A (trophy animal) picture is worth a thousand (angry, violent) words


from Huffington Post; click image for article & original credit

One woman (sporting a Safari Club International cap), one gun, one dead giraffe. One pump-my-ego photo posted and then shared hundreds of times on animal rights Facebook pages, generating thousands of sad or angry comments.

Many–distressingly many–of the responses to these vile, celebratory trophy photos are vile and violent themselves. When the killer is a woman, the comments can also be terribly misogynistic: “Stupid brainless b*tch!” “This fat ugly b*tch should be shot!” “Shoot this b*tch!”

Another woman, another gun, another dead giraffe. Another ain’t-I-somethin’-special photo–this time, she’s grinning from atop her trophy’s body. Thousands of Facebook shares and more than 14,000 comments: “I hope someone puts a bullet in her head the weak pathetic b*tch!” “…the dirty tramp!” “Hope she dies by gang giraffe rape!” Other comments included epithets so vulgar and repugnant that I won’t even hint at them with missing letters.

What’s going on here? I mean, I get it: I’m as revolted by the gratuitous killing of animals as anyone, and I, too, struggle with feelings of contempt for these conscienceless, ego-driven killers. But responding to violence with still more violence–even if it’s just rhetorical–proves only that animal advocates can sink to a shamefully base level themselves. As for responding to speciesism with sexism–I’m at a loss. Yes, I’ve seen the comments that call into question the manhood of male trophy hunters, comments suggesting that their big, powerful guns are stand-ins for their own minuscule personal endowment. But I’m aghast at the misogynist, verbal violence directed toward women: gang giraffe rape?!? OMG.

I don’t fault the animal rights Facebook pages dedicated to posting trophy photos–they graphically remind us that callous indifference to animals is a strong, wide current running through our ocean of humanity; that people with enough money and little enough conscience are eager to lay waste to the lives of sentient others–aided and abetted by safari and hunt providers pursuing their own trophy–the cash cow. Pages like Stop Trophy Hunting Now! and Animal Shame (and probably many more) remind us that we have so much work to do combatting speciesism, and inspire us to get a move on because animals are dying.

But other than considerable Facebook traffic and abundant ill will vigorously expressed in feeding frenzies of anger, what is gained by the commentary of outrage? Preliminary research offers some indication:

It appears that not much of value is gained–neither for animals nor our own emotional well-being.

I don’t typically peruse these commentary threads–they’re too distressing and life’s too short. But as a relative Facebook newbie (just over six months–late to the party again!) who just recently stumbled upon these two trophy photos via Facebook, I’m discovering the depth of malice that members of my own species are willing to express toward others. I find that I actually don’t know how to end this post because I don’t know where to go with sentiments like, “Hope she dies by giraffe gang rape!”

But here’s what I hope: I hope for more than an onslaught of online words from the multiple thousands who express their public sorrow at an animal’s death or spew their anger at the killer. I hope these many animal defenders are also acting constructively for animals–no matter how small or large those actions might be. Imagine the difference we could make! From simply speaking up for justice when the opportunity arises to going vegan–and everything in between–actions speak so much louder than words, no matter how vehemently those words are delivered.

Speciesism will be vanquished not by impassioned quips posted to photos, but by passionate acts of conscience and courage.
Comment on this post atAnimal Blawg.

Yellowstone bison: The road to slaughter starts at home


A young wild bison, separated from family, forlorn and frightened, is confined in a sorting pen at Yellowstone National Park’s capture facility. Click for photo credit & info.

The specter of death hovers over the world’s first national park. Approximately 150 wild bison have been rounded up within the boundaries of their ostensible refuge, Yellowstone National Park, and are being held in a capture facility–also located within park boundaries. They number among those who will be killed and those already killed this season–as many as 900–and they’re slated for shipment to slaughter–perhaps as soon as the week of March 7th. However, before they make that final migration, they’ll be further terrorized. Watch what transpires (see video) when these massive, wild animals of wide open spaces are confined in small capture pens and squeeze chutes: witness their terror; see how they injure themselves and their herd mates–observe the gaping wounds and the indignities endured before they’re crammed into livestock carriers for the terrifying ride to industrialized death.

It’s been impossible to get current footage of these atrocities–the national park has restricted access to the capture facility (a ‘safety’ issue), locking out citizen-taxpayer witnesses and the media. A lawsuit filed at the end of January by a journalist and an activist “argues that the First Amendment guarantees citizens and journalists reasonable, non-disruptive access to the publicly funded national park” (Animal Legal Defense Fund news release). The park subsequently announced that “media tours” will be given next week. Activists from Buffalo Field Campaign (BFC) will be present to serve as eyes and ears for the rest of us who pay the park’s bills and love and respect the wildlife: “It is going to be extremely difficult for us to see what these buffalo suffer as they are run through this gauntlet of torture, but it is critical that the public know what Yellowstone is doing — on behalf of livestock interests — to the buffalo whom they are mandated to protect” (BFC update from the field). (UPDATE: Here’s what they saw.)

“Yellowstone’s slaughter of wild bison is as lacking in scientific reason as it is in public support,” asserts Buffalo Field Campaign in a March 3rd news release. The grassroots activist organization has been fighting state and federal persecution of wild bison on the ground and on the policy front for nearly two decades–a testament to both BFC’s staying power and the political power of Montana’s livestock industry. In fact, the Montana statute (MCA 81-2-120) enabling a management scheme that favors a for-profit special interest over national park wildlife “is almost entirely funded by the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to back Department of Livestock management of wild buffalo. Without American taxpayer funding, Montana and Yellowstone National Park would have to change their ways” (news release, 3/3/16).

Annual culling operations by the national park and its management partners occur in addition to the hunting debacles carried out in Montana by state and tribal hunters. Just this winter, “hunters”–who wait outside park boundaries to slaughter bison as they cross into the death zone–have killed the disproportionate majority of 420 individuals dead so far in the 2015-2016 season. What effect are annual slaughters having on the unique genetics of the treasured animals in Yellowstone–the only place in the world where a wild bison herd has survived continuously since prehistoric times? Will we know when it’s too late?

What can you and I do? Thus far,Yellowstone has ignored the massive public outcry orchestrated by BFC. The group now suggests calling the White House. I did just that last Friday–it took under two minutes. I’m a taxpayer calling from Montana, I told the voice on the other end, to ask that the president intervene in the slaughter of Yellowstone’s native, wild bison. “Bison. OK. I’ll relay your message,” replied the volunteer operator. You don’t get to deliver a treatise (I wasn’t even asked my name), so plan on getting your point across in just a few words. The number is 202-456-1111.

Sure, it’s a long-shot, but what else have we got? Well, we’ve got this, from BFC:


  • “150 bison in Yellowstone’s…trap are about to be ‘processed’” – Examiner
  • Animal Legal Defense Fundlawsuit articles
  • “Wild Bison in the American West,” a post written in June 2013 for Britannica’s Advocacy for Animals (offers background info)
  • Those who are able might consider making a donation to Buffalo Field Campaign. They operate on the thinnest of shoestrings.

Head on over to Animal Blawg to comment on this post.

Of Easter hams and meatless fish

Google images

‘Tis the Easter season. This is apparent thanks to the frequency with which supermarket advertising circulars appear, each and every one featuring the dead, sliced body of a pig front and center. How else to celebrate the Season of Renewed Life?

Indeed. Let’s sit down to a meal of flesh from an intelligent, sentient being who was brought into the world to suffer a hideous, hellish life and die a cruel, industrial death solely to grace our tables as we give thanks to the Lord of compassion for His sacrifice born of love…and the miracle of Easter. Amen!

Lambs all over North America must wipe their woolly brows in relief every Easter: Whew, dodged a bullet! But I digress.

The foods section in our local paper is something I rarely read. Pouring almond milk over cereal is the extent of my cooking interest and ability. Or at least it used to be–until desperation to produce a vegan birthday cake drove me to find a recipe I thought I could handle–and did. Talk about your miracles!

Tilapia orgy in Malaysia -OregonLive.com (click)

But a recent foods section caught my eye with this photo caption: “For a meatless Friday meal, try tilapia with avocado salsa.” Meatless? Tilapia?? I quick looked up tilapia, just to make double sure it wasn’t some exotic vegetable or fermented, sprouted soy thingie. An article from the Detroit Free Press went on to tout the benefits of cooking and eating this African freshwater fish.

Promoted as the “new chicken of the sea” or “aquatic chicken because it breeds easily and tastes bland,” tilapia are industrially produced on huge factory fish farms in China and Latin America; the U.S. is the largest consumer at 475 million pounds in 2010 (New York Times). Along with fish farming come the many sins of industrial animal production: overcrowding of sentient beings, added hormones (in some cases), displacement of native species, massive aquatic ecosystem degradation and destruction.

Likely we’ve all heard (at least once) the proclamation, “I’m vegetarian, but I do eat fish” or “fish and sometimes chicken.” I imagine a hierarchy (“How Similar to Us Are They?”) where fish–cold-blooded, scaled, underwater-dwelling, egg-laying fish–are so alien as to merit virtually no consideration as living beings. Chickens–creatures with wings, not even mammals!–are just above them. I mean, aren’t they produced by the billions? Basically just dumb, mindless automatons?

I googled “is fish meat” and got a couple of interesting hits. One concludes that “it depends on your perspective” at which I snorted in disgust. The author was talking to me when he/she wrote, “Many people hate to arrive at the conclusion of everyone wins, but in this situation that may be the case.” To be fair, though, religious perspectives, dietary preferences, red meat vs. white meat, and a biological approach ( meat is muscle protein, period) are all given their due here.

Another site is unequivocal:

Most of us tiptoe around religious mandates regarding slaughter of animals and consumption of their bodies out of respect, out of fear of appearing insensitive, out of fear of offending. Sometimes out of ignorance. Here’s where I harken back to childhood, a half-Polish, Protestant kid with lots of Polish Catholic friends and relatives. I was eating lunch–Campbell’s chicken noodle soup–with my friend Mary, who was removing pieces of chicken from her mouth and neatly placing them on a napkin. I was baffled. “It’s Friday,” she reminded me. (The Friday fish fry was and is an institution in my heavily-immigrant, heavily-Catholic hometown.) I kept my own mouth shut–you don’t question another’s religion. But seeing Mary spit out chicken chunks because it was Friday made me wonder–is this really what God wants? REALLY? Well, turns out not God so much as the church:

This is not to come down on Catholics. Most humans whose religion has compassion at its core routinely rob animals of their lives–with or without ritual. I once attended a panel discussion on living a compassionate life; it was presented by a progressive Christian pastor and a Buddhist nun. During the Q&A, someone beat me to asking about killing animals for food. The pastor seemed uninterested in addressing this topic and sat back while the nun took it on, saying pretty much what you’d expect from a practitioner of one of the more respectful-of-animal-life belief systems.

So when will religions–many with millennia of ancient tradition behind them–come up to speed with what we know about animals today? That animals lead emotional and yes–even moral lives? That chickens show empathy? That cows make friends and suffer in their absence or loss? That pigs are social, playful, and protective? That fish are complex, intelligent creatures with memories and cognitive powers, that their “pain system…is very similar to that of birds and mammals”?

We live in a modern world and have new insights into animals’ lives. When dogma clashes with compassion and justice, which should give way and which should hold sway? If warm-blooded and cold-blooded can no longer be claimed as any kind of moral divide, what about Friday’s fish?
For an admittedly incomplete list of faith-based animal resource, visit our Vegan Living page.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

An animal rights Super Bowl fantasy (reprised & updated)

Just say no to pigskin–unless it’s on a pig. Click image.

It’s Superbowl Sunday, and even as I type, the six-hour pre-game show has commenced. We’ll tune in later, for the actual game. Yes, we’re football fans, a somewhat shocking revelation to friends who know us only for our more conscience-driven pursuits. We’ll be cheering for, well, who cares. I default to the NFC when I don’t have a dog in that fight, to use a football-related (OK, Michael Vick-related, close enough) term. Go 49ers, ho-hum. Then again, ravens are birds–and birds are good, and the Edgar Allen Poe/Baltimore connection is most compelling to a former English teacher…so…Go team!

I’ve been a Green Bay Packers fan since before it was cool–for 4-1/2 decades. I kid you not, just in the last two minutes I started thinking about the name “packers,” wondering what could it be that was getting packed in the midwest way back when??? (Upton Sinclair, get thee behind me.) With dread in my vegan heart, I confirmed my worst suspicion: meat! Meat was packed at the Indian Packing Company (slogan: “A meat market on your pantry shelf”). According to that perpetual eruption of information, Wikipedia, shipping clerk Curly Lambeau asked the company to sponsor jerseys and provide use of its athletic field in 1919, and the Green Bay Packers team was born. Ouch. See what happens when you start looking below the surface?

We’ll soon start preparing our game-day chow, which includes roasted-garlic-and-kalamata olive hummus, tortilla chips, vegan pizza, and a growler of Missoula’s own. Maybe there will be room left for “The best chocolate cake ever…that happens to be vegan. I kid you not” (recipe here).

Like everyone else, we’ll watch for the ads. And because Americans profess to love animals, and marketers know that animals sell, we’ll probably see plenty. Oh sure, the Budweiser draft horses will make an appearance, as will the Coca-Cola polar bears, but so will the Skechers French bulldog (view 2012 ad here), who, according to greyhound advocacy group Grey2K USA, will legitimize and glamorize dog racing cruelty for 100 million viewers. Will there be cat wrangling? Chimps in business suits? Pigs crammed in gestation crates and downer cows forklifted to the slaughter floor? Oh wait–that’s part of the fantasy.

See, I’m waiting for the Super Bowl where every ad pushing a product that exploited animals HAS to be followed by one showing the exploitation. Chicken nugget ad? Chicken “broiler” ad. Got milk ad? Cow and calf cruelty ad. Steakhouse ad? CAFO ad. Egg muffin ad? The skinny on “layers.” Bacon-bacon-bacon ad? Thirty seconds of factory farmed pig cruelty. Imagine the many mindlessly masticating mouths filled with pulled pork and barbecued wings that would come to a grinding halt while the bitter, hideous truth graphically played out before their horrified eyes! The gag reflexes and the heaving! The stampede for the restroom! The next-day surge in Field Roast and Tofurky stock on Wall Street!

See what happens when you start looking below the surface?!?

The halftime reprieve would feature vegetarian and vegan entertainers who were billed as such. Prince and Sir Paul have already had their gigs, so the list might include Chrissie Hynde, Moby, k.d. lang, and Bryan Adams. Maybe animal rights rapper IFEEL. There are plenty to choose from.

But the fantasy won’t happen this year. No, this year the status quo of exploitation will continue to reign because blogs such as this haven’t yet brought the animal-industrial complex to its knees (“the animal industrial complex performs the annual repetitious killing of in excess of 56 billion farmed land animals”) though, dog knows, it’s not for lack of trying. It won’t happen this year because you and I don’t have a cool four million to spend on honest ads that show the sufferin’ behind “I’m lovin’ it.” Sadly, I don’t suppose we ever will. *sigh*

And that’s where that growler comes in. Will you be joining me in a pint?

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Bear 399: Delisting the grizzly you know


(UPDATE: May 10, 2016 deadline to submit comments on delisting. Access all related documents and find comment link here.)

We humans don’t relate well to nonhuman animals at the population level–so goes the theory. But give us the particulars about a specific individual–tell us his or her story–and we get it: this is someone who has an interest in living. Someone with places to go…kids to raise…food to procure. Like us, this is someone who wants to avoid danger–while living the good life. This is an individual with a story–and a history.

If you can’t relate to the 112,126,000 pigs killed in the U.S. in 2013, how about just one–Esther the Wonder Pig, who has her own Facebook page (and 372,000+ likes)? Or Wilma (outgoing, talkative, loves apples), rescued from factory farming? Who can wrap their head around 8,666,662,000 chickens killed in the U.S. in 2014?!? But it’s easy to be drawn into Penelope’s story–saved from ritual slaughter, or that of Butterscotch, who saw sunshine for the first time with her one good eye (the other one covered in an infected mass) after her rescue from a factory egg farm. Animal activists have attempted to raise awareness about trophy hunting for years, but it took the death of Cecil, a well-known African lion with his own following, to virally propel the topic into public consciousness.

Then take grizzly bears. Here in the Northern Rockies, grizzlies frequently die unnatural deaths–struck by vehicles, shot by rural homeowners, killed mistakenly or defensively by hunters, executed by the state as “problem bears.” For many people, the death of the generic grizzly, while always lamentable, isn’t the same as the loss of the bear one knows. Witness last August’s anguish and outrage when Blaze, an oft-photographed mother bear with a fan base in Yellowstone, was executed for killing and partially consuming an intruding hiker.

After 40 years of protected threatened status, Endangered Species Act (ESA) delisting looms on the horizon for the Greater Yellowstone Area (GYA) grizzlies, and now bear advocates would like for you to get to know grizzly 399, “the most famous mother bear on earth” (photo, “The Matriarch”). Because if you know her, you’ll be more likely to go to bat for her.

T. Mangelsen photo; click image

T. Mangelsen photo; click image

First, a few details about 399, so named by researchers with the Interagency Grizzly Bear Study Team: She’s 19, weighs nearly 400 pounds, and stands 6 feet, 2 inches on her hind legs. She’s a super-mom, having produced three litters of triplets; her offspring include 14 cubs and grandcubs. (Bear 610, her daughter, is famous in her own right and has a Twitter account.) Her home territory, covering hundreds of square miles, includes Grand Teton National Park–where she lives, and the Bridger-Teton National Forest–where she dens. Mama 399 and cubs hang out in the front country where they’re safer from male bears (who sometimes kill cubs in order to initiate a new breeding cycle in the female) and food is plentiful. While this exposes the family to adoring wildlife watchers and eager photographers, it’s important to note that 399 is tolerant of humans, but not habituated to us.

I learned these facts from two people who know 399 perhaps better than anyone when they came to speak at the University of Montana back in mid-November. World renowned photographer Tom Mangelsen (you’ve already seen his iconic Alaska bear photo) and environmental journalist Todd Wilkinson, along with the Sierra Club (Greater Yellowstone/Northern Rockies Campaign) brought their grizzly roadshow to Missoula to raise awareness about what–make that who–is at stake with delisting. This was also a book tour with a mission: the duo has produced a spectacular book of images and text, “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek: An intimate portrait of 399.”

In a word, delisting the Greater Yellowstone grizzlies now would be premature. Key issues are changes in the food supply; habitat expansion and connectivity obstacles; and immediate trophy hunting in all three states (Montana, Idaho, and Wyoming). With an estimated 717 bears–down from some 750 in 2014–conservationists advise a precautionary approach, particularly in light of the 55 conflict-related bear mortalities in the past year (and four orphaned cubs sent to zoos, bringing the loss of bears to 59), and the frighteningly low minimum population number of 600 proposed by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, administrator of the ESA.

Grizzlies are omnivores with wide-ranging tastes, but their primary foods are whitebark pine seeds, spawning cutthroat trout, army cutworm moths, and ungulate meat. The whitebark pine forest, according to Wilkinson, is already 70-80% gone in the GYA due to non-native fungal disease and climate-driven bark beetle attacks, while cutthroats have been all but wiped out by exotic lake trout (a deep-water fish unavailable to bears). Moths, which grizzlies eat by the pound (up to 40,000 a day!), are subject to climate change and pesticides at lower elevations. This leaves meat–primarily elk–which bears shift to as other food sources disappear. “Because grizzly bears reproduce so slowly,” writes the Sierra Club, “it takes a long time to discern trends (i.e., population trends), but we already know that more bears are dying as they increasingly use meat (livestock and hunter-killed carcasses) to replace traditional food sources, and come into more conflict with ranchers and hunters as a result.”

The GYA grizzlies are an isolated “island population”–presenting an obstacle to expansion and genetic diversity. According to the Sierra Club,

This should means more protection for bears–not less–especially in linkage areas, and the freedom to expand into suitable habitat without an increase in human-caused mortalities.

But it’s the immediate onslaught of trophy hunting that produces the most visceral reaction from bear advocates. Keep in mind that Grand Teton National Park “deputizes” hundreds of citizens as ranger-hunters to kill elk inside the park–they proposed issuing 650 licenses this past season (late October through mid-December)–for the so-called elk reduction program. Both Mangelsen and Wilkinson emphasized the danger of park hunting to bears: hunters kill elk, leaving behind gut piles–with human scent all over them–which attract bears. They told of one hunter who killed a bull elk, but because he didn’t possess a bull permit, he left the carcass. Bears found it and fed on it–concentrating bears and hunters on the same landscape. What could possibly go wrong?!? Worse still, grizzlies now equate gunshots to a dinner bell–a tragic set-up when the great bears become targets themselves.

While the interagency grizzly bear partners have done a great job reviving the population, praised Mangelsen, and while many delisting metrics have been met–Wilkinson cited the number of females and females with cubs–both agreed that this isn’t enough, that ALL variables must be considered. If this is a political move to protect the Endangered Species Act–i.e., a pressing need to show a success story–it comes at the expense of grizzly bears. In strictly economic terms, nature-based tourism is soaring and bears are worth more alive in wildlife-watching revenue than they are dead in trophy hunting license fees.

But for bear advocates, grizzly lives can’t be measured in economic terms–if they can be measured at all. Grizzlies are essential and priceless members of our community of life, today occupying less than 2% of their historic habitat in the lower 48. So when the delisting rule is issued, please defend 399, her daughter 610, and their kids and extended family. These are the bears you know.

Learn more:

  • “Grizzlies of Pilgrim Creek” book trailer; don’t miss this 3:50 minute video!
  • “What’s next for Yellowstone’s grizzlies?” – by Todd Wilkinson in National Geo.
  • “USFWS letter indicates grizzly bear delisting proposal coming soon,”here
  • “Grizzly counting methods face scrutiny as delisting decision nears” – Missoulian, 12/9/15
  • AddUp.org – a petition to the director of the US Fish & Wildlife Svc.; links to info
  • Grizzly Times links to latest science – here
  • How will 399 and other grizzlies survive U.S. trophy shootings? – podcast
  • Mangelsen’s image of 610’s cubs play-dancing in the Tetons (Apr. 2012) is here
  • “The changing world of Greater Yellowstone’s grizzly bears” – watch at least from the 4 minute mark to 13:29 (you’ll probably want to watch more!), here.

King-size coyote fur comforter: Price vs. cost

Wile E Coyote

Looney Tunes/Warner Bros. – click image

From Killing Coyotes 101: “Don’t be squeamish about killing juvenile coyotes,” advises the text beneath a photo of a grown man grinning over a dead pup. “They will be practicing their hunting skills on your turkey poults, deer fawns, pigglets [sic] and livestock if you let them. so [sic] kill them when you can.”

If that seems harsh, keep in mind that it’s all in God’s design:

But even despicable creatures have their price. A king-size coyote fur comforter (comforter–oh the bitter irony of that word!) is offered for sale at the special price of $5495.00, reduced from $6495.00. The luxurious fur of 20-some animals (my estimate from photo) cascades to the floor, starkly illustrating how Canis latrans is valued by some (punctuation/capitalization as appears on the website):


Click image for Facebook page

While pricey fur bedspreads are an elite niche market (as well as flagrant commercialization of wildlife), they’re far removed from the ranks of varmint hunters and trappers out to kill “yotes.” No love is lost on predators–especially wily ones like coyotes–judging from the number of predator “derby” competitions. It’s as if there’s a special, intense hatred of coyotes because they dare to be smart–perhaps smarter than their stalkers. So the killers turn to decoys and technological gadgetry–electronic calling devices (video)–and even bait to lure them in. Don’t forget that principled advice from Killing Coyotes 101: never be afraid to hunt them in what we would normally think of as an “unsporting manner.” They deserve to die!

While killing competitions are nothing new–they’ve just been skulking in the shadows like other morally-challenged pursuits–they’re coming under increasing scrutiny and media attention. So now organizers often attempt to legitimize the bloodlust as necessary:


Click image for larger graphic

But this goes against current scientific knowledge about coyote social structure and reproduction. Research suggests that:

This is also why bounties don’t work. I impulsively picked up a free copy of the “Montana Hunting & Fishing News” for December and found a poorly-written piece titled “Predator control works in Utah: More states should follow.” It’s not available online so I can’t link to it, but the gist is this: Utah’s Predator Control Program offered hunters and trappers a $50 per animal bounty, reaping 7160 coyotes in the program’s first year. The blood money incentive resulted in an estimated 3000 to 4800 more dead coyotes than normally would have been killed. Here’s the take-away, according to Hunting & Fishing News:

You can always rely on the Dynamic Duo of speciesism and capitalism to value animals’ lives solely on their perceived disadvantage or benefit to humans and their ability to cash in. Ka-ching!


Project Coyote – click image

If you were naive, you’d think that state wildlife management agencies would put an end to killing contests–not only because they’re indiscriminate, unscientific, and ineffective, but also because debasing native wildlife species is nothing to promote and creates a vigilante mindset. Surely the resulting malice exacts a societal cost. Says conservative author Matthew Scully: “Cruelty is less a vice in its own right than it is a cost exacted by other vices — greed and arrogance, just to start with. Victims of cruelty are the wreckage left by selfish desire.” (A 70-year-old coyote defender was allegedly assaulted by a killing contest sponsor in Modoc County, CA just a few days ago. Violence begets violence.)

But science and sanity don’t prevail, as Utah’s bounty illustrates. In Idaho, two wilderness wolf packs were recently exterminated by the state to increase elk production. New Mexico’s “game” commission chair kills for cash. Here in Montana, MT Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) condones gratuitous slaughter, offering guidelines on a page sickeningly titled, “Recreational Shooting of Predators.” (Coyotes can also be trapped/snared year-round–no license required for state residents.) If one wonders how this self-serving system sustains itself, here’s just one glimpse into how the deck is stacked: according to his “about” page, the purveyor of that coyote fur comforter serves on his regional FWP Citizens Advisory Committee.

But listen for rumblings of change. California’s Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously to consider a ban on hunting contests (Dec. 2014: done!), with one commissioner commenting that contests “seem inconsistent both with ethical standards of hunting and our current understanding of the important role predators play in ecosystems.”

While the price of a king-size coyote fur comforter is high–not only to the purchaser, but especially to those who suffer in traps and pay with their lives–the cost is much broader and weightier and can’t be measured in anything so concrete as dollars. There’s the cost to ecological integrity. On the human front, there’s the cost that results in a diminished ethical bank account: dwindling stores of compassion and justice, depleted funds of morality–a hemorrhaging of simple generosity and accommodation. It’s a shared account, and we all bear the cost.

  • Two published, scientific papers on the biological mechanisms for why killing coyotes doesn’t work can be found here.
  • “Killing Coyote” High Plains Films, 83 min. documentary; watch trailer here
  • “Pro-Life, Pro-Animal” by Matthew Scully is here
  • “The ecological role of coyotes, bears, mountain lions, and wolves,” Predator Defense
  • “Coyote hunting ‘dirt naps’” – watch this and tell me who the “ruthless, heartless, killing machines” are.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg and “like” Other Nations on Facebook.

Titanic commemorations bring on a sinking feeling for ducks and geese

Who’da thunk that commemorative events surrounding the sinking of the Titanic would cause an uptick in the demand for pate de foie gras, but that’s the sad truth. You just can’t escape cruelty, and the intervention of 100 years hasn’t brought on the evolution of enlightenment. Seems that every place from my blue-collar Hoosier hometown (pop. 32,400) to New York City’s St. Regis hotel to a Hong Kong establishment is recreating the last meal served on the doomed ship. “The idea is to recreate the ambience on the ship,” said the chef at Hong Kong’s Hullett House. “It’s for people who want to be somewhere else.”

Oh how one wishes that “somewhere else” could be one of the hellholes where ducks and geese suffer forced feedings, organ damage, and unending pain only to be slaughtered for their diseased “fatty livers.” How one wishes that the fine ladies in their furs and feathers and the gentlemen in their impeccable tuxedos could witness in person the torment of too much force-fed grain pumped into the stomachs (called “gavage”) of immobilized birds. A girl can dream, can’t she?

Foie gras, whose production has been challenged in court, is “revered as one of the most exquisite foods in the world” by gourmands. It is but a decadent, gustatory bauble for the one per cent (and wannabes)–one whose price is off the scale in pain and suffering. To her credit, Kate Winslet, leading lady in the Cameron production of “Titanic,” worked with PETA to expose the cruelty of foie gras in a YouTube video. The revealing film footage, shot surreptitiously, is of the very sort that has been criminalized by state legislatures (two so far–Iowa and Utah) at the behest of their ag-industry overlords.

Foie gras will disappear from California menus on July first, when a state-wide ban signed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2004 goes into effect. Wrote Wolfgang Puck to fellow restaurateurs in the Golden State,

Others defend the dish as a 5000-year-old culinary tradition, asserting that the gavage phase, which lasts about 18 days prior to slaughter, is nothing more than a “facsimile” of a bird’s natural feeding prior to a physically-demanding migration. Oh, and let’s not forget that old exploiter’s standby, the “They’re Not Like Us” argument:

Most of us aren’t made to swallow animal cruelty whole, either, though a great many humans manage to ignore the inconvenient reality of industrial animal production where their “normal” food–animals like pigs, chickens, and cattle–is concerned.

But a so-called luxury item like foie gras is just such as easy target; it would be a shame to forego taking another shot at it given the Titanic hoopla playing out today and tomorrow. One assumes there were no vegans on board–indeed, the word vegan wasn’t coined until 1944. But had there been, they might have requested “faux gras” as a substitute for the real–and cruelty-saturated–thing.

This post first appeared at animal law blog Animal Blawg, where comments are accepted.

Someone else’s trash: Rez dogs saved; rez dogs lost


Dumpster pups reunite; M. Greener photo, Bozeman Daily Chronicle

From tragic to jubilant in eight short words: “Puppies left to die in garbage bin reunited.” The headline pulls you into the story–you already know it ends well–but still, you have to confront the fact that someone callously trashed a box of 10 newborns during a frigid Montana winter. Instead of freezing to death, the babies–some had not yet opened their eyes–were rescued by RezQ Dogs (website, Facebook), a volunteer rescue operation “committed to helping the unwanted and abandoned dogs from the Fort Belknap and Rocky Boy Indian reservations” in north-central Montana. Tiny Tails K-9 Rescue (website, Facebook) stepped in to help, and the rest is happy history.

A little more than a year after their rescue, eight of the now-adopted 10 dogs were reunited, the joyous occasion documented in an article picked up by the Associated Press that recently appeared in our local, west-central Montana paper. “I love her story,” one of the adopters told the reporter. “I love that we get to be a part of her story now. These puppies were someone else’s trash and they’re treasure to us.”

Someone else’s trash. The comment called up a memory that every so often comes back to haunt–now 20 years later. After returning to college in mid-life to become a teacher, I eventually did my student teaching on the Navajo (Dine’) Reservation in Arizona. I was placed at a small, isolated dot on the map where I had wonderful students, many from families where elders spoke only Navajo. I was kindly accepted by traditional people who knew I respected their culture, cared about their children, and endeavored to teach them the very best that I could.

1982142_491370700968409_1327831003_nBut oh, the dogs. Everywhere, the dogs. Along roadsides, in towns, congregated in parking lots (see recent video shot by caring travelers), at gas stations and garbage dumps, dogs everywhere: limping, lactating, half-dead, fully dead; mean dogs, wary and nice dogs–hungry, sick, desperate dogs. It was shocking–appalling. This was tragedy enough, but more was coming my way. One day I explored the local canyon, which eventually narrowed into a slot. Nearing its head, the strip of daylight far above was a mere few feet wide. There, in the semi-darkness, illuminated by a shaft of light from above, three perfect, beautiful puppies lay on the sand. They appeared unscathed–like they were napping–but they were dead, tossed into the slot canyon from the rim above. Someone else’s trash.

Reading about the Montana dumpster puppies brought that memory bubbling to the surface, prompting me to revisit the issue. The phenomenon– “outdoor, stray, and feral dogs living on Indian reservations in the United States and Canada”–is widespread enough to have its own Wikipedia entry under “rez dog.” But, as I already knew, no simple, single root cause is responsible. Geography, socioeconomic factors, suspicion, culture, sovereignty–all play a role in this canine tragedy. Consider the Rosebud Sioux Reservation:

Then consider the sprawling Navajo Nation–at 27,000 square miles, it’s larger than 10 of the 50 U.S. states (source). But unlike the states, this vast area is home to just 175,000 people (2010 census) scattered in small communities and isolated villages where established veterinary services are nonexistent. Pinning down the number of strays is difficult, if not impossible–I’ve seen the estimate placed at 160,000 at a few different online sources; others say more than 440,000 dogs are free-roaming, likely including many who are “owned” to one degree or another. Like the dust devils that whirl across the spectacular desert landscape, dogs are born and they die in unending, revolving cycles.

The Navajo word for dog is descriptive, and while it can’t be typed without a Navajo alphabet font, it means “pet that defecates–all the time; everywhere.” Describing the Dine’s relationship to the dog isn’t quite so straightforward. In their traditional cultural role as protector of the family’s wealth (sheep) and home, dogs were held in high esteem–though never treated as spoiled, indoor family members. But as life on the reservation has shifted away from traditional lifestyles, dogs are now more likely to be housing complex threats and town nuisances–fighting, biting, spreading disease, killing and being killed. And breeding–always breeding many replacements.

The tribal government has done little to support those Dine’ who want to work for change. Watch “Rez Dogs,” an excellent 41-minute documentary (2007)* and listen for the disconnect between the words of former Navajo Nation president Joe Shirley (“we’re doing everything we can”) and the reality on the ground, where scarce shelters are grossly under- or unfunded and tribal animal control officers resort to mass roundups and killings. Listen for suspicion about the motives of outside groups conducting neuter and vaccination clinics on the rez, and frustration on the part of those groups when nothing changes. You’ll hear compassion and concern–and chilling callousness: One boy says he swerves to hit dogs on the road because there are just too many. The intractable nature of this decades-old problem painfully reveals itself.

422751_335653743152739_1326520636_nBut even as dog populations continue to grow, good things are happening. A high-volume spay/neuter clinic on the Rosebud Sioux reservation is making a noticeable difference. The Tuba City Humane Shelter (western Navajo Nation) successfully teams up with rescue groups to feed, foster, adopt, and spay/neuter. The Navajo Nation Puppy Adoption Program (Facebook) facilitates fostering, adopting, and education, asserting that “this alone (the unwanted dog problem) brings disharmony, first and foremost, to the animal and it continues on to us as a people” (source). As of a couple years ago, the program was reaching out to elementary school kids with humane education (see Navajo Times). In Canada, Dogs With No Names uses a contraceptive implant to successfully reduce populations.

Compassionate, persistent people–tribal and nontribal–are doing what they can within the confines of apathy and poverty to stem the tide of suffering rez dogs and cats. They deserve our gratitude and support. But it’s a relentless tide, inundating tribal lands and border towns with ever more lives in distress. And while strides forward are made daily and one precious animal at a time, it’s sadly easy to anticipate that another box of babies will be found in a dumpster and splashed across the news wire to arouse our momentary horror and anger. This piece is dedicated to the compassionate ones on the battlefront who go forward without flinching–who never quit ministering to “someone else’s trash.”


*Though free to view, “Rez Dogs” is interrupted by brief commercials. I experienced a glitch near the end and was unable to finish viewing, but what I saw was very well done. I contacted the folks at SnagFilms and they’re working to fix it.

Learn more:

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In wildfire’s path: Animal homes, human homes

Lolo Creek Complex fire 2013

Lolo Creek Complex heading our way – InciWeb photo – click image

When wildfire comes calling, all priorities shift. Animal rights work slides into oblivion while concern for individual animals–in this case, our own companion animals–sets sirens to shrieking in my head. Can I sneak the two cat carriers out of the attic undetected? Will I be able to catch Larkspur, our frightened, half-feral girl, when I absolutely must? (The element of surprise is critical!) Is her thyroid medication packed? Will the kennel have room for our dog Winter?…and when will I make the 25 mile round trip? Arrrgh!!!

Two small, lightning-sparked fires detected on Sunday, August 18th merged and exploded into the Lolo Creek Complex fire on Monday. Evacuation wasn’t immediately ordered, but still, we had to be ready to go and spent a fairly frantic day deciding what absolutely couldn’t be lost, packing it up, and getting it out of Dodge (thanks, Ken & Niccole!). By Monday evening, evacuation in our neighborhood was voluntary; we decided to stay. To ensure Winter’s safety (and spare her the upheaval and anxiety), I made an early evening run to the kennel spurred on by the immense, menacing smoke column looming above our northern Bitterroot Valley home in the foothills.

Tuesday brought choking smoke and hurried consultations about what additional stuff to pack in which car. Suddenly, I remembered a critical item still in the attic. “Oh my god,” I gasped to my husband, “Walden’s ashes! Her ashes have to be mingled with mine!” We processed this idea for a moment–that ashes had to be saved from a fire–then burst into peals of tension-breaking laughter, even while understanding the significance of that one animal companion (in this case, a blue-eyed Aussie-cross) who comes along once in a lifetime.

That evening we got the word: It’s time to go. The fire had made another explosive run and was bearing down on our rural neighborhood. Nothing gets the lead out like hearing, “You might have two hours, you might have 20 minutes.” Larkspur was successfully nabbed mid-nap. Juniper proved to be the tougher customer, resisting the carrier with six or eight legs while making noises I last heard in “The Exorcist.” We loaded them in one car–the other being partly filled with bags and cans of premium dog and cat food–and made a run for it. But wait–we forgot Winter’s orthopedic bed! It wasn’t too late to dash back and grab it. Evacuation, it seemed, was largely about our animal companions. Even the dead ones!

We spent the Tuesday-to-Saturday evacuation with friends (thanks, April & Steve!) whose detached, one-room cabin allowed us to be with our kitties while all four of us–cats and humans–freaked out, each according to her or his own species.

Moose Lolo Creek Complex

Moose in crown fire burn, Lolo Creek Complex; InciWeb photo – click image

In our circle of animal-loving friends and family, someone always gets to wondering and worrying about the wild animals in a fire’s path. This is when I harken to naturalist Henry Beston’s eloquent words about animals as the “other nations” so superior to us in ways we can’t fathom or refuse to acknowledge:

Common sense and respect for their abilities tell me that animals are savvier than we are–perceiving distant danger with those extensions of senses, heeding the voices that tell them when it’s time to fly, to flee, or to ride out the flames in underground burrows. A moose and wild turkeys who’d fled the Lolo Creek Complex were photographed a few days later returning to the still-smoldering landscape. “Don’t worry about the animals,” said Bill Leenhouts, a fire ecologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “Most animals actually escape the fires.” His comments were made back in 2000, another memorable wildfire year when much of the West was ablaze. “There is some [animal death], there’s no doubt about it,” he continued. “Surprisingly, there’s not that much.”

TNC – click image

Indeed, some animals owe much to wildfire. The American bison evolved with the prairie biome; fast-moving grassfires shaped both land and animal. Flames made the lumbering bison fleet of foot, able to outrun a fire at 30 miles per hour. Certainly this means that slower animals were overtaken and perished, but natural selection is nature’s plan.

So fire is not necessarily the enemy–unless you’re a human with a house full of stuff in its path. Plants and animals depend on fire to clear the forest floor of competing undergrowth, to maintain old growth, to replenish the soil with nutrients, to create new habitat, to stimulate biodiversity, to release the seeds of fire-dependent species and more. One wonders, though, given the effects of climate change–longer fire seasons and larger, more intense fires–will animals who must move on to new homes find enough available habitat?

After all, even my own home sits in a rural gulch that was, decades ago, available habitat. And even though we’ve made every attempt to maintain a native landscape and a presence as unobtrusive as possible, we’re surrounded by barking dogs, droning lawnmowers, ATVs, and other intrusions entirely heedless of human neighbors, let alone consideration for wildlife. The elk who used to look in our windows moved on years ago.

The Lolo Creek Complex fire was, for one critical day, the nation’s number one priority fire as it came barreling down the Lolo Creek canyon, consuming five homes on its way. The assembled team of hundreds–firefighters, National Guard, agency personnel–from around the country and Canada stopped the fire just short of our neighborhood, teaching us humans an unforgettable lesson in gratitude. Our household is back to normal. The cat carriers are stowed in the attic near the ashes of three beloved cats and one dog.

Out in the charred forest, wild animals pursue their lives as they have for millennia.

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“Well-mannered predators” and other speciesist notions about animal captivity

No sooner do we turn the page on the sad story of two wild Montana grizzlies gone psychotic in a Midwestern zoo when along comes more tragedy involving captive wild animals. Yes, wild animals taken from their habitats or born into captivity to live unnatural, diminished lives are tragic cases in their own right. Witness a bear turning endless tight circles in her cement cell (instead of ranging across 100 square wilderness miles) and tell me this isn’t tragic.

But the latest calamities are compounded in that they are also human tragedies–and needless ones but for our speciesist insistence on keeping wild beings captive for our own pleasure and profit.

It’s almost impossible to contemplate the two year old child who fell into the African wild dog exhibit at the Pittsburg zoo. This horrendous incident has prompted all sorts of online chatter–everything from mommy/baby forums (“Poll question: Do you think the African painted dogs should be put down?”) to gun owner forums (“If you’re carrying, open carry or concealed carry, in a zoo…and you see something like this happening…do you draw and fire at the animals to stop the attack?”). Argh. One article alone generated 660+ comments. There’s compassion for the mother as well as condemnation that goes beyond cruel. There’s bravado, there’s anguish. Would-be wildlife experts abound. The dogs have many defenders, as does the zoo. “Sue the zoo,” others advise. And so it goes.

A writer for National Geographic wonders, “Why did the carnivores attack the boy?” Responds an expert from the African Wild Dog Conservancy in Tucson, “Captive-bred animals can behave differently than their wild counterparts, but there is nothing we can say with certainty as it relates to this tragedy. The context in captivity is so different than in the wild.” Meanwhile, zoo apologist Jack Hanna (he’s called something less genteel by PETA) does damage control by making sure we understand the Pittsburgh Zoo’s vital importance to the survival of this particular species (see Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “Pittsburgh Zoo to reopen, but dogs off limits”).

But for sheer speciesist self-absorption, my money’s on Q103, “Albany’s #1 Rock Station.”

It’s not about the dead child or the stricken, grieving parents, and it’s sure as hell not about wild animals doomed to live sad, whacked-out lives in captivity. No, it’s about us, the zoo-going public. It’s about our preciouszoo experience!

Closer to home, an employee at Animals of Montana (Wildlife visuals with an edge) was mauled to death as he cleaned a brown bear enclosure he’d been in “hundreds of times.” Though the bears are presented as grizzlies, they’re actually Syrian brown bears “purchased from a vendor out of state,” according to the investigating sheriff’s office. One of the two bears–a bear named Griz–was shot and killed when he refused to back away from the victim.

Irony doesn’t get richer than this, taken from the Animals of Montana website (which includes video of the bears performing their tricks):

It’s a sure bet that chuckles are in short supply right now; this morning’s paper brings news that Yosemite, the second bear present at the mauling and brother to Griz, must be destroyed “for the health, safety and welfare of the public and any current or future employee of the facility.” Ordering this destruction is Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks–the same agency that licensed the business as a “roadside menagerie” as defined by the Montana Code Annotated (28). In even more recent developments, Animals of Montana says it will defy the state agency and spare the bear. “I myself personally fully intend to protect this bear with everything I have. They are going to have to arrest me and take me away in chains before they can take the bear,” said the head trainer.

Animals of Montana provides animals for photo shoots and film-making. An hour-long photo shoot with an African lion, a grizzly, or a snow leopard will set you back $500. Black bear, grey wolf, mountain lion? $200. Raccoon, skunk, or mink? $150. For an extra Benjamin you can get “mother and baby interaction.” But if your interest is in film, “At Animals of Montana you won’t need to write around our animals, they will perform to your script.” And they never storm off to their dressing room in a snit!

Animals of Montana refers to its captives as “animal actors” in the same way that other exploiting industries–rodeo and horse racing, for two–refer to their live commodities as “animal athletes.” It has a ring of mutuality to it, like the critters agreed to the terms, signed a contract, maybe even got a nice signing bonus in the deal:

“Well-mannered predator”–does that ring as ridiculously false to you as it does to me? (I picture them sitting down to a kill and knowing which fork to use.) One doesn’t respect an animal by bending his wild will to endure zoo confinement, to pose for the camera, to perform stunts, or to mind his friggin’ manners. The idea of tending to “their own unique needs” is wholly incompatible with confinement and amounts to so much obfuscating, feel-good blather. Call it what it is: Profiting off the captivity and enslavement of others.

In two devastating incidents, two humans and one animal (one of the wild dogs was shot) are dead. The common thread in these tragedies is, at the very core, the tragedy of speciesism. But god forbid that our zoo experience should be ruined, or that we can’t have a trained grizzly shill our product, or that our bottom line suffers for lack of that perfect (and perfectly fake) snarling wolf or roaring lion photo. I mean, hey, what about our rights?!?

Meanwhile, routine tragedies play out daily in zoos everywhere (and circuses and fur farms and…) as animals pace and circle and sometimes attack–broken-spirited prisoners in body and mind. Apparently you can take the animal out of the wild, but you can’t take the wild out of the animal…yet another inconvenient truth we refuse to acknowledge.

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