Snapperfest -or- Hoosiers gone wild (and stupid)

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A couple weeks ago I wrestled with the idea of pig wrestling at the Western Montana Fair. Turns out my healthcare provider, Western Montana Clinic, was one of the sponsors. Yes, healers–people whose empathy should be well-developed–sponsored an event where frightened pigs and piglets are chased and wrestled into a bucket. These things leave you shaking your head: Who finds this kind of stupidity entertaining? Why would any savvy business person agree to sponsor something with an element of cruelty? One species’ “fun” is another species’ terror–is this so hard to grasp?

Now comes Snapperfest and, as a native Hoosier, I’m loathe to report that Indiana has to claim it. Snapperfest takes place in southeast Indiana along the Ohio River where the Kentucky and Ohio borders meet the Hoosier state. If you visited the Rising Sun/Ohio County, Indiana tourism website in the days leading up to event, the first thing you saw was a disclaimer disowning anything to do with Snapperfest. Now there’s a ringing endorsement!

If, by now, your curiosity is aroused, it’s likely your sense of dread is also on high alert. And right you are, an animal species is once again the unwilling target of crass human stupidity posing as entertainment.

Snapperfest pits grown men against snapping turtles. A 2009 YouTube video (nine minutes) will show you everything you need to know about the quest: Run to a tank, reach in, grab a snapper, run back to the staging area, forcibly wrestle the turtle’s head out of the shell, and grab the turtle’s neck in your fist, preferably with all fingers intact. Mission accomplished!

One Snapperfest YouTube video has already been removed; it’s anyone’s guess how long the 2009 version will be displayed. (As of last Friday, it was openly available for viewing; as of Saturday, you had to sign-in to view. But it’s also available here without any hassle.) Are those knives coming out of sheaths at the 1:50 mark? Note the aggression of the “turtle wrangler” at 5:40; watch a Snapperfester drop his turtle at 7:30.

But it’s “good clean fun” and the turtles don’t get hurt, we are assured. “There ain’t no abuse to the turtles whatsoever,” says one old timer. PETA unsuccessfully attempted to halt (page already removed) this year’s Snapperfest–it was held Saturday, 8/20–and plenty of outrage has filled the ether. The folks at the Campshore Camp Ground, host to Snapperfest, have been hammered by phone calls from every state in the U.S. and some foreign countries. They seem genuinely baffled as to why their “harmless fun” would rile anyone.

Was there ever a species so large-brained and still so clueless as Homo sapiens? A species so entitled to get its mindless jollies and ego stoking at the expense of other species? Wrestling pigs, roping calves, manhandling turtles, rounding up rattlers, blasting prairie dogs, gawking at captive animals in zoos, circuses, and water parks, racing horses, wrestling steers…and all the while clueless or indifferent to the fact that the exploited subjects are sentient individuals who simply want what we want: to live, and live free; to pursue their lives free of fear and suffering.

If you weren’t up for nine minutes of Snapperfest ’09, here’s a shorter clip (thanks to the World Animal Awareness Society) from this year’s spectacle. Just one minute, one contestant, and one tortured turtle. Watch this and you’ll understand why it’s not a good day to be a Hoosier. Being human probably won’t seem so grand, either.

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

The lion sleeps tonight–and so should you. List the lion!

It’s a safe bet that when President Richard Nixon signed the Endangered Species Act in 1973, African lions weren’t anywhere on his radar. “Nothing is more priceless and more worthy of preservation than the rich array of animal life with which our country has been blessed,” he wrote in his signing statement on December 28th. “It is a many-faceted treasure…”

Thirty-seven years later in 2011, a coalition led by the International Fund for Animal Welfare petitioned the U.S. Secretary of the Interior to list Panthera leo leo under our nation’s ESA (find the petition here). It lists the usual culprits–loss of habitat and loss of prey due to human activity–as serious threats to lion survival. Throw in human population growth, the bushmeat trade, civil unrest, and desertification, and the King of the Jungle is hurting. Lions have disappeared from 78% of their historic range–which was most of Africa with a few exceptions–very dry deserts and very wet forests.

But why should a foreign species be listed under America’s Endangered Species Act? Because the U.S. is the largest importer of lions and their parts, and “American hunters pose a major threat to a species that is already in serious decline”:

Trophy hunting is an abhorrent pursuit, depriving an individual of his or her life merely for an ego-massaging taxidermy mount and bragging rights. But here’s the added rub–a trophy hunter doesn’t selfishly snuff out just one life:

Hunting is “good” for African lions

The Great White Hunter, 1909 (Wikimedia Commons)

Would it surprise you to learn that Safari Club International (SCI) claims that hunting is good for Africa’s lions? Didn’t think so. Click here for a lion “preview” page from SCI’s online record book. Be sure to scroll down for the photos of the gloating Great White Hunters with their conquests–one guy is even giving the “thumbs up” over his dead beast.

SCI 2011 convention – Wikimedia Commons

Matthew Scully, in his excellent 2002 book, Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy, devotes an entire chapter (“The Shooting Field”) to SCI. An international organization with 50,000 members and 180 local chapters (according to Wikipedia), SCI maintains record books and award levels. “By the time you have attained all…awards in all categories…you will have extinguished the minimum-required 322 animals,” (Dominion 57). Scully goes on to debunk SCI’s claims that trophy hunting is an altruistic pursuit, supposedly benefiting African villagers and local economies.

Your call to action: January 28, 2013 deadline

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has issued a preliminary finding that endangered species listing may be warranted for the African lion. Public comments to be included in the status review are being accepted until the end of Monday, January 28, 2013. If you haven’t weighed in yet (I personally was asleep at the switch; many of you reading probably commented weeks ago), time is running out.

Click here if you want to review the documents related to the African lion proposal.
Click here to submit your comment.

Don’t overthink this–the message need not be a lengthy, researched tome. The Scientific American article is a good information source; advocacy facts are available from most animal conservation groups–here are some from Born Free USA. Five-ten minutes of our time for the survival of the African lion and you–and I–will sleep better tonight. That’s only fitting, knowing that–at least while he (and she) still roams the earth—The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Hey Chicago–animal suffering lies behind that scenic splendor

Dear Chicago:

We need to talk. You can trust me–I’m practically a native daughter. Heck, from my hometown in Indiana, we can look across Lake Michigan and see your skyline (well, on a clear day). I’m a Cubs fan, ’nuff said! But I’ve lived in Montana for going on 14 years now, and if all this doesn’t qualify me to have a frank discussion with you about those tourism ads papering the city…I’m just sayin’.

Well I remember Chicago Tribune columnist Barbara Brotman’s mock hissy fit back in 2010 when Montana’s Office of Tourism started targeting the Windy City. She wrote:

She went so far as to challenge Chicagoans to fight back with a “Take THAT, Montana” photo campaign (view photos here) wherein Tribune readers were to match Montana’s scenic glory, photo for photo, with their own Land of Lincoln natural splendor.

Now comes word that Ms. Brotman has conceded in the face of a tourism office surge when, on May 1st, Montana ramped up its million dollar campaign and stuck it to Chicago big time. “I have been well and truly vanquished,” she lamented.

Hey Chicago, didn’t your mama ever tell you that beauty is only skin deep? That a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart? (I learned that, buddy, from the start!) Look here, Chi-town, if your BFF fell fast and hard for a gorgeous guy but one whom you knew to be a cad, wouldn’t you say something?!?

Well, I’m sayin’ something. Some ugly traditions and politics lie beneath Montana’s gorgeous exterior. If you care about animals and abhor their suffering, listen up.

You big city folk probably aren’t too familiar with the wolverine. Montana is the only state in the lower 48 to still allow the trapping of wolverines–rare, uber-wild, elusive bundles of attitude. Trapping for pleasure and profit is alive and well in Montana, using cruel devices that clamp onto feet, crush bodies, or snare and garrot necks. There’s no mandatory interval in which trappers must check their traps for suffering animals, though 48 hours is suggested. Fewer than 175 wolverines remain in Montana; the breeding population is far smaller. And now climate change threatens the species’ requirement for deep, persistent, springtime snow to protect babies in their dens. So much so that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service has proposed listing wolverines as threatened–a proposal the state of Montana has vowed to fight. Nope, a pretty face don’t make no pretty heart.

Wolves. Only two years off Endangered Species Act listing and Montana can’t kill them fast enough. Just this past season, 225 were slaughtered–128 in a hunt, and 97 in traps. But that wasn’t enough, so the state has proposed an upcoming 6-1/2 month season, a five-wolf bag limit, no statewide quota, no slaughter-free buffer zones around Glacier or Yellowstone, and has OKd the use of electronic calls (so much for Montana’s highly-touted “fair chase ethic”). A commonly-seen bumper sticker around these parts reads, “Wolves: smoke a pack a day.” Nothin’ pretty about that.

Dogfighting. It’s a felony in all fifty states, but in only one is it still legal to attend as a spectator. Guess which one, Chicago? In what should have been a slam-dunk against crime and animal abuse, Montana legislators in February killed a bill (never allowing it out of committee) meant to close the spectator loophole. That dangerous slippery slope is to blame: too much regulation of animal cruelty in, say, dogfighting might lead to regulation of animal cruelty in…wait for it…rodeo. I kid you not. Despite repeated testimony from law enforcement that spectators enable dogfighting by providing cover for criminal organizers, it was simply more important to ensure that calves can be snapped by the neck with impunity in rodeo events. Beauty can be shallow, indeed.

Agents haze mom & calf who later died-click for story

Bison. Entire books have been written about the complex issues surrounding the persecution of Yellowstone’s wild bison at the hands of Montana’s livestock industry. Some animals seasonally migrate out of their protected home in the park and onto the adjacent, predominantly public lands in Montana where they’re considered intruders on their own native turf. Since the year 2000, 4,250 of America’s last wild, free-roaming, and most genetically-diverse bison have been killed–rounded up and sent to slaughter on your taxpayer dime, or shot in a so-called hunting season (shooting a bison has been likened to shooting a sofa or a parked car), or hazed (sometimes to injury–video here–or death, as in the case of these newborn calves) by agents on ATVs, snowmobiles, horseback, and by air in helicopters. And you thought the buffalo wars ended in the 19th century!

Look here, Windy City, I love Montana’s drop-dead awesomeness as much as the next guy, and maybe more because I’m a hiker and backpacker. Yellowstone (mostly in Wyoming, but Montana claims three of five park entrances), Glacier, the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness, the Beartooth Plateau–this is serious, knock-your-socks-off stuff and I understand how lucky I am to have it readily available. I don’t hate Montana, as some will stand ready to accuse.

But oh how it rankles that the state exploits its world-class beauty and wildlife to lure visitors’ dollars with one hand while persecuting animals for sport and private commercial interests–often in the face of public opposition–with the other. It’s only right that you see this–the seamy side–too, as you face the onslaught of breathtaking Big Sky images on your daily commutes.

I read that two Chicago commuter train cars are fully sheathed in photo wraps of bison in Yellowstone. I can certainly understand the choice of that image. Stand in the park and gaze upon such a scene and it’ll bring tears of humility and wonder to your eyes. Yellowstone is the only place on the planet where wild bison have survived continuously since prehistoric times. You’re looking at something precious.

Perhaps you can now understand the bitter irony that some of us Montanans perceive in the use of that image. Just thought you should know.

Comment on this post at animal law blog Animal Blawg.

Love it…list it…stuff it? African lion listing open for public comment


LionAid photo; click image

Tuesday, 1/27/15 at 11:59pm EST: LAST DAY TO COMMENT! Link to comment is below.

From the Have Your Cake & Eat It Too Department: The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (FWS) has announced that it intends to list the African lion as threatened under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) … while continuing to allow the importation of lion trophies by American trophy hunters under a permit system.

Who’s hailing this decision as a victory?

Yes, the Clubbers are celebrating. And because some protection is better than none at all, luminaries like Jane Goodall have praised the decision, along with International Fund for Animal Welfare personnel, who call it a “win for lions.” IFAW, you might recall, was one of the petitioners seeking the more stringent endangered status back in 2011. At that time, IFAW’s North American director Jeff Flocken warned that, “Our nation is responsible for importing over half of all lions brought home by trophy hunters each year. The African lion is in real trouble, and it is time for this senseless killing and unsustainable practice to stop” (Scientific American).

Flocken appeared on the PBS Newshour recently (video & transcript) to both praise the decision and to again assert that trophy hunting is a significant factor in lions’ precipitous decline–from 75,000 animals in 1980 to some 32,000 today. This is in contradiction to the assertion by FWS Director Dan Ashe that trophy hunting plays no role in lions’ survival woes even though the species “faces the threat of extinction by the year 2050”:

And, indeed, some protection is better than none at all. And sure, regulated importation of lion trophies is preferable to trophy-palooza. But why act as if those are the only choices–even as the ominous clouds of extinction gather on the horizon? The answer may lie, in part, in a news release from Safari Club International:

How that money was used to influence FWS is a question American wildlife advocates should be asking. Instead of promptly eliminating a frivolous and easily-relieved pressure–the gratuitous, violent squandering of imperiled animals for ego gratification–FWS is praised for instituting a kill-’em-to-save-’em measure that regulates the approximately 400 lion trophies imported by U.S. hunters each year (source).

Let’s also note that SCI, while preferring threatened status to endangered, fundamentally disagrees with the decision to list lions at all and plans to “vigorously work to modify” the ESA’s section 4(d) rule. It’s under 4(d) that the permitting mechanism will be established, allowing “importation of sport-hunted African lion trophies” into the U.S. from those countries FWS has determined to have effective lion conservation programs. In addition, SCI wants to ensure that captive-bred lions killed in South African canned hunts (video) do not fall under the ESA importation process.

FWS could have shut down trophy importation of African lions, but instead proposes spending time, personnel, and taxpayer money regulating it while imperiled species here at home languish in ESA purgatory. Consider FWS’s recent mishandling of the proposed wolverine listing (a mere 250-300 animals remain in the Lower 48!), and you gotta wonder to what degree pressure from powerful interest groups crowds out science to influence listing decisions.


Since you and I don’t have a million bucks to use as leverage, we’ll have to go to bat for the big cats like we did back in January 2013. So get your Leo-lovin’ self over to the USFWS Endangered Species African lion page, from which you can link to the “Threatened status for the African lion” public comment portal. There you’ll find related documents, a blue “comment now” button, and–if you scroll down–you can peruse recently-submitted comments.

John Dingell, at 88 the longest-serving member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a lead author of the 1973 Endangered Species Act, penned these cautionary words in 1991: “Living wild species are like a library of books still unread. Our heedless destruction of them is akin to burning the library without ever having read its books.”

The Lion Library isn’t in flames yet, but it is smoldering. And though it can’t save the species single-handedly, USFWS stands ready with a fire extinguisher–the ESA–in one hand, aiming to tamp down America’s contribution to the coming conflagration. In the other it holds a copy of the Section 4(d) Special Rules with which to fan the flames ever so slightly. It proposes to use both–simultaneously–the latter to benefit the wealthy few and their ghoulish, ego-driven trophy obsession. How do you feel about that?


Learn more:

  • Explanation of ESA section 4(d) special rules, here.
  • “The lions sleeps tonight–and so should you. List the lion!” my original post, 1/26/13.
  • “The effects of lion trophy hunting on lion populations,” LionAid, a UK charity org.
  • “The myth of trophy hunting as conservation” (a 2010 paper from the UK).
  • “African lion may be deemed threatened in U.S.–will it help?” Nat’l. Geo.
  • Dingell quote from: “Balancing on the Brink of Extinction: The Endangered Species Act and Lessons for the Future,” 1991, here.

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