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
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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.]

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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

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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

Greater Yellowstone grizzly bear delisting: Have your say

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T. Mangelson photo; click image for info

Kathleen Stachowski    Other Nations

As I write, over 400 comments have been recorded by the US Fish & Wildlife Service on its proposal to delist the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem grizzly bears from Endangered Species Act protection. That’s 400+ comments in the first 10 or so days since the comment period opened (it closes May 10, 2016, at 11:59 PM ET). If the comments below (original spelling intact) whet your appetite for more, know that some 17 webpages are available for your perusal:

“This is the time that the FWS needs to STOP catering to the special interest groups and take into consideration the thousands and thousands of people from everywhere who come to the Yellowstone region to view wildlife in their element – NOT to support trophy or sport hunting. Hasn’t the death of CECIL taught you anything? … DO NOT DELIST THE GRIZZLY BEARS…”  

“There are way too many Grizzly’s! They are wounding and killing people!!! Are we really that stupid!!! It is damn scary going hunting with these things around. I wish the knuckleheads that protect these beasts would go wonder the woods so they can feed on them!!!” 

“I write to OPPOSE the proposed delisting. My family visited Yellowstone a couple of years ago. We were fortunate enough to see a mother grizzly with her three cubs. …It was magical, amazing and connected my children to nature in a way they have never forgotten. Delisting these bears would be premature. …Indeed, the number one cause of death for grizzlies in the Yellowstone Ecosystem these days is human. Delisting would only exacerbate this.”

“Congratulations to the USFWS! Exactly what the ESA was created to accomplish. Please don’t allow the anti-hunter/environmentalist crowd to obstruct responsible state managed hunting seasons. Please support the North American “model” of wildlife management that has for over 100 years proven to be successful!”

“I’m opposed to removing the Greater Yellowstone population of grizzly bears from the list of endangered and threatened wildlife. The support for delisting is primarily the result of a right wing political movement against the endangered species act itself. The science is being sacrificed for politics. The bears and ecosystem they support, are also being sacrificed. Follow the science. Ignore the politics. Do what you know is right.”

“It’s about time! … the grizzlies are out of control. The ecosystem can no longer sustain them at the rate they are expanding, I fully support this delisting and look forward to grizzlies being managed just like the other animals that have been a part of the extremely successful North American model of conservation. Please don’t let environmentalists interfere with facts and reason.”

“I strongly oppose the delisting of Grizzly Bears … Do not give in to those who would see these important bears as nothing more than a threat to their livestock, or a trophy to be gunned down. Allow science, not political pandering, to be the measuring stick of true recovery.”

“It is time to let the hunters do there part in conservation. Full support.”

But be forewarned–wading into this fray might set your head to spinning. Both sides claim that science is on their side. Many commenters–those clamoring for trophy hunting–consistently call for management to be turned over to the states in what is certainly an orchestrated campaign by hunting groups. Bears have lost their fear of humans, and hunting will fix that is another theme. A cattle association president bellyaches about “calf loss rates” due to grizzlies on national forest grazing allotments–the very same citizen-owned public lands that native grizzlies should have uncontested access to.

Remember Bear 399? You got acquainted with this special griz in “Bear 399: Delisting the grizzly you know.” The arguments against the premature delisting proposal are all laid out there: critical changes in food supply; habitat expansion and connectivity obstacles; immediate trophy hunting; too many conflict-related mortalities; and one that I failed to mention in that post (super-mom 399 notwithstanding)–“grizzly bears have one of the slowest reproductive rates among terrestrial mammals, due to their late age of first reproduction, small average litter size, and the long interval between litters: it may take a single female 10 years to replace herself in a population” (source). A list of good resources is also attached to that post. Everything needed to make a decent, succinct comment is there.

Will our comments against delisting change anything? Probably not. But let the final tally show that more people were selflessly concerned with species survival than with bragging rights to taxidermy mounts and bearskin rugs. I hold in my imagination the beautiful image of a human mom pointing out to her awe-struck kids the sight of a grizzly mom tending her own kids as she attempts to make her way through a human-dominated world that holds both wonder and respect for her life…and bullets for her death.

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Links to documents & commenting:

  • Endangered and Threatened Wildlife and Plants: Removing the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem Population of Grizzly Bears From the Federal List of Endangered and Threatened Wildlife, here. Includes link to docket folder, summary, and extensive supplementary and background information.
  • Docket folder summary: Includes a few comments, a link to “view all” comments, and a “comment now” button for your own two cents.

Channel your inner wolverine!

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Kathleen Stachowski
Other Nations

Happy Wolverine Birthday! According to the Wolverine Foundation, February 14th is the day designated to symbolically mark the birth of wolverine kits. They come into the world under five inches long, weighing 3.5-5.11 ounces, and covered in white fur. They sometimes hang with one or the other parent for up to two years before going their own scrappy way.

Just a few days ago, on Feb. 9th, Gulo gulo’s lawyers were in a Missoula, Montana courtroom where a U.S. District judge heard arguments pertaining to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s denial of Endangered Species Act protection for wolverines–specifically examining whether the decision was reasonable…or arbitrary (article).   Continue reading