested, boycotted and have taken other action steps to demand justice and to demand change.

The critics, of course, are quick to point out that there are many more important tragic events warranting the energy and attention devoted to Cecil. And those critics have a right to their opinion. However, I would ask anyone that before they accuse, to give thoughtful contemplation, consider the following and help me understand the new ground rules of compassion:

• If you believe there are more important issues of which I (or anyone) should be focusing their attention, what person, agency or organization do we task with that responsibility of prioritizing the cause du jour of everyone’s singular focus?

• If you are tasked with the responsibility of determining the issue or issues that I should focus my energy, I am assuming that I also have the opportunity to determine where you focus your energies? After all, who is to say you are right and I am wrong?

• What if a similar or worse tragedy occurs and warrants a new prioritization of energy and effort on the latest cause? Do I have to redirect all of my efforts to this newest tragedy, or am I allowed to balance my time between the two?

• Are you investing your time and energy for positive change, or are you just criticizing my passions? Because if you are simply exerting negativity and not doing anything positive toward change in your life or in the world, you really don’t have any room to criticize my choices.

• What are the circumstances in which I might be allowed to fight for a cause that you would normally not approve as a priority? For example, if I am dyslexic and understand all too well the daily challenges of living with dyslexia, am I allowed to focus my time and energy on bringing awareness and change to this disability?

• If I know someone that suffered sexual abuse as a child and know how that has affected that person their entire life, am I allowed to champion that cause?

Needless to say, several of these questions are rhetorical or of a sarcastic nature. But the point is, there is not and never will be an official organization that decides where we focus our philanthropic energies – at least I hope not, and certainly not in those countries that celebrate democracy and freedom. And at the end of the day, if I am spreading good energy by doing something positive that benefits the world – isn’t that what is most important?

Certainly, there are many that believe man has dominion over the earth; and therefore the prioritization of our wants and needs as humans always trumps that of the animals, of nature, and of the environment. And therein lies the criticism of those supporting environmental or animal rights causes.

But should the wants and needs of the human race be of a higher priority than that of the environment? And does having the dominion over the planet equate to giving us unilateral authority to run roughshod and having an attitude of “the hell with the environment”, as long as it benefits mankind?

Most would agree that we do not have that right, and that protecting the environment and protecting the wilder and untamed versions of ourselves is not such a bad idea. Additionally, while the literal interpretation of dominion is “to rule or control”, the most common reference and incorrect interpretation of this word is from Genesis 1:26: “God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

But, dominion can better be explained within the greater context of the Bible, looking at how God expected people to act when he entrusted them with a responsibility and leadership over others. So, a word that more poignantly and accurately describes the expectation and responsibility we have is that of steward. We should be viewed as stewards of the earth, and as such, are expected to aptly manage our resources. We should be of the mindset of conservation. And we should approach life with a belief that when we breathe our last breathe, we can honestly say that we left the world in a better place.

And if I devote my time, effort and money toward a cause that saves or protects a species, doesn’t that better the world? And in bettering the world, doesn’t this benefit future generations? I don’t believe anyone would disagree with that. And in conclusion, I would ask that next time you (or I) read or hear of someone giving their time, energy or money to a charity or cause we would not support, think about this commentary.

And remember….”Spread Good Energy and Pay It Forward.” These words were part of Brittany Maynard’s final Facebook post, before the 29 year old woman passed away with inoperable brain cancer. Those were her dying words, but they are words the rest of us should live by, as long as we have a breath.
brittany

RIDING THE WAVE OF CHANGE

RIDING THE WAVE OF CHANGE

by Glenn Williams

lion_wave_by_jesperharming

As the story of Cecil the Lion continues to defy the desires of those wishing his story would just disappear; and continues to provide the motivations for those that desire his story to ride the wave of change, this story also seems to have evolved into the modern day biblical version of David vs. Goliath.

Goliath, of course, represents the hunting industry, their army of lobbyists and endless supply of financial might; including those that spend $50,000 for the right to kill a lion, much like you might spend $5.00 to purchase a box of cereal. David, on the other hand, represents the concerned animal rights supporters that are incensed, enraged and angered that such a senseless activity even exists in the first place.

Despite this anger and demand for “Justice for Cecil”, most people probably assumed that David had no chance to beat Goliath and ultimately, the world would continue to experience the inevitable decline and eventual mass extinction of the world’s animal population.

Yet, something odd seems to have occurred with Cecil; and there is a reverberation that has been created in social media that appears to have self-propelled the activism and demand for change. And people are actually starting to believe that Cecil’s death could truly be the tragic event that unites and unifies the world in a singular cause. And is it possible that Cecil’s story could finally and mercifully put an exclamation point on the tiresome argument that somehow hunting is a form of conservation; which undoubtedly was based upon the premise of “If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.” (Adolph Hitler)

Hitler-petting-Goerings-tiger-cub

I recently read a quote from Edmund Burke, an 18th century philosopher who stated that “No one made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do a little.” And this connected deeply with me. Cecil could have become the story that incensed and angered many individuals, but those individuals becoming that “greater mistake” in Burke’s quote. Yet, this is not what has happened. Many appear to be taking the attitude that if they do “a little” and others do “a little”, all that “little” becomes magnified and multiplied to the point that it builds into something that actually changes the world.

SO, WHY HAS “CECIL” GAINED A FOOTHOLD AND GATHERED MOMENTUM, WHERE OTHER NON-CECIL’S HAVE FAILED?

It is a good question, and some have suggested it is as simple as the fact the he had a human name. And perhaps they are correct to some extent; and certainly, this has probably helped the story’s staying power. But perhaps it is better explained as a perfect storm of several factors: a human name, combined with the ongoing battle of one-percenters versus the rest of the world that has been reverberating the past several years. It is the haves versus the have-nots, the ethical versus the ethically bankrupt, the good versus evil, all encapsulated in a social media movement that did not exist five years ago.

If social media existed 40 years ago, we would not even be talking about Cecil today; as this movement would have begun long before the population had plummeted to an estimated 20,000 lions. However, because social media does exist today and has a greater influence over the world than it ever did, we are talking about Cecil and we are talking about population losses of the lion, and the tiger, and the cheetah, and the leopard, and the elephant, and the rhino and the wolf, and the polar bear, and just about every other non-human animal species.
Historic and Present distribution of the lion population.

Lion_distribution

world-cheetah-population-graph

This said, if there remains any doubt as to the truth of Edmund Burke, and if there are still any Davids out there that don’t believe Goliath can be beaten, the world is listening. Companies are listening, governmental officials are listening and they are responding and reacting.

Many articles and social media posts, blogs and websites continue to beat the drum of anger and rage – and I am not condemning those articles – because those are the exact articles that are driving this change. And there needs to be a constant reminder of the evil that exists in our society, and it is only in bringing this into the bright spotlight do we enact change. However, I believe that occasionally, we need to focus on positive results stemming from these efforts; as this provides a reminder to those pursuing change that they are making a difference. And perhaps more importantly, it reminds those on the sideline of inaction that just a little effort drives the winds of change.

SO, HOW ARE WE MAKING A DIFFERENCE?

Zimbabwe Hunting Ban
Almost immediately, the outrage that began on July 26th, the day the story appeared on social media, national and international news, the government of Zimbabwe moved to ban trophy hunting of the “Big 5” (lions, leopards, elephants, rhinos and buffalo). The parks and wildlife authority Zimparks also suspended hunting with bows and arrows, with permission from the authority’s head, and also banned the hunting of ‘collared iconic animals’.

And while the Zimbabwean government did ultimately lift the hunting moratorium ten days later, this was ten days that an innocent animal did not die as a result of this outdated sport. Additionally, the ban remains in place on farmland where Cecil died, as well as several other farms were officials allege animals were killed illegally; and the restrictions on bow hunting and the hunting of collared animals are still in effect.

Of course, the Zimbabwe government does receive significant annual revenues from the hunting industry, which should not be confused with revenues that trickle down to the local communities and local conservation, which has been estimated to be at less than 3%. That said, no one truly expected that Zimbabwe would turn off that revenue spigot without the development and expansion of alternative revenue such as the further expansion of ecotourism. This will take some time, but this should be perceived as a positive development and it is likely that Zimbabwe will be carefully studying neighboring countries like Botswana and Zambia that have successfully navigated and migrated away from hunting as a revenue source.

Airline Bans
On August 3rd, Delta Airlines and United Airlines announced they would no longer transport buffalo, elephant, leopard, lion or rhino trophies on any flights. American Airlines followed suit later that day and Delta also announced that it was going to “review acceptance policies of other hunting trophies” in consultation with government agencies and organizations “supporting legal shipments”. In addition, other airlines joining this ban after Cecil’s death include Air Canada, Air France, British Airways, Brussels Airlines, Air Emirates, Etihad Airways, Lufthansa, KLM, Iberia Airlines, IAG Cargo, Singapore Airlines, Qantas Airlines, Qutar Airways and Virgin Atlantic.

According to Humane Society International (HSI), 42 airlines now prohibit the shipment of trophies from the African Big Five and other wildlife, including all the major airlines listed above. The one airline absent from this list is South African Airways, an airline that oddly enough, announced a worldwide embargo on trophy shipments prior to Cecil’s death; but less than three months later, relented and reversed its position, after pressure from Safari Club International (SFI) and the Professional Hunters Association of South Africa (PHASA).

Australia bans hunting ‘trophies’ from lions entering or leaving the country
The Australian government announced it has banned the import and export of hunting ‘trophies’, in an attempt to help curb the organized hunting of Africa’s wildlife. Greg Hunt, the environment minister, said he had signed an order to prevent the import of the gruesome hunting trophies, effective immediately. Hunt, said the practice of canned hunting was “cruel” and “barbaric.”
“It is about raising the most majestic of creatures for a singular purpose and that is to kill them, to shoot them for pleasure and for profit, it is done in inhumane conditions. It is involving things such as raising and then drugging and in many cases, baiting. It is simply not acceptable in our day, in our time, on our watch.”

United Nations General Assembly Historic Anti-Poaching Resolution
The United Nations adopted a historic resolution committing all countries to ramp up their collective efforts to end the global poaching crisis and tackle the vast illegal wildlife trade. All 193 UN member states agreed to “enhance regional and international cooperation along the entire illegal wildlife trade chain, including measures to stop the poaching, trafficking and buying. Along with strengthening judicial processes and law enforcement, the resolution encourages countries to actively involve local communities in the fight against the illicit trade by enhancing their rights and capacity to manage and benefit from wildlife resources.”

According to Elisabeth McLellan, Head of the Wildlife Crime Initiative, WWF International “Nepal has already proved that this comprehensive approach works, having achieved three years of zero poaching of rhinos since 2011 thanks to a combination of high-level political will, dedicated rangers, and genuine community participation – now it is up to other countries to follow Nepal’s lead and the measures outlined in this historic resolution.”

California Fish & Game Commission Implement Statewide Ban on Bobcat Trapping
The commission recently approved a statewide ban on bobcat trapping despite lawmakers’ protests. California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife spokeswoman Jordan Traverso said the commission faced a difficult decision, but was ultimately swayed by the “sheer number of comments from tens of thousands of Californians who were in favor of the ban.”

Bobcat_LittleFeather1

Wild CRU and Pathera announce Summit for Wild Lion Conservation
In honor of Cecil the Lion, CRU and Panthera have announced the organization of a landmark summit for lion conservation at the Recanati-Kaplan Centre in Oxford in 2016 “ to grasp this new momentum in lion conservation, and inviting the foremost conservation experts from organizations throughout the lion conservation community to join us in a concerted effort to save the lion”.

Mexico Airlifts exotic animals to Wild Animal Sanctuary in Colorado
The Mexican government has banned the use of exotic animals in any circus performances, as many of these animals have lived in deplorable, inhumane and abusive conditions. The result of this legal action is of course, positive. But, it is also negative in the sense that many of these circuses have now abandoned these animals. Fortunately, they are finding a new home to live out the remainder of their lives. A total of 8 lions,2 lynxes, a puma, and coyote have been relocated to this accredited Wild Animal Sanctuary, a 720 acre preserve that is home to over 350 animals rescued from illegal or abusive situation, with an additional 9 more exotic animals scheduled to be airlifted in the near future.

Peru and Columbia Lion Rescue
In addition to the Mexican airlift above, a total of 33 lions – many living in the similar deplorable conditions, and most subject to years of abuse, are being relocated from Peru and Columbia to the Emoya Big Cat Sanctuary in Limpopo, South Africa and will live out their remaining years in this 12,000 acre preserve.

Federal Ruling that all Dogs & Cats sold in Phoenix pet stores must come from shelters or non-profits
A federal judge recently ruled that any dog or cat sold by an Arizona pet store must either come from an animal shelter or non-profit organization and is one of 60 cities through the United States that now requires this.

Exotic animals seized from a Toledo, Ohio roadside sanctuary
Six tigers, a bear, leopard, cougar and liger were seized from a Toledo, Ohio owner after the owner ignored warnings that he needed a permit. These animals have now been safely relocated to animal sanctuaries in three other states.

“EVERYTHING YOU DO MATTERS”

These are just some examples of how the combined efforts of many individuals are making a difference in the protection of animals and animal rights. And there are of course, many other efforts and initiatives ongoing around the world that address and focus on policy that balances human needs with that of the environment, and this can only lead to positive improvement in our world.

In his latest book, The Butterfly Effect, How Your Life Matters, Andy Andrews discusses how in 1963, Edward Lorenz made a presentation to the New York Academy of Sciences and proposed a theory he purported as The Butterfly Effect. He stated that a butterfly could flap its wings and set air molecules in motion that, in turn, would move other air molecules, which would move other air molecules, and eventually influencing weather patterns on the other side of the planet. He was laughed out of the room. But in the mid 1990’s, physics professors from several universities tested this theory and proved that the butterfly theory actually worked.

The Butterfly Effect works and more importantly, as Andy Andrews has so eloquently and pointedly said “Every single thing you do matters. You have been created as one of a kind. You have been created in order to make a difference. You have within you the power to change the world.”

The point is that everyone on this planet makes a difference, and everything you do (and don’t do) makes a difference; and this statement has both positive and negative implications. Someone taking steps toward a certain goal, no matter how small those steps are, is making a positive impact toward that goal. Failure to take steps can have the same impact in the opposite direction. Inertia begets inertia, and the momentum created soon builds to the point that mountains can be moved and worlds can be changed.

I truly believe that Cecil is the vehicle that is becoming that Wave of Change of the 21st Century. Not just driving the change for the rights of endangered and threatened species, and not only for the rights of other animals around the world. But, I believe he can be a wake-up call warning us that we cannot continue down our current path. Loss of the apex predator in our delicate ecosystem will cause a cascading effect causing irreversible damage and harm to the world. But because of one lion, perhaps there is still time to make a difference.

As Edwin Burke said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” And as Einstein stated “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

HOW YOU CAN GET INVOLVED

The opportunities are boundless and limitless, but below are several great organizations, with direct links to their “get involved” page:

Big Cat Rescue; Tampa, Florida
http://bigcatrescue.org/get-involved/ or http://bigcatrescue.org/category/cat-laws/

The Humane Society of the United States (HSUS)

http://www.humanesociety.org/issues/campaigns/wildlife_abuse/

International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW)
http://www.ifaw.org/united-states/get-involved

Animal Defenders International (ADI)
http://www.ad-international.org/take_action/

Let’s ride this Wave of Change and make a difference.