Elephants, Faces, and Loneliness (and whales!)

Elephants, Faces, and Loneliness (and whales!)

Asha, a 35-year-old African elephant, has been at the Natural Bridge Zoo in Virginia for 22 years. Every day, for 22 years, Asha trudges through the same lonely, solitary existence. Every day, she wakes up, and her life is the exact same as it was the day before. And she’s going through it completely alone.

She’s likely been beaten into submission by the “trainers” at this awful place – in fact, a commenter on Yelp stated he’d been asked to leave when his grandson was riding Asha (problem number one) and the trainer began hitting Asha with a stick. If this zoo’s employees are so bold as to hit Asha in front of patrons, imagine what they’re capable of doing after hours? It makes me sick.

She gives rides day after day, even in the sticky, unrelenting heat, with no hope for a better life after all of her literally back-breaking work. No breaks, no proper diet, no proper medical care, no shade….. cracked feet, small quarters, back rides (I can’t) the list goes on. Any of these is reason enough to shut this stupid zoo down, but the Virginia gaming and whatever crew doesn’t know what’s best for animals anymore than the riff raff over at Natural Bridge Zoo does. In any case, to me, the worst part of Asha’s situation is that she’s completely isolated. She’s alone. Everyday, the same painful, humiliating routine. Alone.

[sign a petition for Asha]

Loneliness is scary. Our identity is wrapped up in the relationships we have with other people, and when those relationships aren’t healthy, or they fail, or we isolate ourselves from others, we question our identity. That’s a big reason for depression and other mental illnesses. I mean, how many times have you been down the Rabbit Hole of Sad (RHoS is my own invented phrase, not to be confused with “Rabbit Hole,” an actual sad movie starring Nicole Kidman), and it just takes a simple interaction with another human being who did not go down the Rabbit Hole of Sad for you to snap out of it? (I’m not talking about actual depression – I would never suggest a depressed person simply “snap out of it”). It’s so important to have other humans around you to provide perspective when you get stuck. Even serious suffering can be alleviated by shared experience – see benefits of Group TherapyBut imagine being completely isolated at the hands of a different species. Having no way out, or being powerless to change whatever is isolating you – I mean, that’s even MORE isolating.

Lately I’ve gone down the Rabbit Hole of Reading About Face Transplants because (a) my morbid curiosity always wins and (b) face transplants are f-ing AMAZING. I am blown away by the teams of surgeons that perform these procedures. The intricacy of attaching a face, the super strict time constraints (aka keeping the face alive from donor to recipient). It’s just incredible. Have you ever seen a photograph of a face… just a face… laying on a table? If you get squeamish, ever, I wouldn’t Google it. But.. I mean you should. It’s crazy.

ANYWAY – there are a hundred reasons why a face transplant could fail. The biggest reason is that the recipient’s body could reject the face, just like it could reject any other organ transplant. But a face has more attached to it – muscles, tendons, bone, blood vessels, etc – so there are more ways your body can reject a face than ways it can reject a kidney. This means the recipient has to be on a crazy intense regimen of immunosuppressive drugs, which in turn leave the body vulnerable to other types of infections, and like, cancer. wtf?

My actual point is, another surprising way face transplants can fail is that the recipient doesn’t react well psychologically. Think about it. Think about what you think about when you think about you. (if you break that sentence down, slowly, it does actually make sense).  You think about your face first, right? Our face is our identity, because you can’t identify someone by their thoughts, feelings, preferences, or relationships right off the bat. Our faces allow us to identify a person quickly, so all of the feelings we have about a person are associated with their face. Now imagine that your face is gone, and you have someone else’s face, often ill-fitting (they choose donors by blood type, not whether the face is the same size) and oh also you have to take 700 medications per day which might allow you to get cancer good luck!

So you have someone else’s face, and it probably doesn’t fit right, and it’s swollen in weird places and your eyes are droopy, and it’s just generally an uncomfortable process. And often, when someone’s face is destroyed, their eyesight is destroyed too. So you’re going through this, unable to see whatever family or friends are supporting you, unable to see your doctors, just, in the dark. And face trauma/transplants are still rare, so it’s not likely that you’re in a unit in a hospital with twenty other people with funky faces. No, it’s just you.

And even if it’s not just you, the trauma of losing your face, your identity, is so deeply personal that it can be isolating even if you meet others with the same issue. Some face transplant recipients have a hard time adjusting – like Isabelle Dinoire, who, three years after her transplant, said she didn’t know who she was (like in a existential sense, not in an amnesiac sense). And her new face actually looked really good! Nevertheless, she had a hard time coping with essentially having a new identity. Also, a few years ago her body started rejecting her new face and then she passed away from cancer.

Another transplant recipient literally went crazy after his transplant and committed suicide – although it was a previous suicide attempt that took his face in the first place – despite teams of psychiatrists finding him to be healthy enough to handle a transplant.

Anyway – loneliness, identity, coping, health, blah blah blah. That’s my point. Loneliness is the worst and it’s bad for you, healthwise and for purposes of morale. It’s always better to have a buddy.

Back to Asha. What I am NOT doing is suggesting that Natural Bridge Zoo get a second elephant. No sir. What I am suggesting is that part of the reason zoos are evil is because elephants are isolated. Even within groups of elephants held in zoos, elephants isolate themselves because their fellow inmates are not members of the elephant’s family. Zoo groups are usually brought together in a piece meal manner and it just doesn’t work.

Elephants exhibit signs of loneliness. They are highly social animals that cannot thrive in solitary confinement (who knew?!). They can literally die from the effects of being lonely – they stop eating, don’t get enough nutrients, and die of infection.

But Asha doesn’t even have the option of interacting with another elephant. She just has idiot kids ranting and raving about riding her, and idiot “trainers” that hit her when she does something wrong normal. Basically, everyone is an idiot.

I can’t even sleep properly (poor me!!) imagining what her life must be like. It’s sad and infuriating, and shame on the state of Virginia for allowing this carnival of death and evil to continue operating.

I don’t quite know what to do other than email/write letters/call both the zoo and whoever is in charge in Virginia and hit them with facts. We could organize a protest? I think my organs would shut down if I got within 100 yards of this place. Umm… tell your friends not to ride elephants? Mkay yes thank you.

From the permit application it looks like collectionpermits@dgif.virginia.gov is a valid email. BRB gonna send them my feelings on the matter…

And now ~ back to the ABCs of Endangered Species.

Today’s featured celebrity is… TA DA…

the Blue Whale

FullSizeRender.jpg

Bio:

OTHER NAMES

baleine bleue in French. Quel charme!

HABITAT

blue_whale_range_map
lol, everywhere 

IUCN says they live in every ocean except the arctic. More populous in Southern Chile, Gulf of California, and the Coral Triangle.

POPULATION

10,000 to 25,000

SIGNIFICANCE

beluga_58358.jpg
look at dat faaaace (this is not a blue whale)

So blue whales weigh – wait for it – THIRTY. THREE. ELEPHANTS. They literally weigh the same as 33 elephants. WHat. The largest animal on the planet and it’s louder than a jet. I can hear a jet now (I live near an airport) annnnd, let’s just say I ain’t wanna be near a blue whale when it gets mad. That is just crazy. Like, SeaWorld isn’t even gonna try to cram one of these things in one of its pathetic prison tanks. Imagine airlifting 33 elephants at a time? Omg.

So the significance of whales is that, well, first of all they exist and they have every right to exist just as much as we do. Also they are at the top of the food chain and therefore significantly impact marine ecosystems. Sort of like when my supervisor leaves for the week no one goes to work (is that just me?).

THREATS

Uhhhhh climate change? Habitat loss, toxins from all the trash we throw in the water (seriously littering should be a capital offense it is NOT hard to throw your stuff away and throwing your trash in water? what is wrong with people), toxins from other things like, idk, oil I would imagine. Also they can get into trouble with boats and get tangled up in fishing gear. I can’t imagine how puny fishing gear would be any match for one of these 33-elephant-fish but apparently it’s a serious threat to them. Also they eat krill and krill is disappearing. But let me clarify – they eat 4 tons of krill EACH. PER DAY. They eat four tons of food per day?! So jealous

Also pollution from big ships like barges harms whales by dirtying the oxygen they breath and the water they live in.

THE HELPERS

Sooo for one, World Wildlife Fund and other groups are tracking these babies and documenting the routes they take, so that hopefully those routes can become protected areas where no fishing is allowed. There is also the International Whaling Commission that big groups like WWF lobby for better protections for whales.

Also this group of helpers is encouraging big boats to slow down to help protect the whales. That’s neat.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Unfortunately eating fish/seafood contributes to the problems whales face. The fishing industry often harms bigger fish when it rounds up the tiny fish for us to eat. I’m not like, preaching at you I’m just saying

You could symbolically adopt a whale through Defenders of Wildlife although I interviewed for a law school internship with them and didn’t get hired so can we really trust them

not bitter i swear

Help however you want. Tell your friends! Tell your cat if you prefer to spend time with your cat over humans. No judgment here.  Spread empathy, that may be a good place to start! Also do not throw your trash in the water or I will find you ~

Thanks for reading!

ABCs of Endangered Species

ABCs of Endangered Species

FRIENDS ~

 

It’s World Elephant Day.

 

Today, I choose to celebrate animals instead of stress over the convergence of the white nationalists and their unkempt facial hair onto DC.  I’ll also encourage you to donate money or share information with your friends or protest your local zoo, or order a pet portrait from me so that I can then give that money to elephants. Or protest Betsy DeVos as a human being, or… I don’t know, adopt one of these chickens from the Humane Rescue Alliance. However you want to celebrate.

 

This holiday (should be a federal holiday, right? Maybe I’ll skip work tomorrow, on principle) always makes me think a lot about the injustice of what’s happening to elephants, which usually spirals into a tornado of all of the injustices in the world.

 

Here’s something I thought about today.

 

I currently work in veterans’ law, dealing with disability appeals, and so I am more aware than I used to be about how policy affects veterans differently than other demographics. The New York Times covered Betsy DeVos’s decision to roll back transparency requirements that for-profit colleges are supposed to meet, that are supposed to protect prospective students. Not only is her decision transparently dirty, as most of her minions are involved in the for-profit college scam and get A LOT of money from taking advantage of students, but it can disproportionately affect veterans because of how they pay for school.

 

Please return to the ritzy hell whence you came, Betsy.

betsy_1

A 22,000 square foot summer home…? Who needs that?

 

I won’t go into it – you can read for yourself here and here, and also check out this informative presentation on why Mrs. DeVos and her eyebrows are evil. 

 

Anyway, this realization sort of strengthened my resolve to do better at work, to do better for elephants, to do better for many marginalized demographics, rather than sit around and complain. There are so many ways people can be taken advantage of, and conversely, so many ways to help.

 

It can be overwhelming to think about all of the terrible stuff going on, especially living in DC where complaining about policy and social justice issues is super posh. But I saw on instagram the other day (while making responsible use of my time) the quote by Mr. Rogers where he encourages us to “look for the helpers,” meaning that, where there is injustice, there are people trying to make it right.

o-MISTER-ROGERS-HELPERS-QUOTE-570

And those are the people we should look to for guidance, rather than seething over the purveyors of injustice. Focusing on the good that’s being done, and working to improve on that, is a much better source of motivation.

 

I recently attended a day of the Taking Action for Animals conference (TAFA), hosted by the Humane Society of the US every other year or so. First and foremost, I got to hear Allison Argo speak. She made the film about Shirley and Jenny, the two ex-circus elephants who were reunited after a long time apart and remembered each other. Watch this famous clip and let the tears flow freely.

 

More importantly, I got to immerse myself in a community of people who consider the compassionate treatment of animals to be common sense. It was invigorating and inspiring, and the food was pretty good. I got to hear people speak passionately about tiny birds, big cats, and horseshoe crabs, and it reminded me that all animals deserve as much attention as elephants. A little blind dog gnawed on my hand. It was glorious.

 

Working in animal welfare is tough, as is other employment in which you mostly deal with the worst people in society, some from your home state. A pretty clear secondary theme of the conference was to focus on the good being done, to remember all the achievements of the past few years to strengthen resolve moving forward.

 

In honor of focusing on the good, and remembering the marginalized, I wanted to highlight other species besides elephants that need our attention, while also focusing on the ways people are already helping them. And, because art is therapeutic, I’m drawing them (sorry, not sorry).

 

In honor of World Elephant MONTH 2018, I present to you

 

the ABCs of endangered species

 

 

Sure, it’s sad that these gorgeous and unique animals are endangered, but yay for the groups working to save them.

 

Our first celebrity endangered species is, behold,

 

the Amur Leopard.

 

IMG_2675.jpeg
Hisssss

 

Bio:

 

OTHER NAMES

 

Far East leopard, Manchurian leopard, or Korean leopard.

 

 

HABITAT

 

Northeastern China and the Russian Far East – also known as Amur-Heilong. More specifically, according to Science Daily, the Primorskii Province of Russia and the Jilin Province of China. I know nothing about these places.

The-current-range-of-the-Amur-leopard-popu-lation_Q320

 

POPULATION

 

Like 84 – which is an increase from the 30 counted in 2000, and 70 in 2015.

 

 

SIGNIFICANCE

 

Like many other endangered species, conserving the Amur leopard’s habitat benefits the other species that live there, like tigers and deer. Plus, the Amur leopard can jump 19 feet in the air – that’s reason enough to warrant saving it (and to warrant staying the hell away from it).

 

But, similarly to elephants, why don’t we consider saving them because they are animals, and they’re worth saving. Moreover, since its sort of our fault as humans that they’re in trouble, then it is our duty as humans to right that wrong.

 

 

THREATS

 

A few things. Its habitat is shrinking, and its being poached for its beautiful coat. Obviously my drawing won’t do it justice, so here is an actual photo.

amur-leopard_99144569
d/b/a Beyonce

 

 

It also suffers from a shortage of prey (like deer), which also benefit from habitat conservation.

 

 

THE HELPERS

 

Thankfully, the Land of the Leopard National Park was established in Russia in 2012, giving the leopards 650,000 acres of safe space to roam. It was largely this move that allowed the population to begin to recover.

 

 

 

HOW YOU CAN HELP

 

Thoughts and prayers! Just kidding, that doesn’t work.

 

Though I’m skeptical about where donor dollars go with big organizations, feel free to adopt a leopard through WWF for $55 – you get an adorable plush toy in return.

 

Um…. go to North Korea and herd their leopards across the Russian border? Maybe don’t do that either. For several reasons.

 

Find ways to support groups that are working to save them? Yes. You’re smart – do this however you want.

Boycott Betsy DeVos for funsies? Somehow, this will help.

Boycott zoos? Definitely. (BTW, just because some animals live longer in captivity doesn’t mean they live well… It’s still inhumane to cage wild animals).

Tell your friends how cute Amur leopards are and how high they can jump? Absolutely.

Do things that make you happy and be nice to others? Good place to start.

 

Happy World Elephant Month! ❤

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Hey friends ~

 

How’s everyone feeling? If you feel good, I’m jealous of you. Everyone in the apartment is sick right now. Not to be excluded, even the cat threw up on the shag rug this morning. Now I have about 30 minutes of energy left in me, so let’s talk about elephants again.

 

The only tv I could handle today was Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on very low volume. One of the first episodes was filmed in Myanmar, which is where The Elephant Project is looking to build a sanctuary. It reminded me that recently, a few friends have asked me about visiting elephants in Thailand and how to do it responsibly.

 

I have mixed feelings about visiting elephants. I wonder sometimes if all elephant tourism stopped, if eventually people would just leave them alone in the wild. This is obviously not true, as human-elephant conflict will never allow both parties to live in peace (I care about humans, too!). Maybe elephant tourism is a necessary evil. Some animal rights extremists say owning pets is a necessary evil, and that all domesticated pets should be neutered/spayed so that eventually they will die out. I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, and neither is the end of elephant tourism. Plus, I’m thankful that at least people want to see elephants in their native countries, as opposed to some pathetic zoo over here. 

 

So,

Six rules for a responsible elephant sighting in southeast Asia.

 

 

 

#1  Take your chances

 

If you won’t be devastated by potentially not seeing an elephant, I would suggest visiting a national park or reserve, where the animals roam completely free. For example, according to this article it’s pretty easy to spot an elephant in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka during certain months of the year. I’m sure this is true in Thailand, where there are a bunch of national parks.

 

I know it’s tempting to visit somewhere that you know you’ll be able to interact with an elephant. Who wouldn’t? I would pee in my pants if I got to meet an elephant. But the point of seeing an elephant is seeing it happy, exhibiting behaviors like it would in the wild (waving its tail, flapping its ears, constantly on the move). Who wants to see an elephant that’s been beaten into submission? It’s not worth it. Please, if you can, take your chances. Your elephant karma will be high, maybe that increases your chances of seeing a family!

 

 

#2  No riding

 

 

Most people know this by now (hopefully), but under no circumstances should you ride an elephant. Who are you, Aladdin? Who needs to ride an elephant? Nobody. No matter what the reviews say, no nothing. Those elephants were most likely beaten as infants and are chained when they’re not working. Plus, even if trained elephants were treated humanely, spending money on this activity supports this form of tourism, which increases the demand, which increases the abuse endured by elephants in the industry. Spend your money other ways in the country if you want to help.  

 

#3  Do not. ride. any wild animals.

 

Just don’t. I can’t even post a photo of western tourists riding elephants because they look so. stupid.

 

snape

 

 

#4  Keep it on the elephants terms

 

Elephant Nature Park, right outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the best reviews by “woke” tourists – most people picked up on the fact that every interaction at ENP was “on the elephants’ terms.”

 

You shouldn’t visit places that have trained the elephants to do anything for you. To be trained, an elephant usually has to be broken, first.

 

african-elephant-balancing-on-ball-260nw-718342978

 

NO…….

Here’s a documentary about domesticating an elephant if you really need to be convinced: Yes, it’s PETA, just watch it.

 

 

#5  Use common sense

 

Now that you know an elephant shouldn’t be performing tricks for you, pay attention to the interactions between the mahouts and elephants. Read all the reviews you can. Ask what happens to the elephants when the place is closed. Are they chained or allowed to roam? I’ve read a lot of reviews from people who said they decided not to stay at a place because it “seemed fishy.” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t stay.

Do the animals look healthy? Do they have visible wounds?

 

Do they look like this?

bad-elephant-drawing.gif

Definitely a bad sign.

 

Are the elephants separated or together, in groups that resemble their original family structures? If it feels bad, it probably is.

 

 

#6  Finally, apply this knowledge to other animals

 

Elephants aren’t the only animals exploited for tourism money. See what happened at the famous Tiger Temple a few years ago.  And now they want to open a zoo next door! Don’t visit a zoo, don’t visit a “menagerie.” You should only be viewing animals in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

 

tiger
Mood

 

There are a ton of web articles about ethical elephant experiences, but the best advice is to use your common sense. If you feel that an elephant is being mistreated, don’t stay. If you feel an elephant is being mistreated at a place that claims to be ethical/rehabilitating/sanctuary, tell someone! Leave a review! Contact the owners. Blow up Trip Advisor. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to be responsible with our tourist dollars.

 

 

 

So, if you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else in SE Asia, I’m jealous. I also hope you’ll spend your dollars wisely. It just takes a little bit of research but it’s totally worth it for the elephant babies – and for other animals too! Beware of any group that’s making an animal perform for you.

Bonus Cocktail Post – Amarula Liqueur

Bonus Cocktail Post – Amarula Liqueur

 

When I posted the Bonus World Elephant Day Cocktail Post, I almost regretted it because I thought, I’ll never have another elephant conservation-related cocktail idea.

 

Wrong! Fake news.

 

Introducing….

 

IMG_7959

Amarula 

 

If you haven’t heard of Amarula (I hadn’t until recently), it’s a liqueur made of sugar, cream, and brandy distilled from the fruit of the Marula tree. The liqueur is made in South Africa.

amarula tree
Marula Tree

 

 

From The Whisky Exchange:

Distilled from the fermented fruit of the Marula tree, a native of the African plains. The spirit is aged for three years, then blended with cream. If you like Bailey’s you should give this a try.

marula fruit

 

 

You can read another good description on The Manual.

 

The most important thing to note about Amarula: it is D E L I C I O U S. It tastes like toffee and caramel with a hint of something weird and wonderful, but it’s not so thick that it feels like drinking glue (Glue is Gross, or, Why I Have Issues With Eggnog). Amarula has really struck the perfect balance of cream/toffee/sweetness/fruit.

 

Elephant Conservation

 

The main reason I am down with Amarula is because the company supports elephant research and local women’s groups in South Africa. They started the Amarula Trust to focus on elephants. The researchers collar and track elephants that are caught up in Human Elephant Conflict (HEC), then they track the elephants’ movements and patterns to help reduce negative run-ins with humans. 

 

amarula trust

 

They also started a campaign recently called Name Them Save Them, where you can choose, design, name, and share a virtual african elephant. I did and named her Louise. #saveLouise

 

Louise

 

The Amarula bottle is sold with a gold tassel around the neck, which is hand-crafted by women at Sir Lowry’s Pass, a poor village nearby in South Africa. These women live in extreme poverty, and some have never worked before. Through this expanding project, the women have access to exercise classes, parenting training, and english classes.

 

How It’s Made

 

My understanding* is that locals in the Limpopo province of South Africa harvest and sell the fruit to the distiller. The fruit is checked for ripeness and then put through a “washing, stoning, and pulping process.” And…

 

From The Scotsman:

“The contribution to the local economy does not end here. The stones are given back to the community because the kernel is an edible nut of the cashew family and the shell can also be used in the production of face cream. Both are useful sources of additional revenue for a far-from-prosperous area.”

 

At some point it’s blended with cream and sugar.

I love that Amarula is a liqueur with social awareness.

 

How To Drink It

 

Like a lot of other websites have said, Amarula is best enjoyed over ice or neat.

 

Some other interesting recipes I stumbled across:

 

These are great (2 out of 3), but I was determined to come up with my own cocktail. So I purchased a bottle and a few other ingredients, and got to work. 

 

 

IMG_7960
Every time I see this photo I think of Beyoncé saying, “Okay ladies now let’s get in formation,” except I say babies instead of ladies. Because baby liquor bottles.

 

 

Since Amarula and Kahlua seem to be considered distant cousins, and I do enjoy a good White or Black Russian, I thought a play on those sounded nice.

 

After hours of practice I ended up with the Russian Rose™. Its deceivingly simple ingredients caused me trouble, but if you break up the steps you end up with a smooth, sort of frothy pastel pink drink. The cocktail is creamy, sweet, and packs a punch. (Note: Amarula uses real, although local, cream. If you usually avoid dairy, proceed with caution).

 

Russian Rose

 

What’s cute is that I tried to mix vodka, Amarula, and a little grenadine together just to taste, and was surprised when the grenadine turned into little specks. When I dumped a little lemon juice into the mixture (not sure why), and the entire concoction turned into a Cement Mixer shot, I realized I had a curdling situation on my hands. No worries, I worked it out for you.

 

Instructions:

 

  1. Shake 1 ½ oz vodka with ¼ oz grenadine. Strain into one of your shaker tins.
  2. Add lots of ice to shaker tin with pink vodka, and start stirrin’. (May need to youtube how to properly to stir cocktail).
  3. While stirring, slowly pour 1 oz of Amarula into vodka/ice. This should prevent curdling. (After tasting, decide if you want to change your ratios to your taste).
  4. Pop the other shaker tin on and shake that mixture. Strain into chilled martini glass.
  5. Enjoy!

 

IMG_7969      IMG_7970

 

IMG_7971

 

The grenadine should add color, not too much taste. The Amarula is sweet enough without it. Honestly, I just wanted vodka and Amarula.. But.. pink.

 

We got lucky with this liqueur, folks. If it was, say, Sambuca, mushrooms, or eggnog wanting to help elephants, I would really be in an ethical dilemma. Taste-testing would not be quite as fun.

 

If all else fails, just throw some Amarula in your coffee. Taste-tested and approved by me.

 

I hope you enjoy reading, dreaming, and wistfully thinking about this cocktail, and I hope you name and save an elephant!

 

Keep Calm if you Can

Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 2 of 3 – US Federal Law

Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 2 of 3 – US Federal Law

 

Hello readers,

 

Thanks again for visiting and welcome to Part II of my rambling overview of the laws that affect elephants and other large species. The last post in this series covered CITES and other international agreements, and this post will cover US federal law.

 

Elephant flag scooter sombrero

 

Unity!

 

US Federal Law: 5 Relephant Statutes

  1. Endangered Species Act 1973
  2. The Lacey Act of 1900
  3. African Elephant Conservation Act 1989
  4. Asian Elephant Conservation Act 1997
  5. Animal Welfare Act 1966

 

Endangered Species Act  

 

Remember how I said CITES isn’t automatically law in countries that signed it? (sure you do!) Well, the ESA makes CITES federal law.

 

The ESA more or less does four things:

  1. identifies a species as endangered or threatened;
  2. determines whether there is a critical habitat for the species within the US;
  3. restricts government and private action against that species; and
  4. says the government now has to help save the species.

 

Let’s apply that to elephants.

  1. The ESA listed the Asian elephant as endangered in 1976, and the African elephant as threatened in 1978, loosely based on how the species are classified by CITES.
  2. Because elephants are not native to the US, they don’t have a designated critical habitat.
  3. Under the ESA, the government now cannot do anything that will further harm the elephant species. For private parties, however, the Act prohibits a number of actions. The Act says a private party cannot “take” a species – a legal term that has a broad definition. It basically means that a private entity cannot do anything to harm the species. (This is where I take issues with zoos – to be discussed later).
  4. Finally, the ESA instructs the government to take action to help elephants. So, the government passed the two acts we will discuss in a second, the African and Asian Elephant Conservation Acts.

 

The biggest problems with the ESA in general deal with provisions that don’t really affect elephants, mainly land-use provisions.

 

The biggest problem with the ESA as it pertains to elephants is all of the exceptions it makes for people that want to import elephants. BornFreeUsa.org has a really clear explanation of this process. It goes like this: if someone wants to import an endangered species, all they have to do is say that it is for “scientific purposes,” or, more commonly, that it will “enhance the propagation or survival of the species.” And they get a “Section 10” permit to import the elephant. 

 

The requirements to get these permits are vague, and so permits are way easy to get, and species are not being conserved or protected like the permit owners/importers are promising.

 

Lacey Act

 

The Lacey Act of 1900 (last updated in 1981) makes it illegal to trade across state lines in any species that is obtained illegally. Aka, it targets wildlife traffickers. How is it different from the ESA? The Lacey Act “underscores” other acts, by making trafficking a separate crime. The Lacey Act is older than most other relevant legislation, but according to this article, “still powerful.” So, since there is a ban on ivory imports in the US, anyone possessing or trading raw ivory in the US could probably be prosecuted under the Lacey Act. Cool!

 

African Elephant Conservation Act of 1989

 

Since the US is a party to CITES and passed the ESA, the US has accepted the responsibility to do something to improve the situation of the endangered African elephant. Congress dutifully passed this act, which establishes the African Elephant Conservation Fund, which gives money to the 37 African range countries (countries with elephant populations), and gives grants to projects that work in those countries. The act also establishes a moratorium (I had to look up this word – it means “suspension of an activity”) on the importation of ivory unless a bunch of conditions are met.

 

What conditions? Are the restrictions restrict-y enough?

 

Well, the Act still says sport hunting of elephants is okay, so strike one. Basically, if an ivory-producing country that is a party to CITES has “submitted a quota,” and the hunter “takes” (kills) the elephant in that country, he/she can import the “trophy” (tusks). An executive order under the Obama administration limited trophy imports to two, per hunter, per year.

 

Ivory restrictions

 

There are a few requirements a country has to meet for its ivory to be imported to the US. The country has to comply with and be a party to CITES, the country’s conservation program has to be up to snuff, etc.

 

But, right now all ivory trade is prohibited under CITES, because even the Appendix II populations have little asterisks next to their listings that include those populations’ ivory in Appendix I. So it looks like this Act’s exceptions are pre-empted (means they don’t even matter, because there is a stricter rule out there). This is crazy, but good.

 

Soo….. Is ivory banned in the US? Pretty much, according to National Geographic last year, but not under this act. Click here for a good explanation of what President Obama’s ivory ban does.

 

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Asian Elephant Conservation Act of 1997

 

Structured similarly to its African counterpart, this act creates a fund as well. The fund has sent money to eight Asian countries, including Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. There is nothing about ivory or trophy hunting in this act, since Asian elephants are often tusk-less.

 

There are SO few Asian elephants left. This grant process should absolutely be utilized more by American non-profits.

 

Animal Welfare Act of 1966

 

When it was passed, the AWA was called the Laboratory Animal Welfare Act, because it was sort of in response to people’s pets being petnapped and sold to research laboratories. That’s pretty horrifying. And it prompted investigations into standards of care at all these labs, and apparently the labs were not doing so well providing luxurious conditions for their research animals.

 

So now we have the AWA, which sets standards of care for warm-blooded animals, but excludes rats and mice, and farm animals, AND cold-blooded animals. So really, only cute/furry animals. What?

 

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But it’s better than nothing, and people are always making noise about strengthening the law, and giving it more dollars to operate.

 

What does it mean for elephants?

 

Well, the AWA, by law, applies to “exhibitors,” which includes zoos and circuses. It prohibits keeping animals in conditions with “overheating,” “trauma,” “excessive cooling,” “physical harm,” and “unnecessary discomfort.” It only suggests the very minimum standards of care for animals.

 

What are the problems?

 

The problems with the AWA as it pertains to elephants deal with vagueness, weak standards, and enforcement. Some terms in the act such as “unnecessary discomfort,” are not defined. What is “unnecessary?” What is “discomfort?” The standards are not clearly outlined for different types of species. More importantly, even if the standards were higher, there are only a handful of inspectors for thousands of zoos and circuses. It’s unlikely problems will ever be uncovered.

 

Another reason the AWA does not do much to help elephants besides prohibit huge, obvious acts of mistreatment, is because elephants require more than other species. Elephants need more space to constantly move; they need to be able to forage for their food; and they need to socialize with elephants of their own herd. These needs are simply not taken into account by the AWA.

 

State and Local Law will be covered in Part III! Thank you for reading.

 

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Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 1 of 3 – International Law

Laws That Affect Elephant Conservation Pt. 1 of 3 – International Law

Dear Reader,

 

This post (one of three) is an overview of the legal framework with which elephants currently exist. There are three types of laws, for our purposes, that affect elephant conservation:

 

(1) international law, (2) US federal law, and (3) state and local laws in the US.

 

Broadly, each type of law affects different aspects of elephant conservation and welfare. International law will be more relevant to elephant poaching and the ivory trade; and US federal, state, and local law is relevant to domestic trade in ivory and elephants in captivity (i.e. zoos and circuses).

 

This post will discuss the first type of law:

International Laws that Affect Elephant Conservation.

 

International law is tricky because countries essentially have to agree to follow it – there is no global body of law that dictates how countries should act. For example, countries choose to join or not join the United Nations, and countries choose to submit or not submit to the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court. However, once a country signs onto a treaty or international agreement, other parties to the treaty or the body holding the treaty can hold that country accountable to following the terms of the treaty.

 

So anyway, here are some international agreements (not a complete list) that affect elephant conservation, an explanation of each, and of course, why each one annoys me.

 

INTERNATIONAL LAW

 

What we first need to know about international law is CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (of Wild Fauna and Flora). CITES is a treaty among 183 countries, or “Parties.” CITES aims to ensure that trading in a certain animal or plant species does not threaten or endanger the species’ survival in the wild. CITES is not automatically law in the countries that have signed; those countries have to legislate these principles, using CITES as a set of guidelines. CITES meets once every three years to add, move around, or take away species from its list.

 

So, what does CITES mean for elephants?

 

CITES is very significant regarding two of the three main threats to elephants: poaching for ivory and the use of elephants in entertainment (circuses, zoos, tourism).

 

How CITES Works in 1 million words or less (no promises)

 

CITES is made up of three “appendices,” or lists. Any animal that is threatened by international trade is listed on one of the appendices based on the extent to which the species is threatened. The higher the danger of extinction, the more protections the animal is given from CITES.  Appendix I is for animals that are in the most trouble, and trading in an Appendix I species is prohibited with a few “exceptional” exceptions. Appendix II is for species that are not already “threatened with extinction,” but might be if trade in those species is not regulated. Appendix III is for species about which a particular country is concerned. So the CITES Parties may be thinking the rainbow-spotted Norasaurus is doing fine, but then Iceland says “Will you guys help us with the rainbow-spotted Norasaurus, we are worried about it.” So the Norasaurus goes on Appendix III and trade is allowed only with permits and certificates of origin. #savetherainbowspottedNorasaurus

 

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**See bottom for more info on this species.

 

Unfortunately, one of the big annoying issues with CITES is a problem that affects elephants disproportionately. It’s called split-listing. Split-listing means that some populations of a species can be listed on one appendix, while the other populations are listed on another. Now, split-listing would make sense if, say, rainbow-spotted Norasauruses lived in Iceland and Florida, only. Iceland all the sudden loses half of its Norasaurus population to international trade, and only has like 12 Norasauruses left, so the Icelandic population of the Norasaurus goes on Appendix I. But Florida’s Norasaurus population is ok in comparison so they want to list it on Appendix II or III. That’s fine. Florida can still export some of their Norasauruses.

 

Why split-listing does not work

 

While Asian elephants have enjoyed their sad Appendix I status since 1975, the African elephant was somewhat recently “downlisted” to Appendix II, but only for elephants that lived in 4 countries in southern Africa (Botswana, Namibia, Zimbabwe in 1997, and South Africa in 2000). This would make sense if each country had its own distinct elephant population, but elephants move freely across borders. There is no way to contain each country’s population within that country’s borders.

 

Another difficulty with migratory species is establishing which member state the elephants actually belong to. If an elephant wakes up in Zimbabwe and goes to sleep in Botswana, whose elephant is she?”

 

Screenshot 2017-08-23 17.49.22

 

To make matters even more annoying, the elephant populations listed on Appendix II essentially have a note next to their listing that says “y’all still shouldn’t trade ivory from these elephants, so we’re not going to allow it unless you have Appendix I exceptional exceptions.” The Namibia and Zimbabwe submitted proposals at this conference to be able to sell their ivory, but were denied. And, thankfully, Botswana decided to start supporting a total ivory ban. Botswana has a large percentage of the continent’s elephants – so this is good. But anyway, with the restriction on trading Appendix II ivory still standing, what is the point in downlisting? Who knows.

 

All the parties met at the Conference of the Parties in 2016 (“CoP17”) in South Africa, where proposals failed that would have re-listed the four countries’ elephant populations back on Appendix I. (Never fear, CoP17 was still a success for elephants, according to this article). Even if there were a billion elephants on the moon, it would STILL not make sense to downlist them, because poachers DO. NOT. CARE. They will drive their caravans and camels and AK 47s all the way to the moon and slaughter a moon elephant for $200. #savethemoonelephant

 

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We need to get it together and list the entire species of African elephant on Appendix I until the continent’s population is back under control.

Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals

 

So, this convention operates similarly to how CITES does, but with only 2 appendices. Appendix I is endangered and Appendix II just needs “addressing.” Elephants are migratory species, but not every country is signed onto it. This isn’t doing much for elephants yet. 

 

CMS parties

 

Maybe more on this later.

 

International Union for Conservation of Nature

 

As its name implies, IUCN is an “international union” of approximately 90 countries and hundreds of non-governmental entities aimed at everything from conserving nature to promoting sustainable economic development. Importantly, IUCN assesses the status of all species and lists threatened species on its rather famous “Red List.”

 

IUCN is relevant to CITES because CITES listings of species usually mirror IUCN’s listing of species. This kind of confirms, at least in my opinion, that both organizations’ data is somewhat reliable, or at least that they are using the same data, which implies that the data is reliable.

 

Either way, with regard to elephants, the data is pretty clear. However, African elephants are listed as “vulnerable” on the IUCN spectrum (7 levels: Least Concern (LC), Near Threatened (NT), Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), Critically Endangered (CR), Extinct in the Wild  (EW), and Extinct (EX)), even though the explanation on the website cites “high levels of uncertainty” regarding the reasons for and levels of population decline and growth. Asian elephants are listed as endangered.

 

Other Agreements

 

Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare

 

Another international agreement that has not been approved yet is the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare. Because it focuses on welfare instead of rights, it has gotten a wide range of support, but not from too many countries with native elephant populations. If approved, it will be non-binding and will give countries “guidelines” for adopting strong animal-friendly policies. This document was created by World Animal Protection, and enjoys the support of Compassion in World Farming, RSPCA, IFAW, and HSUS. Hope to see this approved soon!

 

Non-Legal “Charters”

 

Two documents that are in less danger of being approved by an international body are the Declaration of Animal Rights and the Universal Charter of the Rights of Other Species. Not hating on the effort of the drafters, but these won’t get loads of support for the following reasons. The Declaration on Animal Rights advocates a vegan lifestyle, which just ain’t gonna work in the USA. The Universal Charter of the Rights of Other Species is worded strangely – it talks in circles almost. Also, it *suggests* a vegan, co-exist type lifestyle but makes a bunch of exceptions, one for captive breeding programs, which is a problem for elephants specifically that I’ll cover later on. Anyway, check ‘em out and decide for yourself if you want to sign.

 

Before I wrap up, there is this really awesome Elephant Charter written by Joyce Poole of ElephantVoices. Definitely read it and consider signing it! You can also peer pressure your friends and colleagues into signing, too, because you can search the document to see who has signed.

 

In Part II we’ll cover US State and Federal Law. It’s really interesting I promise!

 

**

The hypothetical rainbow-spotted Norasaurus is inspired by my pet dinosaur, Nora. She eats a lot.

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