Trump Administration Re-Authorizes Cruel Use of M-44 Cyanide Bombs

Tala DiBenedetto

Recently, the Trump Administration reauthorized the use of M-44 poison devices for use in wildlife culls.  These devices, also referred to as “cyanide bombs,” are planted in the wild and designed to lure in predators that threaten livestock with bait, then release a fatal dose of sodium cyanide, a highly toxic pesticide.  The devices are smeared with scented bait, which cause animals to bite on and pull them. This causes a capsule containing the sodium cyanide is then ejected into their mouth.  Deaths caused by the poisoning from these traps are agonizing. Use of M-44 devices gained some media attention when a fourteen-year-old boy named Canyon accidentally set off a device while walking his dog, injuring himself and killing his dog. After bending down to touch what looked like a garden sprinkler, the device exploded, shooting poison directly into the boys eyes, with the remainder blowing downwind towards his dog, Casey. Within a minute, Casey was “writhing with convulsions, a reddish foam emanating from his mouth. In front of Canyon, the yellow Lab made guttural sounds then went still.” Casey’s death is not an uncommon occurrence. An investigation uncovered that between 2000 and 2012, activation of these devices resulted in the deaths of 1,200 dogs. These cruel devices cast the same agonizing fate on countless wildlife across the country.

This program is carried out by Wildlife Services, a branch of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS). Wildlife Services, founded in 1885, exists primarily for the benefit of the livestock industry, spending more than $80 million a year killing animals that are deemed a “nuisance” to humans. The agency uses of poisoned bait, neck snares, leghold traps (which are banned in 80 countries), aerial gunning, and cyanide traps to go after animals that threaten livestock grazing on public lands. Wildlife Services was responsible for the deaths of over 2.5 million animals in 2018.

Wildlife Services, along with its state counterpart agencies in Montana, New Mexico, South Dakota, Texas and Wyoming, have relied on the M-44s to kill animals that threaten livestock since the mid-1970s. These cyanide bombs kill thousands of animals every year, killing 6,579 in 2018 alone. These traps have been criticized not only for being cruel, but indiscriminate, fatally poisoning numerous non-target species, including federally endangered and threatened species.

M44 Dead Wolf or Coyote near POISON sign 2016-05813_Partial 11_Item 1(New Mexico) 12-scr.jpg
Corpse of a poisoned coyote

In 2019, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued a proposed interim decision reauthorizing the use of M-44 devices. The decision was met with thousands of public comments, almost entirely in opposition to reauthorization. As a result of the flood of public opposition, EPA withdrew its reauthorization application for further review.  Nevertheless, four months later the agency issued its decision to move forward with reauthorization with a few minor additional restrictions. Those restrictions include a 600-foot buffer around residences (unless there is written permission from the landowner), increasing the buffer from public pathways and roads, and one additional sign within 15 feet of a device. In addition to offering no protection to wildlife, the restrictions have been criticized as insufficient to adequately protect the public, pets, and vulnerable species.

Florida Man: Did A Rogue Zoo Veterinarian Commit Malpractice?

Robert Gordon

Since the 15th century, rogue has been used to reference shady or dishonest people. Today, however, folks like Dr. Ray Ball,  lead veterinarian at ZooTampa in Tampa, Florida, use the term endearingly. That is why, in his self-published book released seven months prior to an ongoing federal investigation into veterinarian malpractice at the zoo, he repeatedly describes himself as a “rogue veterinarian.” The book describes a number of stories from Dr. Ball’s twenty-six-year career, including some that at the very least raise questions about his judgment. For instance, there was one time where he and a co-worker stopped at a Hardees drive-thru with a sedated alligator strapped to the back of his truck.

But the real story is not Dr. Ball’s ill-advised retelling of tales from years prior. Today, Dr. Ball makes headlines because at least seven people have filed 45 complaints with federal authorities for alleged veterinarian malpractice resulting in the deaths of manatees and a giraffe. The allegations became public in late October when the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife sent a letter to ZooTampa inquiring about Dr. Ball’s treatment methods. Notably, the attention prompted an almost immediate response from Rep. Charlie Crist (D-FL) and Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) who then penned a letter to the Secretary of the Department of Interior requesting a full investigation. There were four specific aspects to Dr. Ball’s treatment that raised red flags Continue reading

Will Feds Permit Ringling to Send Endangered Cats to German Circus?

This piece originally appeared on Salon under the title “Ringling’s big cats need new homes — and they could be headed for a circus overseas”

http://www.salon.com/2017/06/11/ringlings-big-cats-need-new-homes-and-they-could-be-headed-for-a-circus-overseas/

Lacey cats

Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus has closed, but it still needs to find new homes for some of its animals. Ringling’s recent bid to export protected lions, tigers, and a leopard to a German circus reveals deep flaws in the way the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is being enforced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). All of these animals are imperiled in the wild and, as such, are supposed to be protected by the ESA. The ESA applies equally to captive and wild animals for good reason. When it was enacted, Congress recognized the connections between the exploitation of captive animals and species survival. Every day we learn more about how deep these links run, including how exhibits featuring endangered species in close contact with humans can undermine legitimate conservation efforts.

One of the primary ways the ESA aims to protect species is through strict prohibitions, including a ban on exports. As such, it is illegal for Ringling to just ship these cats off to Germany. There is a narrow exception to this prohibition, though: If an export would “enhance the propagation or survival of the affected species,” a permit can be issued. When Congress enacted this exception, it put in place myriad safeguards, underscoring that it intended to “limit substantially the number of exemptions.” The Supreme Court has likewise recognized that permits are only to be granted “in extremely narrow circumstances.”

 

 And yet, if experience is any indication, FWS will rubber-stamp Ringling’s permit to export these protected big cats. Indeed, the agency has repeatedly granted Ringling similar permits.

There’s no colorable argument to be made that exporting big cats so that they can be featured in a circus somehow “enhance[s] the[ir] propagation or survival” in the wild. While Ringling claims that such exhibits somehow raise awareness and benefit survival of the species, and even asserts that “lengthy and convincing evidence” supports this claim, no such evidence is anywhere to be found in its application, because it doesn’t exist.

To the contrary, FWS has determined that purported educational activities cannot form the basis of an ESA permit and that “no one has come forward with examples of how exhibition of living wildlife has any specific affirmative effect on survival of non-native species in the wild.” Indeed, as noted above, recent evidence indicates that such exhibits can in fact have a harmful impact on conservation. As tiger expert Dr. Ronald Tilson has written, “forcing tigers to perform in circuses has been detrimental to species conservation efforts because it gives the impression that tigers should be trained through brute strength and physical punishment. It also misleads the public into believing that tigers in the wild can’t really be so endangered if circuses are allowed to display them. . . . This exploitation . . . has actually lessened the general public’s appreciation for tigers in general and most specifically for wild tiger conservation.” Other experts have made similar observations.

Exporting these cats for circus performances not only fails to meet the threshold requirement for an ESA permit — that it help the species — it actually undermines the purposes of the ESA. Because of this, FWS shouldn’t be able to lawfully issue the permit.

Yet in recent years it has issued many permits to Ringling and others to export endangered animals for circuses under a scheme that critics have dubbed “pay-to-play.” FWS essentially allows anyone to make a donation to buy themselves out of complying with the law. This absurd policy makes the ESA’s exceptions — which, again, Congress intended only to be granted in the narrowest of circumstances — virtually meaningless, and lets the exception swallow the rule. In fact, last year the Congressional Research Service determined that “ESA permits are rarely given for their intended purpose of direct benefits to at-risk species, and instead virtually every one of the more than 1,300 ESA permits given out in the last five years involves this pay-to-play scheme.”

Ringling’s application is even worse than most, which at least propose to make a donation in exchange for the permit. Ringling brazenly tries to stretch the loophole FWS has created without authorization even further. It doesn’t even offer to make a new contribution. Instead, it seeks to justify the permit based on money that it already donated, much of it years ago — contributions that have no nexus whatsoever to the export.

Let’s hope that for once FWS won’t bend over backwards for Ringling and will instead put the interests of imperiled animals first and deny the application, as the law requires.

 

Delcianna Winders is a Harvard Animal Law & Policy Fellow and has worked on legal issues pertaining to captive wildlife for more than a decade. Follow her on Twitter at @DelciannaW

Will new tiger protections go far enough?

Delcianna J. Winders, Academic Fellow, Animal Law & Policy Program, Harvard Law School

[This piece originally appeared in the Houston Chronicle.]

0250_babytiger_5F00_72

With more tigers in American backyards, basements and bathrooms than the wild, it’s worth pausing on Endangered Species Day to consider whether new federal protections for tigers are enough.

On May 6, just days after a tiger that had apparently been used for photo-ops in Florida was found roaming the streets of Conroe following last month’s floods, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service closed a loophole in its Endangered Species Act regulations. After nearly two decades of looking the other way while hundreds of captive tigers are trafficked in the United States every year, the agency began treating tigers the same as other endangered wildlife.

But the agency’s permitting policies may critically limit the impact of this change.

To protect imperiled species like tigers, the Endangered Species Act prohibits a host of activities, including importing, exporting, selling, killing, harming, harassing and wounding protected wildlife, whether captive or wild. Continue reading

Burning Ivory to Spread the Message – Hard Hitting New Videos Released

Joyce Tischler, founder and general counsel, Animal Legal Defense Fund

African elephants are running out of time. Homo sapiens, a species that by most accounts is overpopulating the planet, is brutally killing elephants at the rate of 96 per day. By some estimates, African elephants will be extinct in approximately one decade. Every elephant death is disturbing and the thought of
no more wild elephants is beyond comprehension. The inane reason we are killing them is to seize their tusks—ivory, a coveted product that is valued by humans more highly than live elephants. You may already know that. So, here’s some promising news:

On April 30, 2016, Kenya burned 105 tons of ivory, along with over one ton of rhino horns and the confiscated skins of thousands of other wild animals in a strong public statement of support and respect for its native

tusks

Photo by Tim Gorski

wildlife. This burning has been captured on video by Tim Gorski, a documentary filmmaker who is currently working on the elephant issue.

It’s eerie to watch these videos and realize that each pair of tusks belonged to someone (not something) who was highly intelligent and social, and Continue reading

Scarface: In the end, the end was a bullet

57210c80ddd8e.image

R. Hillegas photo in Cody Enterprise; click image for article

Kathleen Stachowski  Other Nations

A bullet stopped Scarface. The famously recognizable grizzly bear with a fan base in Yellowstone was a 25-year-old elder in declining health. Given that fewer than five percent of male bears born in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem survive to age 25, he’d already beaten monumental odds. That is, until he met up with a hunter’s bullet last November north of Gardiner, MT–Yellowstone’s northern gate–and a stone’s throw from the national park. Scarface was robbed of a natural death on his own terms–robbed of the where and the when he would have lain down for the last time. It isn’t hard to imagine that it would have been within the relatively safe boundaries of Yellowstone, the home where he spent most of his long, bear’s life.  Continue reading

Wolverines: Quest to protect magnificent mustelids continues

www.usnews

Photo: Daniel J. Cox/NaturalExposures.com via AP

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

News flash: Climate change imperils wolverines and Feds must act! That’s the recent headline from ABC news, reporting on court proceedings in Missoula, Montana. On Monday, April 4th, “U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen ordered wildlife officials to act as quickly as possible to protect the species as it becomes vulnerable to a warming planet.”

Cue the climate change deniers and those who don’t know much of anything about wolverines: “Wolverines are tough animals. I really don’t think ‘climate change’ is anything they can’t handle,” said one commenter at the Missoulian Facebook page.“There is no evidence suggesting that wolverines will not adapt sufficiently to diminished late spring snow pack (assuming there is any) to maintain viability,” wrote Wyoming governor Matt Mead back in May of 2013 (in the Northern Rockies, Montana and Idaho also opposed listing). But snow joke–snow matters. Wolverines are obligate snow denners who require remote, deep, and usually high elevations snow fields that persist well into spring. This is where natal and maternal dens enable them to birth and raise their young–in other words, enable them to surviveContinue reading