News in Brief
Ringling Eliminates Tigers from Show
For the first time in 50 years, the Ringling Bros.and Barnum & Bailey Circus has modified a touring unit, and one of the biggest changes is its elimination of an act featuring tigers. The company denies they were removed as a concession to campaigns to end the use of exotic animals in entertainment—and we know better than to believe it was done out of concern for the animals themselves. Instead, Ringling reports its action was an effort to appeal more to its core audience, which consists mainly of women and children. Ironically, it is because of this target demographic that the company hired female tiger trainer Sara Houcke in 2000.
And what about the elephants? Ringling unfortunately has no plans to remove them from its shows and claims they are its largest attraction.At the same time, the elephants are again plagued by tuberculosis. A male housed at a Ringling facility in Florida tested positive in September. He joins another elephant already under quarantine.
In related news, our lawsuit with other animal advocacy groups against Ringling for its mistreatment of Asian elephants remains in the discovery phase, with an expected trial date sometime late next year. In the meantime, we are confident that the trend toward circus entertainment without animals, as popularized by performing groups such as the magnificent Cirque du Soleil, is increasing. Clearly, money can be made by providing entertainment for audiences without forcing wild animals to perform unnatural acts.
Mangabeys Saved from Lethal Research
UNITED STATES The Yerkes Primate Research Center in Atlanta, Ga. has withdrawn an amendment to its application for a permit under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to kill endangered mangabeys as part of its ongoing AIDS-related experiments. The amendment sought approval to kill 50 of the animals. However, under the ESA, research facilities cannot engage in such activities unless they benefit the species in the wild. Yerkes, in its attempt to secure the amendment, offered to provide money toward a primate conservation project in the wild. The Animal Welfare Institute and other animal advocacy groups represented by the law firm Meyer Glitzenstein & Crystal submitted comments in opposition to these lethal experiments. Primatologist Jane Goodall and 18 fellow scientists also sent a letter to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, warning that allowing lethal research on endangered species in exchange for monetary contributions would "open the floodgates" for similar research in the future, to the detriment of imperiled species.
William Moy Statten Russell (1925-2006)
UNITED KINGDOM Bill Russell, an esteemed leader in promoting alternatives to the use of animals in research, died on July 27. With his colleague Rex L. Burch, he introduced the concept of the "3Rs" in the groundbreaking 1959 book, The Principles of Humane Experimental Technique. Its guidelines found their way into the biomedical research establishment very gradually, but they are now recognized as both humane and as the essential ingredients of sound scientific methodology. Russell was a valued colleague and his work will remain an inspiration for students, researchers and scientists who regard animals in research laboratories as sentient beings who deserve to be treated with utmost care.
Shahtoosh Shawls Seized
THAILAND In July, Thai police authorities raided three luxury stores in downtown Bangkok, confiscating over 250 shahtoosh shawls made from the fur of endangered Tibetan antelopes called chiru. A single shawl requires killing three to five antelopes and commands very high prices on the black market. Credit in the successful sting operation has been given to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations-Wildlife Enforcement Network, a new integrated network of law enforcement agencies spanning many nations. According to the trade monitoring network TRAFFIC, the investigation "reflects a bold shift in strategy in battling syndicates decimating Asia's wild animals and plants."
Caught in a War Zone
LEBANON Located near a Hezbollah stronghold in Beirut's southern suburbs, an animal shelter run by Beirut for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (BETA) was partly destroyed by a missile, just days after violence erupted in the country in mid-July. Its 113 dogs and 100 cats quickly became traumatized by the constant shellings, and volunteers visiting the shelter risked their lives twice a day in order to care for them. Within two weeks, the animals were all safely moved to an abandoned farm east of the capital. Yet perhaps tens of thousands of companion animals still roam the war-torn city, since the US Embassy and others told evacuees they could not bring their pets on the cruise ships and helicopters that would transport them to safety.
BETA volunteers have also rescued several primates, exotic birds and other animals in a mini-zoo in Beirut, and they continue to feed, water and take in abandoned pets when possible. Additionally, the area's marine life is at risk due to a massive oil spill that started spreading over 60 percent of the Lebanese coastline in early August. The oil leaked into the Mediterranean Sea after Israeli aircraft targeted an oil tank at a power plant outside Beirut. Officials from the United Nations Environmental Program fear turtles and other marine animals have already beenaffectedby the disaster.
The Wind Dilemma
UNITED STATES One environmental group is putting its electric bill where its mouth is. Audubon New York, the state's largest bird conservation organization, recently announced plans to purchase the amount of wind power necessary to compensate for 100 percent of the energy used in its New York offices. The group picked a favorable site in Nebraska that impacts birds and other wildlife minimally, avoiding migration routes and densely forested areas. Given the destructiveness of fossil fuel-based power and the immediacy of global warming, we commend Audubon for its decision to help the environment and prevent the unnecessary harm of bats and birds
Disrupting the Balance of the Sea
Three scientists first learned about "whale falls" in the 1980s and have since made hundreds of dives in a tiny submarine designed to collect data.They say a whole community of organisms can thrive for up to a century by sucking the fats and sulfides from one whale skeleton.But with this knowledge comes a realization: two centuries of commercial whaling have taken a tremendous toll on the ocean floor.
Dead whales in the ocean are like fallen trees in the forest. Just as decomposing wood turns into a powder to nourish plant nutrients in the soil, the sediment that falls from a whale's carcass turns the sea floor into a rich environment ideal for clams, mussels, enzymes, bacteria, worms and other mysterious deep sea scavengers.
At the Deep-Sea Biology Symposium held in England this summer, marine biologist Craig Smith told conference attendees that commercial whaling has reduced the number of whale carcasses by up to 95 percent, and many species of sea scavengers who would have been feeding on these skeletons are most likely extinct or going extinct in areas where intense whaling has persisted. "The possibility that whaling has caused species extinctions at the remote deep-sea floor gives me new appreciation for the scale of human impacts on the ocean," Smith said.