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
Advertisements

Will Ringling’s closure clear the way for federal circus legislation?

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

The piece originally appeared in The Hill

With Ringling Bros.—the most active and spendthrift opponent of legislation to protect circus animals—shuttering, it may finally be possible for bipartisan public safety and animal welfare efforts to succeed.

Introduced by Reps. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Ryan Costello (R-Pa.),  the Traveling Exotic Animal & Public Safety Protection Act, H.R. 6342, would ban traveling wild animal acts given their risks to humans and animals alike. While political debates rage, this simple, important measure—one that countries across the world have already taken—should be a no-brainer.

 chained-eles

The recent incident in which long-time Ringling Bros. exhibitor Vicenta Pages was attacked by a tiger in front of dozens of children is just the most recent reminder of the dangers inherent in these acts. Captive big cats kill about one person every year in America, and injure many more. While Ringling—whose tigers have been involved in numerous maulings—is closing down, other circuses will continue to endanger the public as long as they’re allowed to. Tigers have repeatedly escaped from UniverSoul Circus and at least two people have lost parts of their fingers to big cats with this circus. A Shrine circus attendee came face to face with a tiger in the restroom. At another Shrine circus, a tiger killed a circus handler in front of 200 children. Numerous folks have been rushed to the hospital after encounters with tigers at Shrine circus shows. Yet government records show that exhibitors with UniverSoul, Shrine, and other circuses still fail to adequately contain dangerous animals.

It’s time we acknowledge that carting apex predators around the country in flimsy cages and putting them into direct contact with humans is a bad idea.

But it’s not just the carnivores who endanger us. Elephants can easily snuff out a human life with a single trunk swipe or foot stomp and kill about as many Americans as big cats do. An elephant at a Shrine circus elephant kicked a handler, throwing him about 20 feet and killing him. At least 15 children and one adult were injured when an elephant giving rides at a Shrine circus became startled. One circus exhibitor recently paid a paltry penalty after allowing elephants to repeatedly endanger the public, including an incident in which the elephants escaped from a Shrine circus and ran amok for nearly an hour.

Elephants can also carry tuberculosis, which highly transmissible to humans—even without direct contact, since it’s airborne. Seven people were recently diagnosed with the disease after being around infected elephants at a zoo, and eight individuals contracted TB from a former circus elephant. Yet elephants with the disease are still routinely exposed to the public. Indeed, virtually every American circus with elephants has a history of tuberculosis. UniverSoul is currently touring with tuberculosis-exposed elephants. In 2014, New York City officials required UniverSoul to keep elephants out of its acts after the circus failed to provide current TB tests. Dallas officials recently prohibited elephants with UniverSoul from performing because they had “tested reactive for tuberculosis,” and Michigan’s assistant state veterinarian cautioned that these elephants should not be on the road because of their TB status. Yet UniverSoul continues to bring these same animals to other states with laxer laws. Shrine and other circuses also routinely feature elephants who carry tuberculosis.

The risks posed by these inherently dangerous animals are only heightened by the abuse and deprivation they endure. Elephants in the wild roam up to 30 miles a day; in circuses, they spend many consecutive hours and even days tightly chained, slowly going out of their minds. Big cats who have home ranges of up to 400 miles are routinely caged in tiny transport containers 24 hours a day.

Deprived of everything that is natural and important to them, these animals only perform tricks because they’re terrified not to. Numerous undercover investigations and eyewitness reports confirm that circus animals are trained through severe beatings—often while they’re caged or chained. Such abuse can provoke aggression, feeding an endless cycle.

While countries around the world have banned these cruel and dangerous acts, America lags woefully behind. In a time of immense divisiveness, surely we can at least agree that no animal deserves to suffer endless abuse and confinement—and that it’s foolhardy to continue to endanger human health and safety for a few fleeting moments of outmoded entertainment.

USDA facilitates animal suffering at Cricket Hollow Zoo

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

This piece originally appeared in the Des Moines Register

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has again renewed the license that chronic animal welfare violator Cricket Hollow Zoo, in Manchester, needs to operate. The agency renewed this license despite recently documenting numerous violations and, indeed, documenting nearly 100 violations over the past three years. The agency renewed this license just months after a judge held that Cricket Hollow was likely to cause serious death or injury to animals. The agency renewed this license despite a pending enforcement action. The agency is complicit in Cricket Hollow’s abuse and neglect of dozens of animals.

CHZ primate
©Tracey Kuehl

To understand the conditions at Cricket Hollow that the Department of Agriculture allows to continue by its re-licensing, consider the following violations, documented by the agency on one day:

  • Various species were held with no ventilation and “a strong, foul odor of fecal waste and ammonia”;
  • No plan existed to address the distress of a baboon who paced incessantly and “repeatedly tossed his head back,” both “abnormal behaviors” indicative of distress;
  • Multiple animal enclosures “were severely muddy with large areas of standing water,” forcing numerous to stand in water and/or thick mud, some of whom had “mud/wet fur extending up the entire length of their legs”;
  • Numerous animals were confined with excessive flies and built-up waste.

Automatic license renewals also endanger humans. Without licenses, facilities couldn’t exhibit animals, and many of the violations put the public at risk. Cricket Hollow has repeatedly been cited for violations related to public endangerment, including holding dangerous animals like lions, bears and baboons in structurally unsound cages that could allow escape. One of Cricket Hollow’s owners was flown to a hospital after being attacked by a tiger and suffering lacerations to his head and torso.

Years ago, the Department of Agriculture’s Office of Inspector General flagged automatic license renewal as a serious problem causing increased animal suffering and undermining the Animal Welfare Act’s purposes. In response to the Inspector General’s plea that it reform its licensing practices, the agency claimed that it was legally required to automatically renew licenses.

Developments in the law leave no question that the Department of Agriculture is not required to automatically renew licenses, and that it can condition renewal on compliance. Numerous federal courts have held that the Animal Welfare Act can be read to require compliance with the law before renewal.

Still, the agency clings to an outmoded model of licensing. While many agencies have adopted efficient, informal procedures for licensing, the Department of Agriculture continues to give full, trial-type hearings for every licensing and other Animal Welfare Act decision. This slow, antiquated approach wastes resources and results in serious delays that prolong animal suffering.

In August the Animal Welfare Act will turn 50, and it’s past time for the agency to heed calls to stop facilitating violations of the law and animal suffering through automatic license renewal.

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

Cecil and Obie: Owning animals, dead or alive

807480-1440779142-wide

Photo from Care2 petitions – click image

Kathleen Stachowski     Other Nations

Cecil the lion is dead, long live Cecil. Obie the tiger lives–and dies–in successive purgatories for 45 years running.

Cecil, a unique individual and beloved personality, was slain by a small and hollow man for no reason other than ego. This one “special” lion’s death triggered a tipping point and unleashed worldwide condemnation.

And then there’s Obie, one beloved football mascot who has required a veritable breeding mill to produce the 45 individuals who’ve served as namesake. Make no mistake–it’s the mascot who’s beloved, not the unique tiger cub plugged into the role annually. Old Obies live and die in obscurity as wild captives no longer cubbishly cute, as now-dangerous adults consigned to–well, who knows? Who cares?   Continue reading

Shrine Circus 2015: ‘Turn and stand’ for animals

DSCN1227Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

“F—ing dopers!” This invective was snarled in our direction as we stood outside the Adams Center on the University of Montana campus in Missoula one recent April weekend. Inside the Adams Center, the Shrine Circus (produced by the Jordan World Circus) was putting enslaved animals through their miserable paces at the business ends of whips and bullhooks.

“F—ing dopers”? We clutched signs reading “Have a heart for circus animals”; “Cruelty isn’t entertainment: Have compassion”; “Circuses: No fun 4 animals,” and the like. Our assemblage of 22 activists–people who set aside chores and pleasures to show up 53 times over two days and five performances–ranged from a six-year-old to several retirees, some sporting lustrous, silver hair; one was retired from a career in finance, another from federal service. We included a former teacher and a current teacher, an equine rescue volunteer, students, an archeologist, an insurance claims examiner, an adult education specialist, and a case worker in geriatrics. “F—ing dopers”? Really? Continue reading

Two animal rescues: 33 happy homecomings & one heartbreaker

11054500_10153736486189358_7595464704510617292_n

Click for Facebook page

Kathleen Stachowski   Other Nations

Anyone who works in the animal rights arena knows that a single day–nay, a single minute–can feature the most jubilant high and the utmost despairing low. One emotion follows on the heels of the other as news randomly enters your world: humans at their most compassionate and generous best–vigorously turning the wheels of justice for animals; humans at their most uncaring and depraved worst–deliberately evil monsters or indifferent agents of neglect, suffering, and death. How on earth to reconcile this?  Continue reading