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« Reply #135 on: Oct 18, 2013, 06:25 AM »

Fishermen in Peru slaughter dolphins to use as bait for shark fishing

Footage reveals infant and adult dolphins being harpooned, stabbed, clubbed and in some cases, butchered while still alive

Dan Collyns in Lima
The Guardian, Thursday 17 October 2013 19.17 BST   
Link to video: Dolphins killed 'illegally' in Peru

Peruvian fishermen slaughtered dolphins to use as bait for shark fishing, an undercover investigation has revealed.

Footage showed infant and adult dolphins being harpooned then stabbed and clubbed before, in some cases, being cut open and butchered while still alive. The slaughtered dolphins were cut up and used as bait. Dolphins are also killed for human consumption in Peru even though it is illegal.

Up to 15,000 dolphins are being killed in this way every year by Peruvian long-line shark-fishing fleets, according to three organisations – Peruvian NGO Mundo Azul, US NGO Blue Voice and the UK-based Ecostorm agency – involved in the month-long investigation.

The footage was filmed secretly on two shark-fishing boats and numerous interviews with fishermen corroborate that dolphin killing is common practice.

"We videotaped from the boat and in the water and what we saw was unimaginably horrific," said Stefan Austermuhle, executive director of Mundo Azul, who spent 24 days on one shark-fishing boat off the Peruvian coast.

"I just went numb looking at the pitiful dolphin being battered with a club. All I could do was continue recording the event, as well as the butchering of the sharks in the hope that making the world aware of this tragedy can somehow bring an end to it.

"The Peruvian fishermen endanger the survival of the dolphin species while pushing sharks towards a population collapse."

Sharks too are killed – by cutting off their noses while still alive and pushing wires through their brains and down the spinal cord in order to immobilize them, the investigation showed.

Pregnant sharks caught alive are not returned to sea in order to guarantee the species' survival but are slaughtered on board with their living babies dying between the carcasses.

The killing of dolphins has been illegal in Peru since 1997.

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« Reply #136 on: Oct 19, 2013, 05:37 AM »

Record whale and dolphin sightings in North Sea

Passengers on Newcastle ferry spotting unprecedented numbers of minke whales, dolphins, sharks and even a humpback whale

John Vidal, Friday 18 October 2013 16.00 BST    

The North Sea, by reputation grey, cold and empty, is becoming one of Europe's more desirable whale and dolphin-watching places, with sightings at record levels.

This year, passengers on the King Seaways ferry that runs daily between Newcastle and Amsterdam made a record 699 sightings in the five months to 5 September , four times as many as 2011 and over three times as many as 2012. Minke whales, four species of dolphins, harbour porpoises, sharks, seals, and even a humpback whale were spotted.

But wildlife experts from the charity Orca, who accompany most North Sea crossings and verify the sightings made by passengers, say that it's unlikely that the heavily fished sea is actually more populated with cetaceans than in previous years, and more likely down to increasing numbers of observers.

"We think it's a case of the more eyes the better," said Alison Lomax, head of Orca's North Sea wildlife programme. "At times we have had 30 or more people scanning the sea from the bows of the ferry. People are now much more aware of wildlife. So they look more and see more. We've had evenings when whole pods of dolphins have been turning up, and we have sightings every few minutes."

Whale and dolphin boat trips are now thriving tourist industries in Cornwall, Wales and Scotland, but few operate out of the North Sea, which is traditionally rough. Whale watching boats work out of Whitby but going by ferry across the North Sea appeals, it seems, because watchers can always pop indoors when they like for a cuppa when it inevitably rains. The best sightings this year have been 30km off Flamborough Head in Yorkshire.

"You really don't think of the North Sea as somewhere which is full of wildlife. But it has been really speactacular. There's loads to see. You would be very surprised," said Lomax.

This year's good weather is thought to have helped, too. "Porpoises and dolphins don't spout so they are really only seen when it's calm. They are really hard to spot in bad weather. The amazingly calm weather has had a huge impact on the number of animals we have seen. This summer we were treated to mirror-calm seas, making the animals much easier to spot."

The sightings complement the official scientific surveys that are carried out by wildlife officers from Orca who travel on the ferry twice a month. "The passengers provide casual data, but it's incredibly important in helping us to monitor the presence of whales and dolphins in the North Sea," Lomax added.

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« Reply #137 on: Oct 19, 2013, 05:42 AM »

Claws out as Peruvian judge suspends annual cat race and feast

Magistrate upholds complaints of animal cruety in banning the eating of felines at annual Curruñao festival in San Luis, south of Lima

Dan Collyns in Lima, Friday 18 October 2013 16.35 BST   

Along with rhythms of African-Peruvian music, as well as the drinking and the dancing, a cat race in which the losers wound up in the pot was the highlight of the annual festival of Curruñao in the small town of San Luis, 140km south of Lima.

Not any more. A provincial judge has banned the eating of cats and suspended the cat race at the festival held every September, upholding complaints of animal cruelty made by the animal rights commission at Lima's Law Society.

In her ruling, magistrate Maria Luyo said the event "fomented violence based on cruel acts against animals which caused grave social damage and damaged public health".

She added that minors could be "psychologically damaged" watching the events, which include not only the cat race but also, allegedly, cats being tied to fireworks and the drowning and skinning of the felines for a range of stews and other dishes.

Sonia Cordova, president of the animal rights commission, said the Curruñao festival "tortured and blew up cats so they could later be eaten".

The custom, say locals, dates back to colonial times and is an integral part of the religious celebrations of Santa Efigenia, an African-Peruvian folk saint who tradition holds is of Ethiopian origin. The eating of cats is a dying tradition among Peru's African-descended population – how it started is unknown although some historians say it was born out of necessity by African slaves working on sugar-cane plantations.

Delia Solorzano, the mayor of San Luis, the tiny town at the centre of the controversy, told local media the cat-eating custom "through years of repetition has become part of our local identity".

The mayor of the nearby town of La Quebrada, Yolanda Medina, told local radio that the festival organisers would respect the magistrate's ruling. However, she defended the tradition, saying the cats were specially bred for the occasion and only an handful were killed to be eaten.

Animal rights campaigners in Peru have greeted the legal ruling as a victory. Corinne Schirmer, of Peru's United Association for Animals , said more than 60,000 signatures had been collected calling for a ban on the "retrograde custom".

Last month, Congressman Juan Urquiza wrote to Solorzano and Peru's health minister to demand a ban on cat-eating under a domestic animal protection law. The minister, Midori de Habich, said the eating of cats should be suspended but took no further action.

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« Reply #138 on: Oct 19, 2013, 07:39 AM »

October 16, 2013

Raids to Free Minks Up Ante on Animal Rights


NEW HOLSTEIN, Wis. — Next to their white clapboard house on a rural road here, in long rows of cages set beneath the roofs of seven open-air sheds, Virginia and Gary Bonlander are raising 5,000 minks. Or were, anyway, until two Saturdays ago, when the police roused them from bed at 5 a.m. with a rap on their door.

Outside, 2,000 minks were scampering away — up to 50 top-quality, full-length and, suddenly, free-range mink coats.

“The backyard was full of mink. The driveway was full of mink,” Mrs. Bonlander recalled a few days ago. “Then, pshew” — she made a whooshing sound — “they were gone.”

And not only in Wisconsin, the mink-raising capital of the United States. After something of a hiatus, the animal rights movement has resumed a decades-old guerrilla war against the fur industry with a vengeance — and hints of more to come.

In New Holstein; in Grand Meadow, Minn.; in Coalville, Utah; in Keota, Iowa; and four other states, activists say, eight dark-of-night raids on mink farms have liberated at least 7,700 of the critters — more than $770,000 worth of pelts — just since late July. That is more such raids than in the preceding three years combined.

Two more raids in Ontario and British Columbia freed 1,300 other minks and foxes during the same period, according to the North American Animal Liberation Press Office, which bills itself as a conduit for messages from anonymous animal rights activists.

“What we’re seeing now is unprecedented,” Peter Young, a Santa Cruz, Calif., activist who was imprisoned in 2005 for his role in raids on six mink ranches, said in a telephone interview. Though still an outspoken defender of the animal rights movement and mink-ranch raids, Mr. Young says he has no contact with those who raid fur farms or commit other illegal acts and, in fact, does not know who they are.

The fur industry is not amused. “Criminal thugs, felons. And they’re committing federal crimes,” said Michael Whelan, the executive director of Fur Commission U.S.A., which represents all of the country’s 300 or so mink farms.

Also, he adds, it is not unprecedented. Mr. Whelan says raids were more common during the 1990s, and he even disputes that eight raids have occurred since July. (He says there were only seven.)

It is one measure of the venomous relationship between mink ranchers and mink liberators that they cannot agree on how big their argument is. But it is only one measure.

The two camps also call each other terrorists. Indeed, mink liberation is a federal crime under the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act, and animal rights extremism is duly monitored by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a 2012 Congressional report.

Mr. Young, who says he is regularly searched at airport security checkpoints when he flies these days, maintains that the only violence in his old line of work occurred when farmers harvested their pelts for sale at auction.

The two sides do agree on one matter: that the raiders — the shadowy Animal Liberation Front, the best-known such group, has claimed responsibility for three of the recent attacks — are extremists.

“Fur is just a gateway product,” Mr. Whelan said. “They’re against the production of leather, meat, wool, poultry, dairy. The reason they’re after the fur industry is because it’s low-lying fruit.”

Mr. Young quite agrees. “This really isn’t about fur in particular; it’s about animal exploitation,” he said. “If cows were able to survive in the wild and had a natural habitat, we’d release cows. Unfortunately, you can’t release a cow, so we have to release mink.”

Not that cows are not on the animal rights agenda. In August, a group called Iowans for Animal Liberation poured red paint over the Iowa butter cow, a life-size cow carved in butter that is a highlight of the state fair, to symbolize the blood animals shed on the way to being eaten, worn and otherwise exploited.

But for those who release animals from captivity, fur, and especially mink, appears to deliver the most bang for the buck.

The latest burst of raids appears to stem in part from an anonymous posting on a blog this summer of an updated list of mink and fox farms and research facilities first issued in 1996. The new list, called The Final Nail #4, includes addresses, instructions on how to free animals from cages and avoid detection, and a most-wanted list of desirable targets.

But the activists may also be aiming for the farmers’ pocketbooks. Driven by demand from nouveau riche Chinese and Russians, the price of a good mink pelt has zoomed to a record $100, Fur Commission U.S.A. estimates, from just $41 five years ago, and turned a handful of mostly backyard businesses into a $350 million-a-year industry.

“The Chinese consumer just loves the American mink,” said Mr. Whelan of the fur commission. “They want all the trappings of success. They want the Mercedes-Benz, they want the Rolex watch and they want the mink coat. We’re fortunate to be a part of it.”

In New Holstein, 90 minutes north of Milwaukee, the Bonlanders say their 5,000 minks, housed on the family plot, are just a small business. Still, they were just completing work on a massive new freezer to hold their furry harvest when the raiders struck.

Mrs. Bonlander called the raid “devastating,” adding: “It’s our livelihood. They’re trying to put us out of business. Do you feel bad about killing a cow? Or the pig for pork chops? That’s the way it is.”

But she claims to have had the last laugh.

Within an hour of the police officer’s knock, she said, “There was about a hundred people here catching mink,” friends and neighboring mink farmers and strangers who had heard about the raid over the telephone grapevine. In boots and biteproof gloves, with fishing nets and live traps and even a mink-sniffing dog, they set out to round up their quarry.

“They’re hard to catch,” she said. “They’re slippery, they’re quick and they’re sly.” But surprisingly, she claims the family recovered all but 180 or so.

Some of the lost were squashed on the road by passing cars. The rest, she said, will not make it through the winter. “They weren’t born in the wild. Their mothers didn’t train them to hunt,” she said. “These people that release the mink, they don’t think of that.”

Many wildlife biologists disagree; escaped minks are thriving in Britain, New Zealand and elsewhere. For his part, though, Mr. Young says that is not the point. “The animals on these farms are bred to be killed. That’s a 100 percent certainty,” he said. “If even one animal gets away and survives, that’s a success as far as I’m concerned.”

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« Reply #139 on: Oct 20, 2013, 07:41 AM »

Madagascar’s real-life lemurs face extinction within 20 years

By Agence France-Presse
Sunday, October 20, 2013 9:10 EDT

Immortalised in the hit cartoon “Madagascar”, real-life lemurs face extinction within 20 years short of drastic action to tackle the poverty driving islanders to poach the primates and destroy their habitat.

Each year that passes hastens the decline of the saucer-eyed primates, as the Indian Ocean island’s people struggle for survival amid a drawn-out political crisis.

“As long as there is poverty, we can’t expect to prevent the lemurs’ extinction,” said primatologist Jonah Ratsimbazafy from the University of Antananarivo.

Cast as a lovable bunch in the “Madagascar” movies, lemurs occur in the wild only on the island, having evolved separately from their cousins the African ape over millions of years.

Madagascar is home to 105 different species of lemur, accounting for 20 percent of the world’s species of primate, in an area spanning less than one percent of the global habitat of all primates.

But crop burnings and wild fires destroy 200,000 hectares of Madagascar’s forest a year. And the 13 percent of its natural forest that remains may disappear within a generation, according to Ratsimbazafy.

“If this rate of deforestation continues you could say that within 20 to 25 years there won’t be any forest left, so no lemurs either,” he said.

Ninety-three of the 105 known lemur species are on the endangered list.

An estimated 92 percent of Madagascar’s people live on less than a $2 a day, and social conditions have worsened on the island since its leader Andry Rajoelina seized power in 2009 with the help of the army.

Most foreign aid was suspended, bringing the economy to its knees and putting the country at risk of a food crisis — a situation exacerbated by a locust plague this year.

The broke state has scheduled a presidential election for later this month aimed at ending the four-year political crisis.

The island’s blossoming tourist industry also suffered a blow this month following the mob lynching of two Europeans and a local man accused of killing a boy on the Madagascan tourist island of Nosy Be.

The deadly riots sparked travel warnings from several countries including France and the United States.

Meanwhile locals eke out a living where they can — including by looting precious woods, minerals and lemurs from the forest around them.

Small-scale woodcutters also hunt the animals for food while searching for rosewood, according to Tovonanahary Rasolofoharivelo, another primate expert.

“Often they don’t bring enough to eat and woodcutting is hard work, so they eat lemur meat because the animals are easier to catch than birds.”

Gold-diggers are pushing into the forest too, chipping away at the lemur’s habitat.

Rangers have to travel far, often camping on the way, to track the diggers, said a guide from the Ranomafana National Park in the southeast of the island.

“There are many gold prospectors in the park. You can earn up to 100,000 ariary ($46, 35 euros) per gramme of gold,” said the guide, who asked not to be named.

And all the while, crop fields are steadily encroaching on the forest, a little more each year.

“In tropical countries like Madagascar the soil is very, very poor,” explained Ratsimbazafy.

“One year a farmer plants here, next year he moves, again, and again, and afterwards you have deforestation, the desert.”

A coalition of conservationist groups have launched an international campaign to raise around $8 million, in a do-or-die effort to reverse the trend.

The three-year programme aims to help provide alternative livelihoods for the local population, in addition to tourism and agricultural programmes that have been running for a few years.

“We try to finance money-generating activities like planting beans, and pig, chicken or fish farming, so that people in the countryside stop destroying the forest,” said Benjamin Andriamihaja, local representative of the US-based Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Environments (ICTE).

“But it’s difficult to compensate for the lack of revenue of locals who don’t think long-term,” he added.

An international conference was held in August to discuss conservation strategies near the Ranomafana park.

These days, at the entrance of the 40,000-hectare reserve, tour guides and self-styled trackers sit waiting for tourists to arrive.

But their numbers have dwindled compared to a year ago, with small-scale smuggling simply a more lucrative option for many.

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« Reply #140 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:09 AM »

Chemical responsible for thousands of seabird deaths is banned

New maritime laws ban discharge at sea of PIB pollutant that affected more than 4,000 birds on south-west coast of England

Jessica Aldred, Tuesday 22 October 2013 11.28 BST   

The chemical that caused the deaths of thousands seabirds in the UK earlier this year has been banned from being discharged at sea by the International Maritime Organisation (IMO).

More than 4,000 birds of at least 18 species washed up dead or were affected by a sticky substance covering beaches from Cornwall to Dorset in two separate incidents in January and April this year.

An investigation by the UK government's Maritime and Coastguard Agency (MCA) confirmed that the chemical responsible was polyisobutylene (PIB), an oil additive that is flushed into the sea during the cleaning of a ship's tanks or flushing of ballast water.

Although it is considered to present a hazard to the marine environment, until now it has been legal to discharge it in restricted quantities into the sea under certain circumstances.

However, at a meeting of the IMO's working group on the Evaluation of Safety and Pollution Hazards of Chemicals in London on Tuesday, it was announced that from 2014 all high-viscosity PIBs will be reclassified under a separate category that bans their discharge at sea and requires tanks to be fully pre-washed and all residues to be disposed of at port. This will also apply to new "highly reactive" forms of PIB, which are currently being transported unassessed.

PIB is often used to improve the performance of lubricating oil and is found in products ranging from adhesives to sealants and chewing gum. It is extremely hazardous to seabirds, who dive underwater to feed and become covered in the sticky substance. This leads to immobilisation, hyperthermia, starvation and eventually death.

Wildlife charities have been campaigning for a change to the maritime law that governs polluting substances and more than 25,000 people signed petitions in support of a ban.

Alec Taylor, marine policy officer for the RSPB said: "We are delighted with the action taken by the IMO. The global trade in PIB products is increasing and with it the risks to our precious marine environment. Today's global ban on the deliberate discharge of high viscosity PIBs into our seas is a real step forward and one that we hope will end this particular pollution threat to seabirds and other marine life."

RSPCA senior wildlife scientist Adam Grogan said: "We welcome this decision. Our staff worked around the clock washing and treating these poor birds in January and April and it was heartbreaking seeing the pitiful state they were in. Hopefully this will help stop incidents like these happening again, and save wildlife from suffering and dying like this in the future."

Joan Edwards, head of living seas at the Wildlife Trusts, welcomed the ban and said the risk of pollution was a threat to tourism on popular beaches, as well as to marine life.

The two spills earlier this year represented the second largest marine pollution incident of its kind in the region. Affected species included razorbill, puffin and gannets, but predominantly guillemots. Wildlife agencies in Devon and Cornwall said that "a whole generation of seabirds" may have been wiped out.

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« Reply #141 on: Oct 22, 2013, 07:45 AM »

PETA targets French airline over transporting lab monkeys

By Agence France-Presse
Monday, October 21, 2013 18:45 EDT

An animal rights group said Monday it hopes to collect 25,000 signatures by October 31 on an online petition urging Air France to stop transporting primates.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) alleged that the French airline is among only a few major carriers that still transport monkeys for use in lab experiments.

“Profit-hungry airlines such as Air France will do anything for a buck — even if that means ignoring the screaming monkeys being loaded onto their planes,” said PETA president Ingrid Newkirk in a statement.

To promote its campaign, PETA said US residents who sign the petition would be eligible to win lunch with Dave Navarro of the rock group Jane’s Addiction.

In January 2012, PETA claimed success in urging Air France to cancel a shipment of monkeys from Mauritius to a US laboratory, following a similar appeal to supporters.

[Image via Agence France-Presse]

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« Reply #142 on: Oct 23, 2013, 07:44 AM »

Purring monkey and vegetarian piranha among 400 new Amazon species

Four years of scientific expeditions have found previously unknown animals and plants in world's largest tropical rainforest

• New species of the Amazon rainforest - in pictures

Jessica Aldred, Wednesday 23 October 2013 06.00 BST   

A purring monkey, a vegetarian piranha and a flame-patterned lizard are among more than 400 new species of animals and plants that have been discovered in the past four years in the Amazon rainforest, conservationists say.

Discovered through hundreds of scientific expeditions between 2010 to 2013, the total of 441 new species – all new to science – includes 258 plants, 84 fish, 58 amphibians, 22 reptiles, 18 birds and one mammal. This tally does not include discoveries of insects and other invertebrates.

"The more scientists look, the more they find," said Damian Fleming, head of programmes for Brazil and the Amazon at WWF-UK, which compiled the list. "With an average of two new species identified every week for the past four years, it's clear that the extraordinary Amazon remains one of the most important centres of global biodiversity."

Among the new species discovered is a "purring" Caqueta titi monkey (Callicebus caquetensis) of the Colombian Amazon, whose babies have an endearing trait: "All of the babies purr like cats," said scientist Thomas Defler, who helped discover the species. "When they feel very content they purr towards each other, and the ones we raised would purr to us."

A "warpainted lizard" (Gonatodes timidus) was discovered in the part of the Amazon that extends into Guyana. Despite its extraordinary colouring, this lizard is very shy and has a tendency to avoid being seen by humans.

Some species may be lost just as they have been discovered, scientists warned. The thumbnail-sized "thimble frog" has been given a Latin name (Allobates amissibilis) meaning "that may be lost", because it thrives in an area of Guyana that could soon be opened up to tourism.
Amazon species: The strictly herbivorous 'vegetarian piranha' (Tometes camunani) The strictly herbivorous 'vegetarian piranha' (Tometes camunani). Photograph: Tommaso Giarrizzo

Other species are under threat from development. The strictly herbivorous "vegetarian piranha" (Tometes camunani), inhabits rocky rapids in the Brazilian Amason where its main source of food, Podostemaceae aquatic herbs, is found. However, dam projects and mining activity in Pará state are threatening the health and flow of its river habitat.

Many of the recently discovered plants and animals have very restricted ranges and are thought to be endemic to small parts of the Amazon. For example, a new fish species (Apistogramma cinilabra) that has adapted to low-oxygen water is unique to one small lake in the Loreto region of Peru and found nowhere else in the world – making it and other species even more vulnerable.

"The richness of the Amazon's forests and freshwater habitats continues to amaze the world," added Fleming. "But these same habitats are also under growing threat. The discovery of these new species reaffirms the importance of stepping-up commitments to conserve and sustainably manage the unique biodiversity and also the goods and services provided by the rainforests to the people and businesses of the region."
Amazon species: The thumbnail-sized 'thimble frog' (Allobates amissibilis) The thumbnail-sized 'thimble frog' has been given a Latin name (Allobates amissibilis) meaning 'that may be lost', because it thrives in an area that could soon be opened up to tourism. Photograph: Philippe Kok

The Amazon ecosystem is the world's largest tropical rainforest and river system, covering 6.7m square miles shared by Brazil, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Guyana, Suriname and French Guiana. It is rich in biodiversity, containing one in 10 of the species known on Earth in 1.4bn acres of dense forest and 4,100 miles of winding rivers.

A recent study found that almost 400 billion trees belonging to 16,000 different species grow in the Amazon.

Deforestation, intensive farming, climate change, natural resources extraction and hydropower are among the chief threats to the forest and freshwater ecosystems.

About one-fifth of the Amazon rainforest has already been lost, and deforestation is currently taking place at a rate of three football pitches of a minute, WWF says. In the past eight years, Brazil has slowed the pace of forest clearance by 80%, but roughly 6,000 sq km is still converted to farmland each year.

The Amazon contains 90-140bn metric tonnes of carbon, the release of which through deforestation and land conversion – if not controlled – could accelerate global warming significantly.

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« Reply #143 on: Oct 23, 2013, 08:08 AM »

Nations debate whether to create two giant Antarctic ocean sanctuaries

By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 8:49 EDT

Multi-nation talks on creating two vast sanctuaries in Antarctic waters began Wednesday with a key official saying a marine reserve protecting the pristine Ross Sea had the better chance of success.

The Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Marine Living Resources (CCAMLR) meeting in Hobart brings together 24 nations and the EU to try to agree plans for conserving marine ecosystems in the Southern Ocean.

At stake, say environmentalists, is an ocean wilderness that is home to 16,000 known species, including whales, seals, albatrosses, penguins and unique species of fish.

Proposals to create two huge Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) — both of which failed to be agreed to at a special meeting in Germany in July at which Russia made objections — are on the table.

But the United States-New Zealand proposal for a protected zone in the Ross Sea, the deep bay on Antarctica’s Pacific side, is considered the best hope after its size was reduced. It now has a 1.25 million square kilometre no-fish zone.

“We believe in this year we have a bigger chance to reach compromise, maybe not for both MPAs but, for example, for the Ross Sea,” CCAMLR chair Leszek Dybiec told reporters in Hobart.

Australia, France and the European Union are behind the second proposal which calls for a 1.6 million square kilometre (640,000 square mile) protected zone off East Antarctica, on the frozen continent’s Indian Ocean side.

The proposed protected areas are designed to conserve the remote southern regions and CCAMLR executive secretary Andrew Wright expressed optimism “that we will get an outcome at this meeting”.

“I’m not sure that they will all get up (succeed) in the current form but I am… quietly confident that some revisions will take place to both proposals and one, or hopefully both, will get up,” he told AFP.

The Hobart meeting is the latest attempt to agree on marine reserves after Russia stymied the plans at a special meeting in Germany in July, saying the no-fishing areas were too extensive and questioning the legal right of CCAMLR to set up such sanctuaries.

Since then there have been mixed signals from the Russians on how they will vote but they are believed to have dropped their argument about CCAMLR’s legality, boosting optimism the sanctuaries will receive greater support in Hobart.

Because all 25 members of the commission have to agree for a decision to be made, regardless of extent of the interest they have as a nation in Antarctica, negotiations are complex.

Wright said it was not only the size of the zones which could be negotiated, but also the duration for which they would be kept as sanctuaries, along with elements such as research and monitoring programmes.

New Zealand’s Foreign Minister Murray McCully has refused to rule out scaling back the New Zealand/US proposal which has already been substantially reduced from 1.6 million square kilometres.

“Some modifications were made to the proposal, and there may be more yet,” he said on Tuesday.

McCully said he was optimistic, but not confident, of reaching agreement in Hobart.

“We’ve got signs of good engagement leading up to the meeting but getting 25 countries to agree on something complex is going to be difficult,” he admitted.

“All of the negotiations are quite challenging but we?re satisfied that there?s engagement and good faith at the moment.”

If accepted, the combined area of the two sanctuaries is 2.85 million square kilometres, a fraction smaller than India, more than five times larger than France and 12 times the size of Britain.

Each proposal has the potential to create the world’s largest marine protection zone.

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« Reply #144 on: Oct 24, 2013, 06:44 AM »

Texas ‘safari club’ auctioning chance to kill rhino in the name of conservation

By Arturo Garcia
Wednesday, October 23, 2013 20:04 EDT

A Texas hunting group will auction off the opportunity to kill a member of the endangered black rhino species, arguing that the money raised will be used to fund conservation efforts.

The Dallas Observer reported on Wednesday that the Dallas Safari Club (DSC) has obtained permission from both the Namibian government and the U.S. ish and Wildlife Service to auction off the special permit during its January 2014 convention.

Only 5,055 rhinos are still living in the wild, with about 1,800 of them in Namibia. The Telegraph reported in March 2013 that, though poaching attacks on the species had become a relative rarity, local officials were wary of a resurgence.

“The whole model of wildlife conservation, of sustainable-use conservation, is that any resource, if it has a value, it will stay there, it will continue to flourish,” DSC Executive Director Ben Carter told the Observer, adding that he expected the auction to raise around $750,000, with the money going to a conservation trust fund, where it will be used to fight poachers, conduct health checkups on other rhinos and for population surveys.

“Black rhinos tend to have a fairly high mortality rate,” Carter explained to the Observer. “Generally speaking, out of a population of 2,000, harvesting three rhinos over a couple or three years has no impact on the health of the rhino herd at all.”

Carter also responded to calls for an auction that would not involve killing a rhino through a “photo safari” by telling the Observer, “Well, that’s great, but people don’t pay for that.”

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Posts: 28604

« Reply #145 on: Oct 24, 2013, 07:06 AM »

10/23/2013 05:18 PM

Factory Farming: The True Price of a Pork Chop

By Susanne Amann, Michael Fröhlingsdorf and Udo Ludwig

Germany slaughters 58 million pigs a year and has built an efficient meat industry second only to the US in pork exports. Its optimized breeding, feeding and killing system churns out wondrously cheap cutlets -- but at a hidden cost to the environment and our health.

Meinolf is about the best thing that can happen to a sow. As boars go, he is relatively inconspicuous. He is seven years old, weighs 122.5 kilograms (270 lbs.), and the fat on his back is exactly seven centimeters thick. But he does have one shining talent: He has sired many a perfect piglet.

Meinolf is a "top genetic boar," one of the most productive animals at the Weser-Ems Pig Insemination Center in northern Germany. The facility advertises the impressive animal in one of its catalogs, which is filled with technical information about fattening and slaughter performance formulas, feed conversion ratios and lean-meat content. The 148-page catalog is something of a pin-up calendar for hog farmers, with 16 boars featured on each spread.

The company produces and markets 1.5 million vials of sperm a year, making it one of Europe's largest pig insemination centers. To ensure that Weser-Ems remains a success, Meinolf, like many of his fellow boars, spends day after day in a sterile stall, and the only thing he is permitted to mount is a so-called phantom.

Meinolf stands at the beginning of the distribution chain in Germany's pork production industry, which has been growing steadily for years. Success in the pork industry requires sacrifices from each of its participants: the animals, the producers and their employees. In the end, consumers also pay a high, albeit hidden price for the meat made in Germany so efficiently and cheaply.

The representatives of the meat industry, including farmers, feedlot operators and slaughterers, often feel misunderstood and unfairly criticized. Their critics, on the other hand, have strong arguments against the industry's global game plan, because the system also inflicts massive harm on human beings, animals and the environment.

Environmental Risks

For instance, the liquid manure from pig feedlots poses problems for groundwater. Other problematic issues include the widespread incidence of animal cruelty and the need to import massive amounts of feed from places like South America, where rainforest is burnt down to create farmland.

But that isn't the whole story. To keep barns disease-free, antibiotics are often used preventively. This leads to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which will eventually pose a serious problem to humans when diseases are no longer treatable.

And then there are the highly efficient slaughtering factories, such as the one owned by Clemens Tönnies in the western German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, which is increasingly under fire for its alleged wage dumping and slaughtering on an industrial scale. The pork industry is a massive, humming machine, and its operations reach from the vials of sperm from a breeding boar like Meinolf to gelatin production plants somewhere in China or Brazil.

Christian Henne owns the old Deitersen farm in the southern part of Lower Saxony, about halfway between Hanover and Kassel. Henne raises piglets and sells them to various feedlots. He has about 700 sows in his barns, which produce approximately 18,000 piglets a year, according to a carefully calibrated schedule.

Tuesdays are "in-heat" and "insemination" days. That's when Henne's boar begins putting on a show of sorts for the sows, although his job is merely to get them in the right mood. He walks back and forth in front of the sows as they lie in their narrow, individual bays.

This behavior stimulates the receptive sows that are in heat, allowing Henne and his employees to insert purchased sperm into the sows from behind, using a long plastic pipette. One €2.50 ampoule of sperm is used per animal, with the goal being for each sow to produce a litter of 12 to 13 piglets. "It's optimized production," says Henne. Optimization is everything.

Growing Appetite for Meat

The industry has to meet strong demand. Germans consume 39 kilograms (86 lbs.) of pork per capita each year. The average German also consumes another 22 kilograms of meat from cattle, chickens, turkeys and other animals.

Man's appetite for meat is growing continually and globally, in both Germany and the developing countries of Asia and South America. In Germany, 85 percent of the population eats meat and cold cuts daily or almost daily -- a number four times as high as in the mid-19th century. Pork consumption alone has almost tripled since 1950.

This trend in meat consumption is evident on the refrigerated shelves of supermarkets nationwide, which are filled to brimming with meat products -- sealed, prepackaged and available at rock-bottom prices. One German supermarket chain, Rewe, sells packages of four marinated pork shoulder steaks for €3.49 ($4.80) apiece. Netto, a subsidiary of the Edeka chain, has five steaks on sale for €2.39. Even the European Union uses terms like "excessive supply and availability" to characterize the meat industry. But this availability comes at a cost that isn't reflected in retail prices.

Agribusiness is about increasing production, about pigs processed per hour, about growth, about quantity over quality. Unnoticed by the public, there has been a fundamental change in livestock farming. Animal and meat production has become one of the most productive areas of agriculture.

In industrialized countries, it amounts to more than half of total agricultural production. Barns containing 2,000 pigs or 40,000 chickens are no longer a rarity.

The supporters of this industry have long felt it unnecessary to discuss these changes. But now there is growing resistance to what some see as ordinary farming and others call factory farming. Critics keep asking the same questions: Is this form of meat production the right one? Can animals be pumped out like mass-produced goods? Is this necessary? And, most of all, is it moral? What is going wrong in this distribution chain, which is geared toward perfection and yet is creating new problems in many areas?

Breeding and Piglet Production

A veterinarian checks the sows to see if the insemination process in farmer Henne's barn was successful. If his ultrasound device indicates pregnancy, the animals are marked and the waiting begins. A sow has a 110-day gestation period before giving birth to a litter of piglets. Until then, the animals are kept together in groups in a so-called waiting barn. Keeping the animals in groups has been required by law in the EU since the beginning of 2013.

Farmer Henne does what he can to give his pigs comfortable lives. About 35 pigs are kept together in each bay of the barn. Some time ago, Henne installed dividers for the loners among the sows so that they could spend time alone. Chains and ropes are provided to encourage the animals to play.

About a week before the birth date, the sows are moved to the farrowing shed. They lie in circular iron pens called farrowing crates, which restrict their movements and prevent them from turning to the left or right. These crates look unwelcoming but are designed to prevent the sows from accidentally crushing their piglets.

A sow is allowed to be overdue for no more than one day. After that, the birth is induced hormonally. Otherwise the entire system would be disrupted. Just as insemination is always done on Tuesdays, the schedule requires sows to give birth on Thursdays. Breeders have been so successful that sows often produce more piglets than they have teats.

Henne's farm treats its livestock better than many other farms. Most pigs are still kept in individual crates for all but a few weeks a year. Animal rights activists are sharply critical of the narrow, metal crates, in which the pigs have almost no room to move around. And according to a study by the Eurogroup for Animals, a Brussels-based animal welfare group, only 73 percent of German pig farmers have changed their practices to comply with the new requirement to keep pregnant sows in group pens.

A sow is usually slaughtered once it has produced a number of litters, because some of its teats become so worn that they no longer release equal amounts of milk, so that the piglets can no longer be fed uniformly. A sow is "unproductive" after five or six years, at the most, and is sent to the slaughterhouse. Her "normal" life expectancy would be about 15 years. But what's normal nowadays?

Castration Without Anesthesia

The life of a piglet is also tied to a strict plan. Piglets are allowed to remain with the mother for their first 28 days. Then they are sorted by size and moved into the so-called nursery barn, or what Henne's employees jokingly call the "kindergarten wing." For the next six to eight weeks, the farmer's sole objective is to have his pigs put on as much weight as possible. About 400 grams (roughly a pound) a day is ideal.

During this period, the animals are vaccinated and given ear tags, so that they can be identified at any time in the future. Their teeth are clipped and their tails are docked to prevent the animals from injuring each other. In addition, most of the more than 20 million male piglets have their testicles cut off in their first few days of life to prevent their meat from later acquiring an offensive odor known as boar taint. In conventional pig farming, castration is usually done without anesthesia, although the animals are given a pain medication called Metacam. An EU ban on this practice is not expected to take effect until 2019.

"What we do here hasn't had anything to do with consumers' romantic notions for a long time," says farmer Henne. His industry has changed dramatically, he explains, but it hasn't kept the consumer in the loop. He now gives tours of his barns to groups of schoolchildren and pre-school children. "We have nothing to hide. But we have to make money in our jobs, just like anyone else."


Horst-Friedrich Hölling has 4,000 pigs in his barn, and yet he still notices when one of the animals isn't feeling well. "They get pale when they have digestive problems," he says. Sometimes their bristles become coarser when they're sick, and when they have a fever they seem lethargic. "Technology does a lot for us nowadays," says the tall farmer from Salzhemmendorf, west of Hildesheim in northern Germany. But it's also important to have a good eye for problems, he explains, because it helps farmers "notice when an animal is sick."

And that's critical in Hölling's business because, as a feedlot operator, he doesn't make any money with sick animals. Some of Christian Henne's piglets end up in his finishing barn, where they quickly grow to become large and heavy animals. Their weight quadruples in only four months, from 30 to between 110 and 120 kilos. Farmers refer to animals as "fast-growing" if they put on 850 grams a day. Some breeds, however, grow so quickly that their bones can't keep up. The animals become too heavy to support their own frames, and their legs fracture as a result. From the animal's perspective, being fast-growing isn't always pleasant.

Between 12 and 15 pigs are usually kept together in each pen. There are crevices in the floor for the drainage of urine and feces, so the barn can be kept relatively clean and dry. Finishing barns have become bigger and bigger in recent years.

A good place to see how it's done is the southern Oldenburg region, the true center of the industry. More than two million hogs live in the Vechta and Cloppenburg administrative districts alone, in the unspectacular landscape between the northern German cities of Bremen and Osnabrück.

The 'Liquid Manure Belt'

The region, where there are more pig barns in some villages than houses, is referred to as the "liquid manure belt." Pigs produce about 1.5 cubic meters of urine and feces in their short lives, creating both an esthetic and a logistical problem. According to a survey by the chamber of agriculture in the state of Lower Saxony, far too much liquid manure is produced in the southern Oldenburg region. Although liquid manure can be used as a fertilizer, it also seeps directly into the region's groundwater.

Geologist Egon Harms is familiar with the consequences. He works for the Oldenburg-East Frisia Water Association in the town of Brake, one of Germany's largest water utilities, where he is in charge of clean drinking water. His district includes the "liquid manure belt."

"Nitrate levels in near-surface ground water have increased alarmingly in the last seven or eight years," he says. And although some wells had to be sealed in the 1980s because of high nitrate levels, the association was able to minimize the problem at the time by digging deeper wells and reaching agreements with farmers.

But now things are getting more expensive. In the last few years, the association has spent €50 million to buy up land in water protection areas to safeguard the quality of tap water. To keep levels well below legal limits, nitrate-laden water has to be mixed with clean water, and farmers need to be compensated. All of this comes at a price. "It translates into our customers paying about 10 cents more per cubic meter of water," says Harms.

The survey by the state chamber of agriculture, which Christian Meyer, the state agriculture minister, plans to unveil this week, shows how dramatic the deluge of liquid manure has become. Pig feedlots in the two districts of Cloppenburg and Vechta alone produce 7.4 million tons of the material a year, but less than half of it is permitted to be spread on local fields. The rest should be transported to regions where less liquid manure is being generated. That would require about 120,000 trips by tank truck.

Growing Criticism

In reality, some state government officials suspect that farmers may not be adhering to the fertilizer regulations and are secretly allowing more liquid manure to seep onto their fields than is good for the environment. To address such concerns, Meyer, a member of the Green Party, wants to start checking disposal documents. "The liquid manure numbers show that the limits of growth in southern Oldenburg were exceeded long ago," says Meyer.

This rampant growth is starting to affect public opinion about industrial farming. For many people, this intensive agriculture is literally starting to stink. The town of Damme, with statistically one of the highest concentrations of animals in Europe, is a case in point.

The town was constantly covered by a cloud of smog, and even some farmers were fed up with the expansion of neighboring farms. Five years ago, it addressed the problem by imposing building regulations on farmers for the first time. Other businesses in Damme were having trouble recruiting skilled workers, because no one wanted to live in the midst of pig farms, says Mayor Gerd Muhle. "People are no longer quite as accepting of factory farming."

In fact, the construction of new barns is increasingly becoming a political issue, even in rural areas. Local residents fear for the value of their homes, are worried about bacteria and odors and feel that their quality of life and health is threatened. Four years ago, people in the eastern city of Magdeburg formed a network called "Farms Instead of Factory Farms." The network now consists of 250 groups, clubs and associations.

Eckehard Niemann, one of the initiators and the spokesman of the Rural Agriculture Consortium, sees the organized resistance against local expansion plans as a great success. "This year alone, we were able to stop the construction of 28 factory farms in the area."

But at what point does a barn become a factory farm? At 100, 500 or 1,000 animals? Does a pig really care whether there are three or 300 bays in his barn? And doesn't professionalism increase with the size of an operation?

Intensive Use of Antibiotics
Unlike the production of frozen pizzas, yoghurt or frozen, prebaked rolls, the meat industry's product is a living animal. And there is one indicator, in particular, of the fact that modern livestock farming isn't just detrimental to pigs but also to consumers: the use of antibiotics.

According to a recent analysis by the Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety, German veterinarians inject or feed animals with 1,734 tons of antibiotics a year, about twice as much as the antibiotics prescribed and administered to Germans in the same time period. Some pigs receive antibiotics in their feed for 60 days in a row, and many piglets are given a long-term dose of antibiotics immediately after birth.

Farmers are simply afraid that their animals could get sick. The administration of up to 520 tons of antibiotics a year is the result of "the farmers' need for security," estimates Thomas Blaha, a professor at the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover. He heads the school's epidemiology field office in Bakum, a small town in the middle of the liquid manure belt, and he is considered an expert in the field of animal health.

Many veterinarians dispense the drugs both routinely and prophylactically, even though that is strictly prohibited. They play along because they earn a share of the profits from dispensing the antibiotics. But all experts agree that using antibiotics on this massive scale is extremely dangerous. As doses increase, so does the risk of resistance development. In the end, modern medicine's most powerful tool in the fight against many infectious diseases could be rendered ineffective.

This irresponsible use of antibiotics has already had consequences for humans. Some of the drugs veterinarians prescribe also play an important role in human medicine. Growing resistance leads to the spread of multiresistant bacteria like MRSA and ESBL, which can render antibiotics ineffective. Hospitals are sounding the alarm, because the numbers of effective antibiotics are already dwindling.

Farm Lobby Blocking Change

Five to 10 percent of all hospital-acquired infections are caused by these pathogens, estimates Petra Gastmeier, the head of hygiene at Berlin's Charité Hospital. Tests in hospitals have shown that 20 percent of the pathogens are attributable to agriculture.

In fact, experts now know that there is a noticeably high incidence of multiresistant bacteria in farmers, feedlot operators and slaughterers. Some 40 percent of veterinarians who work with pig facilities have tested positive for MRSA.

Because of the substantial risk of infection, the Netherlands requires that patients who work in agriculture must be tested before undergoing surgery and, if necessary, placed into quarantine first.

The risk of exposure doesn't just come from direct contact with animals. The exhaust gases from feedlots apparently play a role as well. "But the biggest threat comes from spreading liquid manure onto fields," says Michael Schönbauer, the former chief veterinarian for the Austrian Agency for Health and Food Safety.

For consumers, on the other hand, eating meat appears to be relatively risk-free. Although tests have shown that MRSA is present in meat, the bacteria are killed when the meat is cooked. However, infected meat can pose a threat when it is thawed in water and cooks with cuts on their hands are exposed to the contaminated water.

Although lawmakers have been aware of the problem for years, they have yielded to the farm lobby's resistance to more stringent controls. The first politician to fight for a significant reduction in antibiotic use has been Green Party member Johannes Remmel, the consumer protection minister in North Rhine-Westphalia. Remme was spurred on by the results of a systematic antibiotic study conducted last year, even though it was done in chicken farms. More than 90 of the animals had received antibiotics in their short lives, and in some cases up to eight different drugs were administered.


The last thing ordinary hogs see in their lives is a gray corridor, about two meters wide, with a slight incline. After turning one or two corners, they reach an elevator of sorts, which can accommodate four or five animals at a time. The curious animals calmly crowd into the enclosure, as an automatic grate pushes them from behind until the door closes.

Then the pigs are gassed. It is surprisingly quiet in Clemens Tönnies' slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrück in northwest Germany, the largest slaughterhouse in Europe. About 25,000 pigs are killed there every day, or about 1,700 an hour. Some 160 trucks filled with pigs arrive by the hour, and yet there is almost no noise at all: no squealing, yelping or whimpering.

If Tönnies is to be believed, this is because the animals feel good until the last minute. In fact, it's important that they feel good, because stress would reduce the quality of their meat. In his slaughterhouse, the animals' happiness literally becomes a question of money, a factor affecting the bottom line.

The pigs are given water when they arrive. They remain in their group for two hours, in rooms with heated floors, so that they can recover from the agitation of the trip.

While the elevator takes the animals two or three meters down, they are anesthetized with the help of CO2 and pushed onto a conveyor belt. Workers then hang the pigs from two hooks attached to their hind legs. From there, they are automatically pulled up to a platform where the slaughterer is waiting.

The pigs bleed out within a few seconds, the circulation declines and the heart stops beating. An animal is dispatched every three seconds in this manner. "It's currently the best way to end an animal's life," says Tönnies, who is proud of the efficiency of his gigantic machine.

He doesn't understand how someone could fundamentally object to killing on such a large scale. "Would it be better if all of these animals were killed in many different, significantly smaller slaughterhouses, under far worse conditions?" he asks.

It's a rational way of looking at a product that was once an animal. For Tönnies, the objective is to produce a product for consumers around the world.

And this process should proceed as perfectly, gently and efficiently as possible.

State-of-the-art technology is used to make that happen. Each animal is measured with an ultrasound device. Each dead animal is scanned, and the percentages of lean meat, fat, bone and skin are carefully appraised. There are standard reference values, and any variance leads to plus or minus points. All of this data is then used to calculate the price the farmer receives for his pig.

It is the prelude to a production process in which every detail has been carefully considered. Every puncture and every cut has been perfected at Tönnies's slaughterhouse. Once the carcasses have been partially cut apart, they continue down the line to the veterinarians, each of whom checks a specific organ for abnormalities.

Wage Dumping

Anything that doesn't conform to the norm is weeded out. The innards are removed and then the animal is completely cut up. Thanks to a transponder in the hook, the conveyor belt knows exactly where each part goes. For instance, the thicker hams are later shipped to Italy while the somewhat thinner ones go to Spain and France.

As efficient as the process is, the work, which is demanding in every respect, still has to be done by people. But Tönnies, Vion, Westfleisch and the other major slaughterhouses often pay their employees very low wages. The success of the meat industry is partly the result of excessive wage dumping.

That's because the companies have long since stopped using German skilled workers and shifted the work to Eastern European subcontractors, in which they sometimes hold a financial stake. An estimated 7,000 Romanians, Poles and Hungarians are now standing at slaughterhouse conveyor belts, sawing apart pig halves, boning hams and mincing meat.

"The entire system is based on wage dumping," says Matthias Brümmer, managing director of the Food, Beverages and Catering Union (NGG) in Oldenburg-East Frisia. For more than a decade, the trade unionist has been involved in disputes with the meat industry. Brümmer supports workers suing companies, and he is repeatedly the target of lawsuits himself.

There is a white board hanging in Brümmer's office near the Oldenburg train station. He writes "€1.03" on the board and says that he is familiar with cases in which this is precisely what companies pay their subcontractors to slaughter a pig. A slaughtering crew of 60 people can process 600 animals an hour. "That makes €600 in revenues," he notes. Then he deducts expenditures for administration, materials and ancillary wage costs. The bottom line? "An hourly wage, before taxes, of exactly €5.04 per employee."

Foreign Contract Workers

The calculation would also work the other way around. "Let's assume that they're paid a decent hourly wage," says Brümmer, "say 12 to 14 euros." How much more expensive would that make a kilogram of pork for the consumer? "In that case, slaughtering would have to cost €2.50. The supermarket price of a kilo of schnitzel meat would increase from €7.10 to €7.35."

The only problem is that consumers have become accustomed to the food retailers' low prices. And of course retailers are not going to ask customers if they would be willing to pay 25 cents more so that an unknown Romanian butcher can have a better life.

However, this avarice has many consequences, as is evident in the town of Essen, population 8,500, in the Cloppenburg district of Lower Saxony. In the last local election, the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) got almost 77 percent of the vote. There are many farms in Essen, as well as a large slaughterhouse.

A visitor standing in front of Essen's attractive art nouveau town hall would be surprised to see that the windows of many houses are covered with curtains or sheets. Even a former doctor's office in the center of town seems to have been transformed into a haunted house of sorts. In fact, the houses are not empty but overfilled.

Hundreds of people live in the center of town, and there often 20 or more names listed on the doorbell plates. Essen has become a center for Eastern European contract workers. There are reportedly 800 to 1,000 of them in Essen, with three or four sometimes living in a single, dark room.

Even officials in the Essen town hall have no idea how many there are and where they come from. Men in cheap tracksuits stroll through the town carrying plastic bags from a discount supermarket, and they are increasingly bringing their families along. The local high school has just notified town authorities that 14 new students have arrived who speak no German at all.

There is apparently plenty of poorly paid work to be had. Week after week, some 64,000 pigs are killed, gutted and cut up in the Essen slaughterhouse.

The Danish company Danish Crown, one of the world's largest companies in the meat business, bought the slaughterhouse three years ago. The Scandinavians go where cheap labor is to be had. In Denmark, the Danes would have to pay workers three times as much as in Germany, says union leader Brümmer.

He has spent a lot of time in Hanover and Berlin in recent years. He even wrote to Margot Kässmann when she was head of the Council of the Evangelical Church in Germany, to draw her attention to the problems. But there was no reaction to the letter. "No one was interested in the issue," says Brümmer.

That has changed since last year, when the Catholic Church discovered the issue and it became a topic in the Lower Saxony state election campaign. Stephan Weil, the state's new governor, has since paid two visits to Essen, promising to help resolve the problems.

Negotiations over a minimum wage in the slaughtering industry are set to begin this week, now that even top dog Tönnies has shown his willingness to compromise. The subject has also been raised in the coalition talks between the CDU and the center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD). But the negotiations are likely to be difficult.


Employees at Tönnies like to joke about all the animal parts that would probably forever spoil meat consumption for German consumers: paws, tails, snouts and heads. But these are all usable animal parts, and they all command a price.

They are exported to countries like China, Indonesia, Vietnam and Thailand. "There's a buyer for every part of an animal. You just have to find him," says Tönnies. He exports the uteruses to China, the tracheas to Thailand, the spareribs to the United States and Canada, and the 18 different kinds of rinds to the rest of the world.

Parts that can't be used as food are sold for other purposes. Bones, fat, hooves, blood and intestines are used in the chemical and pharmaceutical industries, among others, to make products like fertilizer, grease and animal feed.

Salmon farmers, for example, feed blood plasma from pigs to their fish to give the flesh a rosier color. Minerals like phosphorus, calcium and magnesium are also derived from the remains. Finally, Tönnies burns what's left, such as the dried sewage residue and stable manure, in the company's own thermal power station. This is sustainable. Most of all, however, it's part of an economic calculation.

All of this shows that in a globally competitive world, it's no longer enough to simply slaughter a few pigs. Today's objective is to get as much as possible out of the animals.

The Germans do a good job of it. Tönnies, Westfleisch and others have continually worked their way forward, and Germany is now the world's second-largest pork exporter after the United States.

In 2011, some 645,000 tons of pork were sold abroad, and with close to 60 million slaughtered animals, Germany is the world's third-largest slaughterer, behind China and the United States. Conditions are favorable in Germany, with relatively low wages in feedlots and slaughterhouses, inexpensive feed and high animal health and hygiene standards -- all important values for global trading partners.

Factory farming is shaped by capital-intensive technologies. The slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrück, which Tönnies prefer to call a "quality meat production facility," has cost €650 million to date. Because of the high overhead, a handful of players control the lion's share of the gigantic meat production business, companies from the United States, China, Brazil, Germany and Denmark. JBS, a Brazilian company with €28 billion in sales, now heads the list of the world's 10 largest meat producers.

A subsidy policy that was pursued for years is one of the reasons the meat business is so lucrative. Meat is considered the most valuable food product, which is why lawmakers dispensed billions in subsidies to producers for decades. They include subsidies for feed production, for transport infrastructure and EU subsidies for investments in buildings. The environmental organization BUND (Friends of the Earth Germany) calculated that €1 billion in direct payments were made in 2009 alone to subsidize crops grown for pig feed. The EU's farming reforms haven't done much to change this massive government help. "The outcome is clear: Neither the feedlot operators nor the meat industry pay the real costs of their production -- and, as a result, they can rake in substantial profits," says Reinhild Benning of BUND.

Love of Meat

Tönnies himself likes meat and eats a lot of it. "Every day!" he says. He is even fonder of eating cold cuts. But he watches his carbohydrate intake so as to stay in shape. The debate over cutting down on meat doesn't interest him. His position is simple: "I accept that there are vegetarians, but I also want them to accept that there are people like me."

Others seem to share his attitude, as became evident in the recent election. One of the few hot-button issues was a proposal by the Greens to introduce a meat-free day in Germany. The idea was that public canteens would voluntarily dispense with meat dishes once a week.

Both Horst Seehofer of the Christian Social Union (CSU), the CDU's Bavarian sister party, and Social Democratic Party Chairman Sigmar Gabriel dismissed the initiative. The pro-business Free Democratic Party (FDP) expressed outrage over what they perceived as government paternalism. Despite the brouhaha it caused, the proposal isn't even all that absurd.

Michael Sagner can attest to its potential benefits. The president of the European College of Preventive and Lifestyle Medicine wasn't surprised by the uproar over the meat-free day proposal. "We know more about good nutrition and diets than ever before," says Sagner, a medical doctor. "But at the same time, more people than ever are dying because of their own habits."

The expert cites studies by the World Health Organization (WHO), which conclude that 80 percent of a person's health depends on lifestyle factors, especially exercise and nutrition. According to WHO, only 20 percent is predetermined, whereas conditions like heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and cancer are primarily attributable to our own poor behavior. That includes bad nutrition and too much red meat.

This is nothing new. Hospitals, diet consultants and health educators have been warning about the consumption of too much and excessively fatty meat for years, and yet worldwide consumption has been on the rise for years.

"For many people, eating isn't eating unless there is meat involved," says Sagner, as he sits in a restaurant where he has just ordered a fish dish with an extra serving of vegetables. He shows us research from the United Kingdom, which concludes that a person who eats twice the average daily meat consumption of 50 grams increases the risk of developing intestinal cancer by 18 percent and of contracting diseases of the cardiovascular system by 42 percent.

Meat is unhealthy for several reasons. The fat in chops, hocks and bacon increase blood cholesterol levels -- one of the key causes of heart disease. Cold cuts, in particular, contain a lot of unhealthy fat.

Sagner doesn't advocate that people do without meat altogether. Instead, he recommends "limiting meat consumption to three times a week." It's an idea that isn't likely win widespread acceptance anytime soon.

Nevertheless, he makes an interesting argument. According to Sagner, man's "species-appropriate nutrition" is based on plant products. Throughout man's evolutionary development, meat has always been more of "a luxury," says Sagner.

One thing is certain: This luxury has never been as cheap -- and simultaneously as costly -- as it is today.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #146 on: Oct 25, 2013, 05:44 AM »

Investigation finds Belgian racing pigeons fly high on cocaine and painkillers

By Agence France-Presse
Thursday, October 24, 2013 15:33 EDT

Nothing is sacred it appears in the high-flying world of pigeon racing in Belgium, where six birds were found to have been doped with drugs such as cocaine and painkillers, Belgian media reported Thursday.

Cycling-mad Belgium is used to hearing of sports stars pumped up on performance-enhancing drugs, but officials are now homing-in on the birds used in a sport which rakes in millions in breeding and prize monies.

The Belgian pigeon-racing federation sent samples from 20 birds to the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa after a recent exchange visit, two Flemish dailies reported.

Although tests on the same birds in Belgium had not revealed a problem, the South African lab did.

“Cocaine in one, painkillers and anti-fever drugs for another,” the newspapers reported.

Belgian pigeon racing has acquired new-found fame recently with the 310,000 euros ($430,000) sale to a Chinese gambler of the country’s top-performing bird “Bolt,” named after six-time Olympic sprint champion, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.

The riches and glamour now on offer have brought with them problems of theft from breeders and racketeering.

Over the summer the star pigeon Bolt and hundreds of other Belgian racing pigeons were held up by Chinese customs in a row over their declared value which triggered a multi-million euro entry wrangle.

The sport sees specially bred and trained pigeons released from a specific location and race back to their home loft.

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« Reply #147 on: Oct 25, 2013, 06:08 AM »

10/24/2013 03:17 PM

Europe Gone Wild: Back to Nature on the Continent

By Manfred Dworschak

Conservationists want to turn parts of Europe back into wilderness, teeming with wild horses, lynxes and native bison. But there are varying interpretations of what "wilderness" means and conflict over how much it should be managed.

The startled horses flinch when the gate of the corral opens in front of them. But with drivers approaching them from behind with waving arms, freedom seems to be the only choice left. After hesitating for a moment, the herd jumps through the gate and runs off into the distance to the applause of a crowd of onlookers. "Have a good life!" a woman shouts as the animals disappear.

Diego Benito's biggest hope is that the newcomers will quickly reproduce in his reserve. He wants to hear the sound of thundering hooves. "These Retuerta horses are the wildest ones we have left," he says. "They used to roam around Spain in large herds." There are barely 200 of the horses left today.

Benito, a compact gamekeeper with a stubbly beard, manages the Campanarios de Azaba Biological Reserve, the new home of the 24 Retuertas he has just released. The reserve consists of about 500 hectares (1,235 acres) of fenced-in, hilly terrain in western Spain, along the border with Portugal.

In the past, farmers drove their pigs into the oak groves to feed on acorns in the fall. But it's hardly worthwhile anymore, which is why the horses have now taken over the terrain, together with "rewilded" cattle and a wolf that occasionally turns up in the area. The animals can no longer count on human assistance. If they get sick, they die. If they can't find food, they starve to death. If they can't outrun the wolves, they are eaten.

The 'Rewilding Europe' Project

The project's goal is to recreate the kind of wilderness that has almost disappeared from Europe.

A group of scientists led by Dutch conservation expert Frans Schepers has launched a unique experiment centered on the return of the large grazing animals that populated the Continent long ago: wild horses, European bisons (wisents) and red deer, to be kept in check by lynxes, bears and wolves. The scientists expect the greatest possible diversity of species to develop around the spectacular mammals, including insects, vultures, toads and snakes -- all the kinds of animals that were once forced out of their habitats by human activity.

Operators of nature preserves and activists across Europe want to be involved. Six areas have already been selected. They include the Danube delta, the Carpathian Mountains in Romania and the Velebit mountain range in Croatia (see graphic). The aim is to allow nature to return to its wild state as much as possible in each of these areas.

The project is called "Rewilding Europe." A number of conservation organizations, including the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), are involved in the effort. About €3 million ($4.1 million) in start-up capital was raised through a lottery in the Netherlands.

"The Campanarios in western Iberia is the most advanced of our pilot projects," says Schepers. A small herd of black-and-brown cattle with archaic traits -- high shoulders and narrow heads -- are now grazing in the preserve. They bear a remote resemblance to the wild aurochs, the ancestor of almost all domestic cattle. The last of the aurochs, a species that once roamed throughout Europe, died in Poland in 1627. Efforts are now underway to "back-breed" modern-day cows to produce animals that resemble the original aurochs as closely as possible.

Along with the aurochs disappeared most of the large mammals (or so-called megafauna) that had been living wild in the Old World. It is time to bring them back, says Schepers.

'Let the Animals Decide'

It seems to be an opportune time, as some rural areas become increasingly depopulated. Large stretches of land are already virtually abandoned because they are too remote, the soil is poor or the terrain is too steep. "From our vacations, most of us know these villages in which only old people are living" says Schepers.

More than 120,000 square kilometers (46,300 square miles), an area almost as large as Greece, will likely be abandoned throughout Europe in the next few decades, estimates the Institute for European Environmental Policy (IEEP). In many instances, cultivated landscapes can only be preserved when the last few remaining farmers are paid to keep the meadows mowed.

Large herbivores can do it for free. Schepers believes that their sheer voracity -- in combination with other forces of nature, such as fires, storms and bark beetles, provided they are allowed to proceed unchecked -- would prevent large areas from becoming scrubby and forested again. "We would then have a mosaic of open, park-like landscapes with diverse vegetation," he says.

But is this wilderness? "Of course," says Schepers. "The prevailing belief in Europe is that wilderness equals forest. That's nonsense. There also used to be steppes and tundra, flood plains and open grassland. And that was long before man cleared the forests." In many areas, animals might indeed have been responsible for clearing the land.

Take the wisent, for example, a relative of the American bison. It is considered a forest animal. Since early spring, a small herd has been roaming the coniferous forests of the Rothaar Mountains in the western German states of Hesse and North Rhine-Westphalia. But Schepers is convinced that the wisent is actually better suited to open landscapes, like the bison. "The forest just happened to be the last habitat we had left for the wisent," says Schepers. "Let the animals decide for themselves, and we'll see where they go."

The red deer, which prefers grassy steppes, is in a similar position. Only the constant pressure from hunters prevents the animals from venturing into the open.

Open nature sometimes feels virtually depopulated, says Swedish photographer Staffan Widstrand, a co-founder of the rewilding movement. Not much is happening in the landscape, and to Widstrand, it feels like an empty theater. "Scenery, lights, props, it's all there -- only the actors are missing," he says.

A Bonanza for Residents, Tourists and Hunters

The vision of the rewilding movement is to put the actors back on the stage. And when that happens, the hope is that paying audiences will return as well.

Perhaps the day will come when people no longer have to travel to the Serengeti to marvel at grazing herds of hoofed animals and hunting predators. Instead, they'll be able to see wisents in Croatia's Velebit mountains, for example, where the first of the bovines will be released into the wild next year.

If all goes well, even hunters will eventually have their day. There will certainly be protected, no-hunting zones in the core regions; but if the animals venture into the surrounding countryside, they will be doing so at their own risk. The sale of game could become a source of income for local residents.

Even in the northeastern German state of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, residents are beginning to hope for safari tourists. Conservationists want to convert portions of the delta of the Oder River (or Odra River, in Polish) into reclaimed wilderness. The area has just acquired candidate status with Rewilding Europe. A biologically rich landscape extends around the mouth of the Oder, where it flows into the Baltic Sea, as well as parts of the island of Usedom and the Bay of Szczecin. There are already several conservation zones in the region.

"We are making good progress," says Ulrich Stöcker of the environmental group Deutsche Umwelthilfe, which proposed the project. "Even white-tailed eagles and gray seals are being spotted in the area again. And wisents are grazing over in Poland."

The animals could spread across the border into Germany in a few years, along with wild horses, red deer and elk. But Stöcker first wants to commission a feasibility study to estimate the potential revenues from visitors. This is the only way private landowners could be convinced to participate, he explains.

Choreography for Nature
Ecotourism promises to be a profitable business, at least according to the latest figures from the United States. In 2006, Americans spent more than $45 million on gear, accommodations and food for "wildlife watching." But America has more spectacular landscapes than Europe. The marshlands along the Oder River can't exactly compete with Yosemite National Park when it comes to visual appeal.

Nevertheless, conservationists believe that revenues will be nothing to sneeze at. The wildlife in Spain's Campanarios reserve is already drawing in tourists. For €50 a day, they can observe black storks or watch vultures gorge on the flesh of dead horses. There is also a comfortable hostel where guests are served regional cuisine.

Although the reserve is too small to qualify as a real wilderness, it is surrounded by an extensive region in which farming is hardly worthwhile anymore. If wild-animal tourism becomes an attractive source of revenue, adjacent tracts of land could easily become part of the Campanarios reserve.

Meanwhile, Diego Benito is turning his attention to biodiversity in the area. He hopes to see the Iberian lynx, which is almost extinct, become native to the region once again. The predator, though, needs a base population of rabbits, which are now in short supply in Spain after disease decimated the species. Benito once released 450 rabbits at the same time. "A few weeks later, they were almost all gone," he says. Foxes, martens and raptors had apparently helped themselves to the rabbits.

In unfamiliar terrain, rabbits hop around for a few days until they get their bearings. Only then do they dig burrows for shelter. But they are rarely granted that much time. To help the newcomers survive the critical first few days, Benito has planted grain for the rodents in a few spots and buried plastic pipes nearby as temporary shelter. Wilderness doesn't always take shape on its own.

Careful "casting" of the animals that will live in the preserves is also a good idea. Cattle as unsuspecting as dairy cows shouldn't be released into an area where lynxes and wolves will be lurking one day. Animals that resemble the aurochs -- strong runners with intimidating horns -- would be more appropriate. This is one of the reasons cows modeled after the mythical aurochs are being bred in the Campanarios. In addition to physically resembling their distant ancestor, the animals must be capable of withstanding pressure from the predators. "Our next task is to cross-in breeds that still have good wild-animal reflexes," says Ronald Goderie of the Dutch Taurus Foundation, which is engaged in back-breeding.

Different Definitions of 'Wilderness'

Not everyone agrees with the activists' notions of what a real wilderness should look like. "It looks more like a zoo to me," says biologist Christof Schenck, the executive director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society, a conservation organization. Schenck would rather protect the remnants of relatively wild nature, which happen to be the Continent's old-growth forests, with their unique fauna.

In fact, many animals love dying trees, dead wood and decay at all stages. One of them is the stock dove, which only nests in hollows that black woodpeckers have dug out of ancient tree trunks. Part of the dove's entourage is the small gray hide beetle, which lives in the organic sediment beneath the bird's nests, where it consumes disintegrating feathers. "Those are the real stories," says Schenck.

Of course, the hide beetle isn't exactly a charismatic creature. But it is precisely the Serengeti-style narrowing of the focus onto photogenic large mammals that troubles Schenck.

He also doesn't believe that the grazers are capable of stopping large-scale forest encroachment in the long term. "Our deer and wild boar are certainly industrious workers," he says, "but they still can't eliminate the tree population in real primeval forests."

But no matter how the experts view the past, they all agree that it's time to simply try out various approaches.

Schenck also advocates a more radical concept of wilderness. He wants to see more zones in which man has to accept the effects of fires and storms, even the invasions of the bark beetle -- that alone would contribute to the periodic clearing and thinning of forests.

According to an agreement enacted by the German government in 2007, 5 percent of wooded areas are to be declared off-limits to any exploitation. But that figure is still below 2 percent.

"In protected zones, we could learn how a wild ecosystem works in the first place," says Schenck. "Most of what we know today is based on managed nature."

Troubled by Nature

Death is also part of untamed life, and perhaps the biggest challenge to the public will be to look on as animals waste away or starve to death.

For almost three years now, large herds of horses and cows have been living in the wild in the Netherlands, only 35 kilometers (22 miles) from Amsterdam. The fenced landscape of lowlands reclaimed from the sea is called Oostvaardersplassen. It's too small to be considered a true wilderness, and yet it is large enough to demonstrate the kinds of things more sentimental animal lovers are in for.

In the winter, there is rarely enough food for all the animals, and hundreds of grazers die -- an inherently natural process. But because there are no large predators in Oostvaardersplassen, dying can take a while. Television programs depict exhausted animals cowering along the fences, which has led to protests by animal rights activists.

There is now a solution: Hunters shoot the animals that are not expected to survive the winter.

In some ways, it's just another safari.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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« Reply #148 on: Oct 27, 2013, 08:12 AM »

Originally published Saturday, October 26, 2013 at 8:05 PM   

Feds halt grizzly hunting in Kenai refuge after 66 killed

Sport hunting of grizzly bears was ordered to end Saturday in Alaska’s Kenai National Wildlife Refuge because too many bears have been killed this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced in an emergency closure.

The Associated Press

Sport hunting of grizzly bears was ordered to end Saturday in the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge because too many bears have been killed this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced.

The emergency closure Saturday affects the nearly 3,125-square mile refuge that takes up much of the northern and central areas of the peninsula south of Anchorage, the agency said.

The emergency closure lasts for 30 days. Public hearings likely will be scheduled before more-permanent measures are put in place, said refuge supervisory wildlife biologist John Morton.

More than 10 percent of Kenai Peninsula grizzlies were killed this year, the agency said. The bears on the Kenai and other Alaska coastal regions rich with salmon are referred to as brown bears to distinguish them from smaller interior and northern Alaska grizzlies.

Grizzly deaths caused by humans on the Kenai have reached at least 66 bears, the agency said. Hunters killed at least 43 brown bears in spring and summer hunting seasons. An additional 23 were killed by people defending property or their lives, by illegal hunting, by vehicles or by the agency destroying problem bears, the agency said.

The entire population on the peninsula was 624, according to the best estimate available, said refuge manager Andy Loranger.

“This level of mortality is not scientifically sustainable,” Loranger said.

A state wildlife official said he was disappointed by the decision.

“The current harvest of bears this year is not unexpected and does not represent a viability concern,” Doug Vincent-Lang, director of the Alaska Division of Wildlife Conservation, said in a statement. “Once again, we are faced with overreach by the federal government into the management of Alaska’s wildlife.”

The seven-member citizen state Game Board, which sets bag limits and seasons for game animals, has taken an aggressive stand to expand human consumption of moose and caribou by killing wolves, black bears and grizzly bears.

Grizzlies are slow to reproduce.

The federal agency said at least 22 female brown bears, or 33 percent of the known mortalities, were killed in 2013, more than double previously established limits.

“Survivorship of adult female bears has been shown to be the primary driver of brown-bear population dynamics,” Morton said in the announcement. “Losing so many adult female bears will have immediate negative impacts on this population.”

Actual bear deaths by humans are higher than the documented numbers, he said, and must be considered when setting harvest levels.
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« Reply #149 on: Oct 28, 2013, 06:46 AM »

October 27, 2013

Dog’s Tale: From Death Row to Doorstep


SALEM, Mo. — It might have played out like an ordinary story of a family dog accused of biting someone else’s child, until a mysterious man wearing a baseball cap and a fake beard showed up at the home of Patrick and Amber Sanders, talking about secret codes and safe houses.

At that point, the complicated tale of Phineas, the yellow Labrador retriever on death row, grew well beyond ordinary.

Under quarantine since last June, he had “disappeared” at times — once when the city hid him in the basement of a firehouse. There was talk of a plot to have someone kidnap him. And there were accusations of intimidation and official corruption. In this Ozark town of 5,000, where excitement can be as sporadic as a deer walking past a hunting blind, Phineas became a running soap opera.

Then two weeks ago he vanished, and the town was left wondering.

Enter the lanky man with the fake beard, who appeared at the home of Phineas’s owners two Fridays ago, claiming to have the answer.

“My heart,” Mr. Sanders, 29, recalled, “was just a chugga-lugga-lugging.”

But that’s getting ahead of the story.

Phineas had been a part of the Sanders family since 2010, a gift from a friend. They named the dog after a character from the cartoon “Phineas and Ferb.”

His journey to becoming a household name began on a sunny Friday afternoon in late June 2012. Lexie Sanders, 7 at the time, was eating a Popsicle in her backyard with two friends.

As the girls were leaving, Lexie clutched the 25-foot rubber-coated cable that tethered Phineas to a chain-link fence, but she tripped. The next thing she knew, she said, her friend, Kendall Woolman, 7 at the time, had fallen and rolled beneath the high-sprung Chevy pickup truck in the driveway. Kendall screamed and cried.

Lexie said she did not see Phineas bite Kendall, but the other friend, also 7, told the police that she saw him bite her left rib cage and drag her about four feet.

Later that evening, Jarred Brown, the town’s code officer, took Phineas for what was supposed to be a 10-day quarantine while the case was investigated. But the four-year-old Labrador never returned.

After accusations arose of two previous unreported biting episodes, the Salem mayor, Gary Brown, deemed Phineas a vicious dog under town ordinance, and ordered him euthanized. The dog’s execution was delayed by a court appeal — and there was a brief, unexplained disappearance last fall — but then reinstated in March by Judge Scott Bernstein. City officials quickly moved Phineas to a secret location — it turned out to be the basement garage bay at the fire station — so he would not be snatched before his execution.

Running out of options, Phineas supporters got in touch with the Lexus Project, a dog rescue operation based in New York State. The group set up a “Save Phineas” Facebook page that quickly drew tens of thousands of “likes” (now up to nearly 180,000) and was the catalyst behind a rally and “Save Phineas” billboards along an interstate highway.

Kendall Woolman’s family said they received threats. Joseph P. Simon, a lawyer for the Sanders family, accused a relative of the Woolmans of calling Salem “his sandbox” and threatening to exert his influence on city officials to make sure Phineas died.

The story caught the attention of David Backes, the captain of the St. Louis Blues hockey team, who offered to fly to Salem to rescue the dog and take it to a no-kill shelter.

Approaching his execution date in late April, Phineas got another stay when Mr. Simon appealed for a new trial.

With the case pending, Jackie Overby, a Salem resident, said she asked the city administrator, Clayton Lucas, if he could give her the dog so she could usher him away to safety. A few days later, she said, Mr. Lucas showed up at her job and said, “We want the dog gone,” and told her that they could make arrangements for her to secretly take him.

Mr. Lucas denied ever making such an arrangement. (Mr. Brown, the mayor, conceded to joking with Mr. Lucas about letting someone kidnap Phineas.)

In late May, city officials moved Phineas into Dr. J. J. Tune’s veterinary office near downtown, but the doctor said he feared that the dog would be stolen because of all the attention and because his clinic was not well secured.

Sure enough, when Meridith Michaels opened the clinic about 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Oct. 12, Phineas was nowhere to be found. No sign of forced entry, no clues.

“My heart sank to the bottom of the ground,” she said.

The Sanderses feared the worst — that someone had either taken him for ransom or killed him. Ms. Sanders, 28, searched the woods.

Concern and doubt festered for days, until a rainy night, the day after the latest court hearing to decide Phineas’s fate. As the Sanderses cleaned up from dinner with their four children, the man appeared at their door, asking for them by name.

“I just want to tell you,” he said, “that Phineas is doing just fine.”

“Well, that’s good,” Mr. Sanders said, exhaling.

The man explained that he had seen a Phineas billboard and read about the case on Facebook. Sympathetic, he snatched Phineas and took him to a safe place where he was playing with another dog, the man told them, his fake mustache slipping down his face.

He asked them to set up a safe house, they said, where he could bring Phineas for them to play with. But he did not trust cellphones. So he asked them to activate a landline, and when they had the safe house ready, they were to post the sentence, “I saw a dog today that reminded me of Phineas,” on the Facebook page. That would be his signal to call and arrange a meeting.

Ms. Sanders posted the message last Monday, and the man called on Wednesday night from a disposable cellphone. He arranged to return Phineas to them on Saturday morning. With the judge’s decision still pending, they were not taking any chances: They planned to ship Phineas to an undisclosed location.

Yet in a final twist, Judge Bernstein essentially said Friday that the drama should never have happened. He ruled that Phineas did not even bite the girl and overturned the death sentence.

Still worried that people might want to harm Phineas, the Sanderses kept the Saturday reunion secret. The man, wearing his fake beard, arrived at the drop point in a rural patch surrounded by dirt roads before the Sanderses arrived, and when an intermediary told him they were still on their way, he left Phineas and said, “Well, I’ve got to go.”

Minutes later, Salem’s most popular dog was bounding into his owners’ arms.

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