Cecil the Lion: Will U.S. Laws Hold Trophy Killer Accountable

All around the world, people are outraged by the trophy killing of Cecil the lion, and not simply because he suffered needlessly for days, or because lions are charismatic animals, or even because a rich white American killed a much-loved member of a national park halfway around the world in the African nation of Zimbabwe. Why has Cecil reached our hearts when so many other animals are poached (and, animal advocates remind us, so many other animals suffer every day)? Why is everyone – from animal advocates to hunters to talk show hosts to the New York Times and the Guardian – so horrified by this brutal killing? The answer lies in freedom.

Screen Shot 2015-07-29 at 3.38.44 PMCecil, a 13-year old lion, lived safe in Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe under legal protection. But he was unfairly lured out of his refuge, tricked by poachers who tied a dead animal carcass to the back of a truck. Father to many cubs (who will likely now die), Cecil was an easy target while eating. Minnesota dentist and trophy-hunter Walter James Palmer then shot Cecil with an arrow. But Cecil suffered for 40 hours before he was tracked down, killed with a rifle, beheaded, and skinned. His body was left to rot in the sun.

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His head—with its distinctive (and incriminating for the trophy-killer) black mane–was missing, along with the now notorious Walter Palmer (the head has now been turned over to Zimbabwean authorities).

Cecil wore a GPS tracking collar, as part of an Oxford University research project. Ironically, Oxford’s study challenges the ridiculous notion that killing animals incentivizes the public to conserve them (and conserve them for more killing, i.e. “hunting”). So it is simply beyond reason to believe Palmer didn’t notice that collar when he shot Cecil, twice, once using a crossbow scope and 40 hours later using a rifle scope, or when Palmer later skinned and decapitated the lion. Palmer is a marksman with at least 43 large game animals on his killing resume (according to the Safari Club International, who has now revoked Palmer’s membership), including a rhino, a lion previous to Cecil, a cougar, a leopard, a polar bear, and an illegally killed black bear (for which Palmer was convicted). Damage to Cecil’s collar suggests Continue reading

Ringling Bros. Retires Circus Elephants

Seth Victor

As many of you may have already heard, Ringling Bros. is retiring elephants from its act and focusing on caring for elephants in a conservation center. Wayne Pacelles of HSUS described this move as a “Berlin Wall moment for animal protection,” and attributed the change to the evolving public opinion surrounding animal welfare, including the outcry that came on the heels of Blackfish and the treatment of orcas at Sea World. The termination of elephant performances has been long-sought by PETA.Photography-Elephant-Wallpapers

The media reaction, perhaps unsurprisingly, is a bit divided regarding Ringling Bros’s decision. An op-ed in the New York Post believes that the circus’s “craven capitulation to PETA will only embolden zealots to agitate for elimination of all circus animals — if not eventually to bestow upon all living creatures the same “inalienable rights” as humans,” and goes on to state that without exposure to animals via a circus, most people will not form a connection with the animals, and will thus not care to save them in the wild. The L.A. Times also notes that many people feel the elephants are an iconic part of the joy of the circus. Meanwhile op-eds in the New York Times range from echoing the Post to refuting the sentiments of the circus sympathizers. Continue reading

District Court Upholds the Right to Sell Foie Gras

gaggle-of-geeseSeth Victor

The blawg previously commented on the ongoing issues surrounding California’s ban on the sale of foie gras, particularly the idea of giving away foie gras as a “complimentary side” when selling some other food. Last week Animal Legal Defense Fund filed another suit in the battle, arguing that La Toque restaurant was illegally selling foie gras in violation of California’s Health and Safety Code § 25982.

The suit, however, is somewhat of a moot point. On January 7th the California District Court overturned the Health and Safety Code banning the sale of foie gras, granting partial summary judgment to the plaintiffs, among whom is Hot’s Restaurant Group, the aforementioned makers of the complimentary foie gras side. The District Court summarize the issue as “whether a sales ban on products containing a constituent that was produced in a particular manner is an “ingredient requirement” under Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA).” The plaintiffs argued that the PPIA preempts the Health and Safety Code. Judge Stephen V. Wilson agreed, and has enjoined the California Attorney General from enforcing the law. In summary, PPIA is a federal law that regulates the sale and distribution of birds and expressly prohibits states from imposing certain conditions on food and ingredients. Judge Wilson held that the Health and Safety Code, which is a state law, was in conflict with the federal law, and that the federal law must be held above state regulations. The “production” of including fatty liver in the sales of food is, apparently, an ingredient, and therefore must be regulated, with regards to foie gras, at the federal level.

Health and Safety Code § 25981, which bans the practice of force feeding a bird for the purpose of fattening the liver, was not before the District Court, and remains in effect. Also, there are several other facets of the plaintiff’s argument that were not granted summary judgment, including a Commerce Clause attack. The Commerce Clause argument and the remaining section banning “production” still presents an important argument, although the restaurants’ main challenge has now been overcome; Californian restaurants largely import all of their foie gras, thus the production bar will have a much smaller impact.

Progress at the Cost of Our Humanity

Seth Victor

The New York Times this week published an investigation into U.S. Meat Animal Research Center, and, perhaps predictably, the results are disturbing. I heartily suggest reading the whole article, but for those in a rush, here are some of the interesting takeaway points:

  • U.S. Meat Animal Research Center is pioneering ways to produce meat more efficiently and cheaply via re-engineering farmed animals through surgery and breeding techniques
  • In pursuing this research, animal welfare has taken a backseat. For example, since 1985, 6,500 out of the 580,000 animals the center has housed have starved. 625 have died from mastitis, an easily treatable infection.
  • Nearly 10 million piglets have been crushed by their mothers each year, not because this is what mothers naturally do, but because they are being forced to have larger litters of weak piglets, and the mothers themselves are artificially larger, kept alive longer to reproduce.
  • For thirty-one years, the Center worked on genetically modifying cows to regularly produce twins, noting that single births were not an efficient way to produce meat. By injecting cows with embryos from other cows that birthed twins, and then injecting them with semen from bulls who sired twins, the Center produced cows that have a 55% chance of having twins, when naturally the chances are 3%. Many of the female calves of twins are born with deformed vaginas, and the artificially large wombs create birthing problems even for single calves. Over 16% of the twins died.
  • Thirty to forty cows die each year from exposure to bad weather, not including storms, in which several hundred more die.
  • 245 animals have died since 1985 due to treatable abscesses.
  • In 1990, the Center tried to create larger lambs by injecting pregnant ewes with an excessive amount of male hormone testosterone. Instead, the lambs were born with deformed genitals, which made urination difficult.
  • In 1989, the Center locked a young cow in place in a pen with six bulls for over an hour to determine the bulls’ libidos. The industry standard is to do this with one bull for fifteen minutes. By the time a vet was called, the cows hind legs were broken from being mounted, and she died within a few hours.
  • The scientists charged with administering the experiments, surgeries, and to euthanize do not have medical degrees. One retired scientist at the Center was quoted saying, “A vet has no business coming in and telling you how to do it. Surgery is an art you get through practice.”
  • “The leaner pigs that the center helped develop, for example, are so low in fat that one in five females cannot reproduce; center scientists have been operating on pigs’ ovaries and brains in an attempt to make the sows more fertile.”
  • Regarding oversight, “A Times examination of 850 experimental protocols since 1985 showed that the approvals [for experiments] were typically made by six or fewer staff members, often including the lead researchers for the experiment. The few questions asked dealt mostly with housekeeping matters like scheduling and the availability of animals.”
  • “The language in the protocols is revealing. While the words “profit” or “production efficiency” appear 111 times, “pain” comes up only twice.”

Continue reading

Compassionate Killers

Nicole Miraglia

The idea of going back to the basics for self-sufficient living is hardly new, but many people are choosing to do just wackikiwabbit_5598that for a variety of reasons and in various levels of commitment. In 2011, Facebook creator, Mark Zuckerberg, pledged to  eat only animals that he killed himself. Although his personal challenge lasted just one year, it sparked an interest of living off the land for many. The Eat What You Kill Movement has supporters from survival, nutritional, and ethical standpoints. Survivalists argue that self-sufficient living allows one to rely and live off of the land, completely independent from societal norms such as trips to the local supermarkets. Those following the trend for nutritional purposes, such as Mark Zuckerberg and Joe Rogan, are attempting to avoid antibiotics and hormones commonly found in store bought meats. Ethical supporters of the movement believe that they are being compassionate to the animals they are eating. Continue reading


Angela Scarduzio

          In New York, torturing, unjustifiably injuring, mutilating, or willfully furthering any act of cruelty to any animal is a violation of the state’s animal cruelty statute. N.Y. Agric. & Mkts. Law § 353 (McKinney). Accordingly, it would seem to be inferred from this statute that tattooing or piercing a pet for the amusement of the pet’s owner would fall within the statute as animal cruelty. Therefore, it seems reasonable to conclude that in New York an owner cannot tattoo or pierce one’s pet for the owner’s amusement, since the pain being inflicted on the animal is unjustified. However, despite the existence of New York’s animal cruelty statute and the inferences that follow, in 2011, a new bill was introduced specifically addressing this issue.

The proposed bill, S.6769, created by Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, which would make it illegal for New York residents to tattoo or pierce their animals unless

for medical or identification purposes, imposes fines up to $1,000 and possibly, 1 year in jail. The proposed bill was inspired when Rosenthal was appalled by an online advertisement for the sale of gothic kittens, kittens with tattoos and piercings. It seems ridiculous people actually need a law to tell them that tattooing or piercing their pets is animal abuse. Surely, animals cannot consent to these painful procedures, and even if they could do so, likely would not. So why do people think it is Continue reading

5th Circuit Upholds Ban on Crush Videos

Seth Victor

Four years ago the US Supreme Court overruled Congress’s attempt to regulate “crush videos,” stating that the law was an impermissible, over-broad regulation of free speech. For more analysis of the decision, see here. Though the decision was distressing, it did not herald an end of attempts to regulate that particular form of animal cruelty; Congress quickly passed an amended version of the law, one that has yet to be tested before the Supreme Court.

Last week the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals reinstated criminal charges in the case of US v. Richards for video of animals being tortured to death by a suggestively dressed woman, holding that images of animals killed for sexual gratification are not protected forms of speech, and are in fact “obscene.” Obscenity is the key to the law; obscene speech does not have the same protections as common speech, and can be regulated. Additionally, the 5th Circuit rejected an argument that the law is unconstitutional because it unfairly targets a narrow type of obscenity (here, animal cruelty), holding that particular categories of obscenity may be targeted based on their socially harmful secondary effects.

This is the first legal test of the amended law, and animal advocates have to be happy with the direction the case took at the appellate level. The court held that the law does serve a “significant interest” of preventing violence against animals, and is “reasonably tailored” to meet that interest. The 2010 version does not apply to the slaughter of animals for food, hunting, or agricultural husbandry practices, which helped it survive the “over-broad” challenge. If the Supreme Court ends up granting certiorari (it’s unclear at this point if the defendants will push it that far), it will be very interesting to see how the 5th Circuit decision holds up against US v. Stevens.






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