Tag Archives: breeding

Poachers target rare bird’s ‘ivory’ beak in Southeast Asia

Some call it “ivory on wings,” part of the bill of a critically endangered bird in Southeast Asia that is sought by poachers and carved into ornaments for illegal sale to Chinese buyers.

The helmeted hornbill isn’t getting as much attention as the beleaguered African elephant at a global wildlife conference this week in South Africa.

But the killing of elephants by the tens of thousands for their tusks is intertwined with a surge in the slaughter of the rare bird whose beak part is a coveted substitute for ivory.

“It’s all part of the rising demand for ivory,” said Richard Thomas, spokesman for TRAFFIC, a conservation group based in Britain.

Poaching of the helmeted hornbill has soared since around 2010, particularly in Indonesia. The timing roughly coincides with an increase in elephant poaching that has caused a sharp drop in elephant populations. Last year, the helmeted hornbill was designated as critically endangered on an international “red list” of threatened species.

Delegates are discussing protections for elephants, helmeted hornbills and other vulnerable wildlife at a meeting in Johannesburg of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, or CITES . The 12-day meeting of the U.N. group, which regulates wildlife trade, ends Oct. 5.

The helmeted hornbill is a bird of lore, featuring in an ancient belief that it sits by a river between life and death. Its feathers have been used in traditional ceremonies. During breeding, the female is sealed into a nest, relying on the male to provide food.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.

In a CITES document , Indonesia asked for more collaboration among law enforcement agencies from countries where helmeted hornbills live, as well as “end market” nations — a reference primarily to China.

China, the world’s main ivory consumer, has already said it plans to close its domestic ivory market.

A large lump on top of the beak of the helmeted hornbill is made of keratin, a protein also found in rhino horn and other animal and human parts. It has a red tinge is softer than elephant ivory, making it an attractive material for carvers who have fashioned belt buckles, snuff boxes, pendants and images of Chinese deities from it over many centuries.

The upper part of the bill, also known as a casque, is solid, unlike the hollow casques of other hornbill species. Its price on the illegal market is higher than that of elephant ivory. A casque weighs up to 350 grams (0.7 pounds); the average weight of an elephant tusk is five kilograms (11 pounds), though a big male’s tusk can weigh 10 times as much.

At least 2,170 heads and bill parts of helmeted hornbills were confiscated from the illegal trade in Indonesia and China between 2012 and 2014, TRAFFIC said.

Investigators found helmeted hornbill products being sold openly in Laos, a major transit point for wildlife traffickers that borders China, according to a TRAFFIC report released this month. Sale locations included a luxury hotel and convention center in central Vientiane, the capital, it said.

Indonesia said it has arrested more than 20 people in the helmeted hornbill trade and sentenced most of them. Penalties include up to five years in jail and a heavy fine.

On Saturday, rangers in Indonesia’s Gunung Leuser National Park arrested a suspected helmeted hornbill poacher with a rifle and silencer, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, or WCS, a group based in New York. The suspect had just entered the forest and did not have any bird parts.

“This species needs to be on people’s radars,” said Elizabeth Bennett, vice president of species conservation at WCS.

Illegal logging in Indonesia is shrinking the habitat of the helmeted hornbill. Conservationists fear poachers will focus on the Malaysian population once supply dries up in Indonesia.

The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.
The call of the helmeted hornbill is an intermittent, honking sound that slowly builds in tempo until it ends in what resembles, for some listeners, shrieks of laughter. Loud and long, the call helps poachers locate their prey.


The lively pumi is newest recognized breed

A high-energy Hungarian herding dog — the pumi — is the latest new breed to be celebrated at the Westminster Kennel Club and many other U.S. dog shows.

The American Kennel Club is recognizing the pumi, the 190th breed to join the roster of the nation’s oldest purebred dog registry. That means the pumi can vie for best of breed at Westminster for the first time next February.

With coats of corkscrew curls and ears that flop at the tips, the pumi (pronounced POOM’-ee) has a whimsical expression that belies its strong work ethic, fanciers say. The 20-to-30-pound breed goes back centuries in Hungary, where it herded cattle, sheep, and swine. It’s related to the puli, a breed already recognized by the AKC and known for its coat of long cords.

Like many herding dogs, pumis — the proper plural is actually “pumik” — are alert and active.

“They’re not for somebody who’s going to sit and watch TV all day long,” said Chris Levy, president of the Hungarian Pumi Club of America. But if provided with enough exercise and stimulation, “the pumi can chill out.”

Considered quick learners, pumis have done well at agility and other canine sports. Some in the U.S. also herd rabbits, chickens, goats and even cats in a cattery, said Levy, who breeds the dogs in Salem, Oregon. She and others have been working to build up the breed in the U.S. for two decades, but it’s still quite rare.

AKC recognition requires having at least 300 dogs of the breed nationwide, among other criteria. Two other new breeds, the American hairless terrier and an ancient North African hound called the sloughi, were recognized this past January and also will be eligible for Westminster for the first time next year.

Some animal-rights advocates say dog breeding is too appearance-focused and irresponsible when many mixed-breed animals need adoption.

The AKC says conscientious breeding helps people and pets make happy matches by making the animals’ characteristics somewhat more predictable.

Feds issues rule on handling exotic cat cubs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed  tiger cubs, as well as lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards under 4 weeks old.

The guidance is in response to a 2012 legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, World Wildlife Fund, Detroit Zoological Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, Fund for Animals and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

“We applaud USDA for taking this first step to put roadside zoos and the public on notice that federal law prohibits using infant cubs for photographic opportunities and interactive experiences,” Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife & animal research at The Humane Society of the United States, stated in a news release issued on April 5.

The petition said dozens of facilities across the country routinely breed and acquire exotic feline species — all of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act — to produce a supply of cubs for profit.

“Both animals and people are put in harm’s way when big cats are used for public contact exhibition – young cubs are particularly susceptible to disease, especially when deprived of necessary maternal care, and cubs quickly grow into dangerous predators that can cause serious injury to adults and children,” said Jeff Flocken, North America regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

In contrast to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “there are thousands of big cats in private menageries in the U.S. and these facilities do not have the resources or expertise to safely and responsibly care for dangerous wild animals,” Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, stated in the news release.  Conservation professionals agree that endangered and threatened species like tigers, lions, and apes should not be bred for commercial purposes.

“The insatiable demand for cubs and baby primates used at interactive exhibits fuels a vicious cycle of breeding and exploitation. It is standard in this horrific industry to separate babies from their mothers, and then discard them when they grow too big for handling,” Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, added in the news release.

The propagation of tigers in the United States has resulted in a captive population that is nearly twice the number of tigers that exist in the wild, according to The HSUS.

“Cubs used for petting, if they survive, typically spend many years living in substandard facilities and the few who are lucky enough to eventually end up at good sanctuaries typically arrive with medical issues caused by deficient care,” said Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue.

In addition to these animal welfare, public safety and conservation concerns, “the surplus of exotic animals in roadside zoos and other substandard facilities puts an enormous financial burden on the accredited sanctuaries that provide lifetime care for abandoned and seized animals,” according to Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals.

Investigations have revealed that using tiger cubs for photo ops and play sessions can yield over $20,000 per month for a roadside zoo, fueling demand for more and more cubs – but once the cats mature, their future is uncertain. “There is just not enough space or resources at accredited sanctuaries to support the demand created by this irresponsible breeding,” said Kellie Heckman, executive director of Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Editor’s note: This report was updated on April 8.

Reaction to SeaWorld decision to stop breeding orcas

Following years of criticism and the death of one of its trainers, SeaWorld Entertainment announced this month that it would stop breeding orcas.

The decision was widely applauded by animal rights groups, but lamented by an organization representing aquariums as a hindrance to the company’s scientific research and rescue efforts.

Reaction to the decision…

“I didn’t imagine necessarily that the documentary would spark so much change, I just sort of went about telling the story. I came by it honestly. I’m a mother who used to take her kids to SeaWorld. I just asked a question, and that question was, ‘Why did a top level SeaWorld trainer come to be killed by a killer whale?’ Very few people see documentaries anyway — I never imagined there would be a sea change. I think it struck a nerve … and I think this resonated with children. I call kids these days the “I can’t believe we used to do that” generation. They’re the ones who decide where families go on vacation.”

— Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish”


“I can envision a day coming soon when children will be repelled by the idea of keeping any wild and sentient animals in captivity. Caging tigers, lions, elephants, orcas and other dolphins, to name a few, will become just as repulsive to an evolved civilization as smoking in restaurants. … SeaWorld is running a circus show — orcas are the only zoo animals that had to do tricks for their meals. The only dolphins children really need to see are in the ocean, their real home.”

— Louie Psihoyos, director of the 2009 documentary “The Cove,” which showed the killing of dolphins in Japan.


“SeaWorld’s decision to end captive breeding and make no additional wild captures in the future, means that the current generation of captive Orcas in their parks will be the last. The partnership they are making with the Humane Society, with its focus on rescue, rehabilitation, and advocacy on important marine issues not only represents a change in their business model, but an exciting new direction for the company. These changes are something that advocates have been urging for years, and I think SeaWorld will find that visitors will reward their actions with a renewed interest in the parks.”

— Rep. Adam Schiff, D-California, who authored the Orca Responsibility and Care Advancement Act in 2015.


“For far too long, these intelligent mammals have been subjected to the heartwrenching practice of being kept captive in cruelly small tanks solely for public entertainment value. After years of public outcry and many letters, meetings, amendments, and even legislation, I am thrilled to see the wave of opposition build to where SeaWorld finally has done the right thing and ended their captive breeding program of orcas.”

— Rep. Jared Huffman, D-California, who co-sponsored the ORCA Act in 2015.


“This decision means that in 30 or 40 years, after the last of SeaWorld’s orcas have passed away, future generations of American children will no longer be able to see and experience the awe-inspiring physicality and intelligence of these apex predators up close and be inspired to help conserve them in the wild. Much of the significant scientific research SeaWorld has conducted over the years that has taught us most of what we know today about orcas and cannot be done in the wild will come to an end, and the cutting edge technology and veterinary knowledge of whales SeaWorld now maintains and employs in its rescue and rehabilitation work with wild cetaceans will also be impaired.”

— Kathleen Dezio, president and CEO of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.


“The decision to end its orca breeding program globally and to commit to ending the collection of exhibit animals from the wild, as well as to a ‘no orca’ policy should SeaWorld expand its brand into new international markets, is a monumental and important first-step forward in achieving a more humane business model for the company.”

— Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal specialists at the Washington-based Animal Welfare Institute.


“Keeping and breeding large, intelligent animals in small underwater cages for the sake of entertainment and profit is simply unethical. Consumers have woken up and sent a clear message to SeaWorld that they won’t pay to watch animal cruelty in action. It is encouraging that SeaWorld seems to have finally taken notice.”

— Angus Wong of SumOfUs, an international consumer watchdog organization.


“We don’t come to this discussion, or this collaboration with any naiveté or any lack of knowledge about the operations of SeaWorld. We didn’t want to be endlessly mired in conflict with SeaWorld. The goal was to make progress for animal rights. … This is a monumental announcement.”

— Wayne Pacelle, CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, which announced a conservation and education partnership with SeaWorld.

Learn more about orcas

Defenders of Wildlife.

Petco drops small-animal supplier amid federal probe

Petco, one of the biggest pet retailers in the country, severed its relationship with a Pennsylvania small-animal dealer amid a federal investigation into conditions at the facility where it keeps thousands of hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits and other species.

Petco said in a statement this week that Holmes Chinchilla Ranch and Other Small Animals Inc. is no longer a supplier after the retailer concluded “they did not meet our animal care standards.”

The U.S. Department of Agriculture spent several days at Holmes this month after an animal-rights group shot video purporting to show substandard conditions at the dealer’s facility in Barto, about 50 miles northwest of Philadelphia.

“You have roughly 20,000 animals in severely crowded bins, competing for food, competing for water,” said Dan Paden, associate director of evidence analysis at People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

He said a PETA employee got a job at Holmes and worked there, undercover, for three months, collecting evidence that PETA presented to the USDA. The agriculture department’s investigative unit recently spent five days at Holmes, according to Paden.

Tanya Espinosa, spokeswoman for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, confirmed the agency has an open investigation into Holmes but declined further comment.

The video, which PETA shared with The Associated Press, includes scenes of bins with dead guinea pigs; dishes filled with what appears to be fouled water; loose cats that PETA said preyed on hamsters, mice and rats; live rats stuffed in a plastic bag and placed in a freezer; and a “waste-filled cooler” where dozens of small animals of varying species were dumped and gassed, “sometimes ineffectively,” PETA said.

Holmes declined to answer questions about its operations.

The dealer said in a statement that it is cooperating with USDA, “and anticipate that we will satisfactorily resolve any concerns that they have now or arise in the future, as we have since the beginning of their inspections of our facility.”

Holmes passed its last several federal inspections, according to online records that go back three years. PETA, in a letter to the USDA, requested the inspector who gave Holmes a clean bill of health as recently as January 2015 not take part in the current probe, citing evidence the staffer warns facilities ahead of time of impending inspections.

Holmes’ 2015 federal inspection report said the facility housed 16,787 animals — ferrets, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits, chinchillas and guinea pigs.

Holmes also supplies PetSmart, another huge retail chain.

“We have reached out to the USDA to learn about its findings. If we find our standards have not been met by this supplier, we will take swift and appropriate action,” PetSmart spokeswoman Erin Gray said.

Petco spokeswoman Lisa Start said the retailer ended its relationship with the supplier “as a result of our own recent inspections at Holmes Chinchilla Ranch, which are a regular part of our strict vendor oversight protocol.”

Paden, with PETA, said the PETA employee working undercover was there when a Petco representative showed up to inspect the facility on Dec. 2. He said the employee was packing animals destined for Petco as recently as Jan. 5, her last day at Holmes and the day that USDA officials began their probe.

Scientists invent canine ‘contraceptive vaccine’

Veterinary scientists in Chile have invented a contraceptive vaccine for dogs, which can be used in both males and females, and may provide an inexpensive option to help control the country’s growing canine population.

Scientists from the University of Chile Veterinary and Livestock Faculty developed the vaccine from an existing formula used to sterilize pigs, as professor Leonardo Saenz explains.

“It began in Australia more or less in 1989. What we did was to take the concept of immuno-castration which already existed and we developed and improved for use in domestic animals, mainly in dogs, and to create an alternative for pigs, better than what already exists. The previous one was a vaccine by a pharmaceutical laboratory which needs two doses to take effect. In our case, only one dose is needed for the vaccine to take effect,” said Saenz.

According to Saenz, the effect of the vaccine is similar to that of a surgical castration without needing the resources and subsequent care such an operation requires.

It is also a reversible measure based on hormonal alterations.

“The vaccine is a recombinant protein generated in Escherichia coli. The protein is carried by inclusive bodies which are purified previously in Escherichia coli, and we create the vaccine using a polymer. Chitosan is used for pigs and this formula permits, or induces the formation of anti-bodies which neutralize the hormone Betatrophin, and these neutralizing anti-bodies prevent reproductive activity. There is no Progesterone or Estrogen in the females and no Testosterone in the males, which blocks reproductive activity and is a form of immunological castration,” said Saenz.

Veterinary scientists hope the vaccine will help to control the growing canine population in Chile, where surgical castration is only applied in small numbers. They expect the vaccine could be administered to a group three or four times greater than those that undergo surgery.

A further benefit of the vaccine, according to scientists, is that it has no side effects, unlike other forms of contraception.

“Since it is a vaccine which blocks the production of hormones, it does not function as a contraceptive but rather an immuno-castrator. The difference is that contraceptives prevent animals from going on heat. It will still engage in reproductive activity but it will not be able to fertilize. In this case, there are no hormones so there is no activity, there are no gametes so the animal is sterilized as a result of suppressed hormones. As there is a reduction in the hormonal activity, there are no side effects as is the case with hormonal contraceptives on which they put high quantities of contraceptive or hormones which induce alterations in the uterus and can be related to the appearance of some cancers. In this case that does not happen, we block that activity,” said Saenz.

The vaccine has been patented in Chile, Europe and the United States and is undergoing further tests in controlled conditions. In Chile, the final formula will have to be authorized by the Agricultural and Livestock Service, before it is commercialized. 

A number of other dog vaccines are currently under development globally, including one at the California Institute of Technology and another being tested by Oklahoma-based Spay First and the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Wildlife Research Center.

Federal court upholds ban on sales of puppy mill dogs

A federal court has upheld a measure banning pet stores in Phoenix from selling puppies produced in inhumane, commercial, dog breeding facilities known as puppy mills.

The U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona rejected a pet store’s federal constitutional challenge to the local ordinance.

Jonathan Lovvorn, senior vice president and chief counsel of animal protection litigation for The Humane Society of the United States, responded, “Not only does this type of regulation crack down on the puppy mill industry, but it also reduces local pet overpopulation and euthanasia rates in shelters by driving the market toward the adoption of homeless animals and purchases from only responsible breeders.”

According to the organization, more than 70 localities across the country have enacted similar ordinances.

Four federal courts have determined that the laws are constitutional. Those courts are in Florida, Illinois and Rhode Island.

USDA announces Great Lakes program to help imperiled golden-winged warbler

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week announced improvements on about 64,000 acres of key habitat in the Great Lakes states of Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota to help protect the imperiled golden-winged warbler.

This project is part of a new regional conservation program that includes 100 projects involving all 50 states. The program will provide more than $370 million for targeted conservation efforts in the states through the Natural Resources Conservation Service, according to a news release from the USDA.

The Great Lakes project is scheduled to begin this year with funding for the program available through 2019. The project will be managed in partnership between NRCS and American Bird Conservancy.

The warbler, which depends on the conservation of key habitat in Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota for breeding, has suffered one of the steepest population declines of any songbird species, with a decline of more than three percent annually over the last 40 years across its range.

That decline is due primarily to habitat loss, particularly the loss of early successional, or young forest habitat. Other factors contributing to the decline are habitat loss due to suburban sprawl, competition from and hybridization with Blue-winged Warblers, cowbird parasitism, and loss of non-breeding period (winter) habitat in Central and South America.

“This is the poster-bird for recovery of early successional forest habitat and one that we are proud to contribute to saving for generations of Americans to come.”

“Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin have the largest remaining breeding population of the GWWA, and habitat management actions there are considered critical to rebuilding populations rapidly,” said Dr. George Fenwick, president of American Bird Conservancy. “This is the poster-bird for recovery of early successional forest habitat and one that we are proud to contribute to saving for generations of Americans to come.”

Across its breeding cycle, the warbler needs forested landscapes varying in age from young regenerating stands to those with mature forest characteristics. Core habitat for the warbler has been identified through a consortium of partners and the project is expected to create new breeding habitat for 1,180 pairs of warblers, which would result in an increase of 16,000 birds within four years.

Report: Mining Tar Sands threatens migratory birds

Destructive mining and drilling practices in the heart of Canada’s boreal forest are putting millions of America’s migratory birds at risk and have already resulted in potentially hundreds of thousands of fatalities, according to a report from the National Wildlife Federation and the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Among the imperiled birds is the critically endangered whooping crane, considered a symbol of previous conservation success after it rebounded from a population low of just 15 cranes in the 1940s to more than 600 today.

Now this species’ precarious comeback is at risk from tar sands expansion, according to scientists.

Other migrating species threatened by Tar Sands activity include white-winged scoters, surf scoters, buffleheads and red-necked grebes, which nest in and migrate over the tar sands region.

Songbirds such as blackpoll warblers, Swainson’s thrushes, and yellow-rumped warblers also nest in and migrate through northern Alberta.

“Migrating birds don’t understand national boundaries and freely pass between Maine and Canada, leaving our nations and people with a shared responsibility,” said Lisa Pohlmann, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine. “Tar sands mines and associated industrial development threatens the lands many birds rely on.”

The U.S. Department of Interior is under a legal obligation — known as the Pelly Amendment — to determine whether tar sands mining and drilling in Canada is undermining a century-old international treaty to protect North America’s shared songbirds and waterfowl.

“Unchecked tar sands development is turning a vast, irreplaceable breeding ground into a toxic wasteland,” said National Wildlife Federation senior counsel Jim Murphy. “Many of the birds Americans watch, enjoy, and hunt fly to and rely on this area.  The Canadian Government has vowed to protect these birds, but it is turning a blind eye.”

As the report details, tar sands development sits in the heart of the previously pristine boreal forest, which provides important breeding habitat for birds. But now an area the size of Florida is being destroyed by huge open-pit mines, toxic waste tailings ponds that can be seen from space, extraction wells, noisy compressor stations, refineries, and networks of new roads, drilling pads, seismic lines and pipelines.

Oil-laden tailings ponds have resulted in the deaths of countless waterfowl.

In 2008, 1,600 ducks died in Syncrude tailings ponds.

An October 2010 storm resulted in hundreds of ducks landing on a Suncor tailings pond near Fort McMurray — at least 550 birds were too oiled to save.

As of 2010, 43 species of internationally protected birds had suffered fatalities from exposure to tar sands tailings ponds.

Unabated tar sands development could result in the reduction of 70 million hatchlings over a 40-year period.

Of the 130 internationally protected American migratory and songbird species listed in the report as threatened by tar sands development, many are familiar names, including: snow goose, American goldfinch, evening grosbeak, great blue heron, common loon, Northern pintail, wood duck, pine siskin, trumpeter swan, cedar waxwing and the pileated woodpecker.