Under Cover of the Pandemic, The National Park Service Targets Baby Bears and Wolves

With the nation’s attention conveniently distracted by the pandemic, the National Park Service is slipping through rule changes that will allow hunters in Alaskan National Wildlife Refuges to kill baby animals and their mothers in their dens, reversing existing regulations and violating every standard of conservation, decency, and compassion. I am outraged, and you should be, too.

Under the new rules, hunters will be permitted to:

  • use bait to attract and kill brown bears in federally protected lands
  • use artificial light to enter dens and kill black bears, including females and their cubs, as they hibernate
  • shoot caribou while they are swimming
  • trap and kill wolves and their pups during denning season

Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) claims the new rules are a matter of “principle” and protecting states’ rights. “Principle” is not something normally associated with Sen. Sullivan or those who encourage killing living beings for fun and recreation. Killing for sport is an abomination and the slaughter of sleeping mothers and their young is as evil as it gets. It certainly has no place in our National Wildlife Refuges.

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke drafted the new rule before resigning in disgrace in 2018 in the face of no fewer than 17 federal ethics investigations, but the anti-animal, anti-environment federal administration pushed it through. Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Washington) has led more than 70 of her colleagues in Congress in demanding the rule be withdrawn.

“The proposed rule would roll back critical protections for America’s beloved, rare and iconic native carnivores, including brown bears, black bears and wolves on the approximately 20 million acres of national preserves in Alaska—land that belongs to all Americans,” wrote the lawmakers. “The rule would effectively endorse the state of Alaska’s efforts to use extreme practices to reduce bear and wolf populations in order to artificially inflate populations of prey species for sport hunting.”

Zinke’s successor, David Bernhardt, had the opportunity to halt the rule changes but chose instead to ignore common sense and opposition by members of Congress, scientists, and tens of thousands of Americans. Said Theresa Pierno, president of the National Parks Conservation Association, “Shooting hibernating mama and baby bears is not the conservation legacy that our national parks are meant to preserve and no way to treat or manage park wildlife.”

I urge everyone to contact their representatives in the Senate and House of Representatives NOW and express your outrage and opposition to the National Park Service rule changes. Preserving wildlife, especially baby animals and their mothers, should not be a matter of political ideology but one of basic morality. This is an urgent call to save lives and preserve what’s left of our national decency.

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

Living in Lockdown Is a Lifelong Thing for Zoo Animals

Lonely, bored, feeling disconnected from the world during the pandemic? Imagine living your whole life feeling that way. Zoo animals do.

Even the most well-intentioned zoos are nothing more than animal prisons. Captive animals are often prevented from doing most of the things that are natural and important to them, like running, roaming, flying, climbing, foraging, choosing a partner, and being with others of their own kind. Zoos teach people that it is acceptable to interfere with animals and keep them locked up in captivity, where they are bored, cramped, lonely, deprived of all control over their lives, and far from their natural homes.

Zoos vary in size and quality—from drive-through parks to small roadside menageries with concrete slabs and iron bars. Millions of people visit zoos annually, but most zoos operate at a loss and must find ways to cut costs or add gimmicks that will attract visitors. Precious funds that should be used to provide more humane conditions for animals are often squandered on cosmetic improvements—such as landscaping, refreshment stands, and gift shops—in order to draw visitors.

Ultimately, animals—and sometimes visitors—are the ones who pay the price. A gorilla named Jabari tried to escape from the Dallas Zoo by jumping over walls and moats and evading electrified wires, only to be fatally shot by police; a witness later reported that teenagers were taunting the animal with rocks prior to his escape. At the Virginia Zoo, ten prairie dogs died when their tunnel collapsed, a rhinoceros drowned in the moat of her exhibit, and a zebra lost her life when she bolted from a holding pen, struck a fence, and broke her neck. Gus, a polar bear living at the Central Park Zoo in New York, made international headlines when he exhibited signs of severe depression after losing his mate of more than 20 years. Gus died two years later of a thyroid tumor, but one could say he was already dying of a broken heart.

Most zoo enclosures are very small, and rather than promoting respect for or understanding of animals, signs often provide little more information than an animal’s species, diet, and natural range. Animals’ normal behavior is seldom discussed, much less observed, because their natural needs are rarely met. Birds’ wings may be clipped so that they cannot fly, aquatic animals often go without adequate water, and many animals who naturally live in large herds or family groups are kept alone or, at most, in pairs. Natural hunting and mating behaviors are virtually eliminated by regulated feeding and breeding regimens. Animals are closely confined, lack privacy, and have little opportunity for mental stimulation or physical exercise. These conditions often result in abnormal and self-destructive behavior, known as “zoochosis.” Zoo animals can often be seen pacing, walking in tight circles, swaying or rolling their heads, and showing other signs of psychological distress. This behavior is symptomatic of not just boredom but also profound despondency.

Zoos claim a mission of protecting species from extinction, but zoo officials usually favor exotic or popular animals—who draw crowds and publicity—rather than threatened or endangered local wildlife. The Chinese government, for example, “rents” pandas to zoos worldwide for fees of more than one million dollars per year, but there is some question whether the profits are being directed, as they claim, toward panda-conservation efforts. Most animals housed in zoos are not endangered, and those which are will likely never be released into their natural habitats. Endangered species will only be saved by preserving habitats and combating the reasons these animals are being killed by human hunters and poachers.

Zoos will also tell you they are places for research; however, the purpose of most zoos’ research is to find ways to breed and maintain more animals in captivity. It’s a corrupt and endless cycle.

With informative television programming, educational opportunities on the Internet, and the relative ease of travel, learning about or viewing animals in their natural habitats is possible no matter where you live or what your circumstances. The idea of keeping animals cruelly confined behind bars or plexi-glass for human entertainment is thoroughly obsolete.


Tired of Isolation? For Billions of Animals, This Is Their Entire Existence

Shelter-in-place restrictions, closed businesses and public spaces, and reduced social interaction has found us confronting unfamiliar feelings of alienation and isolation. Many people are disoriented by the sense of being estranged from their own lives.

Weeks or months of isolation necessary to inhibit the spread of the COVID-19 virus can be uncomfortable, but we know this disruption in our lives is only temporary. Try to imagine, if you can, the depths of isolation our society routinely inflicts on so many of our fellow beings – the nonhuman animals we breed or capture for our exploitation. For the animals languishing on farms, in zoos, vivisection laboratories, aquariums, circuses, pet stores, breeding mills, kill shelters, alienation and loneliness is the very essence of their existence, and a permanent condition.

It is widely believed that COVID-19 jumped to humans via the animal flesh trade, which has led to a critical focus on wildlife and “wet” markets. Deservedly so, but we must not forget that factory farms and meat packing plants remain the largest sources of human zoonotic disease pandemics. A 2012 study mapping human diseases that come from animals found that “while zoonoses can be transmitted to people by either wild or domesticated animals, most human infections are acquired from the world’s 24 billion livestock, including pigs, poultry, cattle, goats, sheep and camels.”

The World Health Organization confirms that the greatest risk for zoonotic disease transmission occurs at the human-animal interface through direct or indirect human exposure to animals, their products (meat, milk, eggs, etc.) and/or their environments, while the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization notes that “seventy percent of the new diseases that have emerged in humans over recent decades are of animal origin and, in part, directly related to the human quest for more animal-sourced food.”

Just a decade ago, swine flu, an H1N1 influenza virus, jumped from farmed pigs to humans and infected nearly 61 million people in the U.S. alone, where it resulted in 12,469 deaths, according to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Worldwide, as many as 284,500 people were killed by the swine flu pandemic.

The infamous 1918 influenza pandemic was also caused by an H1N1 virus. Attributed to having developed from either a swine flu or avian flu virus on a pig or poultry farm (pre-dating factory farms, it should be noted), the pandemic killed an estimated 50 million people around the world.

All this is just the tip of the iceberg.

While pandemics are tragic, they are not inevitable. In the grand scheme of things, they are symptoms of a much deeper sickness with which we have infected not only ourselves, but whose toxic consequences can now be seen across the globe. Witness the burning of the Amazon rainforest to make room for ever more cattle ranching. See Australia, where the ceaseless bulldozing of koala habitat and the deliberate mass killing of kangaroos, both on behalf of the beef industry, kill far more of these animals every year than the recent wildfires. See, too, the unprecedented rates of species extinction resulting from habitat loss, whose number one driver is animal agriculture; the climate crisis to which meat and dairy production contribute more greenhouse gas emissions than all global transport combined, leading to devastating droughts, floods, fires, hurricanes, and other extreme weather events.

This sickness is not the scale of our killing but in the mentality that views animals not as fellow beings but as resources to be farmed and consumed. Humans have thrown out the order of nature and taken it upon themselves to decide where animals will live, if they may reproduce and how and when, if the children they bear will ever see their mothers, when or if they may be allowed to socialize with their own species. What, when, and how much they will eat, what mutilations they will be subjected to, and, to a great extent, when and how they will die.

What can it mean that, in a society obsessed with personal identity and freedom, we have erased the very concepts of identity, liberty, autonomy, and consent from entire populations of sentient individuals. We give little or no thought to the moral implications of the indignity and debasement we inflict on them for our own profit and pleasure. To degrade any individual, much less entire species, to the lifelong status of property, captive, and commodity, is the grossest devaluing of life, and the ultimate alienation.

Farmed animals are the innocent victims of our arrogant and ignorant species. They do not “live” as we know and value the word; they endure an existence. They are powerless, brought into the world by violation on an industrial scale for the sole purpose of gratifying human indulgence.

It doesn’t have to be this way. We can thrive without causing this devastating harm.

It is no coincidence that our systematic destruction of animal lives is also destroying our own. As I write this, U.S. slaughterhouses and meat processing plants have been identified as the largest hotspot for coronavirus infection in the country. Instead of shutting them down to stop the spread of this killer virus, an executive order is forcing them to stay open to supply our society’s fetish for flesh. Headlines fan the fears of “mass meat shortage” that threaten to starve us all. News flash: it won’t. There are more than enough things to eat that aren’t hacked off the corpses of animals.

Our culture is in a state of addiction. It is pathological. And it is wrecking our planet, which ought to be incidental to the immorality of force-breeding billions of sentient individuals into captivity, reproductive subjugation, and slaughter. Lives are not commodities; beings are not property.

Until we divest from this poisonous sense of entitlement, this blood-soaked stupor of violence, exploitation, and consumption, our species is doomed.

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

More Information on COVID-19 and Pandemics

More information on COVID-19 and pandemics you may not know:

It’s easy for those of us in the Western world to shake our heads at the gruesome wildlife (wet) markets in China that are the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic now paralyzing the globe. But what’s more difficult is to be honest with ourselves about what kinds of pandemics may be brewing through our own practice of eating animals.

And while the new coronavirus, crippling as it is, might have a fatality rate (proportion of those infected who die) greater than four percent, this catastrophe may be just a dress rehearsal for an even more serious pandemic that could take a more gruesome toll, akin to the 1918 global flu pandemic, which originated in a Kansas slaughterhouse and killed 50 million people.

When that day comes, it’s very likely that such a virus will also have its origin in humanity’s seemingly insatiable desire to eat animals, wild or domestic. The atrocious conditions in which we raise animals today – crowding tens of thousands of animals wing-to-wing or snout-to-snout – serve as amplifiers for viral pandemics.

Indeed, the H1N1 swine flu outbreak of 2009 originated in a pig confinement operation in North Carolina. Factory farms like this cut pigs’ tails off without any anesthesia; thousands slowly die from blood loss. The pigs are stuffed into crates so small they can’t even turn around. Many die from thirst during transport in trucks packed so tightly that those who collapse or die are trampled by others who, in desperation, frantically seek escape.

And while the H5N1 bird flu outbreak in 1997 (case fatality rate: 60 percent) originated in a Chinese chicken factory farm, a similar bird flu in the U.S. just five years ago led American chicken farmers to kill tens of millions of their birds to contain the outbreak. And at this very moment, both India and China have announced bird flu outbreaks originating in chicken factories.

Chickens, like pigs, are tortured in factory farms, crammed so tightly into cages they peck at each other in despair and madness. To combat this, factory farmers mutilate the chickens with a machine that holds them by the head and slices off their beaks with a hot metal blade. As often as not, the blade cuts too close and millions of chickens starve to death.

But you can only play viral Russian roulette for so long, which is why public health experts concerned about zoonotic diseases have for years been ringing the alarm about the industrial farming of animals. Michael Greger, author of Bird Flu: A Virus of Our Own Hatching, calls factory farming a “perfect storm environment” for infectious diseases. “If you actually want to create global pandemics,” he warns, “then build factory farms.”

A 2007 editorial in the American Journal of Public Health on the topic worried that our mass raising and slaughtering of animals for food could be the genesis of the next big global pandemic. Given the connection between industrial animal agriculture and pandemic risk, the editorial observed, “We need to change the way humans treat animals – most basically ceasing to eat them.”

Such a prescription in 2007 might have seemed off the radar as it would have appeared simply too unrealistic. Today, however, technological progress has made it easier to imagine taking the public health experts’ advice more seriously.

Yes, we humans may crave meat, but our concept of “meat” is now becoming far more diverse than in the past. Whereas “protein” was once synonymous with a hunk of flesh from a once-living animal’s body, today many Americans are embracing a type of plant protein that mimics the taste of flesh. There’s the success of plant-based meat alternatives, for example, which are now a popular part of fast food chains’ menus across the country. Many forward-thinking meat companies have even released their own plant-based meat alternative offerings, too. Today’s plant-based meats have all the taste and texture of anything you can find in animal form. You like burgers, sausages, chicken nuggets? There is an almost endless variety of delicious and easy to find meatless product out there. There are plenty of dairy and cheese alternatives too. Looking for something to do while you’re at home? Check them out and find the ones you like the best. You can also purchase through Amazon any number of vegan recipe books.

Whether the concern is climate change, antibiotic resistance, deforestation, animal welfare, or more, the benefits of leaving off the eating of animals and getting our protein source from a plant-based diet, is imperative.

As we hunker down and weather the corona storm now hitting the world, let us take some of our downtime to contemplate that we have the power to reduce the chance of the next pandemic. Wet markets in Asia and elsewhere MUST be shut down, but let’s not stop there. If we have the will to shut down our entire society for weeks on end, surely we have the will to change our diets.

No one NEEDS to eat animals, and together we can “do no harm” to our animal friends and stop inflicting deadly pandemics on ourselves.

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

Their Wet Market Is Our Factory Farm

This is a follow-up to my March 27 essay about the roots of COVID-19 and other deadly viruses in the abuse, slaughter, and eating of animals.

The writing has been on the wall for years. Animal agriculture, in all of its manifestations — from the disembowelment of pigs to the bloodthirsty “sport” of hunting — is a ticking time bomb. Amid the Coronavirus pandemic, I continue to be stunned by the lack of serious reporting on the source of the problem. Finally, after weeks of sparse coverage, we are beginning to see the issue come to light through figures that have captured the world’s attention, like Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who stated that “It boggles my mind how when we have so many diseases that emanate out of that unusual human-animal interface, that we don’t just shut it down. I don’t know what else has to happen to get us to appreciate that.”

Since the pandemic began, experts have commented on this connection between animal agriculture and disease outbreaks. What do they say?

“Zoonotic viruses almost always leap to humans directly from our livestock or from wildlife, the slaughter and hunting of which bring susceptible human hosts in particularly close contact with live animals and their infected tissues and fluids. Both farmed and caged wild animals create the perfect breeding ground for zoonotic diseases.” – Liz Specht, PhD, associate director of science and technology at the Good Food Institute. (Wired)

“We invade tropical forests and other wild landscapes, which harbor so many species of animals and plants — and within those creatures, so many unknown viruses. We cut the trees; we kill the animals or cage them and send them to markets. We disrupt ecosystems, and we shake viruses loose from their natural hosts. When that happens, they need a new host. Often, we are it.” — David Quammen, science writer and author of “Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic.” (New York Times)

“If we want to forestall the evolution of ever-newer, and possibly deadlier, human-adapted viruses, live animal markets must be permanently shut down. Until the Chinese government outlaws these markets, until factory farms housing millions of animals are eliminated, until we take the inevitable logic of disease evolution into account, novel, and potentially deadly, human diseases will continue to arise. Again. And again. And again.”  — Wendy Orent, an anthropologist specializing in health and pandemics, author of author of “Plague: The Mysterious Past and Terrifying Future of the World’s Most Dangerous Disease” and “Ticked: The Battle Over Lyme Disease in the South.”

“It’s [viral pandemics] about the way we are pushing into the last wild spaces on our planet. When we burn and plow into the Amazon rainforest so that we can have cheap land for ranching, when the last of the African bush gets converted to farms, when wild animals in China are hunted to extinction, human beings come into contact with wildlife populations that they have never come into contact with before…. So as long as we keep making our remote places less remote, the outbreaks are going to keep coming.” – Global health expert Alanna Shaikh. (TED)

Those are just a few. If humans are to survive on this planet, consideration must be given to the roots of the pathogens that threaten to wipe us all out. They’re out there, and they will find their way here. Unless we change the way we live with animals, no amount of soap and hand sanitizer is going to save us.

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

At the Root of Deadly Pandemics Is the Human Appetite for Animals

In the spring of 1971 I shut down the production of the TV movie “The Forgotten Man” for three days by coming down with the stomach flu, and once I filmed a Barbie commercial when I was sick, throwing up between every take. I suffered a bit then, but those illnesses were not that serious. Amid the global outbreak of the very serious COVID-19 virus, I am doing what I can to stay safe by washing my hands, social distancing, and relying only on credible scientific sources for the truthful information and advisories. I hope you all are doing the same.

The source of the outbreak is believed to be a wet market in Wuhan, China. In a wet market, all kinds of animals, live and dead, are for sale. Fish packed into shallow tubs splash water all over the floor. The floors and counter tops of stalls are slick and red with the blood of animals, killed, skinned and gutted as customers watch. Live turtles and crustaceans climb over each other in desperate bids to escape filthy plastic boxes. Birds and mammals scream. Sick and wounded animals crammed into small cages stacked high drip blood, pus, feces, and urine onto other animals in cages below. In the eyes of all of them there is misery and terror. Water, blood, fish scales and animal guts are everywhere. Melting ice adds to the slush on the floor. As the name implies, things are very wet at the wet market.

While wet markets can be found in many countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, researchers of zoonotic diseases — diseases that jump from animals to humans – pinpoint the wet markets in mainland China as particularly problematic for several reasons. First, these markets often have many different kinds of animals – some wild, some domesticated but not necessarily native to that part of Asia. Many of the customers who visit these markets have developed a pretentious taste for exotic animals – including dogs, bats, pangolins, African serval cats, fennec foxes from the Sahara, marmosets from South America, blue-tongued lizards, iguanas, monkeys, Australian cockatoos, African meerkats, ferrets, rare tortoises, porcupines, snakes and skunks. These rare and beautiful animals can be found at wet markets side by side with pigs, sheep, and chickens waiting to be killed and disemboweled or boiled alive before being eaten. The stress of captivity and imminent death in these chaotic markets weakens the animals’ immune systems and creates an environment where viruses from different species can mingle, swap bits of their genetic code and spread from one species to another, according to biologists and epidemiologists. When that happens, a new strain of virus gets a foothold in humans and an outbreak like this current coronavirus erupts.

China closed over 20,000 wet markets in February, but markets being run by crime syndicates are still selling animals across Asia with impunity. These places of filth and death as well as hotbeds for disease are still operating in Thailand, Indonesia, Laos, Cambodia and Burma, where millions of dollars are being made in the shipping and trading of “exotic meat” and wildlife. These and all wet markets are a time bomb of coronavirus risk.

For years, scientists have warned that filthy markets crammed full of sick animals are breeding grounds for new, antibiotic-resistant “superbugs.” Some studies claim that by 2050, more people will be dying from antibiotic-resistant diseases than from cancer. What the world is witnessing in horror in 2020 may be someday be common. If we want to stop the next pandemic, there’s going to have to be truly a global attempt to shut these markets down.

The United Nations has found that 70% of new human diseases were directly linked to animals used for food. The World Health Organization has concluded that the consumption of processed meat contributes to the development of cancer. Research as shown that a diet free of animal products dramatically reduces the risk of many chronic degenerative diseases and conditions, including heart disease, cancer, obesity, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes. In other words, a vegan diet is not only better for human health but for the health and survival of animals.

Deadly viruses, devastating forest fires, accelerating climate change – the farming and eating of animals has apocalyptic consequences. Friends of the meat industry and deniers with motives of their own will claim otherwise, but the truth is, we cannot expect to continue living on planet Earth if we continue to eat animals. It’s really that simple: saving human lives comes down to saving animal lives. The easiest thing that you can do for your own health and the world we live in is to go vegan right now and persuade everyone you know to do the same.

An urgent reminder: Pets CANNOT contract COVID-19 or give it to you; don’t dump your animal companions at shelters where they will be killed.

Peace to all the animals with whom we share this planet.