Poaching: Illegal, Immoral, and Driving Many Species to Extinction

photograph by Pamelyn Ferdin

A few years ago, I visited Uganda, where I had the extraordinary experience of viewing incredible animals in their natural state. I saw infant chimpanzees sitting on their mothers’ backs, and older chimps playing games with each other. I watched majestic male elephants lumber past me to stand by mother elephants and their babies. My party drifted on a river in small boats past hippos, the third largest land mammals in the world, shy and sweet but very territorial. I was excited to see “tree lions,” who actually climb trees in the heat of the afternoon to nap among the branches, and I’ll never forget the sight of all those beautiful giraffes feeding on the tops of the tallest trees on the savanna.

But I think what stood out most for me were the mountain gorillas. We had to climb straight up a mountainside, cutting our way through the thick vegetation with machetes, with little more than the hope of seeing one. After about two and a half hours of climbing in the sweltering heat, one of the guides turned to us with one finger over his lips and pointing to an opening in the leaves. There they were! Not one, not two, but an entire family of mountain gorillas, numbering about ten. They were going about their business, resting, eating, and staring back at us, completely unafraid. I watched as one mountain gorilla gave another some of the food he was holding in his hands. I witnessed a tiny baby gorilla nursing at her mother’s breast, and another baby clinging to its mother’s back. Two large male gorillas pounded their chests every once in awhile, not to threaten us, just to let everyone know who was in charge. I approached as close as I could to watch the mother and baby nuzzle and groom each other and play games. After about half an hour of watching us watch them, the largest male gorilla pounded his chest and disappeared back into the forest as the rest of the extended family followed. Elephants, hippos, and gorillas are vegan, you know, so if anyone still thinks you need to eat meat for size and strength, just take a look at those guys!

It breaks my heart to know that, due to poaching, fewer than 900 mountain gorillas are left on this planet. When most people think of wildlife poaching, they think about exotic animals on distant continents, but poaching and its consequences extend far beyond forests and savannas of Africa or the wilds of Asia right into your own community and even into your own home.

Poaching, the criminal hunting and killing of animals for profit, is sadly on the rise worldwide. There are many species around the world that are poached, some right here in the United States. Their mutilated corpses are used in various and ridiculous ways, often for luxury or pseudo-medicinal purposes. Here are some of the most common victims of poaching:

Elephants: Elephants are poached for their ivory, which is carved into jewelry, utensils, religious figurines, and trinkets. Elephants are often chased into hastily-dug pits or poisoned, and their faces and tusks cut off while they are still alive. Approximately 70% of illegal ivory ends up in China, where it is sold on the street for up to $1,000 a pound. Conservationists estimate that between 30,000 and 38,000 elephants are poached annually for their ivory. At that rate, elephants will be extinct in 20 years.

Tigers: Tiger claws, teeth, and whiskers are believed by the superstitious to provide good luck and protective powers. Some superstitious cultures believe their bones and eyes have medicinal value. In Taiwan, a bowl of tiger penis soup is believed to boost virility. Let’s put it this way: if you think eating a tiger penis is going to cure your problems in that department, there’s a lot more wrong with you than what you’re worried about. Tiger skins are used to make coats and handbags. Fewer than 3,500 tigers are left in the wild; like elephants and rhinos, tigers are being poached to extinction.

Rhinoceros: The most expensive items in the world are gold, platinum, and rhino horn, with rhino horn topping the list. Rhino horn can sell for nearly $30,000 a pound; gold, by comparison, is worth about $22,000 a pound. Their horns are believed to have aphrodisiac properties and are widely used in traditional medicines. Like elephants, they are driven into traps too steep to climb out of, killed, and their horns sawed off. Since 1960, the black rhino population has decreased by 97.6% due to poaching.

Tibetan Antelopes: They are poached for their fur, which is commonly used as a light wool, and is in great demand world-wide. 20,000 Chirus, as they are called, are killed each year.

Big-horned sheep: Killed for their antlers, which can fetch $20,000 on the black market.

Bears: North American black bears are slaughtered for their gall bladders and bile, another pseudo-medicinal ingredient. A black bear’s gall bladder can fetch more than $3,000 in Asia.

Gorillas: They are poached for their meat, captured for collections, and killed for trophies such as their hands, feet, skins, and skulls. Kidnapped baby gorillas, like the beautiful baby I saw in Uganda, bring $40,000 on the black market.

Lions: Another species fast disappearing, poached as trophies to prove an insecure human’s man(or woman)hood. It is estimated that 30% to 50% of Africa’s lion population has been illegally killed over the last 20 years. Last summer three poachers who broke into a South African game preserve to stalk and kill rhinos were attacked and eaten by lions, to which I say, justice was served. A few more news stories like that one might put a serious dent in poaching. I’m rooting for the lions.

Sharks: Sharks are poached for their fins, which some cultures consider a delicacy. Once caught, the fins are hacked off, and the still-living shark dumped back into the sea where it will soon die. Poached manta rays and sea cucumbers are also considered delicacies by some.

Red and Pink Coral: This is the most valuable type of coral, known for its use in jewelry and decorations. Not only does this poaching effect coral population but it also effects the population of fish and other marine life who live in and on the reefs.

Blue Whale: Blue Whales have almost been hunted to extinction. They are poached for their blubber and oil, which are then used in candles and fuel. We have plenty of other options for light and energy these days; nobody needs to kill a whale to power outdated technology.

Two poachers under arrest!

Most poaching is done by organized crime syndicates who use high-powered technology and weaponry to hunt and kill animals without being detected. Poachers often prefer using poisoned arrows because there is not a telltale gunshot sound. A well-placed arrow can kill in 20 minutes; however, a misplaced arrow can leave an animal dying a lingering death from infection for up to a month. Poachers will often leave poison on the carcass of the prey to kill the vultures that might fly above and alert rangers.

Violent conflicts and ivory poaching are interconnected. Heavily armed militias and crime networks use ivory funds to finance terrorism and wars. Cash-starved terrorist organizations have turned to trading ivory, which the Elephant League has dubbed “the white gold of jihad.” The illegal wildlife trade nets $8 billion to $10 billion a year.

To combat poaching, in 2014 the United States banned the commercial sale of African elephant ivory. Shamefully, the ban was reversed in 2018 by a subsequent administration that cares little about protecting animals or stopping the criminal traffic in animal parts.

What can you do? Lobby your legislators to reinstate the ban and expand it to include poached animal products of every kind. Never buy ivory or coral products, whether new or used, or any other poached animal products, and boycott merchants who sell them. It’s only by making poaching less profitable that it can be reduced and the greed-fueled extinction of so many animal species reversed.

It’s the Year of the Pig! Let’s Make It a Compassionate One

2019 is the Year of the Pig. Who doesn’t love pigs? Pigs are super smart; when I was in nursery school my teacher had a pig who was trained to use the toilet. And sociable? Just ask Charlotte – or me, the voice of Fern in “Charlotte’s Web.” Did you say they’re dirty? Despite what you might think, pigs like to be clean – when they’re given the option. And cute? Most people love these smart, social, clean, and beautiful animals from childhood. So why do we kill 121 million of them every year?

Pigs “have the cognitive ability to be quite sophisticated. Even more so than dogs and certainly [more so than] three-year-olds,” says Dr. Donald Broom, a Cambridge University professor and a former scientific adviser to the Council of Europe. Pigs can play video games, and when given the choice, they have indicated temperature preferences in their surroundings.

These facts should not come as a surprise to anyone who has spent time around these social, playful animals. Pigs, who can live into their teens, are protective of their young and form strong bonds with other pigs. Pigs are clean animals, but unable to sweat as humans do, they seek cool surfaces like mud to help regulate their body temperature.

Only pigs in movies spend their lives running across sprawling pastures and relaxing in the sun. On any given day in the U.S., there are more than 75 million pigs on factory farms, and 121 million are killed for food each year.

The majority of mother pigs (sows)—who account for more 6 million of the pigs in the U.S.—spend most of their lives in individual “gestation” crates. These crates are about 7 feet long and 2 feet wide—too small to allow the animals to even turn around. After giving birth to piglets, mother pigs are moved to “farrowing” crates, which are just wide enough for them to lie down and nurse their babies but not big enough for them to turn around or build nests for their young. The mother and babies suffer terribly from these conditions and it breaks my heart to think of them forced to live in their own excrement, unable even to turn around.

When the piglets reach about ten days old, they are taken from their mothers. I saw undercover video of mother pigs crying out for their stolen babies and piglets screaming in anxiety, fear, and desperation so anxious and scared looking at their mother. The sound the piglet makes is indistinguishable from the sound of a crying human infant, and it is a terrible thing to hear. Once her piglets are gone, the mother pig is impregnated again, and the cycle continues. In three or four years, the mother pig can no longer produce milk and is considered “used up,” and she is slaughtered. 

The piglets taken from their mothers are confined to pens and barns over the span of about six months, fed until they weigh upwards of 280 pounds and are ready to be slaughtered. In extremely crowded conditions, piglets are prone to stress-related behavior such as chewing on cage bars and even cannibalism. Male piglets are castrated without painkillers. In their distress, pigs will often bit one another’s tails, so farmers often chop off piglets’ tails and use pliers to break off the ends of their teeth—again without giving them any painkillers. For identification purposes, farmers also cut chunks out of the little ones’ ears. This intensive confinement produces so much stress- and boredom-related behavior, many pigs begin to chew on the cage bars.

When pigs are transported on trucks, piglets weighing up to 100 pounds are given no more than 2.4 square feet of space; they literally can’t move or even stand up. One study confirmed that vibrations like those made by a moving truck are “very aversive” to pigs. When pigs “were trained to press a switch panel to stop for 30 seconds vibration and noise in a transport simulator … the animals worked very hard to get the 30 seconds of rest.”

Once pigs reach “market weight,” the industry refers to them as “hogs” and they are sent to slaughter. The animals are shipped from all over the U.S. and Canada to slaughterhouses. More than 1 million pigs die en route to slaughter each year. The transport vehicles are usually multideck trucks with steep ramps, and because Pigs are so frightened to get into these vehicles, workers use electric prods to force them to move up the ramp.  No federal laws regulate the voltage or use of electric prods on pigs, and a study showed that when electric prods were used, pigs “vocalized, lost their balance, and tr[ied] to jump out of the loading area.”

A typical slaughterhouse kills about 1,000 hogs per hour. The sheer number of animals killed makes it impossible for pigs’ deaths to be humane and painless. Because of improper stunning, many hogs are alive when they reach the scalding-hot water baths, which are intended to soften their skin and remove their hair. The U.S. Department of Agriculture documented 14 humane-slaughter violations at one processing plant, where inspectors found hogs who “were walking and squealing after being stunned [with a stun gun].”  The report found that the pigs at one federally inspected slaughter plant squealed 100 percent of the time “because electric prods were used to force pigs to jump on top of each other.”

The health statistics for humans have shown that consumption of pigs and other animals, can increase the risk of colorectal cancer, the third most common cancer in men and women, by as much as 30 percent. Researchers for the National Cancer Institute have found that eating pigs, or any meat, raises men’s risk of prostate cancer, while a study from Yale University reports that meat-based diets can cause stomach cancer and esophageal cancer as well as lymphoma. A study of more than 90,000 women concluded that “frequent consumption of bacon, hot dogs, and sausage was … associated with an increased risk of diabetes.”

Because stress, intensive confinement and living in excrement is conducive to the spread of disease, pigs on factory farms are fed antibiotics and sprayed with huge amounts of pesticides. The antibiotics and pesticides remain in their bodies and are passed along to people who eat them, creating serious health hazards for humans. Pigs and other factory-farmed animals are fed millions of pounds of antibiotics each year, and scientists believe that meat-eaters’ unwitting consumption of these drugs gives rise to strains of bacteria that are resistant to treatment.

Every year in the U.S., food poisoning sickens up to 48 million people and kills 3,000. Pig flesh and body parts are known carriers of food-borne pathogens, including E. coli, trichinella, listeria, salmonella, and tapeworms. One study of 256 pork samples taken from 36 different grocery stores found that up to 63 percent of the samples were contaminated with Staphylococcus aureus bacteria.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reports that the meat industry is “one of the most significant contributors to today’s most serious environmental problems.” Each farmed pig produces about 10 pounds of manure per day. As a result, many tons of waste end up in giant pits, polluting the air and groundwater.

Some restaurants have announced they will no longer buy pig products from farms that use gestation crates, and voters in Florida, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Ohio and Rhode Island have banned the use of gestation crates. In Canada, these crates will be phased out of use by 2024. But with or without gestation crates, the end result are millions of slaughtered pigs. The horrible suffering of these intelligent, sociable animals continues.

So I ask you to stop giving your money to pig farms and slaughterhouses. Celebrate the Year of the Pig by going vegan. Adopting a vegan diet means means eating for life— your life and those of animals.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!

Are You Pescetarian? Here Are a Few Things You Must Know

In the Hanna-Barbera animated series, Sealab 2020, my character Sali lived in an underwater research station commanded by her father, Captain Murphy. Sali – and those who watched the show – learned about the ecology of the earth’s oceans and the interconnectedness of life on land and in the sea. Sali understood that aquatic animals were intelligent, social beings in the same way land animals are.

There are a lot of people who have stopped eating meat and dairy for health reasons as well as for the horrific cruelty and suffering the animals experience.  Many of these same people, however, still eat fish; they call themselves pescatarians. They believe that by eating sea animals like fish, they are not causing any suffering.

I’ve never understood why people think sea animals don’t feel pain. Maybe because they look so different from us land mammals, and they live underwater so we don’t see them as often. The only time many people see them is when their flesh is delivered on a plate.

Even before I was vegan I didn’t like eating sea animals. I had seen them on fishing boats when I was a young girl. I’d see them flopping around violently, their eyes open wide, their gills gasping for air. So, for all those pescatarians out there, here is some valuable information to educate you about the truth regarding fish and how science is proving they certainly feel pain.

Fishing: Aquatic agony

Like the animals many people share their homes with, fish are individuals who have their own unique personalities. Dive guides have been known to name friendly fish who follow divers around and enjoy being petted, just as dogs and cats do.

Fish can communicate, make tools, think, and feel pain

According to Culum Brown, a researcher at Macquarie University in Sydney, “Fish are more intelligent than they appear. In many areas, such as memory, their cognitive powers match those of ‘higher’ vertebrates.”

In Fish and Fisheries, biologists wrote that fish are “steeped in social intelligence, exhibiting stable cultural traditions, and cooperating to inspect predators and catch food.” According to Dr. Jens Krause of the University of Leeds, while some fish live in large hierarchical societies and others have smaller family units, all rely on these “social aggregations,” which “act as an information center where fish can exchange information with each other.”

Fish such as sharks, tuna and others have demonstrated intelligence, curiosity, playfulness, the ability to learn through trial and error, and the ability to maintain social networks.

Scientists have learned that fish feel pain and suffer like any other animal. They just don’t have the vocal cords to scream.  Fish communicate through a range of low-frequency sounds—similar to buzzes and clicks. These sounds, most of which are only audible to humans with the use of special instruments, communicate emotional states such as alarm or delight and help with courtship.

While fish do not always express pain and suffering in ways that humans can easily recognize, scientific reports from around the world substantiate the fact that fish feel pain. Researchers from Edinburgh and Glasgow universities studied the pain receptors in fish and found that they were strikingly similar to mammals. Please take a minute or two to view this video.

Hooked fish struggle because of fear and physical pain

Once fish are taken out of their natural environment and pulled into ours, they begin to suffocate. Their gills often collapse, and their swim bladders rupture because of the sudden change in pressure;  their eyes bug out and since they can’t breathe outside the water, they flop around violently gasping until they succumb. If they are released or somehow escape back into the water, the hooks stay inside their mouths preventing them from feeding and die of starvation.

Today, many fish are raised on fish farms—crowded, waste-filled pools where they’re packed so tightly together they can barely move. At processing plants, they’re often skinned alive and cut into pieces while still fully conscious. Even wild-caught fish endure a miserable death, which can take up to half an hour as they slowly suffocate or are crushed beneath other fish.

Many trout streams are so intensively fished that they are subject to catch-and-release regulations, requiring that all fish caught be released; the aquatic animals in these streams are likely to spend their short lives being repeatedly traumatized and injured.  Biologist Ralph Manns points out that fish such as bass are territorial, and once they are caught and released, these fish may be unable to find their homes and “be fated to wander aimlessly.”

Birds are killed as well as a result of fishing with hooks

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that discarded monofilament fishing line is the number one killer of adult brown pelicans, although one Audubon biologist says that “[p]retty much every type of water or shore bird can get caught up in fishing line …. We find dead cormorants, anhingas, herons, egrets, roseate spoonbills … you name it.” Ospreys sometimes use discarded fishing line in their nests, and both parents and their young have been found entangled in it or impaled on fishing hooks. Dolphins have also died from asphyxiation after choking on fish who had tackle still attached.

Commercial fishing

The average U.S. consumer eats nearly 16 pounds of fish and shellfish every year. To meet this demand, U.S. commercial fishers reel in more than 8 billion pounds of fish and shellfish annually, the aquaculture industry raises more than 700 million pounds per year, and another 5 billion pounds of seafood is imported.

Commercial fishers use vast factory-style trawlers the size of football fields to catch fish. Miles-long nets stretch across the ocean, capturing everyone in their path. These boats haul up tens of thousands of fish in one load, keeping the most profitable and dumping other animals (such as rays, dolphins, and crabs) back into the ocean. Fish are scraped raw from rubbing against the rocks and debris that are caught in the nets with them. Then they bleed or suffocate to death on the decks of the ships, gasping for oxygen and suffering for as long as 24 hours. Millions of tons of fish who are considered to be “undersized” are left to die on the decks or are tossed back into the ocean, where they usually die soon afterward.

Some fishing boats use gill nets, which ensnare every animal they catch, and fish are mutilated when they are extracted from the nets. These kinds of nets are believed to be responsible for the majority of incidents involving the accidental netting and death of hundreds of thousands of marine mammals over decades of use.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported 71 cases of whale entanglement off the Coast of California in 2016, the highest total recorded in the area since NOAA started keeping records in 1982.

According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, nearly 80 percent of the world’s fish are fully exploited, overexploited, or depleted. One study conducted by 14 marine scientists concluded that continued overfishing of the world’s fish will cause “100% of species [to] collapse.”

Overfishing is threatening shark populations, too, with more than 100 million killed every year. One underwater photographer says that when he works off the north coast of New South Wales, he finds that “almost every second grey nurse shark … has a hook hanging out of its mouth, with a bit of trailing line following it.” Many sharks are the victims of “finning,” in which fishers catch sharks, haul them on deck, hack off their fins (for expensive shark fin soup), and toss the maimed, helpless animals back into the ocean to die in agony.

Eating fish is hazardous to your health

Like the flesh of other animals, the flesh of sea animals contains excessive amounts of protein, fat and especially cholesterol.

The flesh of fish (including shellfish) can accumulate extremely high levels of carcinogenic chemical residues, such as polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), thousands of times higher than that of the water they live in. A study of the nation’s freshwater waterways concluded that one in four fish is contaminated with levels of mercury that exceed government standards for safety.

The New England Journal of Medicine asserts that fish “are the main if not the only source of methyl mercury,” which has been linked to cardiovascular disease, fetal brain damage, blindness, deafness, and problems with motor skills, language, and attention span.

After an analysis of Food and Drug Administration (FDA) data on canned tuna, Consumer Reports cautioned that cans of tuna “especially white, tend to be high in mercury.”

So, when people you know say “I’m a pescatarian, I only eat fish,” you might want to point out that not only do fish feel pain, they suffer and die in agony like any other animal raised for food. You can also tell them that eating fish is completely unnecessary. You can get all the protein you need from a low-fat vegan diet (look at elephants!) Plus, there is zero cholesterol in a vegan diet. We human animals make more than enough cholesterol in our own livers, we certainly don’t need to ingest the cholesterol made in the livers of the animals being consumed.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!

 

New California Law Takes Aim at Breeding Mills

Here’s a photo of me and Muttley, rescued from a municipal shelter in the nick of time, and a member of my family for ten years.

On January 1, 2019, California became the first state to prohibit pet stores from selling dogs, cats, and other mammals unless they were acquired from a shelter, rescue group, or public animal control agency. Under the new California law, pet store operators must be able to prove the origin for animals in their store or be fined $500 per animal.

Most animals sold in pet stores come from mass-breeding facilities that churn out hundreds of thousands of animals every year in deplorable conditions. At these “puppy mills,” “breeding stock” are artificially inseminated again and again to keep them permanently pregnant or nursing. Due to stress and physical exertion, their lives are often short. Their young are typically taken away at a very early age, packed into crates, and trucked or flown hundreds of miles – often without adequate food, water, or ventilation – to brokers, who then sell them to stores. Some of the animals don’t survive the grueling journey.

This is a serious and long overdue blow to those evil breeding mills. Animal advocacy groups have fought and uncovered horrific conditions at breeding mills for years, including those at Holmes Farm, a huge Pennsylvania animal mill that supplied PetSmart, Petco, and others. Undercover video taken there documented that animals were kept in stacked plastic bins, denied veterinary care, and routinely frozen alive and gassed by the dozens. Holmes Farm was raided by agents of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and is now under federal investigation.

Another good reason to put these breeders out of business? Purebred dogs and cats suffer from significantly higher rates of physical abnormalities and congenital defects. Over-breeding has saturated gene pools with those for deafness, heart ailments, and other physical disorders. The healthiest and most robust dogs and cats are mixed-breeds, or mutts, and they’re oh so cute besides. Every animal is beautiful in his or her own right, not just those with AKC-certified bloodlines!

California is the first to have such a law enacted statewide, but there are similar laws restricting pet store sales in towns and cities across the country. If where you live isn’t on the list, I urge you to contact your state and local legislators to push for similar legislation.

As good news as the California law is for putting an end to breeding mills, it’s still not cause for celebration. Don’t forget that every time someone buys an animal from a pet store, they are condemning another in a shelter, waiting to be loved, to death. Pet store animals will be there until someone buys them, but shelter animals are given a only a brief window of opportunity to be adopted; those that aren’t are put to death. As Public Relations Director for New York’s Center for Animal Care and Control I witnessed beautiful, healthy dogs and cats held down, injected with an asphyxiating drug, and tossed into a refrigerated room to be taken away by garbage trucks. It’s heartbreaking and sickening. Make shelter animals your first choice in adoption, and, remember, always have your animal companions spayed or neutered.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!

 

Unwrapping Animal Gifting

Here’s a photo of me with Arthur O’Connell and Monte Markham from a Christmas episode of the sitcom, “The Second Hundred Years.” In the 1967 episode I played a girl ashamed to admit she couldn’t go to a Christmas party because her single working mother couldn’t afford to buy her a party dress. In the end she is given the gift of a beautiful red velvet party dress, complete with white gloves and a wrap. I received a gift, too. After we filmed the episode, the dress, which had been custom-made for me by the wardrobe department, was given to me to keep. I was thrilled – I so loved that dress. That gift made me happy, but not all gifts turn out the way we intend. Today I know that some gifts people give out of the goodness of their heart result in the suffering and death of humans and non-human animals.

During the holiday gift-giving season, a popular choice for gift donations are programs that send live farm animals as “gifts,” ostensibly to help alleviate hunger and poverty in low-income countries. The reality is, animal gifting typically fails to help those groups, but actually cause harm. The most well-known soliciting organization, Heifer International, is one of the worst offenders. Heifer International would like you to think your donation gives a lift to impoverished peoples when it does just the opposite.  Here’s why:

MOST DAIRY ANIMAL RECIPIENTS ARE LACTOSE INTOLERANT AND HARMED BY DAIRY.

A typical dairy factory farm.

75% of the world is lactose-intolerant, and 90% of Asian and African populations are lactose intolerant. Increased dairy production is frequently touted as one of the greatest successes of animal gifting programs. But, in reality, dairy programs negatively affect the health, well-being, and productivity of people in lactose intolerant populations.

Consuming milk from other animals is also associated with allergies, asthma, and a host of autoimmune disorders. Most mammals, including humans, become lactose intolerant after weaning. Milk is very specifically created for infants, not adults. Furthermore, there is no need for humans to consume the milk of other animals. The resources used to produce dairy ought to be spent on alternatives that provide a higher quality and quantity of calories, protein and calcium.

While animal gifting programs seem to focus on small-scale farming, they have extremely large-scale implications that pave the way for factory farming, and exponentially increase consumption of meat, dairy and eggs throughout entire countries and beyond. For example, Heifer International is largely considered responsible for the kick-off of industrialized dairy in Japan after World War II. Heifer International boasts that their projects produced 3.6 million gallons of milk in one year in Uganda, and developed a national dairy program in Tanzania. These massive programs were developed despite the fact that 90% of Asian and African populations are lactose intolerant. Who is being helped here?

MORE FARMED ANIMALS DOES NOT EQUATE TO LESS HUNGER.

Zero-grazing animals frequently languish in confinement.

Pro-meat biases mean that sustainable plant crops that provide better nutrition and greater income are often overlooked.

In Ethiopia, over 40% of the population is considered hungry or starving, yet the country has 50 million cattle (one of the largest herds in the world), as well as almost 50 million sheep and goats, and 35 million chickens unnecessarily consuming food, land and water, Severe overgrazing has led to deforestation, soil erosion, and eventual desertification.

Instead of using precious food, water, topsoil, and massive amounts of land and energy to raise livestock, Ethiopia, for instance, could grow teff, an ancient and extremely nutritious grain grown in that country for the past 20,000 to 30,000 years. Teff is very high in protein, with an excellent amino acid profile, and is high in fiber and calcium – one cup of teff provides more calcium than a cup of milk – and is a rich source of boron, copper, phosphorus, zinc, and iron. Researchers have found that teff can be grown by farmers at a yield of 2,000 to 3,000 pounds per acre, with more sustainable growing techniques employed and no water irrigation. Teff has been shown to grow well in water-stressed areas and it is pest resistant.

 FARMED ANIMALS DO NOT JUST “LIVE OFF THE LAND.”

A starving cow scavenging trash during 2011 drought in Kenya.

While tempting to believe, farmed animals do not just “live off the land,” consuming only grass and scraps that don’t compete with human consumption. In response to criticism that promoting irresponsible animal agriculture in regions already plagued by desertification and drought, Heifer International and other organizations promote their animals’ “zero-grazing” requirements. “Zero-grazing” is simply a euphemism for “confined in filthy pens.”

Animal gifting organizations such as Heifer International promote inherently water-intensive animal farming, even in areas where water is scarce. Raising animals for food requires up to 10 times more water than growing crops for direct consumption. Additionally, in many arid communities, water is only available from a communal well or reservoir, in which case hydrating animals is a labor-intensive process for adults and children who must travel by foot and can only carry so much. Because of this, hundreds of thousands of animals die a slow death from dehydration.

ANIMAL GIFTING PROGRAMS MISLEAD THE PUBLIC.

Cows being transported to slaughter in southern India.

Many gifted animals suffer from confinement, neglect, malnutrition, and lack of protection from weather and temperature extremes. Animals also endure horrific slaughter processes and long-distance transport where they are literally forced to lie down and tied with heavy rope so they can’t get up and die miserable deaths during transport.

ANIMAL GIFTING ORGANIZATIONS ENGAGE IN QUESTIONABLE SPENDING.

Heifer International spent more than $22 million for printing, distribution, processing, and other fundraising-related costs. That’s $22 million from donations that could have been spent on fighting hunger and poverty and promoting health and education.

THERE ARE BETTER FEEDING PROGRAMS AND GIFT DONATION PROGRAMS.

A Well Fed World sends 100% of your donation to four hand-picked groups with low overhead and proven successes in high-need areas. These hunger relief projects provide both immediate assistance and long-term community solutions that feed families without harming animals. They make it easy with one tax-letter, gift card and present (http://awfw.org/gifts/). You may also choose to give directly to these groups or choose from their grants list.

Three other organizations that do essential work and which I can personally vouch for are:

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) (www.peta.org)

Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (www.pcrm.org)

Best Friends Animal Sanctuary (bestfriends.org)

I encourage you to visit their websites, learn about those organizations and their work, and make a donation if you can.

Thank you.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!

For Turkeys and Those Who Care, Thanks-Grieving Day Nears

For me and others who care about animals, and for millions of turkeys, Thanksgiving Day is Thanks-GRIEVING Day.

When I was little, I, too, ate a turkey dinner at Thanksgiving. But I couldn’t bear to watch my mother prepare it. I recognized the turkey as a dead bird, and the sight of its pale, cold skin with little pimples where the feathers had been made me cringe and seeing my mother stuff its bloody organs along with breadcrumbs into the gaping hole where its head used to be made me feel ill. It saddens me that when the turkey came out of the oven, I was able to put those images out of my mind and eat it along with the rest of the family. I was a child then, but as an adult I know better.

This Thanksgiving, around 46 million turkeys will be murdered and eaten. A month later millions more will be slaughtered to celebrate a season dedicated to peace and good will. How sad and ironic.

Turkeys are beautiful, intelligent, and sensitive birds. Under natural conditions, turkey hens are devoted mothers who care diligently for their babies. Mother turkeys are fiercely protective of their young and will risk their lives to save their babies.

When trust has been established between a human and a turkey, they love to be petted for long periods of time. When receiving such affection, many turkeys make a sound that can only be described as “purring.” Turkeys rescued by sanctuaries, even those who have known great cruelty at human hands, will happily sit for hours having their tummy rubbed.

Male turkeys, called toms, love to feel noticed and admired. Toms at sanctuaries are known to follow busy human caretakers from chore to chore, standing off to the side, puffing out their exquisite feathers in a blast of scalloped ruffles, quietly and patiently anticipating the prospect for attention.

But few turkeys enjoy such loving, caring treatment, for most live excruciatingly painful lives at factory farms or on oxymoronically-named “humanely-raised” farms. On these farms, turkeys are artificially inseminated, the industry euphemism for being held upside down, struggling, while a syringe of semen is pushed into their vaginas. They and their offspring have been bred to grow so unnaturally fast and heavy that their bones are too weak to support their weight. They suffer from leg deformities, arthritis and joint pain almost from birth, resulting in lameness so severe that they are sometimes forced to walk on their wings to reach food and water.

Turkeys are packed by the thousands into long, windowless buildings, where they breathe ammonia fumes and irritating dust that lead them to develop respiratory diseases. Forced to live in their own urine and excrement, they develop grossly ulcerated feet, blistered breasts, and ammonia-burned eyes and throats.

Although turkeys have claws, under natural conditions and with proper living space, they will not use their claws against others, but subjected to overcrowding and brutal handling at turkey farms, stressed turkeys use their thick nails to defend themselves. Because of this, turkey farmers use shears to cut off – without anesthesia – not just the nails, but the first and second digits of the turkey’s toes so they will not grow back. Disregard what you may believe about “humane” farms or “free-range” turkeys; the same painful brutality is performed on those birds. The open wounds often get infected and swell, making it incredibly painful for the turkeys to walk. I’ve visited rescued turkeys at sanctuaries and seen for myself their terribly deformed feet and the swollen stumps of what used to be their toes.

The cruel practice of debeaking – done also on chicken farms – is performed while the turkeys are still chicks. Debeaking is done using sharp shears, a heated blade, or a high-voltage electrical current. Turkeys’ beaks are loaded with sensory receptors, much like human fingertips, and this painful procedure severs and exposes nerves. Some turkeys starve to death before they are able to eat again; others die of shock during the procedure. Not only are debeaked turkeys painfully mutilated, but as birds who use their beaks to preen, groom, peck and eat, those who survive the procedure suffer tremendously for being unable to do these natural activities.

Before a turkey arrives in your grocer’s freezer case, they are forced through several stations along a gruesome assembly line at the slaughterhouse. The process begins by shackling the birds by their feet before dragging them upside down through an electrified water bath designed to stun them. From there their throats are cut by an automated blade. But this assembly line of death moves so quickly that many of the turkeys are not properly stunned. Still flapping and writhing, they miss the blade, and remain alive as they and those before them are dropped into the scalding tank, designed to loosen their feathers for easy removal. Any turkeys still living are boiled alive.

None of this is at all festive, and none of it bespeaks thankfulness, home, or family. As compassionate people, can’t we reevaluate the systematic suffering and merciless killing of billions of animals in the name of tradition?

Now that you know the truth behind a Thanks-Grieving dinner, here’s a short, uplifting video about Hildy, a turkey rescued from a commercial farm who was lucky enough to live out her life with people who loved her: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wSDCrL6eSvY&sns=em

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!

November Is Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month

Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Sure you can, but really, why would you want to? Old dogs (and cats) are perfect just the way they are.

November is Adopt-a-Senior-Pet Month. It’s a sad fact that older animals have the hardest time finding homes and are often the first to be killed at city and county shelters. But there are so many reasons that older animals make ideal companions. Here are just a few:

Older pets are typically calmer than curious puppies and kittens and are quite content with a more relaxing day-to to-day routine. The mellow nature of older pets makes them a great fit for households with children too. Before ending up in shelters, senior pets often come from some sort of family life which makes adjusting to a new home environment much easier than it could be for puppies or kittens.

Senior dogs and cats are often already trained (and potty trained) and may even be pros at performing basic commands. The great news is that even if they’re not, they are much easier to train than younger animals. Their experience around humans, along with more established physical and mental abilities, allow them to better understand the requested commands and pick up new tasks much faster than puppies or kittens.

Senior animals don’t require the constant attention required young ones. Of course, they still love to play and go for walks, they just don’t require as much of your focus and energy. All they really want is a warm and comfortable place to sleep, fresh food and water, and a companion to love and one who will love them back. If you want an animal friend who can fit right in the moment he or she comes home, a senior dog or cat might be just what you’re looking for.

Last, but far from least, by adopting a senior pet or any animal – you are giving the gift of life. Animals, old and young, are dumped at city and county shelters every day, and, sadly, many will never leave alive. Doesn’t every animal deserve a chance at a loving and caring home?

Thinking about adding an animal companion to your household? Adopt and save a life – and why not adopt a grateful and loving older animal?

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share this planet!

Drowning in an Ocean of Plastic

Here I am at the age of seven modeling for a soft drink ad. I can’t help but have mixed feelings about this image. On the one hand, my picture was being used to encourage people to buy sugary soft drinks, something I would never do today, but on the other hand, at least I’m not using a plastic straw. Today we understand that disposable plastic straws and other plastic waste have contributed to the pollution of the Earth’s oceans and the deaths of millions of sea animals.

A massive tangle of human-generated plastic waste called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, twice the size of the state of Texas, floats in the ocean between California and Hawaii. Similar patches cover other parts of the Pacific, Atlantic, and Indian Oceans, and the Caribbean Sea. These enormous islands of plastic trash cover an increasingly large portion of the earth’s ocean surface.

Maybe you’ve seen the photos of sea turtles grown deformed, stuck in the plastic rings from a six-pack of beer, or dead fish washing up on beaches, their digestive systems clogged with plastic microfibers. Perhaps you’ve seen dolphins tangled in discarded plastic commercial fishing lines, or pelicans, their crops full of plastic bottles and bags.

Fish, turtles, mammals, and seabirds suffer pain and illness from ingesting plastic. Plastic ingestion also reduces the storage volume of their stomachs, causing starvation. It’s estimated that 60% of all seabird species have eaten pieces of plastic, with that number predicted to increase to 99% by 2050. 100% of sea turtles have plastic in their digestive systems. Marine mammals also ingest and get tangled up in plastic, leading to the decline of already endangered species like monk seals and stellar sea lions. Dead whales have been found with bellies full of plastic.

The following facts shed more light on how plastic waste is killing wildlife all over the world:

  1. Of the eight million metric tons of plastic dumped every year into the Earth’s oceans, 236,000 tons are microfibers, tiny pieces of plastic smaller than your little fingernail.
  2. The amount of plastic in the oceans, if unchecked, will increase tenfold by 2020.
  3. At our current rate, by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean, by weight, than there are fish.
  4. The likelihood of coral becoming diseased increases from 4% to 89% after coming in contact with marine plastic. It also damages the skin of coral, allowing infection. Coral reefs are home to more than 25% of marine life.
  5. Oceans cover more than 70% of the planet. They carry about 50% of global production of photosynthesis and support the greatest biodiversity on Earth. They are the “lungs of the planet.” Islands of plastic stretch deep beneath the ocean’s surface, blocking sunlight to where it’s needed by sea plants necessary to replenish the water with oxygen. All animals, even those living in the sea, need oxygen to survive.

Cities, counties, and states from coast to coast have begun to join the world’s nations in banning single-use plastic goods to curb the rate at which we are poisoning our oceans. This summer Stafford Township, New Jersey, and Santa Barbara, California, joined others in banning plastic bags, wrappers and drinking straws. Recycling hasn’t helped; most of these items are discarded by thoughtless consumers rather than recycled.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 33 million tons of plastic, most of which was not recycled, was thrown away last year by Americans. Worldwide the amount is staggering: 6.9 billion tons of plastic became trash last year, with 6.3 billion tons not recycled. The numbers are staggering and appalling.

It’s not hard to avoid or cut down on using disposable plastic. Instead of buying juice in a plastic bottle, buy it in a cardboard container. Instead of using plastic utensils when you eat at a fast food restaurant, bring your own washable, reusable utensils. How about using wooden chopsticks? Keep a few biodegradable straws in your car; paper, bamboo, and reusable straws are readily available in many places, including on Amazon. Become more aware of all the plastic you use and look into environmentally-friendly alternatives. Let’s take back our oceans from thoughtless individuals and profit-hungry corporations who don’t care about the destruction of life on our planet.

Peace to ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!

 

 

Tips for an Animal-Friendly Halloween

Just before Halloween in 1969, “Peanuts” director Bill Melendez accompanied me and a photographer to a pumpkin stand on Pico Boulevard. “Let’s see a beautiful smile, my Lucy,” Melendez said, “for the Great Pumpkin.” The photo was used to promote the upcoming release of the movie “A Boy Named Charlie Brown.”

TIPS FOR AN ANIMAL-FRIENDLY HALLOWEEN

Halloween can be a treat but keeping animals safe doesn’t have to be tricky. Here are some tips for making your Halloween fun and animal-friendly.

Keep candy out of reach of animals

The candy bowl is for trick-or-treaters, not animals. Lots of common Halloween treats are toxic to pets. Chocolate in all forms—especially dark or baking chocolate—can be very dangerous for dogs and cats, and sugar-free candies containing the sugar substitute xylitol can cause serious problems in pets. If you suspect your pet has ingested something toxic, please call your veterinarian immediately.

Better yet, have a vegan Halloween

Vegan Halloween treats aren’t hard to come by. There are plenty of plant-based, cruelty-free options available right in the middle of the candy aisle of your local supermarket. The following candy brands are all vegan and widely available in grocery or convenience stores, making them ideal for hungry trick-or-treaters. While these brands are vegan, be sure to double check the ingredients before purchasing. Do the same with any special Halloween versions of these products, as this sometimes means a change in the standard recipe.

Vegan candies: Twizzlers, Jolly Ranchers, Cracker Jack, Gummi Bears, Swedish Fish, Skittles, Mamba Fruit Chews, Sour Patch Kids, Dots, Smarties, Sweet Tarts.

When shopping for vegan Halloween candy, avoid the following ingredients associated with animal cruelty:

Dairy: Found mostly in chocolate and caramel products, this can also be described as milkfat, whey, or caesin.

Gelatin: A common ingredient in gummy candies, gelatin is made from animal tendons, ligaments, and bones.

Shellac: Also known as “confectioner’s glaze,” this glossy product is created using the excretions of certain insects.

Carmine: Usually found in bright red products, carmine is a pigment made by crushing the shell of a female cochineal insect.

Eggs: Obviously not plant-based!

Of course, an even healthier alternative would be sweet and delicious dried fruits, like raisins, berries, and plantain chips, also readily available in every supermarket.

Watch the decorations and keep wires out of reach

While a carved jack-o-lantern may be festive, pets can accidentally knock over a lit pumpkin and start a fire. Curious puppies and kittens are especially at risk of getting burned or singed by candle flame. Decorative Halloween plants like gourds and multi-colored corn are considered relatively nontoxic but can produce stomach discomfort in your animal companions who nibble on them.

Skip the costumes for your animal companions

For many dogs and cats, wearing a costume can cause undue stress and discomfort. Please don’t put your dog or cat in a costume; consider limiting his or her “costume” to a safely-tied, colorful bandana. If you insist on dressing an animal for Halloween, make sure the costume does not restrict his or her movement, sight or ability to breathe. Check the costume carefully for small, dangling or easily chewed-off pieces that could present a choking hazard. Know, too, that ill-fitting outfits can get caught on things, leading to injury.

Keep pets calm and easily identifiable

Halloween brings a flurry of activity with visitors arriving at the door, and too many strangers can often be scary and stressful for your pets. All but the most social dogs and cats should be kept in a separate room away from the front door during peak trick-or-treating hours. While opening the door for guests, be sure that your dog or cat doesn’t dart outside. And always make sure he or she is wearing proper identification—if for any reason he or she does escape, a collar with ID tags and a microchip can be a lifesaver for a lost animal friend. Make sure the collar is fitted properly, too. Too tight, and breathing is restricted; too loose, and curious animals who explore tight places head-first can get caught and strangle. If you can slip two fingers easily between the collar and your pet’s neck, that’s just right.

Recycle your pumpkins for homeless animals

Stop! Don’t throw away that carved pumpkin when Halloween is over! Hollowed-out pumpkins make safe, warm, and edible housing for small animals. I leave mine in the woods. Check back days later, and you’ll often find a chipmunk or other small animal has moved in. Squirrels, rabbits, and other animals may make a holiday feast of your discarded pumpkin, too.

Peace to all the animals with whom we share the planet!

 

Raced to Death: The Savage “Sport” of Greyhound Racing Must End

A possum, alive and struggling, her baby still clinging to her back, is tied to the lure arm along the rail. Behind the starting gate a dozen or so greyhounds wait, their eyes fixed straight ahead, their lean and muscular bodies taut with anticipation. The lure arm begins to move along the rail. As it passes the gate, a buzzer sounds. The gate doors fly open and the dogs explode onto the track at breakneck speed. After several laps, the lure arm slows to a halt. The baby possum is nowhere to be seen, having been hurled off somewhere along the track, her brains dashed out on the hard earth or perhaps trampled to death. The mother possum is still alive but limp; her spinal cord has been snapped in half. She squeals. “It’s crying,” someone says. “It’s lost its baby.” The track owner chuckles and removes the dying animal from the armature.

A piglet used as live bait in training racing greyhounds. Before the race is over, he will die.

This grisly scene is from a segment on the current affairs program, Four Corners, which aired not long ago on Australian television. The program included graphic footage, including the scene above, filmed secretly by animal activists that revealed the use of live animals including possums, rabbits, piglets, and kittens, in training racing greyhounds in three Australian states, Queensland, New South Wales, and Victoria. The practice is called live baiting, and it is not only bloodthirsty, it is illegal. The program included interviews with a number of leading greyhound trainers and track owners who denied the existence of live baiting, but there it was on film, and many of those doing the denying were shown to be involved in the bloody practice.

The public and political reaction to the revelations was swift and widespread. At least one major corporate sponsor has withdrawn its support of greyhound racing in Australia. In Queensland, 13 trainers are under investigation. In New South Wales, the board of Greyhound Racing and a former Justice of the High Court of Australia was appointed to lead a review of the greyhound racing industry in that state. Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania, have launched inquiries of their own. Incredibly, at least one prominent politician has directed his criticism not at the trainers but at the activists who trespassed to record the damning footage.

This heinous practice of live baiting is illegal in the United States, too, but that doesn’t mean it’s not happening right here at home. In 2002, one Arizona greyhound breeder lost his state license when racing commission officials found 180 rabbits on his property. A Texas breeder had his license revoked when authorities came into possession of video showing him baiting greyhounds with live rabbits on his farm. The breeder was initially charged with cruelty to animals, but his case was dismissed by a judicial system that typically protects those who profit from animal cruelty. It’s an outrage.

A 2011 FBI investigation into live baiting at a major breeding farm in West Virginia was not pursued to completion. Instead, the man who recorded video exposing the live baiting and other abuses at the farm was sentenced to six months in prison. The sadistic criminals involved in this terrible cruelty will do everything in their power to cover up these horrific crimes.

“Bait” animals are not the only victims of the dog racing industry. Greyhounds themselves — naturally gentle dogs — are often kept in brutal and deplorable living conditions. Live baiters taunt and incite their dogs to chase, attack, and ultimately kill small animals. When the tired and used up greyhounds can no longer run fast, they’re killed.

There has been some progress. In 40 states, commercial dog racing is now illegal. But in seven states – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Texas, and West Virginia – greyhound racing remains legal and operational. And for the poor animals forced to run, deadly.

In February 2015, the greyhound advocacy group GREY2K USA and the ASPCA released the first-ever national report on greyhound racing in the United States. The detailed report chronicles thousands of injuries and hundreds of deaths of greyhounds in those seven states. The report was mailed to state lawmakers and opinion leaders to urge them to bring an end to this inherently cruel “sport.” The report revealed that greyhounds injured while racing between 2008 and 2014 numbered close to 12,000. Injuries included severed toes, broken legs, spinal cord paralysis, broken necks, heatstroke, electrocution, and cardiac arrest. Additionally, 16 racing greyhounds in Alabama and Florida tested positive for cocaine in their bloodstream.

There is hope for greyhounds. Since 1991, 41 dog tracks have closed or discontinued live racing, and the greyhound racing industry has seen a sharp financial decline. Over the past decade, gambling on dog racing has dropped 66%. But we cannot afford to wait – in the first half of 2018, 163 greyhounds were injured on American dog tracks and 53 were killed during a race.

Let us work together to put an end to greyhound racing in the United States. Here’s how you can help:

  • Do not patronize greyhound races, bet on greyhound races, or support those states that host greyhound racing.
  • If you live in one the seven states where greyhound racing is still in operation contact your state legislators and insist they act now to put an end to this cruel competition. If you live in the Sunshine State, know that 12 of the 18 dog tracks still in operation in the United States are located in Florida.
  • Join with the fine organizations who are already working to end greyhound racing by educating the public and pressing for legislation. GREY2K USA is devoted to this cause.

At individual tracks all over the country, the moment that racing season is over, hundreds of dogs are immediately in need of placement. Thankfully, there are greyhound rescue groups that go to the tracks and rescue as many as possible. Several rescue organizations even fly their own planes around the country and to Mexico to save greyhounds from being killed. Until greyhound racing is banned altogether, at least we can insure that fewer retired greyhounds will be put to death by finding good homes for these gentle, low-maintenance, family-friendly animals.

Peace for ALL the animals with whom we share the planet!

In loving memory of Chester Riis, retired racer and gentle soul.