Pet food firm 'sponsored bear-baiting'
Mars subsidiary Royal Canin provided prizes and branding for brutal 'competition' staged in Ukraine
The Observer, Saturday 27 July 2013 12.08 BST
Four Paws uncovers illegal bear baiting in Ukraine
The food giant Mars is under fire from animal welfare campaigners after it emerged that one of its subsidiaries has been sponsoring bear-baiting competitions. Pet food manufacturer Royal Canin said it was "horrified" to learn that it had sponsored a contest near Vinnytsia in Ukraine earlier this year.
Footage taken by Four Paws, an international animal welfare organisation, shows dogs being set on a chained brown bear over a two-hour period. As a small audience looks on, the dogs attack and bite the bear – which is unable to defend itself because its claws have been removed and it is chained to a tree.
Several men control the bear's movements using a chain, dragging it around a fight area demarcated with Royal Canin-branded plastic tape. An official awards points to the individual dogs and trophies carrying the Royal Canin logo are awarded to the owners.
Royal Canin, a French company bought by Mars a decade ago, makes food for cats and dogs. It promotes itself with the slogan "respecting the animal nature of dogs and cats". But Dr Amir Khalil, a vet and project leader at Four Paws – which has a memorandum of understanding with Ukraine's department of ecology to eradicate bear-baiting – questioned the company's animal welfare commitments.
"Royal Canin says it places animals' wellbeing at the centre of its philosophy," Khalil said. "By sponsoring appalling bear-baiting, Royal Canin is reducing wild animals like the brown bear to the rank of second-class animals."
The brown bear is protected by law in Ukraine, but the country has long faced accusations of cruelty towards bears, which are made to perform in the country's zoos and circuses. Khalil said a popular act involved getting bears drunk on beer.
Bear-baiting contests take place between four and six times a year, according to Four Paws, which says it has evidence Royal Canin sponsored more than one event. The charity estimates that there are between 15 and 20 baiting bears in Ukraine. It said the animals live in tiny cages and are released only for training or competitions. The bears are taken from their mothers a few months after they are born. They are often deprived of food and water to make them weaker opponents for the dogs. "It is not enough for Royal Canin to distance itself verbally from such activities," Khalil said. "The company must take responsibility and support the government in securing a species-appropriate life for the bears concerned."
In a statement to the Observer, Royal Canin said: "As a company with knowledge and respect for animals at our heart, we condemn any activities that harm or endanger animals. Royal Canin has been absolutely horrified to see these images linked with our brand.
"The sponsorship of this event is not consistent with Royal Canin's animal welfare policy, our philosophy of pet-first or our vision." It said that when Four Paws International raised the incident in May, it was investigated and the company undertook immediate action to cease sponsoring this event. It had reminded sales and marketing staff of its policy on animal welfare and sponsorship due diligence. It said: "Having not seen the video at this stage, we did not understand the true nature of the event that took place. This has been a humbling experience for Royal Canin.
"We again thank Four Paws International for bringing this practice to our attention, and in doing so reminding us that diligence in ensuring our policy is followed is paramount." The company said it had pledged to work to improve the welfare of Ukrainian bears and dogs involved in bear-baiting.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uN6a8PR-jZg
In the Himalayas, Nepali villagers hunt down poachers to help save the tiger
Criminal gangs are hunting the big cats to sell their organs and bones to the Chinese medicine industry. But an alliance between a western charity and local Nepalis is turning the tables, producing a small but encouraging rise in tiger numbers
The Observer, Sunday 28 July 2013
In the foothills of the Himalayas, a war is being waged. Soldiers armed with M16 assault rifles patrol the grasslands and forests while surveillance drones buzz overhead. But their fight is not against another army, it is to save the tiger from extinction – and the enemy is the poacher.
The Observer accompanied a group of soldiers and rangers on a search mission along the Karnali river in Nepal's Bardia National Park. Crocodiles lolled in the shallows, while the screeches of monkeys and birds punctuated the heavy, still air. The pugmarks – the pawprints – of an adult tiger were visible in the mud on the bank. A poacher staking out this spot for a couple of days would have a chance of catching one of the cats, as they often return to familiar watering holes.
It is estimated that there are 3,200 tigers left worldwide – 95% fewer than a century ago – and the booming wildlife trade is the biggest threat to their survival. Increasing affluence in Asia has caused prices for skins and the body parts used in traditional Chinese medicines to soar. International gangs pay local Nepalese handsomely to kill tigers and rhinos. The skin and bones are handed to middlemen who pass easily through the porous border to India, where the major dealers are based. For many in a country where the average income is 150 Nepalese rupees a day (£1.03), rewards of around £5,000 per skin and £1,700 per kilogram of bones outweigh the risks of being caught and jailed for up to 15 years.
Poachers kill tigers using guns fashioned from wood and piping which fire bullets of crushed glass and gunpowder, or by laying down poisoned bait. Diwakar Chapagain, the WWF Nepal's co-ordinator for wildlife trade monitoring, said: "It is hard to know if a tiger has been poached, because nothing is left behind. Each part of the animal has a sale value – eye-balls for drinks, the penis for soup to boost virility, its teeth for jewellery and its bones for good luck charms. Stuffed tiger cubs and rugs made from skins are also seen as status symbols."
Anti-poaching work has its dangers. Ramesh Thapa, assistant warden at Bardia, has been targeted: "I got phone calls with death threats and then a middleman came to warn me that a hitman had been hired to kill me – the man knew me so he told me. I moved my wife and daughter from a village to Kathmandu because I was so worried. I live in the park and go everywhere in a group now."
The Nepal police's criminal investigation bureau established a wildlife unit only two years ago. Superintendent Pravin Pokharel, 38, led the 11-strong unit responsible for activity outside the nine vast national parks until last August. He believes that 15-20% of Nepalese wildlife crime is detected.
"We have informants who tell us someone is dealing tiger skin or rhino horn," he said. "We go undercover as buyers and get evidence using spy recorders and video and go through phone records. One year ago a dealer tried to sell an undercover officer a jute bag of bones from a whole tiger.
"During my time we arrested 100 people, mostly small-time dealers. The big dealers are based in India. They use local tribespeople to kill to order." Most of the plunder goes to China, he added. "The price is increasing all the time. Two days ago two people with one rhino horn were asking 6m Nepalese rupees (£42,000) in Chitwan. That would fetch 8m rupees (£56,000) in Kathmandu, and that would be multiplied in China."
During the civil war between government forces and Maoist rebels from 1996 to 2006, the army checkpoints in the parks that had helped curb the wildlife trade were deserted after they became a prime target for the guerrillas. This led to a poaching bonanza, leaving Bardia with a handful of rhinos and tigers.
Now, thanks largely to a series of conservation and anti-poaching programmes run by the WWF, tiger numbers are inching up. Last year it was estimated that there were 37 in Bardia national park, up from 18 in 2009. In 2010 the WWF launched a multi-million pound global Tigers Alive appeal with the aim of doubling the number by 2022. One of the areas where it is concentrating its efforts is the Terai Arc, 5m hectares which includes Bardia national park on the border with India where around 120 royal Bengal tigers live near three million people.
This year the appeal is being boosted by a £500,000 injection from Whiskas, raised by the sale of special packs of cat food between now and September. In the park, there are now 31 anti-poaching bases, and some of the money will be spent on providing more of them with solar power so they can be manned around the clock. The WWF has also started a gun amnesty which has taken in hundreds of homemade guns – the village receives £3.50 for each weapon handed in. Volunteers have been trained how to set up camera-traps so that animals can be monitored.
One of the keys to boosting tiger numbers is to restore their habitat in the "corridors" between the parks. Tigers need to be able to move freely between the parks so they can mate and catch prey. Much of the WWF's work here is about harnessing the skills and enthusiasm of villagers so they can run anti-poaching patrols and conservation projects themselves.
In 2006 tigers had 40% less habitat than 10 years earlier. Increasing demand by villagers for wood for fuel and building, illegal logging, agricultural expansion and intensive grazing are all behind the erosion. In recent years there has been increasing conflict between tigers and humans as the cats have been forced into populated areas where they kill livestock – leading some farmers to retaliate by poisoning. Occasionally, they have killed people.
Twelve years ago the WWF started plantation and seedling protection programmes as well as micro-financing and insurance schemes to protect against livestock being killed. There are now thousands of community forests which are run by local people. Villagers have also been helped to install biogas, reducing the need for firewood, and grazing is now limited.
Bhadai Tharu, vice-chair of the Community Forest Co-ordination Committee in the Khata corridor, lost an eye when he was attacked by a tiger while patrolling grasslands nine years ago. When asked what happened, he lunges forward, claws the air and lets rip a bellicose roar.
"A tiger jumped on me from a bush at about 1pm. My friends ran off," said Bhadai, 48, a father of three. Removing his sunglasses – given to him by the actor and wildlife campaigner Leonardo DiCaprio when he visited the area – he reveals the scar where his eye had been.
Fearing for his life, he put all his strength into elbowing the animal. "If I do nothing I would die. I made a loud roaring noise and the tiger ran off. Blood was pouring out of my eye. I was taken to hospital and my eye was only attached by one tiny nerve so it had to be removed. One of my ribs was taken out to reconstruct my face.
"I didn't have much to do with tiger conservation for two years after, but now if I don't see a tiger's paw mark every day I feel something is missing."
The Observer joined Bhadai and around 20 villagers armed with sticks, mainly women in their teens and 20s, on an anti-poaching patrol in the forest near Gauri. Bhadai spotted some disturbed leaves and scattered them with a stick to reveal two iron traps; a large net was found nearby. Bhadai tells how they once caught six Indians. "They had set up traps and were camping in a tent [with] a spear, a knife for skinning a tiger as well as a dog and poison. The poisoned dog would have been used as tiger bait. Three hundred villagers surrounded the tent at dawn while police came. The gang was jailed for five years."
Harirani Chaudhary, 19, a student on the patrol, said: "Without a forest there's no life for us. That's why we conserve the forest and patrol. We must save the tiger, because the tiger is head of everything in the food chain. When we have lots of tigers, it means the habitat is strong enough to support all of us. Tourists will come and our village will improve."
A few months ago, seven tigers and nine rhino were caught on camera traps in the 3km-long Khata corridor. Chapagain said: "Their appearance shows what is being done is working. Fifteen years ago the Khata corridor was barren land and bad forest and there were no tiger or rhino and only a few elephant."
That progress has been made is clear, but the battle to save the tigers is still far from won.
The Christian Science Monitor
Kenya's elephants may vanish in 10 years, warns prominent naturalist
Richard Leakey was in Nairobi this week with news that ivory poaching, and illegal sales in Asia, may accelerate overall trend downward.
By Fredrick Nzwili, Correspondent / July 27, 2013 at 10:00 am EDT
Kenya’s elephants could be wiped out by poaching in 10 years, unless urgent measures are taken to end the crisis, International wildlife conservationists warned here this week.
A demand for ivory and rhino horns in the lucrative Asian black market has attracted cartels to Africa that are presently carrying-out cold blood killings of the animals, the conservationists say. In Kenya, the situation is at its worst now, according to Richard Leakey, an internationally famed paleontologist and founder of WildlifeDirect, a conservation charity.
“There has never been such a level of killing as we are experiencing today. Unless we do something now elephants will be gone from the wild within the next decade,” says Dr. Leakey, speaking at a presentation in the Kenyan capital.
“I believe partnerships with private sectors are critical. We cannot afford any further delay and we have to be tough," Leakey added.
In 1979, when 1.2 million elephants roamed Africa, Kenya had 167,000, according to the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS). Today, Africa has an estimated 300,000 pachyderms, representing about a 75 per cent loss since 1979, figures compiled by WildlifeDirect.
Between January and May of this year, 117 elephants and 21 rhinos have been killed by poachers. In 2012, 384 elephants were killed compared to 278 in 2011 and 178 in 2010, according to Kenyan figures and the British newspaper The Telegraph. The Kenyan agency says there are between 30,000 and 38,000 elephants now living in Kenya, although no physical count has been done. Some conservationists think this figure could be lower.
The warning came with the launch in Nairobi of a conservation partnership called Hands off our Elephants on July 24, that brings together government, private sector, activist and community groups and individuals. The initiative seeks to create awareness about poaching and demands an escalation of anti-poaching efforts.
Hilary Clinton, former US secretary of state, announced a similar initiative in the US, according to a WildlifeDirect statement.
John Heminway, an American filmmaker and writer, said the news about the decline of the large and intelligent mammals has been on the wall for at least a decade. But he argues the intensity of poaching has increased in recent months.
Mr. Heminway's film, "Battle for the Elephants," was set to premiere in Nairobi July 26. The film outlines an elaborate illegal trade in ivory trophies and other illicit ivory products through East African ports to Asian countries such as China.
In China, an estimated 80 per cent of middle class families, those earning around $32,000 a year, have admitted purchasing ivory, according to Heminway. Of these, some 65 per cent are aware the purchases are of illegal ivory from poached elephants in Africa, he said.
Judi Wakhungu, Kenya’s presidential cabinet minister for the envirnment described the partnership as the beginning of the public awareness campaign to eradicate poaching and trade in ivory products.
“The security of elephants is a good indicator of the state of other species in our county,” said Dr. Wakhungu.
With increased poaching, Kenya has officially said that all poaching cases will be prosecuted as economic crimes. Kenya has also revised the punitive penalties upwards, with some as high as $62,5000 joined to prison time of up to 15 years.
Paula Kahumbu, executive head of WildlifeDirect Kenya, urged governments in Africa, Thailand, China and the USA to aid anti-poaching efforts by banning all sale of ivory, since legal markets were cover-ups for the illegal trade.
Mark Butler approves iron ore mine in Tasmanian devil's stronghold
Environment minister gives go-ahead for project that court halted amid concerns for tumour-threatened species
theguardian.com, Wednesday 31 July 2013 05.20 BST
The federal environment minister, Mark Butler, has given the go-ahead to a controversial mine that the courts halted amid concerns it could drastically affect the last stronghold of the Tasmanian devil.
Butler said he had granted approval to Shree Minerals to proceed with its iron ore mine at Nelson Bay River in the north-west of Tasmania, subject to 30 conditions.
However, the Save the Tarkine campaign group, which successfully convinced the federal court to block the mine two weeks ago, said it would launch a further legal challenge, claiming that Butler had not taken the time to make a full assessment of the mine's impact.
The federal court had ruled that Tony Burke, the previous environment minister, had erred by failing to properly consult departmental advice relating to the mine's adverse implications for the Tasmanian devil.
Around 80% of the Tasmanian devil population has been ravaged by a facial tumour disease, with the last remaining tumour-free population found in the Tarkine, where the mine is to be located.
Conditions placed on the mine by Butler include a ban on travel to and from the site outside daylight hours to reduce the chance of devils being run over by trucks. Shree employees will also have to get to the mine via a bus, rather than travel there in their own cars.
Shree will have to monitor devil populations and contribute $350,000 to the Save the Tasmanian Devil program. The company will have to pay $48,000 for each devil killed, as well as fund the eradication of feral dogs and cats should a spotted-tailed quoll, another endangered marsupial, die.
Butler has also demanded that Shree put $400,000 towards research into four rare orchids found in the vicinity of the mine.
"I have imposed conditions that I am confident will protect those species," Butler said.
"These conditions include a range of avoidance and mitigation measures that will reduce the likely impacts. Where significant residual impacts remain likely, however, the company must take other action to compensate for the impacts, known as offsets.
"These conditions will ensure that there are strong environmental protections in place for a development with significant economic potential for north-west Tasmania."
Scott Jordan, head of the Save the Tarkine group, told Guardian Australia that Butler's decision was rushed and would be challenged in court.
"They've fast-tracked the mine with a window dressing reassessment that contains most of the conditions of the previous approval," he said. "Today's decision is a decision in favour of extinction of the Tasmanian devil."
"The minister has had 10 days where he hasn't done a reassessment, he's just got a briefing and met with a bunch of stakeholders not relevant to the decision. The departmental advice is clear that this mine would introduce disease to devils in their last disease-free area in Tasmania.
"It's a great concern that this advice has been ignored. We'll be getting our legal team to go through this as this decision doesn't address the massive failure identified by the federal court."
The mine has been strongly backed by the state Labor government, the Coalition and resources industry. It's estimated that the $20m project will employ around 70 people in an area that has struggled, compared with the rest of Australia, to create jobs and stimulate economic growth.
Scientists move one step closer to resurrecting woolly mammoths
By Ian Sample, The Guardian
Tuesday, July 30, 2013 20:33 EDT
The pioneering scientist who created Dolly the sheep has outlined how cells plucked from frozen woolly mammoth carcasses might one day help resurrect the ancient beasts.
The notional procedure – bringing with it echoes of the Jurassic Park films – was spelled out by Sir Ian Wilmut, the Edinburgh-based stem-cell scientist, whose team unveiled Dolly as the world’s first cloned mammal in 1996.
Though it is unlikely that a mammoth could be cloned in the same way as Dolly, more modern techniques that convert tissue cells into stem cells could potentially achieve the feat, Wilmut says in an article today for the academic journalism website, The Conversation.
“I’ve always been very sceptical about the whole idea, but it dawned on me that if you could clear the first hurdle of getting viable cells from mammoths, you might be able to do something useful and interesting,” Wilmut told the Guardian.
“I think it should be done as long as we can provide great care for the animal. If there are reasonable prospects of them being healthy, we should do it. We can learn a lot about them,” he added.
Woolly mammoths roamed the Earth tens of thousands of years ago in a period called the late Pleistocene. Their numbers began to fall in North America and on mainland Eurasia about 10,000 years ago. Some lived on for a further 6,000 years. Their demise was likely the result of hunting and environmental change.
The prospect of raising woolly mammoths from the dead has gathered pace in recent years as the number of frozen bodies recovered from the Siberian permafrost has soared. The rise comes because the ice is melting, but also because of awareness in the region that there is money in the ancient remains.
Earlier this month, the most complete woolly mammoth carcass ever recovered from Russia was unveiled at an exhibition in Yokohama, Japan. The baby female, nicknamed Yuka, lived about 39,000 years ago, and is remarkable for the preservation of her fur and soft tissues, such as muscle.
Samples from Yuka have been sent to the laboratory of Hwang Woo-suk, the disgraced South Korean stem cell scientist, who, with Russian researchers, hopes to clone the mammoth.
Though Wilmut does not doubt the sincerity of the scientists hoping to clone woolly mammoths with the Dolly technique, he said the idea was “wildly optimistic” because the technical challenges were so tough.
In his article for The Conversation, Wilmut explains the formidable hurdles that stand in the way of scientists who want to clone the beasts. The technique requires scores of healthy mammoth cells and hundreds or thousands of eggs from a closely related species, such as the Asian elephant.
The most immediate problem is that mammoth cells must survive with their DNA intact. In practice, they degenerate quickly at the temperature of melting snow and ice, when most remains are found.
“By the time you’ve got a bone sticking up in the sunshine, it’s effectively too late. You need to get it straight out of the deep freeze, as it were,” Wilmut said.
Another problem is that cloning needs a female of a closely related species to provide eggs and to carry the pregnancy achieved with any cloned embryo. The closest living relatives to mammoths are elephants, but these are not plentiful enough to collect eggs from.
“Because there is a danger of elephants becoming extinct, it is clearly not appropriate to try to obtain 500 eggs from elephants,” Wilmut writes.
There is an alternative, though. If good-quality cells can be extracted from mammoth remains – and that is a big if – they could be reprogrammed into stem cells using modern procedures. These could then be turned into other kinds of cell, including sperm and eggs. Mice have already been born from sperm and eggs made from stem cells.
“If the cells were from a female, this might provide an alternative source of eggs for use in research, and perhaps in breeding, including the cloning of mammoths.
“From a male they would be sperm, and they might be able to fertilise eggs to produce a new mammoth embryo,” Wilmut writes.
But the scientist, who in many peers’ eyes should have shared the Nobel prize in physiology or medicine with Sir John Gurdon and Shinya Yamanaka last year, said it could be 50 years before the techniques for resurrecting the woolly mammoth were perfected. There will be no Pleistocene Park soon.
That gives time for scientists to work out some of other problems that would arise if a mammoth were ever born again.
One concern is that the mammoth would be adapted to frigid conditions while its mother would be used to a hot, dry climate.
Another problem is that one will not be enough. “Ideally, and before too long, you need to provide them with friends and neighbours to interact with,” Wilmut said. “The whole issue is what are the effects on the animal’s welfare.”
None of it will happen unless scientists can pluck good-quality cells from carcasses that have lain in the ice for thousands of years. Will it ever happen? “I would say it’s fairly unlikely, but the world is full of surprises,” Wilmut said.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media 2013
Dead southern right whale excites scientists
By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, August 1, 2013 7:24 EDT
A rare southern right whale covered in what appear to be shark bites has washed up on an Australian beach, exciting scientists who Thursday said it will help boost knowledge of the species.
The carcass, estimated at 12 metres (39 feet) long and weighing up to 50 tonnes, came ashore on the Eyre Peninsula in South Australia, an area known for great white sharks.
“There are huge shark bites taken out of it,” the South Australian Museum’s curator and senior mammal researcher Catherine Kemper told AFP.
“The question is, did it die first and then the shark had a meal, or did it die from the shark bites?”
The museum will send a team out to the whale on Friday, dissecting it on the beach in an operation that could take a week before shipping it back to the museum for further valuable scientific research.
“In my time at the museum, and that is 30 years, we have only ever had two adult-sized southern right whales,” said Kemper, the last one being in 2001.
“It’s a rare occurrence and we are very keen to get hold of it. The museum currently has the only full skeleton of an adult in Australia and every animal we get adds to the story of the biology of the species.”
Southern right whale numbers were devastated during whale hunts off Australia during the 19th century but have gradually recovered with around 10,000 believed to be spread across the southern hemisphere.
They rarely come ashore and Kemper said scientists were “very limited in our knowledge about their anatomy, diseases and their reproductive cycle”.
The species can grow up to 18 metres in length and weigh up to 80 tonnes. They have an enormous head, occupying up to one-quarter of their total body length, are slow swimmers and of docile temperament.
They are classified as endangered in Australia.
Congo's rare mountain gorillas could become victims of oil exploration
WWF warns of environmental disaster and permanent conflict if British firm begins drilling for oil inside Virunga national park
theguardian.com, Thursday 1 August 2013 09.26 BST
Link to video: Congo's Virunga national park under threat from oil exploration – videohttp://www.theguardian.com/environment/video/2013/aug/01/congo-virunga-national-park
The Virunga national park, home to rare mountain gorillas but targeted for oil exploration by a British company, could earn strife-torn DR Congo $400m (£263m) a year from tourism, hydropower and carbon credits, a WWF report published on Thursday concludes.
But if the Unesco world heritage site that straddles the equator is exploited for oil, as the Congolese government and exploration firm Soco International are hoping, it could lead to devastating pollution and permanent conflict in an already unstable region, says the conservation body.
Congo has allocated oil concessions over 85% of the Virunga park but Soco International is now the only company seeking to explore inside its boundaries. This year Unesco called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits.
Soco, whose board of 10 directors have wide experience with oil companies working in conflict areas including Exxon, Shell and Cairn, insist that their operations in Congo would be confined to an area in the park known as Block V, and would not affect the gorillas.
Soco chairman, Rui de Sousa, said: "Despite the views of WWF, Soco is extremely sensitive to the environmental significance of the Virunga national park. It is irrefutable that oil companies still have a central role in today's global energy supply and a successful oil project has the potential to transform the economic and social wellbeing of a whole country.''
He added: "The park has sadly been in decline for many years officially falling below the standards required for a world heritage site. The potential for development just might be the catalyst that reverses this trend.''
However Raymond Lumbuenamo, country director for WWF-Democratic Republic of the Congo, based in Kinshassa, said that security in and around the park would deteriorate further if Soco went ahead with its exploration plans.
"The security situation is already bad. The UN is involved with fighting units and the M23 rebel force is inside the park. Oil would be a curse. It always increases conflict. It would attract human sabotage. The park might become like the Niger delta. Developing Virunga for oil will not make anything better."
"The population there is already very dense, with over 350 people per sqkm. When you take part of the land (for oil) you put more pressure on the rest. Oil would not provide many jobs, people would flood in looking for work," he said.
One fear is that the area is seismically active and another eruption of one of the volcanoes in the park could damage oil company infrastructure and lead to oil spills in the lakes. "Virunga's rich natural resources are for the benefit of the Congolese people, not for foreign oil prospectors to drain away. Our country's future depends on sustainable economic development," said Lumbuenamo.
"For me, choosing the conservation option is the best option. We can always turn back. Once you have started drilling for oil there's no turning back," he said.
But Raymond accepted that while the gorillas were safe at present, the chances of the park generating its potential of $400m a year were remote. "It would be difficult to make the kind of money that the report talks of. Virunga used to be a very peaceful place and can be again. The security situation right now is bad. The UN is involved with fighting units. Its not as quiet as it used to be."
According to the WWF report, complied by Dalberg Global Development Advisers, ecosystems in the park could support hydropower generation, fishing and ecotourism and play an important role in providing secure water supplies, regulating climate and preventing soil erosion.
The park, Africa's oldest and most diverse, is home to over 3,000 different kinds of animals, but is now heavily populated with desperately poor people, many of whom fled there after the Rwanda massacre in 1994.
"In all, the park could support in the region of 45,000 permanent jobs. In addition, people around the world could derive an immense value from simply knowing that the park is well managed and is safe for future generations," says the report.
"Virunga represents a valuable asset to DR Congo and contributes to Africa's heritage as the oldest and most biodiverse park on the continent," the report says. "Plans to explore for oil and exploit oil reserves put Virunga's potential value at risk," it says.
"This is where we draw the line. Oil companies are standing on the doorstep of one of the world's most precious and fragile places, but we will not rest until Virunga is safe from this potential environmental disaster," said Lasse Gustavsson, executive director of WWF International. "Virunga has snow fields and lava fields, but it should not have oil fields."
In June, the Uesco world heritage committee called for the cancellation of all Virunga oil permits and appealed to concession holders Total SA and Soco International Plc not to undertake exploration in world heritage sites. Total has committed to respecting Virunga's current boundary, leaving UK-based Soco as the only oil company with plans to explore inside the park.
Last year, the UK government expressed concerns about the prospect of oil exploration within the park. A Foreign Office spokesman said: "The UK opposes oil exploration within Virunga national park, a world heritage site listed by Unesco as being 'in danger'. We urge any company involved, and the government of DR Congo to respect the international conventions to which it is a signatory."
This is true sickness ... Armed Wisconsin agents bust into animal shelter to kill baby deer
By Eric W. Dolan
Thursday, August 1, 2013 21:38 EDT
An animal shelter was swarmed with armed government agents after employees recently began caring for a baby deer.
Ray Schulze was working in the barn at the Society of St. Francis on the Kenosha-Illinois border recently, when a swarm of squad cars and officers "armed to the teeth" arrived with a search warrant.
"(There were) nine DNR agents and four deputy sheriffs, and they were all armed to the teeth," Schulze said.
The focus of their search was a baby fawn brought there by an Illinois family worried she had been abandoned by her mother.
"When it made a little noise, it sounded like it was laughing," Schulze said.
Schulze videotaped the fawn they named Giggles during the two weeks she was there. The Department of Natural Resources began investigating after two anonymous calls reporting a baby deer at the no-kill shelter.
The warden drafted an affidavit for the search warrant, complete with aerial photos in which he described getting himself into a position where he was able to see the fawn going in and out of the barn.
Agents told staff they came to seize the deer because Wisconsin law forbids the possession of wildlife.
Schulze explained that the tiny fawn was scheduled to go to a wildlife reserve the very next day, one that specializes in rehabilitating animals to the wild.
But the armed agents corralled the shelter workers in a picnic area, and set off in search of the fawn.
"I was thinking in my mind they were going to take the deer and take it to a wildlife shelter, and here they come carrying the baby deer over their shoulder. She was in a body bag," Schulze said. "I said, 'Why did you do that?' He said, 'That's our policy,' and I said, 'That's one hell of a policy.'"
WISN 12 News spoke with the DNR about the fawn, and Supervisor Jennifer Niemeyer said Wisconsin law requires DNR agents to euthanize animals like Giggles "because of the potential for disease and danger to humans."
"These are always very difficult situations for both parties involved, and we are empathetic to the fact of what happened because we know in our heart of hearts they tried to do the right thing," Niemeyer said.
Investigative reporter Colleen Henry asked if the DNR couldn't have called ahead, especially given the resources they obviously invested in the operation.
"If a sheriff's department is going in to do a search warrant on a drug bust, they don't call them and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up," Niemeyer said.
The Society of St. Francis shelter plans to sue the DNR for removing Giggles without even a court hearing. They also question what such an operation costs taxpayers.
What would PETA do, I wonder?
click to watch this sickness.........http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B23-mpfXPU8
08/05/2013 01:28 PM
Mysterious Apathy: Baboons Go on Strike in Dutch Zoo
Monkeys living in a Dutch zoo have been behaving strangely over the last week, sitting listlessly with their backs turned to visitors and even refusing food. Something may have spooked them, with theories including a scary T-shirt, a runaway snake or a UFO.
Zookeepers in the Netherlands are scratching their heads at the strange behavior of an entire colony of 112 usually boisterous baboons which have sunken into a collective depression, sitting motionless, not fighting or grooming each other and not even eating apples, their favorite food.
Traumatized and apathetic, they've also had their backs turned to zoo visitors, as if they're on strike.
"For us it's a mystery, it's the fourth time this has happened and we haven't got a clue what could have caused this," biologist Wijbren Landman, a spokesman at Emmen Zoo in the northeastern Netherlands, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "If the leader is upset then the whole colony is upset. The leading men in the group were shocked by something. What it was we don't know."
It started last Monday when the baboons suddenly became hysterical. Then, on Tuesday and Wednesday, one group of baboons sat in a tree and refused to come down, while another group sat on an exposed part of the island in the burning sun. Fortunately, the second group later moved to a shadier location, but remained depressed.
'Normally They'd Beat Usain Bolt'
"They didn't even come when the keeper came along with apples. Normally they'd beat Usain Bolt when we bring them apples," said Landman.
Usually the zookeepers bury food, such as grain, in the ground and the baboons dig for it like they do in the wild. Alarmed by their inactivity, the keepers placed the food above ground, but the primates ignored it.
Emmen's baboons had similar fits of sudden apathy in 1994, 1997 and 2007, said Landman. "In 2007 they were all looking in the same direction. It wasn't like that this time," said Landman.
Landman has heard a number of theories about possible causes. Some speculate the monkeys might have seen a ghost or a UFO. Others say earth tremors could have spooked them. Emmen occasionally experiences minor earthquakes, but none was recorded last week.
Another theory is that a visitor to the zoo might have worn a T-shirt with a picture of a lion on it. But if that were the case, the animals would constantly be going nuts.
"Some people suggested that maybe foxes or an escaped snake got close to them, but we're not missing any snakes," said Landman.
"This hasn't happened at other zoos. But it has been seen in the wild that baboons are upset for a few days after a confrontation with a predator. But we have no lions or hyenas on our baboon island."
Could it be that the colony has a very jumpy leader prone to depression? No, says Landman, because the group had a different main leader during the last incident, in 2007.
Whatever it was, Emmen's baboons are starting to overcome their trauma. "They are searching for food again and some youngsters are being punished by the older ones for indecent behavior," said Landman, sounding relieved. "It's their normal activity."
Britain's grey long-eared bats may die out without help, conservationists warn
Report finds dwindling numbers of bats, now mostly confined to pockets on south coast
The Guardian, Monday 5 August 2013
The sky darkens to pale grey and from a crack in the eaves of a Victorian villa perched on a slope above a west country river a dozen or so of one of Britain's rarest mammals spill out.
Leaving the house, one by one, these grey long-eared bats veer sharply into the yew trees and holly bushes and are off for an energetic night hunting moths, crane flies and beetles above the meadows and marshes.
But a study published on Monday shows how rare a sight this is. Only 1,000 grey long-eared bats are thought to remain in the UK and the numbers are continuing to decline.
Plecotus austriacus is confined to small pockets along the south coast of England, including the Isle of Wight. A few of the mammals are also living in the Channel Islands and south Wales.
Conservationists are worried that the breeding colonies are so fragmented the bat could become extinct unless more work is done to protect it and the habitats it needs.
One of the few areas where the species can be viewed in action is close to the banks of the river Teign in Devon. Here between 20 and 30 adult female grey long-eared bats live in an attic in the villa (the males are to be found in temporary roosts elsewhere) while as many as 250 lesser horseshoe bats occupy a neighbouring roof space.
Orly Razgour, who carried out the research, and who studied the grey long-eared bat for her PhD at Bristol University, said: "The two species live in perfect harmony. This is one of the best and strongest colonies of grey long-eared bats, but the population is very fragile. Unless we do more to protect them they may die out completely.
"The problem is that the bats' hunting habitats are vanishing and colonies are becoming ever more isolated. Intensive farming over the decades has meant that the lowland meadows and marshes the bats favour are harder to find."
Though the nearest colony to this one is only about 20 miles away – within a bat's range – the lack of suitable habitats in between the two sites appears to dissuade the bats from making the journey. Razgour established there was no genetic connection between the groups.
She said she was shocked when she discovered there were so few grey long-eared bats remaining and is calling for them to be afforded "UK priority species" status.
The visit to the Devon site is rewarded first by the lesser horseshoe bats flying out from the villa. A bat monitor picks up their distinctive melodic warbling echolocation call.
"It is a magical sound," said Carol Williams, from the Bat Conservation Trust, which backed Razgour's research and her call for the bats to receive more help.
Another monitor tuned into a lower frequency detects a much softer set of clicks. "That's the long-eareds just warming up in the attic ready to fly," said Williams. "They exercise before they emerge."
Yet another problem the bats face is the paucity of such perfect roosting conditions as these. They need large open spaces to stretch their wings before heading out, and modern buildings do not tend to have such areas and may, anyway, not be accessible.
Their echolocation call is very quiet for good reason. "It's how they creep up on the moths that would be aware there's a bat out there," said Williams, "It's why this bat is sometimes nicknamed the whispering bat."
Having warmed up, the bats leave the attic and head for their hunting grounds. They are larger than the lesser horseshoes and their ears are nearly as long as their bodies. When at rest they curl their ears back like ram's horns or tuck them out of sight.
They spend the night hours chasing moths, flies and beetles in the meadows to feed their hungry youngsters back home in the attic.
"It's a wonderful sight," said Williams, "We have to make sure we do more to protect this fantastic species."
August 7, 2013
Deaths of Manatees, Dolphins and Pelicans Point to Estuary at Risk
By MICHAEL WINES
MELBOURNE, Fla. — The first hint that something was amiss here, in the shallow lagoons and brackish streams that buffer inland Florida from the Atlantic’s salt water, came last summer in the Banana River, just south of Kennedy Space Center. Three manatees — the languid, plant-munching, over-upholstered mammals known as sea cows — died suddenly and inexplicably, one after another, in a spot where deaths were rare.
A year later, the inquiry into those deaths has become a cross-species murder mystery, a trail of hundreds of deaths across one-third of the Indian River estuary, one of the richest marine ecosystems in the continental United States.
Along 50 miles of northern estuary waters off Brevard County and the Kennedy space complex, about 280 manatees have died in the last 12 months, 109 of them in the same sudden manner as the Banana River victims. As the manatee deaths peaked this spring, hundreds of pelicans began dying along the same stretch of water, followed this summer by scores of bottlenose dolphins.
The cause continues to evade easy explanation. But a central question is whether the deaths are symptoms of something more ominous: the collapse of the natural balance that sustains the 156-mile estuary’s northern reaches.
“We may have reached a tipping point,” said Troy Rice, who directs the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, a federal, state and local government partnership at the St. Johns River Water Management District.
Mr. Rice’s fear, widely shared, is that an ecosystem that supports more than 4,300 species of wildlife — and commercial fisheries, tourism and other businesses generating nearly $4 billion annually — is buckling under the strain of decades of pollution generated by coastal Florida’s explosive development.
The evidence of decline is compelling. In 2011 and 2012, unprecedented blooms of algae blanketed the estuary’s northern reaches for months, killing vast fields of underwater sea grass that are the building blocks of the estuary ecosystem. The grasses are breeding grounds for fish, cover from predators, home to countless creatures at the bottom of the food chain and, not least of all, the favorite menu item of manatees.
The sea grass has largely been supplanted by macroalgae, fast-growing seaweeds that clump into huge mats that drift free in the waters. And the character of the estuary is changing: already, algae-eating fish like menhaden are significantly increasing, Mr. Rice said.
Leesa Souto, a conservation biologist who heads the Marine Resources Council, a nonprofit group devoted to protecting the estuary, quoted one expert as saying that the loss of grasses destroyed the habitat for 1.4 billion immature fish.
“We fear the fishery collapse may be forthcoming as these missing juveniles will never reach adulthood two or three years from now,” she wrote in an e-mail.
The scope and suddenness of the algae blooms took scientists by surprise, but their source is no secret: off Brevard County, the estuary is badly overloaded with nitrogen, an essential plant nutrient found in fertilizers, rotting organic matter and human and animal waste.
State and federal authorities long ago limited dumping of nitrogen-rich effluents from sewage-treatment plants and factories. But so-called nonpoint sources of pollution, like lawn fertilizer and septic tanks, have been far harder to control.
Now, some experts say, the rapid urbanization of the Florida coast, from the boom years of the space age to the later growth of retirement condos, appears to have pushed the accumulation of those wastes.
Brevard has grown explosively, to nearly 545,000 in the 2010 census, from 23,700 people in 1950. The Banana River and other fingers of the estuary are a bricolage of pristine nature reserves cheek-to-jowl with beachfront motels, tract homes fronting on canals, even a golf course in the center of the Banana River itself.
Surveys in 2011 and 2012 by the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute at Florida Atlantic University concluded that estuary waters off Brevard contained 45 percent more nitrogen than is acceptable, and three times as much as in the estuary’s southern waters, said Brian Lapointe, a research professor at the institute.
Where the nitrogen came from is unclear. Relying on analyses of nitrogen isotopes in algae collected from the estuary, Dr. Lapointe concluded that most came from sewage — most likely from the 100,000 or so septic tanks that he estimated were dug during Brevard’s rapid expansion.
But a comprehensive search for the origins of the nitrogen has yet to be conducted. A handful of studies in waters outside the estuary have indicated that fertilizer runoff can be a major contributor to algae blooms. Dr. Souto cites a third source: a thick muck that has covered the once-pristine sand on the estuary floor, an accumulation of decades of pollutants and nitrogen-rich decayed plant matter.
“It would almost take a giant vacuum cleaner to remove it,” she said. “It remains a source of nitrogen, and whenever it’s stirred up, it goes back into the water.”
The Brevard waters seemed deceptively healthy in the mid-2000s, perhaps because a prolonged drought reduced the flow of nitrogen into the estuary. But when heavy rains returned in 2011, experts suggest, the resulting slug of pollution triggered the algae blooms.
With the sea grass mostly gone, there are few roots to stabilize the nitrogen-heavy muck when winds stir up the waters. A switch from septic tanks to sewer systems — and, perhaps, a giant vacuum cleaner — might quickly restore the Brevard waters to health. Otherwise, experts say, recovery seems likely to be a longer, more arduous process.
That makes the question of whether the estuary’s problems are linked to the wildlife die-offs all the more important. But that is likely to be a devilishly difficult investigation, scientists say.
The manatees died without warning, while the dolphins and pelicans wasted away over days, losing muscle and becoming disoriented. Manatees eat plants; dolphins and pelicans eat fish. Manatees and dolphins are mammals; pelicans are birds. Pelicans died by the hundreds; other estuary birds seem to have gone mostly unscathed. Other creatures that eat seaweed, like sea turtles, also seem to have remained healthy.
There are few clues. In fact, there are even few dolphins; most decomposed or were eaten by sharks before useful body parts could be recovered.
One of the best clues, however, involves the seaweed that replaced the estuary’s sea grass.
The three Banana River manatees seemed to be in robust health when they died. The sole exception was their intestines, which showed evidence of severe shock or irritation. Autopsies showed that the stomachs of all three manatees were filled with macroalgae, mostly a fanlike seaweed called gracilaria.
“We hypothesize that whatever caused these manatees to die was either ingested or gotten through drinking,” Martine de Wit, a research scientist with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission who autopsied the manatees, said in an interview. “It’s logical to think it’s the macroalgae that they ingested.” A federal laboratory is analyzing seaweed samples in search of toxins.
Both Dr. de Wit and Jan H. Landsberg, a biotoxin expert at the Fish and Wildlife Research Institute of the Conservation Commission who is helping coordinate the inquiry, emphasize that the hypothesis is just one of many. The deaths “might just be coincidental,” Dr. Landsberg said. “The key is not to go down too many rabbit holes.”
And to go down the most promising ones quickly. For the deaths may not be a one-time event; the estuary’s dolphins suffered suspiciously similar, still unexplained die-offs in 2001 and 2008.
“If this spreads,” she said, “we don’t know what the implications are.”
Hmmm... I have to wonder if this is related to cruise ships. There is a cruise port very close to this area. They have been expanding it over the last year or so. I wonder if in doing so they have either introduced some chemical substance into the waters or changed water patterns in such a way that it has caused this. Trying to visualize it, there is a land barrier (roadway) between the port and Banana River area, but that doesn't mean that something introduced into the water didn't wash out to sea and then back in and into the area that feeds the brackish waters.
You have to wonder.http://www.portcanaveral.com/general/news/releases/06242013.phphttp://www.portcanaveral.com/maps.php
Abandoned terrapins stalk Lake District
Pets bought in the wake of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze have been let loose and now pose a threat to wildlife and children
The Observer, Saturday 10 August 2013 22.24 BST
The ducks at Tebay services in Cumbria have a pretty good life. A cracking view of the Pennines on one side and the Lakeland fells on the other; a lovely pond by the northbound restaurant and a diet supplemented by organic leftovers from the award-winning farm shop inside. Just don't mention the terrapins.
A few years ago something odd befell these otherwise lucky ducks, according to Terry Bowes, director of Wetheriggs Zoo and Animal Sanctuary up the M6 at Clifton Dykes near Penrith. "I had a call from Tebay and a lady there said: 'We've got a problem here. Some of our ducks only have one leg. I think they must have some sort of disease.' I went down there to have a look, and what did we find? Three red-eared terrapins the size of dinner plates! They'd been chomping the ducks' legs off!"
Last week Bowes caused a ripple of alarm when he warned parents in the Lake District to look out for marauding terrapins, which have been dumped in the national park's waters after becoming too big for their owners to cope with. "If you have kids paddling in a river the turtles could easily snap off a toe or a finger. They can become quite aggressive when they have grown," he said.
So should holidaymakers panic at the growing terrapin threat? Bowes wouldn't go quite that far. It turns out his intervention was more a cri de coeur. He was exasperated at the routine abandonment of creatures that suffered the misfortune of becoming fashionable at the time of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle craze.
"I was just a bit fed up with the situation," he said on Friday as he showed the Observer around his charmingly ramshackle sanctuary. "The other Monday we had 14 terrapins come in on one day – by the end of the week we had more than 20. In the last year we've had more than 100 from 15 different species of freshwater terrapins. I was thinking what we could do about them all and then I heard about another Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle film coming out soon and steam came out of my ears. I was thinking, 'Oh no, this is only going to get worse.'"
Pets are just as vulnerable to fashion as anything else, said Bowes, as we passed three enormous European eagle owls he said were abandoned by their owners after they outgrew Harry Potter, and a trio of perky meerkats he said were probably originally bought after seeing the star of the Compare the Market insurance ads. "People don't understand that terrapins might start out small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, but that they can easily end up the size of a dinner plate. They've got a long lifespan too. I've known terrapins to live for 30 or 40 years, and they never stop growing."
Bowes claimed to have offloaded 50 or so terrapins on some rescuers from Kent – "funny old fellows who come up in their Morris 1000 Woody". But he said they have refused to take any more because they are "full up – don't even bother getting in touch with them because they won't get back to you. They don't want any publicity."
Terrapins make terrible pets, said Bowes. "They're aggressive, they're smelly. You need to have a very good filtration system, otherwise the chance of bacteria growing in the water is very high – you can get salmonella, a whole host of things." Bowes said he has rescued terrapins from all over the region – from Ullswater, Windermere and Coniston, as well as the rivers Eamont and Eden; and from the North and South Tyne and the Wear and Tees in his native north-east. But on Friday the Observer could not find any duck-munching terrapins terrorising the Lakeland waters. At the Waterside House campsite by Ullswater, George and Betty Hamilton said they had never seen one, despite parking their van right on the lake shore each year between May and October. "I did hear there have been sightings of a shoal of roach," said George, unhelpfully.
Another camper, Richard from Prudhoe in Northumberland, said he hadn't seen any terrapins and wouldn't go near them if he had. "We had two but we had to give them away. They started off the size of a child's hand but then we fed them prawns and stuff and they got massive. They ate all the fish and then started on each other. We had to give them to a garden centre in the end."
Back at Tebay's pond, the legs of all the ducks appeared present and correct. "The pond was drained when we built the restaurant extension a while back," said shop assistant Rachel Wilson, "and we didn't find anything unusual in there. It's a bit like the Loch Ness monster. I'm not sure there ever were any terrapins."
Kiev's dog hunters go on the attack to rid the city of strays
Creatures slaughtered with poison or a single shot to the head on the grounds of public health
Oksana Grytsenko in Kiev
theguardian.com, Sunday 11 August 2013 23.18 BST
They adopt nicknames such as hunter, comrade and chemist-amateur. They swap tips on the whereabouts of a target and recipes for poison. And when the moment is right, they strike with doctored food or a simple shot to the head.
Kiev's dog hunters are taking matters into their own hands, targeting the city's thousands of strays in the name of public health. But in so doing, they are stoking a row about animal rights in a country famously blase about the welfare of its animals.
Last year, when pictures of strays lying on Ukrainian streets provoked an international storm in the runup to Euro 2012, the government invited in foreign vets, including the Austrian organisation Vier Pfoten (Four Paws), which offered free neutering and vaccination of stray animals at mobile clinics.
But soon after the football fans went home, the slaughter of stray dogs resumed in Kiev.
Now Vier Pfoten has stopped its neutering programme after death threats were posted on the web. "They said I could be killed exactly like happened to a judge in Kharkiv," said Amir Khalil, head of the Vier Pfoten project in Ukraine, referring to a judge found decapitated in his flat together with three members of his family in December 2012. "They said: 'We don't need foreigners to castrate our dogs!'"
He said because the authorities and police in Kiev had not taken action after the threats, the project had been moved out of the city.
Kiev, which has a population of about 3 million people, has up to 18,000 stray animals, mostly dogs, city officials say. The authorities claim they lack money to keep them all at shelters.
Dog hunters use a website called "Vreditelyam.net?" ("no to pests") to share information about the dogs' locations, discuss recipes for poison and post photographs of the dogs they have killed. They call the dogs "flea carriers", the pieces of food laced with poison "yummy" and the dog's killing "sending to a rainbow".
Oleksiy Sviatohor, a lawyer, is one of the few who admits to being a dog hunter. "This work is like cleaning up the trash," he said. "Some may not like it, but we are finding the solution."
Sviatohor claimed that the neutering by Vier Pfoten was merely mutilating the dogs and did not solve the problem. He said the poison, an anti-tuberculosis medication that is extremely toxic for dogs, causes a relatively fast and painless death.
But Tamara Tarnavska, an animal rights campaigner, finds it almost unbearable to talk about the dog hunters. "An animal takes five or six hours to die in agony," she said.
Volunteers have seen the hunters giving poison to the dogs and reported them to the police. But they remember only one case of someone being imprisoned for slaughtering stray dogs. In June 2012 a student, Oleksiy Vedula, who tortured and killed more than 100 dogs and posted videos on the web, was sentenced to four years in jail.
Sviatohor said thousands of residents had been attacked by stray dogs and many people supported the dog hunters.
But animal rights activists say family dogs and even children playing in gardens risk eating poison left by the dog hunters.
Serhiy Morozov, a video engineer, was recently bitten on the leg by a stray dog. He said he was lucky to be wearing jeans, which protected him from the dog's teeth and the risk of rabies.
Morozov said that while he would be more careful around stray dogs, he would never justify the killing of animals by dog hunters. "I would strangle these people with my own hands," he said.
August 10, 2013On Fate of Wild Horses, Stars and Indians Spar
By FERNANDA SANTOS
It seemed at first like a logical alliance for boldface names in the interconnected worlds of Hollywood and politics. Bill Richardson, a former governor of New Mexico, and the actor Robert Redford, a staunch conservationist, joined animal rights groups in a federal lawsuit to block the revival of horse slaughter in the United States, proclaiming that they were “standing with Native American leaders,” to whom horse slaughter “constitutes a violation of tribal cultural values.”
Soon, though, the two men, who recently started a foundation to protect New Mexico’s wildlife, found themselves on a collision course with the Navajo Nation, the country’s largest federally recognized tribe, whose president released a letter to Congress on Aug. 2 asserting his support for horse slaughtering.
Free-roaming horses cost the Navajos $200,000 a year in damage to property and range, said Ben Shelly, the Navajo president. There is a gap between reality and romance when, he said, “outsiders” like Mr. Redford — who counts gunslinger, sheriff’s deputy and horse whisperer among his movie roles — interpret the struggles of American Indians.
“Maybe Robert Redford can come and see what he can do to help us out,” Mr. Shelly said in an interview. “I’m ready to go in the direction to keep the horses alive and give them to somebody else, but right now the best alternative is having some sort of slaughter facility to come and do it.”
The horses, tens of thousands of them, are at the center of a passionate, politicized dispute playing out in court, in Congress and even within tribes across the West about whether federal authorities should sanction their slaughtering to thin the herds. The practice has never been banned, but stopped when money for inspections was cut from the federal budget.
In Navajo territory, parched by years of unrelenting drought and beset by poverty, one feral horse consumes 5 gallons of water and 18 pounds of forage a day — sometimes the water and food a family had bought for itself and its cattle.
According to the latest estimates, there are 75,000 feral and wild horses in the nation, and the numbers are growing, Mr. Shelly said. They have no owners, and many of them are believed to be native to the West. The tribes say they must find an efficient way of reducing the population. Although it is common to shoot old and frail horses — and more merciful than a ride to the slaughterhouse — there are too many of them to be dealt with, and there is some money in rounding them up and selling them at auction.
There is also the question of sovereignty, one of the points raised in a resolution endorsing horse slaughter that was issued by the National Congress of American Indians, the oldest and largest organization of American Indian and Alaska Native tribal governments. Citing hillsides and valleys denuded by overgrazing by feral and wild horses, which on reservations throughout the West “are nearly everywhere you look,” the resolution accuses the federal government of failing to consult the tribes before proposing language in the Agriculture Department’s appropriations bill to again withhold money for slaughterhouse inspections.
In a letter to the House Appropriations Committee, Jefferson Keel, the national congress’s president and the lieutenant governor of the Chickasaw Nation in Oklahoma, said slaughter plants “represent a viable and humane method of assisting tribes and other entities in this country to stop the detrimental impact of tens of thousands of feral horses on our land.” Because of the horses’ numbers, the only practical solution is slaughtering, some in the tribes say.
Mr. Richardson, in an interview, acknowledged the conflict, which has sown divisions even among members of the same tribe. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include tribesmen like Paul Crane Tohlakai, a Navajo, and David Bald Eagle, the chief of the Minikoju Band of the Cheyenne River Tribe of Lakota Indians. In impassioned tones, they spoke of American Indians’ special relationship with horses, “the magnificent four-legged” animal “who has a part in our creation stories,” as Mr. Tohlakai put it.
“Institutionally,” Mr. Richardson said, responding to the claims by the Navajos’ president, “there have to be some issues that have to be dealt with, and that’s why the ultimate solution is to find a natural habitat, or a series of natural habitats, and adoption for the horses.” (Mr. Redford, a part-time resident of New Mexico, is on a hiatus, according to a representative, and unavailable for comment.)
The United States has never fostered a market for horse meat, a dietary staple in places like Belgium, China and Kazakhstan. It does have a history of horse slaughtering, though; at one point, there were more than 10 such slaughterhouses in the country. The last three, one in Illinois and two in Texas, closed in 2007, after Congress banned the use of federal money for salaries for personnel whose job was to inspect the horses and the facilities where they would be slaughtered. (One thing inspectors look for is evidence of drug use on the horses, not uncommon among those once used for racing.)
In their last year, the three plants slaughtered a total of 30,000 horses for human consumption and shipped an additional 78,000 for slaughter in Canada and Mexico, according to statistics by United States and Canadian authorities. Congress’s subsequent unwillingness to finance inspections made slaughtered horse meat ineligible for the seal of inspection it needs to be commercially sold, effectively ending the practice.
Wayne Pacelle, the president of the Humane Society of the United States, a lead plaintiff in the lawsuit and one of the groups lobbying Congress to end horse slaughter, said its efforts were focused on preventing the killing of horses for human consumption “to avoid creating an industry that would turn horses into a global food commodity.”
The language that would have continued the lack of funding for inspections did not make it into the Agriculture Department’s appropriations bill approved for the 2012 fiscal year, which did not change for the current fiscal year.
Valley Meat, based in Roswell, N.M., sued in October, accusing the department of thwarting its efforts to open a horse slaughter plant even after the facility had met all the necessary requirements. The department acquiesced, eventually granting the company its permits.
The plant was to open last Monday. On Aug. 2, however, Mr. Redford, Mr. Richardson and the animal rights groups scored a legal victory when a judge in Albuquerque issued a restraining order halting inspections of horse slaughter plants for 30 days.
Another proposed horse slaughterhouse, in Missouri, also had a legal setback on Monday. A county judge ordered a delay in issuing its wastewater permit until a lawsuit, asserting that runoff from the plant could contaminate the soil, was heard in court.
Mr. Pacelle said there were alternatives to slaughter, like using contraceptives to control the horse population, a method already employed by federal agencies elsewhere.
For Mr. Shelly, his question has been whether it is best to slaughter free-roaming horses or let them die slowly of thirst and disease, as many have done on the Navajo reservation.
Click to watch: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WS16KFSrhRs