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Tag: zoos

Protecting animals just got a lot harder

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For journalists, animal welfare activists and all Americans, accessing information that can help protect animals just got a lot harder.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture on Friday abruptly removed inspection reports and other information from its website that keeps tabs on the treatment of animals at research laboratories, zoos, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) said court rulings and privacy laws were responsible for the decision, though many suspect President Trump or members of his transition team are behind it.

APHIS said the removed documents, which included records of enforcement actions against violators of the Animal Welfare Act and the Horse Protection Act, would now be accessible only through Freedom of Information Act requests.

Those can take up to a year or more to be approved.

The records that had been available were frequently used by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animal treatment at circuses, research laboratories, zoos and puppy mills.

lolitakillerwhaleAnimal welfare organizations say the removal of the information will allow animal abuse to go unchecked.

“The USDA action cloaks even the worst puppy mills in secrecy and allows abusers of Tennessee walking horses, zoo animals and lab animals to hide even the worst track records in animal welfare,” said John Goodwin, senior director of the Humane Society’s Stop Puppy Mills Campaign.

“This move makes it IMPOSSIBLE to find out where animals are located, their treatment and any violations, essentially giving carte blanche to anyone to hide animal violations, and violate animal welfare laws, among other things,” the Beagle Freedom Project said in a statement on Facebook.

The lack of immediately accessible inspection reports is expected to cause problems in seven states that currently require pet stores to source puppies from breeders with clean USDA inspection reports. No longer will they have a quick way to check on that.

In a statement, Kathy Guillermo, the senior vice president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called it “a shameful attempt to keep the public from knowing when and which laws and regulations have been violated. Many federally registered and licensed facilities have long histories of violations that have caused terrible suffering.”

Whether President Trump is directly responsible for the website purging isn’t clear, but one member of his USDA transition team, Brian Klippenstein, has a long history of fighting animal welfare organizations.

Klippenstein is executive director of Protect the Harvest, a group that, among other things, has opposed legislation to regulate puppy mills. The group was started by Forrest Lucas, an oil magnate, cattle rancher and arch nemesis of the Humane Society of the United States.

The change came two days after U.S. Rep. Ken Calvert, a California Republican, introduced a bill calling for more transparency and a reduction in testing on animals at government research labs.

beagle-5The bill is backed by an advocacy group, the White Coat Waste Project, which has been using the USDA-APHIS database to gather much of its information on animal testing at hundreds of federal laboratories.

“There was already a troubling lack of transparency about what happens in government-funded labs,” said Justin Goodman, the group’s vice president for advocacy and policy. “This was a very important resource for us, and for every animal organization, in terms of tracking patterns of animal use and compliance, whether it’s in labs or other settings.”

The USDA web page where the information was located now brings up the announcement about its removal.

The Humane Society of the United States has threatened to sue the Agriculture Department if the decision to block Internet access to the database isn’t reversed.

“We intend to sue them unless they take remedial action here,” Humane Society President and CEO Wayne Pacelle told TIME. “The clock starts ticking immediately.”

monkeyThe searchable database allowed anyone to check government regulation of how animals are treated at about 9,000 zoos, circuses, research laboratories, dog breeding operations and other facilities.

Up until late last week, the site also allowed dog buyers to look up specific breeders by license number and see any possible violations under the breeder’s name before buying the animal.

“I’m very concerned that there will be no incentive for breeders or research labs or any of these facilities to comply because the public won’t know,” said Elizabeth Oreck, national manager of puppy mill initiatives for Best Friends Animal Society.

“It’s going to impact every species of animals,” she added. “There shouldn’t be any reason to hide inspection reports for a dog breeding facility or a research lab. There shouldn’t be any need to keep from the public how many animals you have [in] your facility or whether or not you’re complying with care standards. That alone is a big red flag for everybody.”

“The posting of these documents has been an invaluable tool in rooting out some of the worst abuses that are occurring,” HSUS CEO Pacelle said. “Essentially, this is now going to give a bit of a get-out-of-jail card to horse soring, puppy mills, delinquent roadside zoos and animals research labs that are flouting the law.”

The Humane Society says the Agriculture Department is required to make its inspection records at animal research facilities public under a court order.

HSUS sued the government in 2005 over public access to the reports and won a settlement in 2009 that directed the Agriculture Department to post certain data on its website related to research on animals. That information, the Humane Society said, was among the data that was just purged from government website.

The USDA did not comment on the Humane Society’s threat of legal action.

In a statement explaining the change late last week, APHIS cited a year-long “comprehensive review” of public information on its website.

“Based on our commitment to being transparent, remaining responsive to our stakeholders’ informational needs, and maintaining the privacy rights of individuals, APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Horse Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act that contain personal information,” the statement said.

“Going forward, APHIS will remove from its website inspection reports, regulatory correspondence, research facility annual reports, and enforcement records that have not received final adjudication,” the statement added.

rabbitYesterday, the USDA released another statement, saying the change had nothing to do with the new administration:

“In 2016, well before the change of Administration, APHIS decided to make adjustments to the posting of regulatory records. In addition, APHIS is currently involved in litigation concerning, among other issues, information posted on the agency’s website. While the agency is vigorously defending against this litigation, in an abundance of caution, the agency is taking additional measures to protect individual privacy. These decisions are not final. Adjustments may be made regarding information appropriate for release and posting.”

Criticism of the change has not been limited to animal welfare activists.

Speaking of Research, an international organization that supports laboratory use of research animals, said in a blog post:

“When information is hidden … the public wonders what is being hidden and why, and researchers must devote even more resources to combating the public perception that they are not transparent.”

Gorilla still mourning death of her mate

Ever since her mate at the Seoul Zoo died last month, a female gorilla named Gorina has been showing signs of depression, zookeepers say.

Gorina and her 49-year-old mate Gorirong, who died last month of old age, had been cohabitating for 24 years.

And even though they didn’t always get along, the female Lowland Gorilla now sits still for days, gazing vacantly at the sky, according to the JoongAng Daily. Her fur has become brittle and she has exhibited violent behavior.

In an attempt to help Gorina, the only remaining Lowland Gorilla in the country, staff at the Seoul Zoo are trying everything from providing entertainment and reading material to making special meals. 

Park Hyeon-tak, a zookeeper at Seoul Zoo who has been taking care of the gorilla couple for four years, said Gorina seems to be suffering from depression.

Gorirong and Gorina began living together 24 years ago when Gorirong was transferred from a zoo in Africa. Together, they were the zoo’s most popular attraction. Members of a critically endangered species, they failed to produce any offspring.

(Photo: from the flickr page of fPat)

India to free zoo and circus elephants

elephantsAll elephants living in Indian zoos and circuses will be moved to wildlife parks and game sanctuaries where the animals can graze more freely, officials at Indian’s Central Zoo Authority announced earlier this month.

The order followed complaints and pressure from animal rights activists about elephants that are kept in captivity, often chained for long hours and unable to roam.

The elephants are to be moved to “elephant camps” run by the government’s forest department and located near protected areas and national parks. There they would be able to roam and graze freely, but “mahouts,” or traditional elephant trainers, would still keep an eye on them, according to an Associated Press report.

The decision affects around 140 elephants in 26 zoos and 16 circuses in the country. It does not affect the 3,500 elephants that live in captivity in temples, or logging camps where they are used to lift timber.

Research has shown that elephants in the wild live longer and have better health and reproductive records than those in captivity. Zoo elephants often die prematurely and contract diseases or suffer obesity and arthritis more frequently than in their natural habitats.

India has an estimated 28,000 wild elephants living in forest reserves and national parks, mainly in the southern and northeastern parts of the country.

Elephant treadmill will train Iditarod dogs

maggieWhat do you do with an ever-so-slightly used $100,000 elephant treadmill?

If you’re a zoo in Alaska, you do the same thing you did with your captive elephant — admit it was a mistake and find it a new home.

The Alaska Zoo had the treadmill custom made so that Maggie the elephant — fat, cold and lonely being the only elephant in Alaska — could get some exercise in her otherwise cramped quarters. When the zoo finally came to its senses and shipped Maggie to a sanctuary in northern California, that left them with a contraption that wasn’t in too great demand. Not the sort of thing you can put out at the yard sale. Though the zoo did try selling it on Craigslist.

While the zoo didn’t get paid for the treadmill, they did find a home for it: Iditarod musher Martin Buser has hauled it to his kennel to be used to train his dogs for the 1,150-mile race, the Alaska Dispatch reports.

While he won’t have it reassembled in time to train dogs for the coming race, Buser, a four-time Iditarod winner, expects to use it in the future. Built for an 8,000-pound elephant, it’s 10,000 pounds and 22 feet long, more than big enough to let a whole team of dogs run on at once.

elephant_treadmillAt Buser’s Happy Trails Kennels, he plans to use it to let his dogs run long distances while getting nowhere, invite scientists to use it to learn more about sled dogs, and possibly entertain tourists who want to see a team of dogs run long distances without getting anywhere — like the Iditarod, only without the freezing cold or the breathtaking scenery.

Maggie the elephant left the Alaska Zoo in 2007, after several years of controversy over whether she should ever have been brought there in the first place.

The treadmill was the zoo’s attempt to get Maggie exercising through Alaska’s long winters. It was one of the steps the zoo took to improve her controversial and cramped living conditions. Critics argued she should be in a warmer climate , with more open space, where she could walk outdoors year-round and be with other elephants.

But the zoo decided to try the treadmill experiment first. It didn’t work out, zoo officials admitted. Maggie would have nothing to do with the treadmill — an objection to which we can relate.

At that point, the zoo gave up and loaded Maggie on an Air Force C-17 for a flight to northern California, where, thanks in part to funding from animal activist/game show host Bob Barker, she’s living the rest of her life at ARK 2000, an animal sanctuary in San Andreas operated by the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS).

After Maggie left town, Buser called the zoo and inquired about the machine. In exchange for the treadmill, Buser added the zoo to his list of official sponsors.

In addition to drawing tourists, Buser says the treadmill will allow for closer scientific research of his sled dogs. Instruments like oxygen consumption masks and heart rate monitors can yield valuable information, but can’t be used when the dogs are running outside.

Sled dogs cruise at 10 to 12 mph, the Swiss-born Buser said, but he’d like to get the treadmill up to 20 mph so he can put his dogs through some speed workouts. Buser said he probably won’t get his dogs on the treadmill until after the coming Iditarod, which has its ceremonial start in Anchorage on March 6.

Abandoned dog finds home with elephants

A puppy dumped on the side of a road in Alvin, Texas, is now enjoying life with the elephants at a Houston Zoo.

It was Christmas Eve when Alicia Kemery’s neighbor saw someone in a truck dump the pup, a terrier mix only about two months old. The neighbor called Kemery, a keeper at the Houston Zoo, who provided the dog with shelter at her home. Two weeks later — already having five dogs of her own — Kemery sent a zoo-wide e-mail asking if anyone wanted to adopt the black-and-white pup.

Daryl Hoffman, large mammals curator, replied, saying he’d been thinking about adding a dog to the elephant barn — an increasingly popular practice at zoos. Max was an instant hit as soon as he walked into the McNair Asian Elephant Habitat.

Only a few of the elephants were a bit apprehensive when the dog first joined the keepers. “It was this new small thing around, and they didn’t really know what a dog was,” said Dan Calarco, part-time elephant keeper.

But since then Max has settled into a routine with the elephants, the Houston Chronicle reports. After breakfast, he sniffs around the compound until it’s time for the keepers to clean the elephant yard. That signals playtime for Max who loves to fetch, roll and chase the ball that keepers toss for him while they work.

Chapter Two: Cute Knut’s loot

As the Berlin Zoo continued to make money off of Knut (pronounced kuh-NOOT), another zoo decided this year it deserved a piece of the action.

Tierpark Neumuenster animal park filed a lawsuit against the Berlin Zoo, saying that, in exchange for loaning Knut’s father, Lars, to the Berlin Zoo for breeding purposes, it deserved some of the profits the Berlin Zoo was raking in. Originally, the Berlin Zoo had promised the first surviving cub to them, the Neumuenster zoo claimed in the lawsuit.

While it wasn’t seeking Knut, the Neumuenster zoo argued it was entitled to some of the revenue. The lawsuit was later dropped and an out-of-court settlement reportedly reached.

By the time of this news report, Knut wasn’t so little anymore. He was up to 243 pounds — no longer exactly cuddly, but still drawing visitors.

A couple of months after it, Knut’s caretaker, Thomas Doerflein, who had bottle fed Knut as a cub and slept beside him at night, died, at 44, of a heart attack.

In effect, he was Knut’s daddy. Between his death, and the money-grubbing, Knut’s story was getting a little less heartwarming, but Knut himself remained fat, happy and secure in his home at the zoo.

Well, at least fat and happy.

Happy Knut Year? This story bears watching

We start with a happy song, for it was, mostly, a happy time — the Berlin Zoo had seen the birth of its first polar bear to survive infancy in 30 years.

Even though the cub was rejected by its mother, and had to be rescued with a fish net, and kept in an incubator for 44 days, and nursed through infancy by a loving human caretaker around the clock, Germany, and the world, thrilled to the sight of Knut. He was white and fluffy and cute. And little.

Some experts said it was a mistake to go to all the trouble — that zookeepers should let him die. But humans rallied in his support. A group of children protested at the zoo, holding up placards reading “Knut Must Live” and “We Love Knut.” The zoo was bombarded with emails, asking for the cub’s life to be spared.

The zoo took heed, and vowed to never harm Knut.

Born in late 2006, Knut was introduced to the world in March, 2007, at which time the Berlin Zoo — noting his public appeal — registered Knut as a trademark.

As Knut’s popularity soared, so did the zoo’s stock — and its attendance figures.

Other companies profited from Knut as well, by developing themed products — from ringtones to cuddly toys.

A toy company called Steiff produced several Knut-based plush toys, promising the money raised from the sale would be used to renovate the polar bear enclosure at the zoo. A candy company released “Cuddly Knut,” a raspberry-flavored gummy bear and pledged to donate a percentage of proceeds to the zoo as well.

There were happy songs written about Newt, like the one you’re hearing now, and Knut has also been the subject of books and movies. He appeared in March 2007 on the cover of the German Vanity Fair magazine, and lent his name to environmental causes, such as stopping global warming, which is threatening to send polar bears into extinction.

For cute little Knut, everything appeared headed to happily ever after.