Tag Archives: elephants

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand on animal exploitation

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand against animal exploitation by no longer selling bookings to attractions where travelers can make physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.

The policy, six months in the making, was formed with input from tourism, animal welfare and conservation groups including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but many of the millions of travelers who post reviews to the company’s website have been concerned about animal welfare for years, company spokesman Brian Hoyt said.

The company, based in Needham, Massachusetts, also will start providing links on its site to take users to educational research on animal welfare and conservation.

“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president.

But the president of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said she was “disappointed” TripAdvisor never consulted her Virginia-based organization, whose members include branches of the SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks and dozens of other marine life parks, aquariums and zoos internationally.

“It’s an unjust demonization of the interactive programs that are at the heart of modern zoo and aquarium programs,” president Kathleen Dezio said. “They give guests the magic, memorable experiences that make them want to care about these animals and protect them in the wild.”

The TripAdvisor policy, announced Tuesday, is in line with increasing public sentiment against the exploitation of wild animals to entertain people. SeaWorld this year announced it would stop using killer whales for theatrical performances, while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year stopped using elephants.

TripAdvisor will cease booking some attractions immediately, but the policy, which may affect hundreds of businesses, takes full effect early next year.

In announcing the policy, which also applies to the affiliated Viator booking website, TripAdvisor specifically mentioned elephant rides, swim-with-the-dolphins programs and tiger petting.

Several U.S. businesses that offer such attractions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The policy does not apply to horseback rides and children’s petting areas with domesticated animals. It also exempts attractions such as aquarium touch pools where there are educational benefits and visitors are professionally supervised.

TripAdvisor won’t bar user reviews of tourist attractions, even those it stops booking. The company has long banned reviews of businesses that use animals for blood sport, including bullfights.

A San Francisco-based travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt, said because TripAdvisor is so widely used the wildlife attractions could see a noticeable hit to their business.

However, if TripAdvisor merely stops selling the tickets but continues listing the attractions, he said, the effect won’t be long-lasting. He said those attractions may just go through other booking websites to sell tickets.

TripAdvisor said if a wildlife attraction changes its business model it would consider selling tickets again.

 

Ringling elephants retire to Florida

The last 11 touring elephants from Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus kicked off their retirement in Florida in May, with a buffet brunch of carrots, apples, celery, loaves of bread and lots of hay.

Circus spokesman Stephen Payne told The Associated Press the elephants arrived at the 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation in central Florida after performing their final shows in Rhode Island and Pennsylvania. They join 29 others already retired to the center after the circus announced last year it would stop using elephants in response to the number of cities and counties that passed ordinances prohibiting the use of bull hooks or nixing wild animal acts altogether.

Executives from Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, have said it’s difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year and fighting legislation in each jurisdiction is expensive.

Feld has a herd of 40 Asian elephants, the largest in North America. It will continue a breeding program and the animals will be used in a cancer research project.

On Friday, 23 of the herd dined on the buffet. All but one were female elephants. Smokey, the lone male, is neutered and can co-exist with the females peacefully.

“Smokey does not have the aggressive tendencies,” said Payne, adding that unaltered male elephants are solitary, territorial and highly aggressive.

The oldest elephant at the center is named Mysore; she is 70.

Elephants have been the symbol of this circus since P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.

The circus will continue to use tigers, dogs and goats, and a Mongolian troupe of camel stunt riders joined its Circus Xtreme show. While animal rights activists decry the use of these animals, the elephants in particular were a problem, groups like People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said. Elephants are social in the wild and enjoy living in family-like environments. Traveling the country in rail cars was inhumane and caused depression in the animals, activists said.

Some in the animal rights community wondered if the Feld family’s decision had anything to do with the fallout over “Blackfish,” a documentary exploring why the orca Tilikum killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

The documentary argues that killer whales in captivity become more aggressive to humans and each other. Since it aired, several entertainers pulled out of performances at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. parks, and Southwest Airlines ended its marketing partnership.

The company announced in 2015 that it would retire the full herd to the center by 2018. But once officials began planning details, they realized they could do it sooner because building the new structures to house the retiring elephants didn’t take as long as they originally thought, company officials said. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant.

The Center for Elephant Conservation is located in rural Polk City, between Orlando and Tampa.

Animal rights activists have long alleged that circuses have mistreated elephants.

In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.

While the elephants will be retired, they will be used for research purposes. Payne said the extent of the research is confined to blood draws.

“We’re hoping that 55 million years of elephant evolution can teach us something about cancer,” he said.

Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals’ bodies have many more cells. That’s a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation — one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.

Ringling elephants perform for final time Sunday

On Sunday, the elephants of Ringling Bros. will perform for the last time at shows in Providence, Rhode Island, and Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, signaling a turning point in the history of our society’s tolerance of wild animal acts.

When Ringling announced its decision last year to end its traveling elephant acts, I called it a “Berlin Wall moment.” Ringling had long fought changes in its business model, and its decision to reverse course signaled that even one of the most hardened, stubborn animal-use companies recognized the world is changing and saw that it needed to adapt. In just the year since, we have seen a tidal wave of animal welfare announcements from major brands that relied or rely on animal use, including dozens of announcements by food industry players to phase out battery cages and gestation crates from their supply chains. Last month, SeaWorld announced the end of its orca breeding program, and Ringling declared it would retire the elephants almost two years ahead of schedule.

Elephants – and other wild animals – do not belong in circuses. They lead lives of quiet desperation, languishing in confinement and denied the stimulation and social relationships they’d experience in the wild. Training typically  involves heavy doses of punishment, with animals shackled or kept in cages, and forced to endure months of grueling travel, all so they can perform silly tricks in city after city, night after night. Elephants live in fear of the bullhooks wielded by animal trainers – part of the back story that makes the use of elephants in circuses so objectionable.

With Ringling closing out its involvement with this kind of enterprise, there are new political opportunities to change state and local laws to ban bullhooks and the use of wild animal acts, and to ensure that these outdated spectacles are a thing of the past. So far, more than 50 U.S. municipalities have passed legislation that prohibits the use of bullhooks on elephants and/or the use of wild animals in public displays altogether (most recently, bans have been put in place in Austin, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Missoula, Oakland, Richmond, San Francisco, and Spokane).

Two bills now pending before the Rhode Island Legislature would phase out the use of bullhooks on elephants. Many other states are considering similar measures, including California, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Other circuses see the writing on the wall. The Melha Shrine  in Springfield, Massachusetts, announced that this year’s circus will not feature any animals and instead will focus only on thrilling human performances.

And the Wawa Shrine in Saskatchewan, Canada, has eliminated exotic animal acts from its show, with the provincial circus event chairman stating, “Our moral compass doesn’t point us in that direction anymore.”

Garden Bros. Circus announced that 2016 is the final year that it will tour with elephants.

However, there are still over a dozen circuses that continue to use elephants in their shows, so there’s more work to be done there, and there remain ongoing concerns about the facility that will house Ringling’s elephants.

We hope that Ringling will do the right thing and retire these majestic animals to a sanctuary.

But for now, with the change in policy, and so many other indicators of change in the use of animals in live entertainment, let’s celebrate that we are starting a new era – one that should lead ultimately to an end of these bizarre wild animal acts.

P.S. The fight for wild elephants is also more important than ever. In a strong warning to elephant poachers, Kenya will this Saturday conduct the largest ivory burn to date, sending 105 tons of ivory up in flames. Many heads of state and international dignitaries, including U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Heather Higginbottom, will be present. Poachers kill an elephant every 15 minutes for black-market ivory, sometimes even sawing off the animal’s tusks while it’s still alive. One of the many benefits that will come with the end of elephant performances at the circus is that we can devote more energy and resources to protecting elephants in the wild.

Editor’s Note: Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States.
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With the closing of Ringling’s elephant acts comes new political opportunities to change state and local laws to ban bullhooks and the use of wild animal acts.

So far, more than 50 U.S. municipalities have passed legislation that prohibits the use of bullhooks on elephants and/or the use of wild animals in public displays.

Two bills now pending before the Rhode Island Legislature would phase out the use of bullhooks on elephants.

Many other states are considering similar measures, including California, Massachusetts, New York, and Pennsylvania.

Ringling to retire all circus elephants in May

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus is ending its elephant acts a year and a half early, and will retire all of its touring elephants in May.

The move comes amid increasing scrutiny of circus elephant acts with local governments passing “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances in response to concerns over animal cruelty.

The circus’s parent company, Feld Entertainment, told The Associated Press exclusively that all of the iconic elephants will be permanently retired to the company’s 200-acre Center for Elephant Conservation, located between Orlando and Tampa.

The company announced in March that it would retire the full herd to the center by 2018. But once officials began planning details, they realized “we could actually do this a lot sooner” because building the new structures to house the retiring elephants didn’t take as long as they originally thought, said Alana Feld, Ringling’s executive vice president and show producer. It costs about $65,000 yearly to care for each elephant, Feld said.

Eleven elephants currently tour with the circus.

“They’ll be joining the rest of the herd,” Feld said. She’s part of the family that owns Feld Entertainment, which owns the largest herd of Asian elephants in North America. In addition to the elephants still touring, 29 of the animals are on the property now, and two are on breeding loans to zoos, Feld said.

Animal rights groups on Monday applauded Ringling’s new timeline and announcement.

“Like the elephants themselves, it had outsized importance because of the symbolic value of the enterprise,” wrote Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. “Ringling had been one of the biggest defenders of this kind of archaic animal exploitation, and the imminent end of its traveling elephant acts signaled that even one of the most tough-minded and hardened animal-use companies now recognized that the world is changing and it had to adapt.”

Elephant acts have been showcased by Ringling for more than a century and have often been featured on its posters.

But because so many cities and counties have passed “anti-circus” and “anti-elephant” ordinances, it became difficult to organize tours of three traveling circuses to 115 cities each year, Feld Entertainment CEO Kenneth Feld said last year. Fighting legislation in each jurisdiction is expensive, he said.

Los Angeles and Oakland prohibited the use of bull-hooks by elephant trainers and handlers last April. The city of Asheville, North Carolina, also nixed wild or exotic animals from performing in the municipally owned, 7,600-seat U.S. Cellular Center.

Ringling’s new show will begin in July without the giant pachyderms.

“We’re looking at a lot of new ways of doing things,” Feld said.

She said the retired elephants at the CEC will also be part of cancer research.

Cancer is much less common in elephants than in humans, even though the big animals’ bodies have many more cells. That’s a paradox known among scientists, and now researchers think they may have an explanation — one they say might someday lead to new ways to protect people from cancer.

Compared with just one copy in humans, elephants’ cells contain 20 copies of a major cancer-suppressing gene, two teams of scientists reported in October. The gene helps damaged cells repair themselves or self-destruct when exposed to cancer-causing substances.

The findings aren’t proof that those extra p53 genes make elephants cancer-resistant, but if future research confirms it, scientists could try to develop drugs for humans that would mimic the effect.

Dr. Joshua Schiffman, a pediatric cancer specialist at the University of Utah, is one of the researchers trying to find clues in the blood samples of some of the Ringling elephants.

“There’s so much to be learned from their DNA,” Feld said.

Animal rights activists have long alleged that circuses have mistreated elephants.

In 2014, Feld Entertainment won $25.2 million in settlements from a number of animal-rights groups, including the Humane Society of the United States, ending a 14-year legal battle over allegations that Ringling circus employees mistreated elephants.

On Monday, Ingrid Newkirk, the president of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, called on Ringling to end all animal acts and that “vigilance will be needed to determine how they are treated” at the Florida sanctuary.

Elephants have been a symbol of the Ringling circus for decades. P.T. Barnum brought an Asian elephant named Jumbo to America in 1882.

Washington voters approve comprehensive measure against wildlife trafficking

Washington voters on Nov. 3 approved a measure to severely restrict the trade in parts of 10 species of animals threatened with extinction.

Initiated by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and backed by The Humane Society of the United States, the ballot measure bans the trade in the parts of elephants, rhinos, lions, tigers, pangolins, leopards, cheetahs, sharks, rays and marine turtles and is the nation’s most comprehensive anti-wildlife-trafficking law enacted in any state.

The ballot measure passed in all 39 counties.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, said in a news release, “This is an enormous momentum-builder for the movement in the United States to shut down the commerce in trinkets, powders and pelts that are driving some of the world’s most iconic creatures to the precipice of extinction. The animals need their tusks, horns, heads and hides more than we do, and Washington voters have given our movement a shot in the arm with this resounding vote.”

The political committee known as Save Endangered Animals Oregon, also led by The Humane Society of the United States, is seeking to qualify a similar initiative in Oregon and to pass it in 2016.

Volunteers have gathered a preliminary round of more than 1,500 signatures, which have been submitted to the Oregon Secretary of State.

A second, much larger, round of signature gathering could begin by the end of the year, with the goal of placing the Save Endangered Animals Oregon measure on the November 2016 ballot.

The Humane Society of the United States and its partners are working across the country to shut down the market for parts of these rare and threatened species. Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that prohibits the sale of elephant ivory and rhino horn, and in 2014, New Jersey and New York passed similar laws at our urging.

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration is working to adopt a final federal rule to stem the illegal ivory trade in the United States.

The U.S. is the second largest market for ivory products in the world after China. Last month, the president of China announced his country would replicate a U.S. ban on the commercial trade in ivory.

“With the efforts at the state and federal level in the United States and the decision by China to join our movement, we have an incredible opportunity to put a stop to the mass slaughter of elephants and other creatures around the world,” said Pacelle.

42 airlines affirm bans on wildlife trophy shipments

The Humane Society of the United States reports that 42 airlines have announced or reaffirmed bans on wildlife trophy shipments on their carriers since the killing of Cecil the lion earlier this summer.

Cecil, one of Africa’s most famous lions and a protected animal, was killed in early July after being lured from Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe to be hunted. Minnesota dentist and trophy hunter Walter James Palmer killed the lion.

American Airlines, Delta, Hawaiian Airlines, Jet Blue, United and Virgin have banned shipments of lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros and Cape buffalo trophies, according to the nonprofit advocacy group.

The Humane Society noted that shipping giants UPS and FedEx and South African Airways have yet to take such action.

In a statement on Aug. 26, Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States, called “upon them to get in line with emerging industry standards for animal welfare and conservation and to stop shipping trophies from these rare animals gunned down in their native habitats.”

Pacelle added, “UPS and other shipping carriers and airlines have the opportunity to help us fight this enterprise of globe-trotting trophy hunting of the rarest, most remarkable animals in the world. We urge these entities to follow in the footsteps of Virgin, Delta, United and other airlines and freight carriers.”

Since the killing of the Cecil, which drew global attention to the issue of wildlife trophy hunts, several members of Congress have introduced bills to restrict wildlife trophy imports.

U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, a Democrat from New Jersey, introduced a bill to ban imports of trophies and parts from African lions and other at-risk species.

U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee and Eddie Bernice Johnson, both Democrats from Texas, plan to sponsor a bill to amend the Endangered Species Act to ban “all acts of senseless and perilous trophy killings.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers in New York and New Jersey have introduced bills to restrict intrastate sales and transportation of animal trophies.

Coalition seeks U.S. endangered species protection for elephants

A coalition of wildlife groups has filed a petition with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to uplist African elephants from threatened to endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Since the African elephant was originally listed as threatened in 1978, the species’ population has declined by about 60 percent, primarily due to poaching for the ivory trade. Habitat destruction and unsustainable trophy hunting also contributed to the decline. Scientists say elephant mortality is outpacing the natural birth rate, fixing the species in a pattern of ongoing decline.

The coalition includes the International Fund for Animal Welfare, The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and The Fund for Animals.

“African elephants are in very real danger of disappearing from the wild,” said Jeff Flocken, North American regional director for IFAW. “U.S. policy for elephants needs an update to reflect the current crisis and declining status of the species. As one of the world’s largest ivory markets and home to many elephant trophy hunters, the U.S. can end our contribution to the slaughter with an endangered listing.”

He added, “It is the best tool in our domestic policy toolkit to stop our role in elephant deaths and bring global awareness to the crisis.”

The coalition, in a news statement, said the current regulations for African elephants under the threatened listing fail to adequately protect the species from unsustainable trade. An endangered listing would institute restrictions on both domestic and international trade in African elephant parts — including ivory, hunting trophies, skins and other products — and would expand public oversight of such activities.

It is generally prohibited to engage in the import of or interstate commerce in endangered species and their parts, except in limited circumstances that clearly benefit the species, such as for scientific purposes. An analysis in the petition shows that between 2003 and 2012, parts from about 50,000 elephants crossed borders worldwide in legal trade, including over 40,280 whose ivory and tusks were legally traded, and over 10,240 elephants whose parts were imported as trophies into the United States.

The uplisting petition comes at a significant milestone. One year ago, the White House announced a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking, which called for new rules to restrict the domestic ivory trade.  The Petitioners will continue to support the Fish & Wildlife Service’s efforts to implement the National Strategy.

“Now is not the time to give up on these iconic, majestic creatures,” said Teresa Telecky, director of wildlife for Humane Society International. “The United States has a chance to shutter one of the world’s largest elephant ivory, skin and trophy markets. The positive potential impact of an endangered listing cannot be overstated.”

China destroys 6 tons of ivory in landmark move

Eco Gaze: China destroyed about 6 tons of illegal ivory from its stockpile this week in an unprecedented move wildlife groups say shows growing concern about the black market trade by authorities in the world’s biggest market for elephant tusks.

Authorities displayed a pile of ornaments, carvings and tusks to reporters, diplomats and conservationists before feeding them into two crushing machines. Tusks that were too long were cut up into smaller chunks by workers with circular saws before they could be pulverized.

Forestry and customs officials organized what they said was the country’s first large-scale ivory destruction in Dongguan in southern Guangdong province, where much of China’s ivory trade is focused.

Conservation groups say China is the world’s biggest market for ivory.

Demand is fueled by rapid growth in the world’s second biggest economy, which has created a vast middle class with the spending power to buy ivory carvings prized as status symbols.

Ivory can fetch up to $2,000 a kilogram on the black market, earning it the nickname “white gold.”

Officials said the 6.1 metric tons of ivory destroyed was just a portion of the illegal ivory held by China, though they wouldn’t disclose how big the country’s total stockpile is. The destroyed ivory came from shipments from Africa intercepted by customs officers as well as from carving factories and shops in China.

China is following other countries that have destroyed their ivory stocks in the past year.

In June, the Philippines burned and crushed more than 5 tons of ivory worth an estimated $10 million confiscated since 2009, becoming the first Asian country to do so. In November, the United States destroyed 6 tons of ivory seized over 25 years. Gabon burned nearly 5 tons in 2012.

The United States, which sent officials to Monday’s ivory destruction, commended China. State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said such actions “will send a powerful message to wildlife poachers and traffickers and to the consumers of illegal wildlife products.” 

The International Fund for Animal Welfare said the destruction was a powerful symbolic act that shows that the Chinese government is “concerned about the toll ivory trafficking is taking on elephant populations, as well as the other threats to regional security that arise in connection with wildlife crime.”

Ivory destruction in countries along the trade chain “clearly tells consumers everywhere that ivory buying is unethical and wrong,” IFAW CEO Azzedine Downs, who attended the event, said in a statement. IFAW estimates that more than 35,000 elephants were killed last year by poachers for ivory.