Chimps (Nearly) Awarded Human Rights

In a landmark ruling, two chimpanzees, imprisoned and abused for research, were temporarily granted legal ‘personhood’ status for the first time. The Nonhuman Rights Project launched a lawsuit against Stony Brook University in New York requesting the transfer of two research chimps, Hercules and Leo, to the Save the Chimps Florida animal sanctuary in Florida.

The activists are focused on securing the freedom of the two chimps, but their case has massive implications for exploited animals everywhere – it could potentially pave the way for other animals to gain legal status.

The Nonhuman Rights Project campaigns for primates to be granted human rights because of their intelligence and complex emotional and social lives. The activists’ mission statement demonstrates a commitment to the attainment of legal rights for some nonhuman species, which would liberate them from cruel, human exploitation, such as animal testing and circus performances.

Our mission is to change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.

To be clear, the judge has not yet definitively declared the chimpanzees to have legal rights, as she later amended the order to strike the words ‘writ of habeas corpus,‘ as this would imply they are legal persons. The Nonhuman Rights Project do, however, remain positive, as this is a good opportunity to argue their case for basic human rights to be conferred on apes.

These are not the first primates to come close to gaining enough legal rights to free them from exploitation. The Great Ape Project sought to order the release of Jimmy from a zoo near Rio de Janeiro, but was unsuccessful.

The Great Ape Project was founded in 1993 and includes amongst its ranks Jane Goodall, Peter Singer and Richard Dawkins. It advocates that the great apes (chimpanzees, gorillas, bonobos and orangutans) should be granted a UN declaration protecting their right to life, their individual liberty, and prohibiting torture.

You can support the great apes’ right to liberty, life and the freedom from torture, by signing the petition for a world declaration on great apes rights here.

Mad Hunter Claims To Be Conservationist

Animal lover and activist Ricky Gervais recently tweeted a photo of huntress Rebecca Francis posing next to the bull giraffe she shot and killed. Gervais accompanied the tweet with this comment:

What must’ve happened to you in your life to make you want to kill a beautiful animal & then lie next to it smiling?

Francis won the reality TV Show Extreme Huntress five years ago, and has since been hosting NBC show ‘Eye of the Hunter’, but she has received a backlash of abuse since Gervais challenged her.

Francis stands by the photo, which was taken five years ago, claiming that in posing with this dead giraffe she was honouring its life. Facebook page HuntingLife.com, which shares macabre photos of proud hunters posing next to the bodies of animals they have shot and killed for fun, supported her actions and shared the following statement from Francis:

When I was in Africa five years ago I was of the mindset that I would never shoot a giraffe. I was approached toward the end of my hunt with a unique circumstance. They showed me this beautiful old bull giraffe that was wandering all alone. He had been kicked out of the herd by a younger and stronger bull. He was past his breeding years and very close to death. They asked me if I would preserve this giraffe by providing all the locals with food and other means of survival. He was inevitably going to die soon and he could either be wasted or utilized by the local people. I chose to honor his life by providing others with his uses and I do not regret it for one second. Once he was down there were people waiting to take his meat. They also took his tail to make jewelry, his bones to make other things, and did not waste a single part of him. I am grateful to be a part of something so good.

Francis has since suggested that the abuse stems from a dislike of female hunters, prompting Gervais to sarcastically tweet:

“I kill lions, giraffes & bears with guns & bows and arrows then pose grinning. Why don’t people like me? Must be because they’re sexist”
— Ricky Gervais (@rickygervais) April 17, 2015

Trophy hunters have often tried to convince us that they are, in fact, conservationists and they kill endangered game species in order to preserve them. If this argument seems counter-intuitive, that’s because it is.

Firstly, you don’t kill what you claim to protect. Secondly, the money big game hunters pay to shoot animals on organised, canned hunts goes towards farming more animals for the slaughter, rather than  protecting endangered species. Thirdly, if hunting were ever to be labelled ‘conservation’, hunts would need to be closely monitored by state bodies and scientific organisations.

Read this post by One Green Planet for a more detailed explanation of how trophy hunting is not motivated by conservation aims.

Secret Gibbon Whispers Translated By Scientists

Since the 1940s, we have known that gibbons use a secret language to communicate, but only now, with ultra sensitive equipment, have scientists been able to decipher their unusual calls. This research could give us clues to the evolution of human language.

Lar gibbons, or the white-handed gibbon, are an endangered primate, usually found in Thailand, Laos or Malaysia. Every morning, the gibbon family gathers at the edge of its territory, and sings out a ‘great call’, a duet between the breeding pair, each pair exhibiting a unique variation of the family song.

Lar gibbons can produce sounds so soft that they can’t be easily heard by the human ear. Scientists from Durham University have managed to record these calls by spending four months following them through the forests of North-eastern Thailand, and they have published their analysis in the BMC Evolutionary Biology journal.

The team found that there were different calls or ‘words’ for a range of predators, including leopards, tigers, pythons and eagles. The whispers even distinguished between different types of birds even when they were physically quite similar, such as eagle owls and serpent eagles.

The gibbons use over 450 ‘hoo’ sounds, and each ‘word’ or ‘call’ serves a different purpose in a specific context. This new research suggests that, according to the lead scientist, Dr Esther Clark:

…lar gibbons are able to generate significant, context-dependent acoustic variation within their main social call, which potentially allows recipients to make inferences about the external events experienced by the caller.

You can listen to the lar gibbons’ call here:

What’s Wrong With Animal-Friendly Animal Products?

The ethical consumer cannot simply trust a brand claiming to be animal or environmentally friendly; we all have a responsibility to do a bit of research to make sure a product is as ethical as it claims.

If the ethical exploitation of animals is at all possible, then it must meet certain welfare standards. The RSPCA ‘Freedom Food’ label is one brand which claims to raise and slaughter animals in better conditions than the rest of the meat and dairy industry, and it distances itself from the evils of factory farming.

Hillside is an animal sanctuary located in Norfolk, which has conducted several investigations into Freedom Farms, and has uncovered evidence of animals suffering conditions as bad as, and sometimes worse than traditional farms.

The idea behind RSPCA monitored farms is a noble one, though it has been repeatedly shown to be a failed model. Freedom Food is a charity set up over 20 years ago to ensure that every aspect of those animals’ lives meet the high welfare standards of the RSPCA.

Freedom Food is thee only UK assurance and food labelling scheme dedicated solely to improving farm animal welfare.

However, Hillside has filmed the treatment of animals on various Freedom Food farms in the UK and found that those standards of animal welfare are simply not being met. Recent footage shows chickens living in desperate conditions, crammed into tiny containers, and left to suffer with untreated wounds. According to this report in The Mirror:

Many of the birds had lost half their feathers and clearly had painful leg deformities. The filthy shed floor was littered with corpses, some in an advanced state of decomposition.

The problem with failing Freedom Food farms is widespread, as this report into pig farming demonstrates. However, this is a brand that is not doing too badly compared with other so-called ‘ethical’ brands. A report in the Independent rated Freedom Food as second, with Soil Association scoring 9/10 in ensuring the highest welfare standards were met on its certified farms.

What you should about ‘High-welfare’ animal products

 The Freedom Food label does not mean ‘free range’. The RSPCA does not feel it necessary that broiler chickens ever experience the outside.

– Freedom Food birds reach slaughter weight within just 49 days; in the wild, it takes chickens around three months to reach adult size. Leg and hip injuries are common place on intensive farms, and they have also been seen on Freedom Food farms.

– Sows are still forced to give birth and suckle their young for around 4 weeks in farrowing crates, which are so small that they cannot move.

– Some ‘free-range’ labels claim that piglets are either ‘outdoor-bred’ or outdoor-reared.’ In both cases, piglets might be bred or reared outdoors for several months but they are moved indoors into fattening units, which are cramped and overcrowded, and provide no stimulation.

– ‘Organic’ means that the use of chemicals in animal feed is prohibited. Arguably, animals lead slightly better lives on organic farms, but male chicks are still gassed at birth and male calves are still shot because they are of no use in the dairy industry.

Animal Aid claims:

There is no humane meat. Animals’ lives are as
important to them as ours are to us and none go to
the knife willingly. Choosing organic, free-range or
Freedom Food over standard meat, milk or eggs,
continues to cause pain and suffering, and wastes
natural resources.

The Real Easter Bunnies

Spring has sprung, and, for animal shelters worldwide, that means the imminent arrival of hundreds of discarded bunnies in the weeks following Easter.

Rabbits do not obey the myths surrounding them: they don’t like to be handled by humans, they dislike being confined in cages, and, most annoyingly for homeowners, rabbits can chew through pretty much anything. They just don’t stop chewing.

When pet stores sell their Easter bunnies, the cute little creatures are small, fluffy and adorable. Hard for most parents to resist. But they grow, and, if, paired up with another rabbit, they breed. And breed and breed and breed. Like rabbits.

Many families give up on their Easter critters within weeks, and animal shelters are consequently overwhelmed. Buying Easter bunnies encourages bad breeding practices that result in a surplus of bunnies from consumers’ ill-conceived purchases.

80% of easter bunnies end up in shelters and those are the lucky ones – some families assume bunnies will be better off in the wild, so release them. However, bunnies are prey animals, and not used to the wild so they simply won’t survive.

Red Door Animal Shelter attempt to discredit the myths surrounding bunnies so consumers can make informed decisions before making an impulse purchase.

Last Ditch Attempt to Save Endangered Rhinos

A new conservationist project is underway in South Africa to airlift rhinos to safety.

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The project is being managed by Rhinos Without Borders, a new organisation with approximately $280,000 or crowdfunded money, which aims to remove rhinos from overcrowded areas in South Africa to an undisclosed location in Botswana.

Rhinos have been hounded to near extinction by poachers, and numbers have dropped dramatically from 16,000 in the 1970s to around just 4,000 today. White rhinos came dangerously close to extinction until a similar project rescued them and gave them a new home; now white rhinos number around 20,000 and they are a constant reminder both of the ever-increasing threat of poachers, and also of the success of relocation.

Poachers are drawn to rhino populations, despite the illegality of poaching, because of the growing demand in Asian countries for rhino horn. China and Vietnam are the main consumers of traditional medicine, which often uses rhino horns to treat a variety of ailments, despite the total lack of scientific evidence to support the efficacy of rhino horn.

In fact, because rhino horns are essentially made of hair, their medicinal properties are as effective as chewing your own fingernails.

Unfortunately, some communities in South Africa support poaching because it is a lucrative trade, so there is little governmental protection for rhinos. In Botswana, however, there is zero tolerance of poaching, and anyone found breaking this law can legally be shot and killed.

Drastic situations call for drastic measures and, with over 1000 rhinos killed by poachers in the last year in South Africa, rhino populations are reaching crisis point. Rhinos Without Borders intend to airlift 25 rhinos to safety this year, and relocate a further 65 in 2016. Conservationists hope that the new populations of rhinos in Botswana will establish large communities and save the species from extinction.

10 Years After The Hunting Ban And We’re Still Debating It

Amongst the varied issues to be raised at the upcoming general election will be animal welfare; in particular, the 10-year old ban on hunting with dogs and the present day badger cull.

The Hunting Act was brought in by the last Labour government to protect foxes from the barbaric tradition that sees them chased for miles by a pack of dogs, until they are viciously ripped apart by the hounds. These days the methods employed by landowners to deter foxes from their fields are much more tame, though the activist group The Hunt Saboteurs would argue that many illegal fox hunts still take place.

In 2015, the British public are to ponder this Act once again, as the Tories threaten to offer a free vote to reform or entirely remove the Hunting Act, whilst Labour promise to retain it. Labour also promises broader attention to animal welfare, in their opposition to the failed Badger Cull, which has seen the inhumane slaughter of badgers supposedly infected with TB.

Labour have pledged to:

  • review the rules on breeding and selling dogs and cats
  • ban wild animals in circuses
  • end the badger cull, which has been taking place in parts of Gloucestershire and Somerset for the last two years in an effort to stop the spread of bovine TB
  • defend the Hunting Act
  • reduce animal cruelty on shooting estates
  • lead the fight against global animal cruelty

Animal welfare is often a neglected issue in British politics, despite strong feeling from the public. The Green Party are clearly the most committed to exploring and resolving these issues, as they aim to:

To eliminate the wholesale exploitation of other species, foster understanding of our inter-relationship in the web of life and protect and promote natural habitat.

A free vote could be disastrous for foxes, as many MPs seek an opportunity to return to traditional hunting methods which some believe to be more effective. However, nearly 11 years ago we decided to no longer be a nation defined by blood sports, and it’s hard to see why we would go back on that now.

Leaping Bunny

In March 2013, the BUAV finally achieved, after years of campaigning, a ban on the use of animals in the testing of new cosmetic products. The regulation is still in its infancy, so there are still issues to be resolved; for example, many companies who sell their products outside of the EU are able to use animal testing on new products sold elsewhere, and this is mainly to meet the requirements of China.

Until then, the only garauntee consumers have that the cosmetics they buy have not been tested on innocent, sentient creatures, imprisoned and regularly tortured for the sake of mascara, is the Leaping Bunny trademark.

According to Cruelty Free International, the Leaping Bunny signifies that:

“no animal testing is conducted or commissioned for finished products or ingredients in any phase of product development by the company, its laboratories or its suppliers after a fixed cut-off date.”

But tracking down ethical products can be tricky, and the high street shops don’t make it easy. Morrisons stock a few, and Superdrug have a lot of own brand cruelty free products to discover, if you’re prepared to read the labels on countless bottles first.

My best find so far has been M&S beauty range. A cursory look through their own brand products gave me the impression that nearly everything was cruelty free, though they do stock other brands I couldn’t be bothered to check.

The price is fairly standard. I can recommend the Formula BB cream, £7.50 for 50ml and this moisturiser, £5.50 for 50ml. I can’t call them cheap, but they do the job, and, most importantly, nothing had to suffer to produce them.