Apes Much Cleverer than We’ve Been Told – And Other Monkey Business

I doubt I’m alone in thinking that when it comes to scientific studies, researchers do have a tendency to find what they’re looking for. And if you believe as a human that you sit astride the topmost rung of the evolutionary ladder, your ‘scientific’ view of other animals’ abilities is already skewed out of true.

This is exactly what has happened over two decades’ worth of studies into apes. Yes, the scientists did say apes are clever – just not as clever as us. But conducting a new analysis of all those studies, Dr Leaven¹ discovered that “what we think we know about apes’ social intelligence is based on wishful thinking and flawed science.”

“The fault underlying decades of research and our understanding of apes’ abilities is due to such a strongly-held belief in our own superiority, that scientists have come to believe that human babies are more socially capable than ape adults. As humans, we see ourselves as top of the evolutionary tree. This has led to a systematic exaltation of the reasoning abilities of human infants, on the one hand, and biased research designs that discriminate against apes, on the other hand.” 

Staggeringly, even when apes clearly outperformed young human children in tests, researchers interpreted this as a result of apes’ inferior mental abilities!

How did the scientists get it so wrong? Basically, all these years their inbuilt bias meant they weren’t comparing like with like. But if you’d like to find out more, click here

A few of the ways science has misled us into thinking apes are dumber than we are:-

1. Apes can’t ‘ape’

Not true! ‘Aping’ is one of the many words and sayings taken from the animal kingdom, presumably for good reason. Yet current theories hold that apes – in spite of having given us the word – aren’t actually much good at aping at all. In fact, we’re told they are worse at imitating actions they see than children are. Hmm, I wonder if the studies that established that ‘fact’ were included in Dr Leaven’s review. Because it does appear that studies up till now have ignored an important area of imitation – social interaction.

A new study from Lund University, published in the journal Primates, found that in social interaction, chimps and humans playing the imitation game scored an even draw. The research team “systematically observed the spontaneous interactions between zoo visitors and chimpanzees at Furuvik Zoo in Sweden”, and discovered that humans and chimps imitated the other exactly the same proportion of times.

So in fact, apes are pretty good at aping. (Interestingly, some of the Furuvik chimps at least must have been having fun because “several times we observed prolonged interactions that took on a game-like back-and-forth character”) Want to know more? Click here

2. Chimps have to imitate others to learn new things

Not true! Once again scientists have been maintaining for who knows how long another wrongful idea about apes – that chimpanzees learn how to use tools not by working it out for themselves, but only by watching their elders and betters. Which is kinda strange considering they also thought that apes weren’t much good at aping. Researchers noted that in the wild, chimps use sticks to scoop edible algae from the surface of water. So in a new study they provided chimps at Twycross Zoo – who’ve never had the chance to watch this being done – with some sticks and pieces of food floating on the surface of water in a container. The zoo chimps had no trouble retrieving the food with the sticks, and spontaneously used the same scooping action employed by their wild cousins.

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I’m guessing the real test was a little more challenging than this!

“Given these results, the long-held assumption that apes must observe one another in order to show these behaviours may have been due to an illusion of cultural transmission – created by the apes arriving at the same independently”, concluded Dr Claudio Tennie. More here

“Increasingly, we see their inner lives as very similar to that of humans”

3. Chimpanzees can’t reflect on their own state of knowledge & work out how to fill the gaps, like humans do

Not true! Yet one more way science has underestimated apes’ abilities for years. Another new study discovered that apes are able to assess in their minds if they don’t have all the facts they need to make a decision, and try to get that missing information, so they can make that decision.

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Study co-author Christoph Völter says: “Our study indicates that great apes seek information particularly when they miss a critical piece of information such as the location of a required tool. The results suggest that great apes monitor their own knowledge states and that they use this ability flexibly to fill gaps in their knowledge.”

Find out more about the test here

4. Apes can’t tell what others are thinking like humans can

Not true!“Understanding when someone else has a false belief [eg about where an object is hidden] is a mark of advanced social cognition in people” but yet again, “researchers had believed that great apes lacked this capacity.” Now it looks like “great apes, like people, may have the capacity to “read” the minds of others in social interactions.” 

Find out the fun way they discovered this by watching the video especially made for the apes to watch. “By using eye-tracking technology, the scientists showed that 17 out of 22 apes tested switched their gaze to show they had correctly anticipated when the man [believing he knew where his assailant in the ape suit was hiding] would target the wrong haystack.” The red dots I think represent the eye-tracking.

“This cognitive ability is at the heart of so many human social skills,” said Christopher Krupenye of Duke University. “I think our findings start to suggest that maybe apes have a deeper understanding of each other than we previously thought.”
Prof Frans de Waal, a primatologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who was not involved in the study, said that the findings confirm that theory of mind is not an exclusively human ability. “Increasingly, we see their inner lives as very similar to that of humans,” he said. Report from The Guardian. Jeez, science has been underselling our nearest relatives for so long.
But there is one surprising difference. The dating game – opposites attract

True! But only for chimps. This is one way our primate cousins, our closest living relatives, are quite unlike us, because in spite of our frequent assertion that opposites attract, it’s just not true – not for us. We humans it seems, make a point of assortative mating – choosing a partner with a similar genome to ourselves, maybe to give us a better chance of passing on to our offspring the good stuff – brains and beauty etc.

Chimps are not averse to a bit of monkeying around with a variety of partners. But when it comes to making little chimps, the female is more picky in her choice – it’s what is known in the scientific world as negative assortative mating. Never heard of it? I certainly hadn’t, and I doubt the chimps have either. But the female does it anyway. And she’s good at it. She seems to know not just how to avoid males she grew up with who might be related to her, but how to discriminate between outside males, to get herself the most dissimilar daddy for her chimplings.

How does she do it? Researchers just don’t know, but“a best guess [would be] based on appearance, smell, or sound”, says senior author of the paper Professor Anne Pusey. More on chimp dating and mating here

Ponso’s Tragic Story

A new appreciation from these various studies of just how very little apes differ from us (apart from in the way they choose a mate of course), somehow makes Ponso’s story even more heartwrenching. Ponso is one of 20 chimps – many of them captured from the wild – used for research in the 80’s by the New York Blood Center in Liberia. The Center infected the chimps with viruses, performed biopsies on them, and kept them chained up by their necks.

When NYBC had finished with the chimps, they left them, then aged 7-10 years, on an island off the Ivory Coast. Eleven died within months, and the remaining nine were moved again to another island.

Soon after, a further five chimps died of disease and hunger, leaving only Ponso, his mate and their two children. There is no natural source of food on their island, and the little family hung on to life only through the remarkable kindness of Germain, a retired farmer from a nearby village. Every day Germain pushed his makeshift boat through the shallow water the short distance to the island, with bananas, bread and water. His was the only kindness they had ever experienced.

But in spite of that, at the end of 2013 Ponso’s mate and children all died within days of each other. Germain says Ponso helped him bury them. And ever since, Ponso has been completely alone. The rapturous welcome, enormous hug and showers of kisses he gave a new visitor Estelle Raballand, director of the Chimpanzee Conservation Center² when she visited is a measure of his grief and loneliness.

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Ponso’s dedicated carer Germain Djenemaya Koidja says the ape is “like my child” Image Phys.Org

What next for Ponso? Germain who loves Ponso like his own child, would like him to stay on his island, but with a new mate so he need be lonely no more.³ Others wish to see a sanctuary created in Ivory Coast, for Ponso, and for the rapidly dwindling population of chimpanzees still remaining in the wild. But it’s looking like he will be transferred to Chimfunshi Wildlife Orphanage in Zambia where he will have company at last, of it is said, at least two females.

Ponso’s story reminds us that it’s not just in mental abilities that apes so closely resemble us, but in the love, grief, loneliness and suffering they experience too. So my hope is that Ponso will find chimp paradise at Chimfunshi, and he will relish the new companionship awaiting him there. God knows, he has suffered enough in his 40+ years of life. Doesn’t he deserve some happiness at last?

If you would like to donate to help Ponso and the Wildlife Orphanage, you will find the SOS Ponso gofundme page here


PS Despite conflating apes and monkeys in the title, I now know, rather belatedly, that apes are not monkeys and monkeys are not apes. Easiest way to tell which is which? Apes, like us, have no tail. Monkeys do. Apes and humans have 95% DNA in common.


 

¹Dr Leaven of Sussex University, lead writer of report “The mismeasure of ape social cognition”

²The Loneliest Chimp in the World – Mail Online

³Helping Ponso, sole survivor of ‘Chimpanzee Island’ – PhysOrg

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Cecilia Blazes the Trail – Or Does She?

20 year old Cecilia is famous. So much so, she will surely go down in history. Marcelino, her ‘boy next door’ at Sorocaba Great Apes Sanctuary in Brazil, is turning on all his charm for his sweet neighbour. He thinks she’s pretty special but he, like Cecilia herself, has no idea just how special.
Last November (2016) chimp Cecilia became the first animal ever to have been adjudged a nonhuman person in a court of law.

The judgement by the court in Mendoza Argentina granting Cecilia habeas corpus meant release, finally, from the cramped zoo she’d been confined in her entire life. Up until that memorable day it was all she had ever known, a miserable life made even more wretched by the deaths of her lifelong friends and companions, Charly and Xuxa. Can you imagine it. Cecilia was left heartbroken and alone.

It’s little wonder then, even after four months at Sorocaba she is still depressed. It takes more than a few short months of freedom and loving care to obliterate the emotional scars of 20 years imprisonment.

Cecilia, though special in terms of legal history, is just one of the many traumatised chimps, trafficked and mistreated in circuses and zoos before finding a safe haven at Sorocaba. “It is very important to talk to them so they don’t feel lonely,” says Merivan Miranda, one of the 30 carers. “So that they know there is someone there who understands them.”

When she first arrived, Cecilia “used to spend all her time lying down and did not interact with anyone,” says sanctuary vet Camila Gentille. Before handsome Marcelino moved in as her neighbour, the sanctuary staff had already tried a bit of matchmaking with Billy, but Billy was “too impulsive” for sad Cecilia.

But she is slowly getting better. And now, when Marcelino calls to her, she is starting to show him some interest, and even joining in the conversation.

Pedro Ynterian, director of the sanctuary, is certain that with time Cecilia will overcome her depression.“That is what she is seeking to do, so that she can partner with someone, and stop living alone.

“And she will manage to do it.”

Cecilia – now a person, no longer property.


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Tommy, Kiko, Hercules & Leo

You may already know these guys as the chimp clients of the altogether awesome lawyer Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project. Unlike Cecilia though, their right to be designated nonhuman persons under the law has been denied by a succession of presiding judges in New York courts.

Woeful as this is for the 4 chimps – and all the others for whom the precedent would be set – Steven though disappointed is undaunted. He remains utterly convinced that advocacy for legal personhood and not advocacy for welfare improvements is the way forward for the animals.

Here is the upbeat opening of his keynote speech at the recent Animal Rights National Conference 2017:-

“It’s the beginning of the end of the age of animal welfare and animal protection and the end of the beginning of the age of civil rights, true legal rights, for nonhuman animals.

“It is the beginning of the end of activists having to beg and plead and cajole other human beings in an effort to get them to do the right thing for nonhuman animals, to get them to try to respect the fundamental interests of nonhuman animals, whose interests are presently invisible in courtrooms, invisible to civil law. And it’s the end of the beginning of the struggle for personhood and the civil rights of nonhuman animals for whom we demand those fundamental legal rights to which justice and equity and scientific fact entitle them.”

Steven continues (my paraphrasing):

There have been laws to protect animals’ welfare in America since the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties which stated, “(n)o man shall exercise any Tirranny or crueltie toward any bruite Creatures which are usuallie kept for man’s use.” But to what extent, if at all, things have improved for animals “usuallie kept for man’s use” in the last 376 years is open to dispute. In spite of animal welfare laws working their way on to statute books in most countries and states, they remain, in Steven’s words, “pathetically ineffective”)

And there are other problems with pushing for improvements in animal welfare. One is that those who make money from them, the meat companies, the farms, the labs, the circuses, the zoos, the puppy mills can always, and often do, choose to ignore our advocacy on the animals’ behalf.

Another is that even if the owners of the animal ‘property’, or their political representatives do yield to public concerns, what has been conceded can as easily be revoked. Take the hard won successes for animals former President Obama signed into federal law. Along comes Trump – no friend of animals he, nor indeed of anything else much except money – and with one stroke of the pen, he can strike them out. Indeed, some are already consigned to the presidential trashcan, and more look like heading that way.

High welfare or low, protected or not, the animals still have “the problem of being a thing versus being a person.” 

“For years I have talked about a great legal wall that exists, and has existed, for 2000 years between things and persons. On the ‘thing’ side of the wall, today, in 2017, are all the nonhuman animals of the world. You have to understand what a legal thing is.

“A legal thing is an entity that lacks the capacity for any kind of a legal right. It lacks inherent value. It only has instrumental value for legal persons.

“It is a slave to the master. A legal person is a master to the slave. All of us here are legal persons. We are the owners of things, whether that thing is an elephant or this podium.”

But you don’t have to be a human being to be a legal ‘person’. A corporation can be a person. In india a mosque, a Hindu idol, the Sikh holy books are all legal persons. In New Zealand a river and a national park are both persons under that country’s law.

Let’s not forget Cecilia. And in July this year the Supreme Court in Colombia declared a bear a person and issued a writ of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus gives the right to bodily liberty and can only be granted to a legal person.

Today the NhRP is working with lawyers in 13 countries on 4 continents “to help them win personhood for as many nonhuman animals in as many countries as we possibly can.”

In the USA the NhRP will shortly be filing a lawsuit for elephants, and moving against the captivity of orcas at SeaWorld San Diego.

Steven finds a parallel between US courts denying his nonhuman clients personhood, and personhood being denied in the past to black and Native Americans, and women – unthinkable as that is to us now.

“They were wrong then. They are wrong now”

“With respect to the judges who are ruling that way now, at some point they, or their children, or their grandchildren are going to be embarrassed by the fact that they said such things in cases involving such extraordinary beings as chimpanzees or orcas or elephants.”

I am certain Steven is right. But much as I wish for it, I cannot see how this is going to help all the myriads of other animals in the world. Steven and his team have based the arguments they bring to court on the basis of the autonomy of their (at present captive) clients. The NhRP’s plaintiffs are members of species who have been scientifically proven to be self-aware and autonomous: currently, great apes, elephants, dolphins, and whales.” In their natural state, in the wild, a chimp, an elephant, a dolphin and an orca are all animals, it is universally agreed, who make their own decisions and determine their own lives. That autonomy NhRP says, is more than sufficient for them to be deemed persons. (Remember, you have to be a person to have the right to bodily liberty)

But what of other wildlife – pigeons, rats, frogs, fleas? Aren’t they autonomous too? Don’t they have a right to bodily liberty? But what judge is going to concede their personhood?

And what of the billions and billions of farmed animals? There are massive vested interests determined that cows, pigs, hens and sheep should never be considered autonomous and entitled to legal rights as persons.

Take this, for example, from the Animal Agriculture Alliance‘s home page: “Radical activist organizations are leading the fight to grant animals the same legal rights as humans and eliminate the consumption of food and all other products derived from animals. The ideology of the animal rights movement- that animals are not ours to own, enjoy, or use in any way- is a direct assault on farmers and pet owners.”

In June last year Canadian MPs voted down Nathaniel Erskine-Smith’s Bill C-246 — the Modernizing Animal Protections Act. Mr Erskine-Smith was not proposing animals should be designated persons in law. Nevertheless, Tory MP Robert Sopuck voiced the strong concerns of many about the idea of moving animals out of the property section of the Criminal Code and placing them into the public morals section. He said such a step would have “drastic implications” for farmers, hunters, trappers, anglers, and medical researchers. Clearly many of his fellow MPs agreed. The bill was defeated 198 to 84.

How will these nonhuman animals ever cross that wall that Steven talks about from property to personhood? Humans, especially those who exploit nonhuman animals for profit, will never be willing to give up the power bestowed on them by ownership. And unfortunately, it’s humans who make the laws that decide on the status of animals, and humans who enforce them.

“The Nonhuman Rights Project now, and we hope others in the future, are no longer going to ask. We are going to demand the rights that nonhuman animals are entitled to. The day of animal welfare and animal protection is passing and will soon be over.”

Fighting talk Steven, fighting talk. I so wish it could be true.

Please sign the Declaration of Animal Rights

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Cover pic LiveScience

Bonnie & Clyde, High Park Zoo Toronto,

Will Today be the Day Chimpanzees become Legal Persons?

Cover image: Getty

Today is a big day. Today lawyer Steven Wise of the NonHuman Rights Project will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court in Manhattan on behalf of two chimpanzees, Tommy and Kiko.
In the fight to win legal person status for a nonhuman animal and what that would mean for nonhumans as a whole, this is the best and clearest article I’ve come across yet. It’s a decent length but truly worth reading through to the end. There cannot be much else as important as this for Animal Rights.

Should a Chimpanzee be Considered a Person?

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” [NhRP President Steven M. Wise] said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode.”

“They used to bark at me when I walked into the courtroom,” lawyer Steven Wise said in the Sundance documentary Unlocking the Cage, which debuted on HBO last month. His use of the word “bark” is literal.

Wise, founder and president of the Nonhuman Rights Project, has spent his entire legal career preparing to represent the first chimpanzee plaintiffs in the U.S. court system. While he’s no stranger to having his life’s work—of attempting to get certain animals recognized as persons—poked fun at, he’s found that the courts have taken him seriously.

The distinction of “persons,” not “people,” is important. Part of the apparent absurdity is that on the surface, arguing for personhood might sound like saying a chimpanzee should have the same rights as an adult human, like the right to own property and vote in elections. Instead, the category of “person” is a legal one referring to a being entitled to certain fundamental rights. The case of the chimpanzees, Wise said, is about their right to bodily liberty—recognizing the animals as legal beings instead of “things.”

On March 16th, Wise will be presenting oral arguments in the New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Judicial Department in Manhattan on behalf of Tommy and Kiko, two chimpanzees who appeared in movies in the 1980s and are now living in New York State in questionable conditions—Tommy, in a concrete cell at the back of a trailer lot in upstate New York, and Kiko, in a concrete storefront operated out of a private home in Niagara Falls. According to NhRP, Tommy has frequently been left with a small TV set as his only stimulation; Kiko has been photographed with a makeshift leash made of a padlock and chain around his neck. Both animals, kept in cages, are being deprived the natural habitats and socialization that chimps, known to thrive in large and organized societies, require.

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Steven Wise of the Nonhuman Rights Project arguing on behalf of the chimpanzee Tomm before the New York Supreme Court Appellate Division on Oct. 8, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. (Image: Mike Groll/AP)

Rather than attempt to sue or criminalize the chimps’ owners for cruelty, Wise is using a writ of habeus corpus to argue that these animals are being held against their rights as autonomous beings—autonomy being a “supreme common law value” recognized by the courts, as Wise explained.

“Scientifically speaking, autonomous beings have the capacity to freely choose how to live their lives. They are not cabined by instinct,” Wise told Gizmodo. He believes Tommy and Kiko should be released to true sanctuaries, with living conditions more akin to the jungles chimpanzees are native to, and importantly, other chimpanzees to socialize with. While nonhuman entities like corporations have, in the past, been named persons in the eyes of the law, Wise is the first to seek personhood status for nonhuman animals in a U.S. court. And if it can happen once, the door will be open to recognizing personhood in other cases of animal cruelty. Wise could set a precedent that changes the way nonhuman animals are seen in the eyes of the law forever.

Animal cruelty is usually fought piecemeal: Reports come out of an inhumane practice, an advocacy organization leads a reactionary campaign, and maybe a new law gets passed, or an offender is pressured to change their practices. David Coman-Hidy, executive director of The Humane League, says corporate boycotts are an effective tool. But it’s an imperfect system, because many forms of animal cruelty (like keeping chimps in isolation in concrete cages) are perfectly legal. Some laws are in place to protect nonhuman animals, but not nearly as many as you might think. Farm animals, the focus of THL’s work, “are afforded essentially no meaningful protections, legally,” Coman-Hidy said.

“Some of the most inhumane practices, like extreme confinement, are outlawed, but there’s very little [that is against the law to practice] in terms of slaughter.”

Farm animals, though not (yet) the subject of NhRP’s work, make a strong case in point. Specific forms of cruelty remain legal until—maybe—they’re not anymore. Meanwhile, other forms of cruelty remain the status quo. Wise’s approach, of arguing that animals are being not just mistreated, but being held against their rights as autonomous beings, is meant to upend this usual order.

“If we didn’t have rights, all we had was some statute that said you can’t be cruel to me, or that I’m entitled to some kind of welfare, the person who gave it to me can also take it away,” he said. Wise cited the example of environmental protections set forth by the Obama administration, which are now being rolled back by Trump. Essentially, if legislation can be passed, it can also be erased. Rights are more difficult to erode. As Wise put it, there’s a big difference “between having rights that you can enforce, and just being the object of protections that someone wants to give you.”

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Kanzi the chimpanzee as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It’s been a few years since Wise first made headlines for filing on behalf of Tommy in 2013, and initially being rejected by a ruling and an appeals court by the end of 2014. Since then, his firm has also filed cases on behalf of the chimps Hercules and Leo, who were being held at Stony Brook University as biological subjects for study. Wise didn’t win that case either, but a public campaign (led by none other than Jane Goodall, primate expert and NhRP board member) is now pressuring Hercules and Leo’s owner, the New Iberia Research Center, to surrender the animals to a sanctuary in Florida.

Despite its losses, the NhRP is anything but discouraged.

According to Wise, Justice Barbara Jaffe, the judge in the First Department’s ruling on the Hercules and Leo case in 2015, agreed with “virtually everything” the NhRP presented. Jaffe wrote in her decision that “‘Legal personhood’ is not necessarily synonymous with being human,” and that the concept of legal personhood has “evolved significantly since the inception of the United States. Not very long ago, only caucasian male, property-owning citizens were entitled to the full panoply of legal rights.” But ultimately, Jaffe felt bound by a prior ruling against the NhRP—Tommy’s 2013 case in Albany—where the court said that to be a person you had to “assume duties and responsibilities.”

“The problem is,” Wise said, “millions of New Yorkers cannot assume duties and responsibilities.”

Wise is referring to what animal ethicists often call the “arguments from marginal cases”: if we define humanity, or personhood, as possessing a certain ability—in this case, the ability to assume responsibilities—what does that mean for the human beings who don’t? Are young children and those with disabilities less entitled to rights?

Few would say so. And this is where it gets messy when scholars and judges try to make logical distinctions between humans and other animals. The particular distinction the Albany court went with in the case of Tommy was that collectively, humans are able to assume duties, and chimps are not.

Wise is now armed to attack that assertion. The team has collected 60 pages of expert affidavits attesting to how chimpanzees in fact do assume responsibilities, both in chimpanzee-only and human-chimpanzee communities. At this stage, NhRP’s hope is the Manhattan court sets them up to appeal the Albany ruling. Considering it took almost 30 years between Wise getting the idea to argue for legal nonhuman personhood at all, and filing the first case, the process feels like a slow one. But Wise and his firm are in it for the long haul, and it’s entirely possible that one of their clients could be recognized as a person before the end of 2017. What’s more, NhRP is already looking outside of the Empire State.

Wise sees the bigger picture as a movement. He says the firm is in talks with lawyers in 11 different countries.

“We may be arguing in this courthouse way out in rural New York, but…people all over the world are paying attention to what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” he said.

As of now, NhRP is gearing up to file a personhood case on behalf of circus elephants, and it’s looking into building a case for the orcas at SeaWorld in San Diego. Though the nature of the abuse and mistreatment is secondary to Wise’s legal argument, these cases are likely dire ones—abuses against circus elephants and SeaWorld orcas are well-documented. Large animals in captivity often suffer illness and developmental issues as a result of cramped and unnatural living spaces and breeding practices. Even worse, reports of violent abuse (beatings, confinement, use of ropes and shocks) in performing animal conditions are tragically common.

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Steve Wise with the chimpanzee Teko, as seen in Unlocking the Cage. (Image: Pennebaker Hegedus Films/HBO)

It would be no small victory for Wise to rescue even one of his clients from an unhappy life. But the greater value is the chance to set a precedent for the future. Future cases for nonhuman personhood in New York would be able to refer directly to the NhRP ruling, and a model would be provided for other states, even other nations.

“We’ve known from the beginning that ours will be a long-term fight continuous with and similar to other struggles for recognition of personhood and fundamental rights,” Wise said. That they’ve even made it this far, he says, is “a turn away from speciesist thinking.”

Kiko and Tommy, in other words, are only the beginning.

Support the important work of the NhRP here

Ariana DiValentino is a writer and filmmaker based in New York

Interview with Steve Wise on The Frank Beckmann Show

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Ollie the Bobcat Breaks Out of Jail

Do you remember Flaviu, the beautiful lynx who within hours of being sent to Dartmoor Zoo broke out of his enclosure and eluded capture for three weeks?

Well, it seems that the USA had its own jailbreaker this week in the form of Ollie, a wild-born female bobcat that the Smithsonian Zoo in Washington DC claims for its own.

The American bobcat is a close relative of the Eurasian lynx – think cousin – and every bit as solitary and elusive. Ollie broke out on Monday (31st Jan) and zoo spokeswoman Pamela Baker-Masson feared, “it will be very very difficult to find her.”

But on Wednesday fortune smiled on the zoo. Unhappily for the runaway, hunger drove her into a trap baited with treats inside the zoo’s bird house. Looking on the brighter side, Ollie’s capture might well have been a lucky escape for the birds, since bobcats have an acrobatic ability to leap from the ground and catch flying birds in the air.

Zoo vets assure us that she is none the worse for her little adventure, apart from a small cut on her left front paw.

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One thing is sure, if her breakout had been successful this lady would not have gone hungry. Bobcats are remarkably agile and fast and are silent and patient stalkers of rabbits, hares, mice and squirrels – even small deer.

Like most cats, bobcats are beautiful creatures, an attribute that cost them dear in the first half of last century. The wild population was almost wiped out by fur trappers. Now I’m glad to say they are protected by the Endangered Species Act, and are bouncing back.

What can I say about Ollie? I so hoped she would never be caught and locked up again. I hoped that for the rest of her life this lady would run free .

Help captive animals by never visiting zoos and aquariums

For more facts and figures about the beautiful bobcat click here

Sign Born Free Foundation petitions  here

Support the work of the Captive Animals Protection Society here

Source

Ollie the jailbreaking bobcat on the lam from National Zoo – TreeHugger

Ollie the bobcat found safe at National Zoo – Fox

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Why I Love Loud Women, Especially Loud Vegan Women

“Well behaved women seldom make history”

… Laurel Thatcher Ulrich

Dutch-born vegan Nancy Holten is a long time resident in Switzerland. Her kids were born there. She’s raising them there. But because her activism for the animals is “too annoying”, she has had her application for Swiss citizenship turned down for the third time.
Passionate vegans are no strangers to activism backlash. It comes in all shapes and forms, from the prosecution of Toronto Pig Save’s Anita Kranjc, and Ric O’Barry of the Dolphin Project’s incarceration and deportation from Japan, through to violent physical attacks on hunt sabs and vicious bullying in the school yard.
“People were telling me to kill myself by drowning in milk or by cutting myself with a razor blade. One teacher at the school told me I should go to TAFE¹ because I am ‘not a mainstream student’.”

… 16-year-old vegan schoolgirl Kaila Mackay.

More commonly, vegans experience backlash in the form of vitriolic abuse on social media. Unpleasant though that may be, the personal cost to the vegan post-ers is hopefully not as life-changingly prejudicial as being refused citizenship of the country where you’ve lived most of your life. Nancy Holten’s case has to be a first.

Speaking for myself, I was a child of the 50s and the youngest of 3 – a small girl in the shadow of two bigger, stronger, faster, cleverer brothers. In the small island where we lived everyone knew everyone, and you fell over backwards never to give offence. A setting for a golden childhood, but sterile soil for growing gobby girls with the promise of sprouting into loud proud women. It would have taken someone very special, and that very special someone I was not. So on the outside I became exactly what the island community thought I should be, a “well-behaved” girl who kept her maverick thoughts entirely to herself. This little girl had felt to her cost at a young age the angry stamping-on those kind of thoughts invited if she dared to speak them out loud. I never looked like making history.

You could be ‘nice’ and ‘kind’ and ‘gentle’ and ‘good’, all acceptable ‘feminine’ qualities. But if you were loud you were clearly none of those things, because being loud was the very antithesis of what was expected of the female of the species.

From then until now I’ve always had problems with my throat and my voice. My daughter puts it down to my having been effectively silenced, unable to ‘speak my truth’.

That was all last century though, before second-wave feminism came along. You would hope that kind of suppressive social pressure is long departed. But apparently not. It seems it’s alive and well in vegan Nancy Holten’s little Swiss town of Gipf-Oberfrick. Nancy however, is not to be silenced.

We’ll let you be an animal activist as long as you’re not too darn active, is what the residents of Gipf-Oberfrick are saying to her. It’s OK if you have views as long as you play nice, keep them to yourself, don’t be loud, absolutely don’t go public, don’t shove them down our throats, and above all don’t be annoying.

And what these good burghers think of her actually does matter, not just because the power of peer pressure is in inverse proportion to the size of a town’s population, but much more specifically, because under Swiss law they all have the right to sign off – or not – on her application for Swiss citizenship. The town’s spokesperson, Urs Treier, says they keep rejecting Holten’s application not because of her opinions but because she makes such a public display of the things she objects to.

Nancy is described as “not the quiet kind”. The local branch president of the Swiss People’s Party, Tanja Suter, says Holten has “a big mouth” and doesn’t deserve the “gift” of Swiss citizenship. Jeez!

This unstoppable lady has publicly voiced her opinions about piglet racing, hunting, animals in the circus, and horse breeding. But the one that really gets up the townsfolk’s collective nose, is her rant against their cows having cowbells slung around their necks. Is that so terrible? Yes, when you see the size of the bells, as in the pic below. They weigh in at 5kg apiece and rub and burn the cows’ skin. Plus the sound of the ringing must be deafening to the cows at 100 decibels. That is loud.

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The good people of Gipf-Oberfrick’s though view her campaigning as an attack on treasured Swiss tradition:

“The importance of the cow bell is highlighted in Swiss folklore, which reflects a period when a great Trychel, or large cow bell, was a rare and much-coveted item. The legend of the Simmental tells how a young cowherd strays inside a mountain, and is offered by a beautiful woman the choice between a treasure of gold coins, a golden Trychel, or the fairy herself. He chooses the Trychel.”²

But tradition can never be a justification for inflicting harm. In 2016, 200 million women in 30 countries suffered FGM³ because it is ‘traditional’ in their communities. That doesn’t stop it being wrong.

Let’s face it, the crowd, the majority of folk who prefer to do what’s expected and think what they are told to think, will always lash out at someone swimming against the current and threatening to rock their comfortable boat. These ‘loud’ activists are speaking the truth no-one wants to hear like the Old Testament prophets, who were invariably persecuted for their pains.

Speaking out the truth is never without cost to yourself. If you stick your head up above the parapet, nothing is more certain than that you will get it shot off.  What immense courage it takes to stand up and be loud, especially for a woman. But loud vegans’ courage is fuelled by compassion for the suffering, outrage at the injustices humans are inflicting on animals everywhere, and burning passion to see equality, liberation and justice prevail.

Here’s to all loud vegan women. I salute you. Heroes, everyone.


As for Nancy Holten, she knows full well what is at stake, having had her citizenship application turned down twice already. Yet still she refuses to shut up, refuses to stop being “annoying”, refuses to stop ruffling feathers in her little Swiss town. Because the fate of the animals is so very much more important than a few ruffled feathers – more important even than the coveted Swiss citizenship. I hope she finally does get what she wants. Switzerland should be proud to claim as one of its own an amazing person like Nancy who refuses to sacrifice her principles for her own expediency.

Give that loud annoying vegan woman a medal. We need more of her kind.

“Never be bullied into silence.”

… Harvey Fierstein


Postscript
We can’t all be Nancys. I know I’m not. If you are struggling with simply maintaining a veg*n lifestyle, you are not alone. 63% of new vegans polled said they couldn’t hack sticking out from the crowd.
If you are depressed at all the horrors you see, or burned-out from all your activism, you are not alone.
Don’t give up. Awesome help and support is available here. For the sake of the animals, and for your own, please check it out.

 

¹Technical & Further Education

 ²Wiki

³Female genital mutilation

Source: Town Says Animal Activist Can’t Be Swiss Citizen Because She’s ‘Annoying’ | Care2 Causes

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Vegan Race Driver Leilani Münter Banned from SeaWorld

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 2

Eight Women Changing the World for Animals 3

No Age Limit on Activism for Social Justice

My Vegan Path – Interview with Hanna Golan

 

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14 Reasons Not To Visit Zoos – In Pictures

“These tragic pictures left me speechless. Please look into the eyes of all the animals. They tell their own story more poignantly than any words of mine. And the message they give is simple. Help us. End this.”

Virginia McKenna

Haunting pictures of animals trapped behind bars in Europe’s zoos have been captured by international wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation. The powerful exhibition was launched by the organisation to highlight, what they see as, the poor standards of animal care at many zoos in the European Union.

Keith Taylor, MEP and the Green Party’s animals spokesperson, said the images show the “urgent need” to improve conditions and regulatory enforcement, both in the UK and in the rest of the EU.

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Elephant in Slovenian zoo

Taylor said: “The EU has been a positive force for so many animal welfare improvements in Britain and across Europe.

“It was the EU that first recognised animals as sentient beings and, consequently, introduced a blanket ban on cosmetic animal testing and the sale of animal-tested cosmetics, ended the use of great apes in research, improved welfare standards for farm animals, strengthened protections for rare and endangered species, cracked down on the illegal ivory trade, banned cat and dog fur imports, and stopped the gruesome trade in seal products. However, more must be done by the European Union to enforce the relevant EU laws and improve the lives of animals kept in zoos.

The photos were taken by award-winning international photographers, Britta Jaschinski and Jo-Anne McArthur who visited several EU countries, including Italy, France, Germany, Denmark and the UK, this summer to document the conditions some animals are forced to live in.

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Marmoset in Danish zoo

Virginia McKenna OBE, co-founder and trustee of Born Free, said: “I should be used to looking at captive wild animals, having done so for over 45 years, but these tragic pictures left me speechless. Please look into the eyes of the macaque, the bear – well, look at all the animals. They tell their own story more poignantly than any words of mine. And the message they give is simple. Help us. End this.”

Zoos are required under a European Council directive to satisfy animals’ biological requirements by providing species-specific enrichment and a high standard of husbandry. Born Free said it aims to show, through these photos, that “many zoos keep animals in sub-standard conditions and EU zoos are therefore not fulfilling their legal requirements”.

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski

Barbary macaque in a UK zoo

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski

 Chimpanzees in an Italian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

 Polar bear in a Latvian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

Dolphin in a Lithuanian zoo

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur

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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
 Bear in a Croatian EU zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
Lion in a German zoo
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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinski
Owl in a Maltese zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthur
Meerkats in an Estonian zoo
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Born Free Foundation -JoAnne McArthur
Bear in a German Zoo
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Born Free Foundation – JoAnne McArthurTiger in a French zoo

Tiger in a French zoo

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Born Free Foundation – Britta Jaschinsk

Giraffe in a UK zoo

Part of Born Free Foundations Animals in European Zoos A Photo Exhibition

These pictures come at as a debate about zoos continues to divide opinion. Last week a Silverback male gorilla escaped from his enclosure from London Zoo. Fortunately, the animal was recaptured without any injuries, but this is not always the case.

Earlier this year Cincinnati Zoo was the focus of public outrage after Harambe, a critically endangered gorilla was shot dead after a child was able to enter his enclosure.

Daniel Turner, associate director for European Compliance at Born Free, said he hopes the collection will help to influence a “greater commitment to improving standards in animal welfare in Europe’s zoos”.

Copied from the article in The Huffington Post – Born Free Foundation’s Animals in European Zoos Exhibition

Personally, I hope these harrowing images will open people’s eyes to see that wild animals do NOT belong in captivity. I should say, open people’s hearts – to feel the loneliness, deprivation and suffering we have inflicted on these innocent creatures, and resolve NEVER to visit or take their children to a zoo.

Grateful acknowledgements to AwarenessHelps for bringing this important and remarkable exhibition to our attention.

JoAnne’s video about her new book “Captive”

Article in One Green Planet about JoAnne and “Captive” here
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Donald Trump ‘a silverback gorilla’? Time to makeover the gorilla’s image!

Photo of Kumbuka ZSL

In one and the same week gorillas, real and metaphorical, hit the headlines twice. First we had the sinisterly comic Nigel Farage likening Trump to a “big silverback gorilla”, and then The Mail’s headline screaming at us:

“How ‘psycho’ gorilla made a bid for freedom by smashing the window of a ‘cracked’ enclosure”, quoting a keeper at London Zoo. ‘He’s a f*****g psycho, that ape.’

King Kong has a lot to answer for.

In spite of that sensational headline and quote, the Mail’s article depicted Kumbuka, the gorilla who escaped from his enclosure at London Zoo, with far more understanding – and sympathy – than did that keeper. In my opinion London Zoo should lock him in a cage and throw away the key. No-one that ill-informed, callous and insensitive should be let anywhere near an animal.

Kumbuka was born in captivity, in Belfast Zoo, and was rejected by his mother. Throughout his sad childhood he was shipped on from one zoo to another. The poor guy had known nothing but loneliness, captivity, and exposure to crowds from which there is no relief. Now, at least in London Zoo he has his own family troop, his mate Mjukuu, his daughter Alika, which means ‘most beautiful’, and his son Gernot. And there are two other female gorillas in his troop.

But the problem of relentless exposure to noisy crowds remains. Gorilla Kingdom at London Zoo is a brand new enclosure costing £5m, but gorilla expert Ian Redmond criticised the poor design of the enclosure as too exposed to visitors, long before Kumbuka’s escape. And Sir David Attenborough agrees with him, and lambasted zoo visitors who are not respectful to the animals.

Leading primate expert Professor Phyllis Lee reads Kumbuka’s break-out as far from ‘psychotic’. More likely to be down to “crisis and desperation” at his intolerable situation. That zookeeper on the other hand, reflected the commonly-held perception of the gorilla. A perception in which there is little truth.

“Gorillas had an appalling reputation as violent brutes that would kill a human on sight”

It’s true that a male gorilla can occasionally display aggressive behaviour when frightened or stressed. Gorillas in captivity live in situations that couldn’t be more different from their natural environment, a factor hugely stressful in itself. Imagine yourself confined in that enclosure day after weary day, exposed to crowds of noisy onlookers. And how could Kumbuka not get frightened and stressed when zoo visitors were, unforgivably, banging on the windows of his enclosure before his escape last week.

Tragic Harambe had visitors at Cincinnati Zoo screaming and shouting at him when the boy fell into his enclosure. We do not know how he would have responded to such a stressful situation. But the assumption was made, true to that popular misconception, that a silverback was “a violent brute that would kill a human on sight”. And so, to the grief of wildlife- and animal-lovers everywhere, Harambe’s ‘keepers’ shot him dead.

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It’s a sad fact that the way we use language reveals a massively negative bias against animals. Take a look at What a Pig! What a Swine! What a Rat!, for instance. Very few animal names get applied to humans in a complimentary way. You have a definite intention to insult when you call someone a hog, a pig or a swine, a sheep, an ape, a donkey, an ass or a mule, a snake or a rat, a shark, a gorilla, a louse, a skunk, or a toad….

For at least 200 years, the word ‘gorilla’ has been shorthand for brain-dead bruiser, mindless thug. Contemporaneously, “an 800lb gorilla” means an individual, business, or organisation so big and powerful they can throw their weight around with impunity, trampling us lesser folk underfoot as they go. Mmm, does sound a bit like Donald Trump – though he may be about to find out he doesn’t have quite as much substance and reach as his ambition leads him to imagine!

(A little footnote to that: silverback gorillas weigh-in at about 400lb, not 800. An 800-pounder would be clinically obese.)

As for ‘gorilla’ being synonymous with ‘alpha male’ behaviour, Guardian journalist Ros Coward is not happy, not one bit, at the Trump comparison. She wants to set the record straight: “The animals don’t display ‘alpha-male’ behaviour like genital groping – and being associated with the Republican candidate is, frankly, bad for their image.”

So, a thorough makeover of the much maligned gorilla’s image is well overdue. Though in reality it’s more of a ‘make-under’, because what we want is to strip off those layers of false perceptions, and get back to the truth.

“Gorillas are so like us”

Before Dian Fossey’s 22 years of research in the forests of Rwanda, “gorillas had an appalling reputation as violent brutes that would kill a human on sight. Fossey demolished this myth. Living alongside a group of mountain gorillas in the forests of Rwanda, she showed that these huge apes are actually gentle giants, with individual personalities and rich social lives. In many ways they are like us.”

“The gorilla is one of the most maligned animals in the world,” Fossey wrote. “After more than 2,000 hours of direct observation, I can account for less than five minutes of what might be called ‘aggressive’ behaviour.”

The silverback does indeed fulfill the role of protector and main decision-maker of his troop. And yes, he really does beat his chest and roar to warn off enemies. That much is true. But rather than being aggressive by nature, it is much more usual for him to be gentle, sociable and affectionate, in some troops co-existing happily with other males.

This is a beautiful little video of a silverback acting as ‘lollipop man’ and seeing his entire family group safely across the road.

His other responsibilities include mediating between squabbling family members, leading his family to the spots where the best food is to be found, and of course, mating with his females.

Ian Redmond, who worked closely with Dian Fossey talks about ‘habituation’, the way of studying gorilla behaviour that Fossey pioneered. It meant living with gorillas like a gorilla, and being accepted by them as part of the troop. This eventually led to real human-gorilla friendships, says Redmond

“I mean that seriously. Gorillas are so like us and they can see they’re like us. They are as fascinated by us as we are by them. They actually inspected us physically, pulled our lips down and looked at our teeth. They were very curious about this gorilla-like animal that does such different things [to them].” 

But back to Kumbuka. Zoological Director of ZSL Professor David Field has given us a very different version of the silverback’s dramatic escape – not so dramatic after all. Kumbuka, he says, was not frenzied and stressed, but calm and curious, taking advantage of a not-yet locked door to wander into the corridor and explore the adjacent food stores. He must have felt like a kid in a candy store. He helped himself to some blackcurrant squash and glugged down 5 undiluted litres of the stuff – some sugar rush! – before being tranquilised and guided back to his den. Absolutely no smashed locks or windows.

So Kumbuka has his family in London Zoo, he has ample food (and blackcurrant squash), and he has instant medical care whenever he may need it. But what he does not have is his freedom. Instead he is imprisoned, and put on display.

The saddest thing about his momentary escape is that the enormous publicity will do nothing but bring bigger crowds of visitors to invade his privacy, gawking and gesticulating at him through the glass.

Isn’t it time to free these innocent prisoners, and give them the protection in the wild these gentle giants need? Protection from us, the humans?

Support ‘Harambe’s Law’ here

Ask Cincinnati Zoo to release their gorillas to a sanctuary here

Gorillas in danger – save Kafuga Forest Reserve here

Vote in poll: Should Wild Animals Be Kept in Zoos? here

Donate to the International Gorilla Conservation Program here

Or to the Gorilla Fund International here

Sources

How ‘psycho’ gorilla Kumbuka made a bid for freedom – The Mail

Don’t insult gorillas by comparing them to Donald Trump | Ros Coward | Opinion | The Guardian

The woman who gave her life to save gorillas – BBC Earth

Gorilla Family Dynamics – Nature

Animal Fact Guide – Mountain Gorilla

Wiki

London Zoo gorilla drank 5 litres of blackcurrant juice after escaping from his enclosure -The Guardian

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Mobile zoos: a growing industry and a growing problem for animals

 

Kids really love animals. They love seeing them. They love interacting with them. They love stroking them. Sadly, the love of animals sometimes equates to suffering for those animals. So please don’t take your kids to a mobile zoo this holiday weekend.

Many of us including CAPS have been struggling for years to get a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses.  But in spite of giving lip service in support of the Wild Animals in Circuses (Prohibition Bill )2015-2016 this Tory government has repeatedly blocked and thwarted its passage through Parliament. Yet another sad proof of the Tory party’s sad disregard for animals and their welfare.

The tragedy here is that though the numbers of animals in circuses in the UK has declined over the years, now a new problem has arisen in the form of mobile zoos.

Below is the mail I received today from the Captive Animals Protection Society

It’s over 2 years since we carried out our first investigation into the mobile zoo industry and our fears have been confirmed; the industry is growing and the number of animals being exploited is on the rise.

Our new research which we have launched today, shows that we now have at least 187 of these businesses in the UK with 56 new mobile zoo businesses setting up since 2013. These businesses use at least 3500 animals, the majority of them WILD. This number is the absolute minimum we could find and we know it is much higher.

This is extremely worrying, not least because this industry is virtually unregulated and animals are extremely vulnerable as a result.

Read our full report here: http://bit.ly/1UMSsyz

Animals in mobile zoos are transported across the UK to parties, schools, fairs, and other public events, with some businesses operating seven days a week. No mandatory inspections exist for someone setting up a mobile zoo business (unless the animals are deemed ‘dangerous’), despite the owners being responsible for the lives of animals from a range of species, all with very specific welfare needs.

The terrible case of Tropical Inc., is a warning that something needs to be done. When not on the road, this mobile zoo kept animals in dark sheds, squashed into cat carriers and cages piled one on the other. The premises were raided by the RSPCA and over 70 animals moved to safety, although sadly some were so ill they had to be put down.

The Easter weekend is no doubt one of the busiest weekends for mobile zoos, with people expecting to see live rabbits, chicks and other animals at Easter events. 
Zoo wild animals invertebrates reptiles monkey parrot meerkat owl CAPS
Ways to help:

Help us to find the animals being exploited this Easter by doing research in your local area to locate mobile zoo events, then report them to us here: http://mobilezoo.org.uk/report-zoo/

This kind of task might seem a little boring but it is crucial to build the case against mobile zoos and to locate their movements, so we can oppose them. This tactic was used successfully against the circus industry to organise local protest and to appeal to councils to ban circuses on their property – let’s do the same for animals exploited in mobile zoos!

ESCHEW THE ZOO!

Postscript

Circus workers attack animal rights activists and police in Ireland




 

Animal News 2015: A Look Back

2015: Animal issues taking much greater prominence in the news! This great post is the perfect partner to my recent “Persons not Property – Could the Tide be Turning?” Animals are really starting to matter!

#Blackfish #SeaWorld #Cecil #PETA #Elephants #TrophyHunting #Ringlings #ALDF #SeaShepherd #FarmSanctuary #TommytheTurkey

Alexandra´s Animal Awareness Blog

The animal activist Karen Dawn has put together a wonderfully informative and uplifting look back on news related to good news for animals published in 2015:

“Cecil was undoubtedly the biggest animal media story of the year. The outpouring of grief was not limited to the one single lion who was lured out of national park and shot by a trophy hunter. In a monologue that was uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, receiving 17 Million views, Jimmy Kimmel epitomized public opinion as he asked why anybody would want to kill a lion. Cecil’s death brought trophy hunting into the limelight and under scrutiny in 2015. Many airlines banned the transport of hunting trophies as we saw the tide turn forcefully against the macabre sport.

The Pope made huge news when he released his encyclical, “On Care of our Common Home.” With the directive that we should not “cause animals to…

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