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

To Ride Or Not To Ride

Tyson-Lord Gray

In a few months I will be celebrating my birthday and as has become the custom, this means an international trip inclusive of life changing experiences. Last year I went bungee jumping in Costa Rica, the year before that skydiving in South Africa, and the year before that hang-gliding in Brazil. This year I decided to check elephant riding in Thailand off my list however, recent discussions in my Animal Law class prompted me to reconsider my decision.

Although elephant riding appears seemingly harmless, many of these animals are tortured into submission through a process known as phajaan. Phajaan, which also means to crush, involves ripping baby elephants from their mothers and confining them in a very small space where they are unable to move. The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs pierced with sharp bull-hooks.

12107750_10156244079620235_5201342773955071613_nAs a result, an animal welfare bill was introduced in Thailand in 2014 to 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

Animals of Interest

Nancy Rogowski

ElephantImageA recent edition of the ScienceTimes, a section of the NY Times includes several noteworthy animal articles. Elephants Get the Point of Pointing, by Carl Zimmer writes about a new research lead by Dr. Byrne’s suggesting elephants understand human pointing, a rare gift in the animal kingdom.   Dr. Byrne’s states, “Even our closest relatives, like chimpanzees, don’t seem to get the point of pointing.”  Researchers have done tests, such as putting food in one of two identical containers and then silently point at the one with food.  Primates and most other animals studied fail the test, some have done well, such as domesticated mammals, especially dogs.  These results have prompted researchers to speculate that during domestication animals evolve to become keenly aware of humans.  Dr. Byrne’s began to wonder if elephants would pass the pointing test, so last year one of his students went to Zimbabwe, and for 2 months tested 11 elephants.  The study found that 67.5% of the time elephants could follow the pointing.  Dr. Byrne’s would also like to study the pointing test on whales and dolphins but thinks “they make elephants look easy to work with.”

Think Elephant International, a not-for-profit organization that str

meekratsimage

ives to promote elephant conservation through scientific research and educational programming announced a study on April 17, 2013 co-authored by 12-14 year old students from East Side Middle School in NYC, revealing elephants were not able to recognize visual cues provided by humans, although they were more responsive to voice commends.  The study is a three-year endeavor to mooseimagecreate a comprehensive middle school curriculum that brings elephant into classrooms as a way to educate young people about conservation by getting them directly involved in work with endangered species. This research tested elephant pointing to find food hidden in one of two buckets, and the elephants failed this Continue reading

The Animal Law Circus

David Cassuto

elephant abuseThere’s a story about a Canadian farmer who won a $100 million tax-free, lump sum payment in the Canadian lottery.  When asked what he would do with the money, he replied “I guess I’ll just keep farming until the money’s gone.”

Now, let’s talk about animal law.

Asian elephants are endangered.  Elephants in circuses are brutally mistreated.  In 2000, a lawsuit was brought under the Endangered Species Act, claiming that the elephants’ treatment by Feld Entertainment (parent of Ringling Brothers) violated the “No Take” provision of the ESA and should be enjoined.  In late 2009, following a lengthy litigation, a judge threw out the case after deciding that the former circus worker who was the lead plaintiff  lacked credibility, was paid for his testimony, and that there was therefore no standing for the plaintiffs to sue.  The decision was a travesty on many levels (some of which I’ve blogged about elsewhere).  Perhaps most disturbing was the fact that the treatment of the elephants became wholly ancillary to a ridiculous debate about people.  Continue reading

Elephant Death at San Diego Zoo Launches Calls for a USDA Investigation

Coral Strother

On the morning of November 17, 2011, Umoya, a 21 year old African Elephant, who was a part of the San Diego Zoo Safari Park was found lying on the ground by zoo caretakers.  She had severe injuries and could not get up.  Umoya passed away before veterinary assistance could be provided.  Although the cause of death has not been determined and autopsy results could take weeks to come back, zoo officials believe the wounds were inflicted by an “aggressive interaction” with another elephant.

Umoya was born in the Kruger National Park and was one of the seven original elephants rescued from Swaziland in 2003.  In 2007, Umoya gave birth to a female calf, Phakamile, and in 2010, gave birth to a male calf, Emanti, which brought the San Diego herd now up to 18 elephants in total.  On the day Umoya died, San Diego zoo caretakers gave the herd time to mourn her death, something elephants, both in the wild and in captivity, are known to do.  Umoya stood out in the San Diego herd as being one of the most dominant females and as being the only elephant in the exhibit who walked backwards. Continue reading

Elephant Poaching Increasing in Kenya

Usra Hussain

The Samburu National Reserve located in Kenya has experienced a high rate of elephant poaching this year in comparison to the past 11 years.  Although, elephants do not have any natural predators other than lions, elephants are threatened by human beings.  African and Asian elephants are hunted for their ivory tusks and illegally traded for money. The conservationists of the Samburu National Reserve have been actively fighting poachers in order to protect the elephants in their reserve. However, even with their efforts, the elephants in this reserve are continually being killed for their tusks.

One elephant in particular has been attacked twice for her tusks.  Khadija, an elderly elephant from the Samburu National Reserve has been one of many elephants this year that have been killed by poachers.  She suffered bullet wounds which were treated by an elephant organization, but again Khadija was targeted by poachers again. Unfortunately, she did not survive the second attack, leaving behind 8 orphan children.  Continue reading

(Another) Bad Week for Polar Bears and Tuna

David Cassuto

It’s been quite a week over at the meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)Up for discussion was a ban on hunting polar bears and bluefin tuna.  The discussions yielded some predictably (and yet still astonishingly) shortsighted conclusions.

The delegates rejected a ban on polar bear hunting because “hunting is not the most serious threat the polar bear faces” (recall that the bear was listed as endangered last year because of the pressures created by climate change and the consequent loss of icepack).  Here’s a simple logical sequence: Hunting kills bears.  If people stopped hunting them that would be one less thing killing bears.  Unfortunately, this reasoning did not carry the day.  Rather, opponents successfully argued that there is no point to killing fewer bears until we know for certain that we won’t kill them some other way. Follow this reasoning with me if you will.  It is like refusing to treat your compound fracture until you’re certain that there exists a cure for your brain tumor.    Continue reading

Circus Blowback

David Cassuto

The good folks at Ringling Bros. (aka Feld Entertainment Inc.) have taken some time out from bullhooking elephants to file a RICO suit against HSUS and the other plaintiffs in the recent lawsuit about elephant mistreatment and the Endangered Species Act.  The gravamen of the suit lies in the claim that the plaintiffs conspired to to pay Tom Rider, the chief complaining witness, to give false testimony.  Feld alleges bribery, obstruction of justice, fraud and money laundering.

Let us hope for a swift and attorney’s fees-filled end to this frivolous nonsense.

Thinking About Elephants

Bruce Wagman

I have been thinking about elephants.  The recent disappointing judgment in the hard-fought Ringling Brothers case is really only one reason.  I’ve been involved in a few nonlitigation matters trying to help make life better for elephants in zoos in different states, have visited the elephants at PAWS in California, and have spent many hours watching the amazing interactions and overwhelming magic of hundreds of elephants in several Tanzanian parks.  There are many elephant experiences that stand out in my mind, including on the one hand one long heating-up morning when we spent about two hours watching about 220 elephants of all ages and sizes (as best as we could count) in one spot in Tarangire National Park, and on the other being shocked into outrage when I learned about the crushing pain they suffer by virtue of almost every confinement situation in America, the literal disintegration of their foot bones as they are forced to stand on them, in some of the worst pain one could imagine, without any relief.  When it comes to elephants in zoos and circuses, the news is grim. 

I had to learn the science of elephants for my job, and that requirement is one of the fantastic things about practicing animal law, especially for someone like me.  That is, in order to do a good job, I am compelled to learn not just the law, but often the biology, physiology, psychology and behaviors of whatever species is at the center of the case I am litigating.  For me that is turning work into fun or at least intellectual exploration, which is fun for a law geek like me.  Because there are “cat people” and “dog people” and “chimp people;” and when on safari in Africa some people mainly want to see the big cats; others the birds.  There is an inherent speciesism, just like when we pet a cat and eat a cow, or think it is bad to eat dog because we do not do it, but it is okay to eat a pig because we do.  But I’m a garbage-can animal lover, meaning I love them all.  So when I am in Africa, ask me what I want to see, and I don’t care, as long as it’s wild.  People say warthogs are ugly and I think they are beautiful, perfect.  And when I am home ask if I prefer my dogs or cats, and my response is: “anything nonhuman will do, I love them all.”  So the requirement that I learn about some species or other is just a joy, and something I have done literally dozens of times over the course of my career.  And you really cannot adequately litigate for animals if you don’t understand them – as well as the law.  Continue reading

Why It’s Not About the Elephants

David Cassuto

Here now, a few words about the Ringling Brothers case.  The suit focused on the treatment of Asian elephants – an endangered species – by the circus.  Much credible evidence suggests that the elephants were mistreated, both by intent (using bullhooks to “train” them) and by the rigors of the circus life, a life which confined them for much of their lives, prevented them from socializing and from moving freely about and generally forced them to live counter to their instincts and nature.  These allegations and others seemed to place the circus in violation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), whose “Take” provision (Section 9) prohibits the “take” of any endangered species. 16 U.S.C. § 1538(a)(1)(B).

The term “take,” as used in the ESA, includes actions that “harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, or collect, or to attempt to engage in any such conduct.” 16 U.S.C. § 1532(19). The Fish and Wildlife Service defines “harm” to include any act that “actually kills or injures wildlife,” including actions that “significantly impair[ ] essential behavioral patterns.” 50 C.F.R. § 17.3. “Harass” under the ESA means: an intentional or negligent act or omission which creates the likelihood of injury to wildlife by annoying it to such an extent as to significantly disrupt normal behavioral patterns which include, but are not limited to, breeding, feeding, or sheltering.  In sum, the Supreme Court has made clear that the ESA defines “take”  “in the broadest possible manner  to include every conceivable way in which a person can ‘take’ or attempt to ‘take’ any fish or wildlife.’ “ Babbitt v. Sweet Home Chapter of Cmtys. for a Greater Or.,515 U.S. 687, 704 (1995).

On the face of it, the allegations regarding the treatment of the elephants land squarely within the scope of behavior prohibited by the ESA.  This lawsuit marked the first time the ESA had been invoked to cover the treatment of performing elephants.  I do not here have time to summarize the merits and facts of the case; you can read more about it here and here and elsewhere.  I must focus on the procedural posture of the case since it ultimately proved dispositive.   Continue reading

Ringling Brothers Decision — Justice Denied

David Cassuto

The decision is in.  It’s a debacle.  Read about it here.  I’ll have more to say when I’ve studied the opinion.

Elephant “Training” Photos

David Cassuto

Paucity of posts this week, for which I apologize.  More soon.  In the meantime, if anybody was thinking that the allegations of the plaintiffs in the Ringling Brothers case were exaggerated, take a gander at these elephant “training” pics.  They are not from Ringling Brothers but they do reflect standard training practices.

IUCN Study of Elephant Meat Trade — Consulting Opportunity

logo-iucnFrom the email — an opportunity to lead a study for the IUCN Species Survival Commission on the elephant bushmeat issue in Central Africa.   Note the looming application deadline.

The Impact of the Elephant Meat Trade in Central Africa
Call for Applications – Deadline 4 September 2009
1. Background
The IUCN/SSC African Elephant Specialist Group aims to undertake a study to improve
understanding of the elephant meat trade on elephant populations in Central Africa. The
study will elaborate on bushmeat research already undertaken throughout the region by a
number of institutions, but will focus on the African elephant. The study will examine the
dynamics, scale and impact of the elephant meat trade throughout the Central African subregion.
The study will examine the trade in elephant meat as a factor in illegal killing of
elephants, relative to the ivory trade. It will also study the linkages between multiple
resource extraction (timber, minerals) and the levels of elephant meat trade and consumption
at the site, city, and regional level. This will include a number of case studies for which new
data will be collected. Finally, the study will explore the policy implications for elephant
conservation of the elephant meat trade throughout the region and make recommendations for
further research and policy implementation.
2. Overall Objective
The objective of the study is to enhance knowledge of contemporary meat market dynamics,
patterns and trends in Central African countries by undertaking an elephant meat trade impact
study.
3. Core Study Components
The study seeks to expose the linkages between the elephant meat trade and larger social and
economic dynamics at play, including, but not limited to: ivory trade; logging (legal and
illegal); mining; infrastructure development; global economic trends; law enforcement at the
national and international level; and community forest governance.
The study will consist of a summary study plus additional case studies identified as necessary
to contribute new data.
4. Geographical Coverage
African elephant range States of the Central African sub-region: Cameroon, Central African
Republic, Chad, Republic of Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and
Gabon.
5. Key Responsibilities of the Lead Consultant
 Take responsibility for the quality and timely delivery of the entire study as per the
above Terms of Reference.
 To supervise sub-contracted consultancies as regards their technical contribution to
the study and ensure high quality and timely contributions.
 Submit draft and final reports by agreed deadlines and according to the agreed
reporting format, with full bibliographic references, accreditation of all contributors,
and including appropriate validation of all the data and cases presented.
 Elicit analytical input from AfESG and other technical advisors throughout the
consultancy, and particularly prior to finalisation of the recommendations and
conclusions and ensure all the comments are incorporated in the final report
6. Deliverables
 A summary study on the impact and features of the elephant meat trade across the
Central African sub-region, integrating information from new case studies.
 A number of detailed case studies – fully edited and referenced – to be published
along with the summary study.
 An executive summary summarizing the main findings and recommendations in a
simple and communicative language.
7. Timeframe
The final study will be published in March 2011.
8. Qualifications
The lead consultant will have advanced university degrees and complementary skills in
biology, conservation or related fields and will also have considerable experience in the
Central African sub-region and with research on bushmeat. He/She will have a strong track
record of peer reviewed publication on relevant topics, and fluency in written and spoken
English and French.
9. Expressions of Interest
IUCN is asking interested persons or consultants to submit a short Letter of Interest for this
consultancy, identifying their experience in undertaking such research and his/her Curriculum
Vitae together with an indication of the daily fees. In addition, interested persons or
consultants are expected to include in the application a 2 page summary of how they will
conduct the study.
Expression of Interest should be addressed in English language to diane.skinner@iucn.org.
Deadline: 4 September 2009.
The detailed Terms of Reference for this study are available on request