Letter 1: Six Decades as Vegan
I love your magazine very much.
I’m an 84 year-old vegan and turned vegan when I was 21. I raised two boys and a husband as vegans, and my husband lived until he was 86.
When people sit down to dinner and eat meat, they don’t think about the animal that was slaughtered. There’s blood-letting, and the animal was cut up, packaged and transported to be sold as food. People don’t realize that we could feed more people, and fewer would go hungry if we were all vegans.
Now with climate change and less rain, we should all become vegans, and care about what’s happening to our planet.
Letter 2: Working to End Devocalization
Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets (CPR Pets) thanks Friends of Animals for helping us get the word out about devocalization in its print and online magazine. As an all-volunteer organization that does not accept financial donations, we are grateful for the outreach.
CPR Pets has led the movement to end devocalization since 2007.
Among our initiatives, we sponsored Logan's Law, prohibiting devocalization of dogs and cats in Massachusetts. Enacted on July 21, 2010, it is the only viable state devocalization ban in the U.S. We've led the effort to pass a similar law in NYS for the past three years, joined in 2013 by Animal Advocates of Western New York and New York State Humane Association, with support from FoA.
We'd like to acknowledge our people who were quoted in FoA’s article: Board-certified surgeon Joel Woolfson, DVM, DACVS is CPR Pets’ veterinary advisor. Leslie Harris is director of one of our many shelter partners. Sue Perry, who joined us in 2010 after learning the dog she adopted was devocalized, is our Social Media Coordinator.
Along with working to end devocalization through education and legislation, we promote humane treatment of all animals, and facilitate the placement of “unadoptable” pets in loving homes.
Leslie A. Burg
City of Newton, MA, Alderman (Ret.)
Co-Chair, Coalition to Protect and Rescue Pets
Letter 3: Angels
My condolences on the loss of your friend and colleague, Sandra Lewis. Yours was a moving tribute in the Spring issue and shows your love of humans as well as animals.
I happened to get ActionLine on the same day I received PETA's magazine (I support both animals rights and welfare). The contrast was astounding. The latter was full of horrific photos and graphic stories of animal cruelty and suffering. I couldn't bear to read it. But ActionLine was informative while showing the beauty of our beloved creatures, nudging us to reverence and action.
I don't know how you survive the horror stories that must cross your desk each day and still maintain your devotion to our cause. I've been with FoA since the 1970s, and you are one of my all-time (favorites) along with Jane Goodall, the late Steve Irwin, and other crusaders.
Animal foster care and rescue
Letter 4: Yes to Breeding Control
I believe in spaying and neutering. I do not believe in docking, cropping, declawing and devocalization. Those things are immoral and should be illegal.
North Brunswick, NJ
Is Al Gore going vegan? The former U.S. vice president requested vegan catering during a book tour in St. Louis in February. The caterers provided roasted carrot bisque with radish kimchi, smoked butternut squash puttanesca over lemon-scented Missouri wild rice, and quinoa-stuffed dolmas with raisins and mint, according to the St. Louis-area media outlet Riverfront Times. Sounds delightful! The meal was prepared by Local Harvest Cafe & Catering, as announced on the restaurant’s Facebook page. If you’d like to support the restaurant and order what Al and his staffers got, here’s the place to visit next time you’re in St. Louis:
Local Harvest Café 3137 Morganford Road 314-772-8815
Cheers to people who refuse to buy seal fur, which means the grey seal population off Nova Scotia in Canada lived undisturbed this spring. Previously, several hundred have been killed in a season. Thanks to the Times Colonist in Victoria, British Columbia, for reporting that the seals spent their spring pupping season in peace for the first time in many years.
Cheers to investor and philanthropist Bill Gates for praising meat substitutes and for recognizing the greenhouse gas impact of animal farming.1 Visit www.TheGatesNotes.com for more info on this, and to send a note of encouragement.
Cheers to the European Union for blocking the sale of cosmetics with ingredients tested on animals. In 2004 they banned the sale of cosmetics, which, as final products, were tested on animals. Now, individual ingredients can’t be tested either. Sales into the EU will have to conform. We hope to see more countries enact similar policies soon.
Lifetime Jeer recipient Ted Nugent has achieved a whole new level of depravity by machine-gunning 455 wild pigs in a killing spree from a helicopter, dedicating the massacre to — and I quote — “Bill Maher and animal-rights freaks.” This wanton bloodbath illustrates where our gun culture is taking us.2
Jeers to Canada, the World Wildlife Fund and Greenpeace for arguing at this year’s CITES summit (for more information about CITES, see Lee Hall’s article in this issue) that polar bear hunting and parts trading is sustainable and ought to continue. This means at least another three years of hunting for polar bears in Canada (the only country where this happens), allowing for more markets to open up on the trade of their body parts. Shame on the WWF and Greenpeace for their treachery to polar bears.3
Rap artist Jay-Z receives a Jeer for his custom sneakers made from the skins of several different species, including anacondas, stingrays, crocodiles and elephants. To tell Jay-Z animals need their skin more than he needs a new pair of shoes, write to:
The 40/40 Club
6 W. 25th Street
New York, NY 10010-2703
A Jeer goes to Canadian country pop singer-songwriter Shania Twain. A self-identified vegetarian, Twain might know better than to use animals for entertainment. Her ‘Still the One’ two-year concert series at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas features a number of horses in the act, as they’re paraded around the stage during the performance. Horses are not stage props, and we ask that you write Shania and remind her of this:
54 Music Square East
Nashville, TN 37203
On Twitter: @ShaniaTwain
And please write to Caesars Palace and tell them you won’t be visiting their resorts until they stop allowing acts with animals:
Attn: Gary Selesner, President
3570 Las Vegas Boulevard South
Las Vegas, NV 89109
- 1. Bob Weber for The Canadian Press: “Inuit, Scientists Say Defeat on Polar Bear Trade Ban Not Final” – The Windsor Star (7 Mar. 2013).
- 2. See Wisconsin Wildlife Ethic:
- 3. Bob Weber for The Canadian Press: “Inuit, Scientists Say Defeat on Polar Bear Trade Ban Not Final” – The Windsor Star (7 Mar. 2013).
When my dog Lulu was just two months old, we took her to a park a couple of miles from our house. It was a picturesque February day. A foot of pristine snow seemed like perfect puppy playtime.
This was Lulu’s first visit to the park, and the first time she’d met another dog — save for the one she now lived with. Once we arrived, we took both Lulu and Delilah off their leashes, although the park is not fenced in. The snow, and the lack of traffic which resulted from it, offered a false sense of security.
Other dogs were at the park, too, all kinds and sizes, creating a spinning funnel of snow as they leapt, rolled, dug and chased one another. Lulu was horrified. We didn’t know Lulu well enough yet to know she was shy, afraid, territorial; we didn’t know she’d run for her life if another dog approached her. And that’s just what she did when another dog passively sniffed her.
I panicked, imagining Lulu lost forever or dead, struck by a car or snowplow. Eight-week-old puppies can run like cheetahs and disappear before your very eyes. In a blink, Lulu was gone.
We canvassed the neighborhood, looking for tracks, calling out a name she really didn’t know yet. We asked strangers: “Have you seen a tiny Boston Terrier running like lightning?”
We eventually headed home with our other dog. We’d create a game plan; make some calls; figure it out. But when we reached our front door, there she was: Lulu, sitting calmly — a look on her face as if to ask: “What took you so long?”
Fourteen years later, I am still awestruck by Lulu’s inner GPS. She always knows where we are; her memory defies explanation. My human abilities pale in comparison. I could easily get lost driving around the block.
Our experience is hardly unique. Brad Steiger and Sherry Hansen Steiger wrote a fascinating new book, Four-Legged Miracles: Heartwarming Takes of Lost Dogs’ Journeys Home (St. Martins 2013). There’s the story of Bobbie, a collie who made his way back home to Oregon all the way from Indiana — an unfathomable 3,000-mile journey. Perhaps most astoundingly, the journey is almost completely documented: an investigation was launched by the humane society in Oregon, and they received hundreds of letters by people who’d met the dog along his journey back home. The details are harrowing, inspirational and beautiful. There are stories of dogs lost at sea, stuck in wells, escaping abusive households. The one thing they all have in common is a happy ending; best of all, all of these stories are true.
In January 2013, The New York Times ran the story of Holly, the cat who got lost 190 miles from home. The story ended up the most-emailed for days on end, fascinating people with what cats are capable of and how they know things that humans cannot comprehend.
After being regaled with unbelievable tales of smarts and triumphs of nonhuman animals, how I love to hear a scientist say: “I have no idea how they can do that!”
Cats are thought to be able to smell across great distances. Dogs might have inherited wolves’ ability to navigate using magnetic clues. While we know that birds memorize geographical maps and they observe the angle of the sun, with dogs and cats it’s a question mark — an endlessly fascinating one.
Lulu understands my language too. She knows the difference, 100% of the time, between “sock toy” and “rope toy” (and other toys to which I’ve assigned random names), though I’ve never attempted to teach her. She’s led me in the right direction on hiking trails numerous times, and on city streets. Now, as a senior dog who’s quickly losing her sight and hearing, she hasn’t lost her ability to know exactly where she is. If there’s a turtle nearby she’ll find it. She can still sniff out acorns — a favorite foraged snack — from far away; and I’ve no doubt, no matter where we are, she still knows where home is.
CANADA GEESE TARGETED ON NORTHEASTERN GOLF COURSES
Canada geese, native to North America, are beloved by devoted bird-watchers and casual park visitors alike. Emotionally intelligent birds, the geese bond strongly to their families and communities.
The profusion of artificial lakes and ponds around recreational parks has invited Canada geese to reside in some areas of the United States year-round. Parks offer perfect conditions for geese to settle and reproduce. Open space provides good visibility when predators draw near. And though there are civilized methods to safely and effectively deter geese from nesting on recreational parks and golf greens, some land managers have opted for a quick and deadly fix.
In Connecticut, a group of hunters entered Richter Park Golf Course in Danbury, with the aim of killing geese living there.
And in New York City parks, since roundups and gassings of Canada geese began in 2009, hundreds of golf-course geese have been apprehended and killed by federal agriculture agents during the birds’ summer flightless phase.
Eric Yount is the course superintendent at Dyker Beach golf course, a municipal park in Brooklyn, New York. Yount admits to using “harassment techniques” but won’t kill geese.
“They eat the grass — but then, we make it better for them when we fertilize it,” Yount told us.
“It’s like growing superfood for them. I don’t think killing them is necessary. Mother Nature dictates a lot of what we do here and we have to adapt to her, not the other way around.”
Yount and several other managers were open to discussing how they handle geese. But Robert Dorsch, superintendent at Connecticut’s Richter Park, did not return phone calls. Other Richter Park employees lack the knowledge to answer our questions. They don’t know why geese are being shot around the golf course, let alone so close to humans and pets.
A greens keeper at a City of New York Parks and Recreation golf club in Queens County, who spoke anonymously, said the nearby Douglaston Golf Course and Marine Park Golf Course in Brooklyn have killed geese, but not with guns: “It’s too dangerous to shoot in the New York City area. They just call the USDA to take care of it for them. They don’t have time to try lots of things out; they have to get the people into the parks when the season opens.”
Shooting permission is comparatively easy to get in Connecticut. Kelly Kubik manages the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection Migratory Gamebird Program at the Franklin Swamp Wildlife Management Area. Kubik told us that depredation permits can be requested online — for free if the geese are not migratory. An applicant must be a licensed hunter with a firearm purchaser identification card and the landowner’s permission to shoot. The DEEP website says Connecticut allows “lethal control of resident Canada geese outside of regulated hunting seasons and without a Federal permit. These actions include the destruction of resident Canada goose nests and eggs and the take of adult geese.”
People’s refusal to co-exist with nature, their sense of self-entitlement, is behind the prevailing view in wildlife agencies of Canada geese as a “nuisance species” that needs to be managed, either through killing or harassment. Techniques include invasive, misguided practices like egg addling and oiling, deploying goose-chasing dogs, and setting up pyrotechnics and propane cannons to frighten the birds.
But unless landscapes and habitats are modified, geese will return to attractive areas. Friends of Animals’ Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual has details and solutions. Often, goose droppings are the actual “nuisance”— not the geese. Of course, the first response from groundskeepers should involve a protocol to clean up the droppings.
What You Can Do
Call recreational areas and golf courses to find out if they permit killing of Canada geese. If they do, then urge them to stop.
Contact your local representatives and let them know about it. (They might not, especially if shootings happen on private land.) Express your concern for the geese, and for the safety of people and their pets. Remember, your voice is connected with a vote, and representatives should respect and address your concerns.
Print out our Canada Goose Habitat Modification Manual, written by ornithologist Donald Heintzelman. Or order multiple copies from our online store. Distribute copies to course managers, community leaders, people running for office, and active members of the community.
And don’t forget to tell them Friends of Animals sent you.
Complex Lives; Unjust Deaths
Would you pay $1,500 for a pair of Christian Louboutin python skin pumps? How about $1,900 for a pair of men’s Prada lizard loafers?
If you think that’s high, try Barney’s lizard bags at $10,200, a Fendi python skin bag for $37,000, or a Gucci crocodile duffel bag, priced to sell at $48,000. A Hermes crocodile t-shirt will set you back $91,500. This skin trade is worth billions; python skins alone account for an estimated U.S. $1 billion annually.
For some, these “must-have” items conjure up elegance and style, sophistication and exclusivity. They are “hot” and very “sexy” – if current fashion media, designers and various style icons are to be believed. Unfortunately, the more “hot” and “sexy” reptile accessories become, the more wild populations may be affected and the more reptiles will suffer.
Traffic, a wildlife trade monitoring organization, estimated that from 2000 to 2005, 3.4 million lizard, 2.9 million crocodile, and 3.4 million snake skins were imported into the European Union alone.
A more recent report, conducted by International Trade Centre (ITC), found that nearly a half million python skins are exported from southeast Asia each year, mainly for the European fashion industry. The group also found that the illegal trade might be as extensive as the legal trade.
The market relies partly on “farms” and partly on animals taken from fragile ecosystems, where the depletion of one species can have profound effects on others. No matter where they come from, though, or whether their skins are legally or illegally traded, these animals often experience extremely cruel deaths. Some of the skins you see sitting in the shop windows or being paraded down the streets could very well have been stripped from their original owners while the animal was still alive.
Many reptile traders, and most of the people wearing reptile skins, appear to believe the creatures are “cold-blooded” and therefore not capable of feeling pain. In fact, reptiles are ectothermic: their ability to regulate their body temperature is limited, so their own temperature is largely determined by the ambient air temperature. As they possess typical vertebrate nervous systems, and respond to painful stimuli similar to the way we do, there is every reason to believe that they feel pain much as we do, says Prof. Gordon M. Burghardt, previous editor of the Journal of Comparative Psychology and a world expert in reptilian behaviour. In fact, reputable veterinarians specializing in reptiles recognize the creatures’ ability to feel pain, and use analgesia (pain relief) during any potentially painful procedures.
Quite simply, reptiles do not lack physical sensation or sensitivity; they feel pain.
Weird and wonderful
I’m lucky. For years I was able to watch wild reptiles lead natural lives in a small forest on the western edge of Africa. Hour after hour, month after month, year after year, I studied red colobus monkeys in The Gambia. But often, the weird and wonderful reptiles fascinated me most. My day was incomplete without a brief glimpse of reptilian life.
Every day a different story unfolded from the forest — from the sump in the woodland savannah where endangered dwarf crocodiles watched me jump over them as they retreated; from the lantana scrub that hid a dead python with a dead adult female colobus in its belly. From the base of a sinjango tree, where a young spitting cobra dribbled venom on my boots. Or the pool where Nile crocodiles fed on a large rock python. At another pool, an adult crocodile swam for days, with a mouth full of a dead green monkey, while six or seven baby crocodiles hitched rides on the crocodile’s head and back, and ripped off chunks of putrid monkey meat. Once, in a clearing in the woodland savannah, a python regurgitated a newborn bushbuck antelope.
One afternoon, as I leant against a fafajambo tree at the edge of a swamp, a black-sided skink crawled up my leg, sat on my lap and appeared to fall asleep. Another afternoon, as I sat on the ground watching the red colobus feasting on mendico fruits above my head, a black cobra slid into my backpack, slithered around my notebooks, water bottle, compass and muddy raincoat, and slid out again. These were my magical moments, my enchanted places. These were the things I never saw coming.
Rock pythons are in a class of their own. It is, after all, a bit unnerving to be confronted with yards upon yards of slithering muscle coming straight at you. Although their vision is poor and they don’t have ears, their senses are finely tuned. They can see infrared, feel vibrations, and sense chemical stimuli or scents with their super-sensitive forked tongues. Stretchy skin, mobile jaws, and more than 300 vertebrae enable them to catch and feed on prey their own body size, while their metabolism lets them to go months without eating. And their social life is no less interesting. Walking through a clearing one day I came across six pythons sliding over, under and around each other, taking part in a marvellous orgy that lasted for hours.
And the crocodiles? No less amazing. Often I would sit by a lily-pad covered pool and watch these dominance-obsessed reptiles engage in spectacular battles: spraying water, slapping tails, leaping out of the pool and crashing down again, chasing each other from shore to shore. Occasionally I was treated to a full-scale romantic interlude. Except for the sporadic snorting, their mating rituals are synchronized ballets of nudging, submerging, tail-waving, slapping and floating. These strange reptiles — gentle parents, fierce antagonists and balletic lovers — once shared the world with T.Rex and Brontosaurus. They used to be worshipped, but now they are hunted, slain, tanned and worn as shoes or carried as handbags by the fashionistas.
Huge monitor lizards climb trees, scuttle into underground burrows and termite mounds, waddle through the savannah and swim across pools. They make use of everypossible habitat type. They eat fruits, seeds, insects, eggs, birds, snails, frogs, small mammals, carrion and almost anything else they can fit into their mouths — until the dry season, when they fast. These sharp-toothed, stocky-tailed, strong-clawed creatures are well adapted to fight off predators — except the human kind.
Then there are the small chameleons, with tongues longer than their bodies. One day I almost stepped on two lime-green chameleons mating on a sandy grey path. Contorted into one lump, looking in two different directions, they could have become prey to any snake or bird, trod on by any human or antelope, or been attacked by the nearby line of safari ants. Oblivious to all potential danger.
These reptiles — the rock pythons, the crocodiles, the monitor lizards, the chameleons — have extremely rich social lives. They are not automatons.
Year of the Snake
Reptiles are not endowed with soft, cuddly bodies or big round eyes. When they get attention from the general public, it’s often in contempt and horror. More often than not, they are appreciated only after they have been killed. This was made clear to me far away from the Gambian forest, in the middle of trendy Islington, north London, where I overheard a female shop assistant and a male customer talking.
He: (Pointing to a row of wallets): Is that real crocodile skin?
She: No, unfortunately. They’re fake.
He: There is nothing like the real thing. I used to have a real one but it was stolen, so I need to replace it. Why would someone make fake ones?
She: I know. It’s such a shame. There is nothing like the real thing.
I wanted to explain, in a measured voice, that reptiles are declining throughout the world, that they can feel pain. I wanted to change their perception of reptiles.
Instead I probably alienated them when my banshee voice took over, shouting:
Have you ever considered that it might be better for the reptiles if they’re left in their natural habitat and aren’t used for draining your bank balance and massaging your fashion ego?
2013 is the Chinese year of the snake. Will this be the year that snakes and their many reptilian relatives benefit from a new awareness?
Or will they continue to be slaughtered for vanity?
Dawn Starin, an honorary research associate at University College London, has spent decades doing field research in Africa and Asia. Her articles have appeared in publications as varied as The Humanist, The Ecologist, Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, Natural History, New Internationalist, New Statesman, and the New York Times. A different version of this piece has appeared in In These Times.