The TPP, or Trans-Pacific Partnership, is the newest trade agreement being proposed and “fast-tracked” here in the U.S. The TPP is an agreement with 11 countries in Asia and Latin America that proposes major changes in property rights of intellectual property and the enforcement of infractions regarding them. It appears to be quite complicated (at least to me who is a non-attorney) and basically requires the signatory countries “to adopt heightened copyright protection that advances the agenda of the US entertainment and pharmaceutical industries agendas, but omits the flexibilities and exceptions that protect Internet users and technology innovators.”
Now that alone is concerning to me, but as this is an animal rights blog, I will leave it to others to explain why the TPP is bad for jobs and for anyone trying to make a decent wage.
So what DOES the TPP have to do with animals?
Well for one thing, the other signatory countries present issues regarding their treatment of animals. The other countries are Japan, Australia, Peru, Malaysia, Vietnam, New Zealand, Chile, Singapore, Canada, Mexico, and Brunei Darussalam. Some of these countries have abysmal records of animal abuse on a systemic level, particularly in the food and research areas (not that the U.S. necessarily has a lot to be proud of). We only have to look at the world outrage over the confinement, torture, and slaughter in Taiji, Japan, of hundreds (it will be thousands before the season is over) of dolphins and whales so that the captive marine mammal entertainment industry can have more victims for their grotesque “theme parks.” In addition, as stated above, this agreement is a financial blockbuster for the pharmaceutical industry, a major abuser and killer of animals worldwide. The TPP does not appear to deal with either of these major issues as a condition of passage.
The other major concern with the TPP regarding animals is the disgusting crime of shark finning. As many know, shark finning is the obscene practice of removing a live shark from the water, slicing off its fins WHILE STILL ALIVE AND CONSCIOUS, and tossing its tortured, disfigured body back into the ocean (shark “meat” is not nearly as profitable as the fins). These sharks, of course, will not survive, dying by asphyxiation (since they cannot swim and move water over their gills to breathe), blood loss, or predation. No doubt the suffering of these sharks is unimaginable. Currently, it is estimated that 100 million sharks each year are killed in this horrific fashion. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in some places, which is responsible for much of the demand.
Sharks are vertebrates. They have the same basic nervous system and limb structure (in their case fins) as any other vertebrate. Their capacity to feel pain and suffering is the same as any vertebrate. The horrific suffering that they endure before their deaths is almost unimaginable. In addition to the massive suffering inflicted on the individual sharks, there is the issue of their conservation and ability to continue living in their environments. There are 18 species of sharks listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). At the rate of killing, sharks could be eliminated from the oceans in 10-20 years.
So back to the TPP. In March of 2013, some steps had been taken at a meeting in Bangkok to outlaw this brutal practice. A positive step to be sure. And some countries and cities are taking it upon themselves to ban shark fin products in their jurisdictions. But the news regarding the TPP is not good. The latest draft of the TPP does not include any language to ban shark finning. It merely “acknowledges commitments” previously made. In other words, nice-sounding phrasing which essentially does nothing to bind any of the participating countries to any prohibition on finning. To put in perspective, according to Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, “If the environment chapter is finalized as written in this leaked document, President Obama’s environmental trade record would be worse than George W. Bush’s.”
So what can we do?
1. If in the U.S., write to your congressional representatives and senators and voice your disapproval with this blatant pandering to international niceness and urge them NOT to put their seal of approval on any agreement which doesn’t include specific and enforceable prohibitions on shark finning (or, urge them not to approve it at all if that is your position). If in another of the signatory countries, follow the normal protocol for expressing disapproval with your government’s decisions, where appropriate.
2. Get the word out in whatever way you do – social media, email, telling your friends, families, and coworkers, however you choose to – speak out and inform as many people as possible of this travesty against our environment and its inhabitants.
3. Sign and share a petition to ban shark finning.
The omission of any clearly worded shark protection from the TPP is part of the attempt to fast-track it – bickering over wording and dealing with countries that do not want to stop this hideous practice would take time, and apparently time is not something the administration or congress want. They want to move this along as quickly as possible. But this appeasement of a brutal and obscene crime against sharks and the environment cannot be allowed to pass. It will be yet another blow to environmental conservation efforts and humane treatment of animals and another win for powerful, environment-killing corporate power.
Let’s try and stop it.
Photo of great white shark from 4freephotos.com
As most everyone knows by now, a hunting club has auctioned off a trophy hunting permit to kill a black rhino in the country of Namibia. Wildlife officials there say that the money will go to protecting rhinos and their habitat and that the rhino chosen to be killed by the shooter (I refuse to use the term “hunter” in this context since it is basically a slaughter) is an older male past typical breeding age. I won’t begin to try and understand the political, financial, and logistical challenges of conserving wildlife and their habitat in far away lands (far away to me, as I am in the U.S.). But since other countries such as Botswana and Zambia have banned trophy hunting, and countries such as Kenya have extremely tough penalties for poaching wildlife, it is certainly conceivable that kill-free conservation efforts could be successful. Botswana, for example, has decided to switch the focus from killing to viewing, ending trophy hunting in favor of a more developed ecotourism program. Kenya has possible life sentences for poachers and also focuses on tourism to bring in much needed dollars.
Different countries have different approaches to trying to save their precious wildlife and habitat, but trophy hunting can’t be one of them. While it is well known that people will spend tens of thousands of dollars for a guided “hunt” (i.e., slaughter), the countries hosting them fear that photographers, nature lovers, and other tourists won’t necessarily lay out that kind of money for a trip to their country. Simply put, we must prove them wrong. Killing what should be a protected species can not be a true conservation strategy. Not in this century, not with all that we know about the importance of biological diversity and habitat protection. Not with all that we know about the sentient, sensitive, and intelligent nature of many of these magnificent animals. Not with the real risk of generations of people growing up in the future having to look only at photos of lions, leopards, and rhinos. This can’t be the answer.
What I find most despicable about this whole thing is the glee with which the “hunting” club is celebrating this auction of a kill permit. One person presented the winning bid of $350,000. That person, presumably, will travel to the country and enjoy his killing of this rhino. I am curious – does he actually think he is helping the species? Because he/she can do that by donating the money and NOT killing the rhino. And what kind of “hunting” feat is it when the animal to be killed has been preselected, will be older, and will likely be in a cordoned off area, not truly able to even escape his fate? What does it say about us as a species when people compete with large sums of money for the privilege of shooting a confined, elderly animal just for the pleasure of it?
This obscene practice of trophy hunting has to stop. It is, country by country. But it needs to move along with haste. We need to support in whatever way we can the conservation efforts of the countries fortunate enough to be the residence of these beautiful creatures. We need to speak out and petition against this brutal practice of wealthy, privileged people buying rights to kill animals that normally are protected and against whom the killing could be considered a crime if done by a person without the money to buy such an activity. Once again, the image of money dangling overhead by an extremely small minority of people is an attempt to control others and an attempt to do what is clearly wrong by calling it right. This contorted logic and destruction of the world’s precious ecological habitats and inhabitants needs to be defeated. Conservation can be accomplished without selling the blood of the species we are trying to save.
Due to various life events, it has been a while since I have put up any new content (apologies for that). I normally like to address one topic in depth, but since there are about a million topics swirling around in my head, I will mention a few of them now. Some I might go into in a later post, some maybe not. But here’s a bit of what I’ve been thinking about:
1. What are the ethics of giving and receiving gifts (especially food gifts) between vegans and non-vegans? I try and give only vegan and/or cruelty free gifts even when I know the recipient might really enjoy a sausage from Hickory Farms, for example. But I always keep the recipient in mind and try and get a gift that they will really like, just not something based on an animal’s death. When I receive a gift, I have no problem returning/exchanging it (a wool sweater, for example), or passing it along to someone else if it is a food item. I wonder how much this is an issue in families, particularly at holiday time.
2. Speaking of gifts, I saw an article in a local paper about giving live animals as gifts. It was a syndicated article, and I have no memory of where it came from. But the gist of the article was that it is not a good idea to give live animals as gifts, a premise I wholeheartedly support. But it was the beginning paragraph of the article that appalled me. The author was talking about being out shopping and seeing a dog/cat in a pet store and being inclined to an impulse purchase. Is he/she kidding me?? Millions of healthy animals are still being killed in shelters because of a lack of space and homes, and there are still people BUYING animals from pet stores? I didn’t think you could even sell live animals at pet stores anymore (and that needs to stop forthwith). Hey folks, how about adopting? Saving a life? And that goes for breeders, too. They still want to sell their $500 puppies to a person with that much to spend, meanwhile perfectly nice, sweet shepherds, goldies, and too many cats to count are being killed. Shame on all of them.
3. A 12 year old girl was among those arrested at the US Thanksgiving day parade. A group of protesters wanted to stop the Sea World float – understandable. To me it’s akin to having a slaughterhouse float or a vivisection lab float. What was interesting to me is that shortly afterwards, Sea World put out a letter calling the protesters “extremists” and basically attempting to portray them as fringe lunatics. As many others have written and as I have on this blog and on twitter, it appears the days of Sea World and other such institutions are numbered. Word is out about the appalling tactics of capture, abuse, and, in the case of Taiji (which rounds up dolphins for marine mammal parks), slaughter. Sea World is losing its grip on this because the facts are coming out, so they are attempting to portray anyone speaking the truth as a non-mainstream wacko. I guess it sucks to be them as people realize that captivity, exploitation, and abuse are not very entertaining.
4. There have been too many cases lately of cows being left out in the elements and dying of exposure. The most recent one was a local case of a farmer who had left newly born calves out at night – in the high winds, blowing snow, and below zero wind chills that have plagued much of the northern US in recent days. If this had been done to a dog or cat, criminal charges might be pending. But since someone has decided that animals to be killed for food do not get the same protection, nothing will happen. Let’s all remember though that cows have the same nervous system, sensitivity, and capability of suffering as dogs. I guess it is easier for those who profit off of their deaths to imagine that somehow the rules of science get suspended when it is for something that they want. Or perhaps they simply don’t care.
CNN recently aired the movie Blackfish, which had previously played in theaters and which has received a great deal of attention highlighting the plight of captive orcas and marine animals in entertainment venues, such as SeaWorld. Hopefully the broadcast by CNN (which they have played several times) will restart the important conversation about marine animal entertainment parks and the cruel abuse they inflict on their captives. I was heartened by the survey done by CNN after the movie in which 60-something percent of respondents said they would NOT take their children to SeaWorld now, while only 30-something percent said they would. I doubt those were the percentages before the movie was aired, so this compelling film does have the capacity to change minds about this issue.
I never really did a review of Blackfish for this blog, so I would like to share my collection of thoughts after last night’s airing:
The most wrenching part for me was the beginning, when the captures were taking place. Seeing the reaction of the young whales and the reactions of their family members while the young were being hoisted away ripped my heart out. The panic and cries of the family and the young whales even moved one of the kidnappers to say years later that it is the worst thing he has ever done in his life.
The emotion displayed by former trainers, even years later, while talking about food deprivation and other cruel techniques to control the whales was quite moving and shows the extent of their emotional evolution as they reflect on their years as trainers. They were also quite angry at SeaWorld for not having told them anything about the risks they were taking with their own lives given Tilikum’s history of killing people.
The initial response by SeaWorld to the death of Dawn Brancheau, particularly their attempt to blame her for her own death, was beyond revolting. They accused her of having a loose ponytail (which was later determined NOT likely to be the part of her which was grabbed but rather her arm) and of making a mistake in setting Tilikum off – as if a 12,000 pound/5,400 kg apex predator kept in deplorable and confining conditions NEEDS a reason to “go off” on anyone. The very fact of him being there at all made him a loaded weapon which SeaWorld was only happy to keep loaded and exploit for profit, even after he killed three people, including one of their most experienced trainers.
Speaking of Tilikum, his sperm has been harvested and used to parent a number of progeny, most of whom are also captives of the SeaWorld profit machine. Anyone out there think it is a good idea to breed an animal with a known history of aggression? Sure, he kills, but he is smart and trainable, so let’s make more of him – a fantastic example of how SeaWorld puts profit before human OR nonhuman animal well-being. And on the subject of sperm harvesting, the film does show how that is done. The trainers do it, and I don’t think I need to get graphic here about the technique used. Let’s just say it is a tried and true method of extracting sperm from a male animal. Just another horrible indignity and abuse heaped on these magnificent creatures.
One of the females, after her baby was taken from her to be transported to another park, went into grieving and made a sound that had not been heard before. Whale specialists were called in to examine this and determined that it was a long-range sound. She was attempting, in vain, to try and contact and find her baby. How do these people even sleep at night?
If you have not seen this film and are active in animal rights, I would recommend Blackfish. It is not terribly graphic in terms of violence (it’s not The Cove), although there is certainly enough there to evoke strong emotion. It is definitely something to recommend to any friends or family who insist on visiting SeaWorld type parks. These parks have to close, and people have to stop exploiting and abusing these beautiful animals for human entertainment and profit. Hopefully films such as Blackfish will help to make that a reality.
There has been a fascinating and lively conversation over at The Pitchfork which started from the issue of Starbucks having a pumpkin spice latte drink that appears to be dairy free but is in fact not vegan. As often happens, many other discussions grew out of the initial one. A reader and frequent commenter at The Pitchfork suggested that, while the current situation in Syria might be much more serious than the issue of a non-vegan drink at an expensive coffee shop, we might actually have more input on the Starbucks issue than the awful situation in Syria.
This got me to thinking about local vs. global activism on matters of animal cruelty and exploitation. Anyone who follows me on Twitter knows that I have been rather preoccupied (obsessed, perhaps?) with the horrible and vile killings and kidnappings of bottlenose dolphins and pilot whales in Taiji, Japan. In a recent post I discussed it and listed a few things that one could do in terms of activism. But even with a list of things that we could do (boycott marine parks such as Seaworld that benefit from the capture and killing of these creatures, donating to organizations such as Sea Shepherd which have people on the ground, etc.), most of us are not there and are not in a position to do any direct action or feel like we are actually saving lives. It is easy to become depressed, disillusioned, and discouraged when faced with the reality that there is much cruelty and exploitation going on of sentient nonhuman animals and that we are not able to stop it. This often leads to much heartache and a feeling of helplessness. One of the unfortunate outcomes of having these feelings is that we may just give up and drop out of activism altogether. While that is a completely predictable and understandable result, there may be something we can do to avoid giving up on our ideals.
Somewhere in between giving up in despair and burning ourselves out by trying to do all things for all creatures all the time, is, I believe, a place where we can put our ideals and ethics into everyday action. Here are a few thoughts:
Our food choices – taking in nutrients is one of the few truly necessary activities we must engage in to survive. Most of us eat every day, multiples times per day, and it is in this simple and frequent act where we have immense power to effect change. Every time we buy groceries, patronize a restaurant, sit down to a meal, get together with friends, grab a snack, or seek out a morning coffee, we have the ability to vote with our dollars and to make the choice to consume only the products we feel are ethically appropriate. For many of us it will be vegan choices-for others it may be only locally grown food, organic food grown by small farms, or avoiding certain restaurants. In addition, every time we sit down to a meal with friends or family, there may be an opportunity to educate others about the issues of animal cruelty and environmental devastation which result from a meat-based diet. No other single choice we make in our daily lives has as much power as this one to put our ethics into action.
Non-food purchases and donations – our clothing, shampoo, shoes, choices of entertainment (as in avoiding the aforementioned Seaworld for example), and where we donate our money if we are able to do so also can have a tremendous effect, especially when combined with the efforts of others. Many non-food purchases are done quite frequently, and if we continue to purchase only cruelty free health and beauty items, this action, along with others doing the same thing, can have a large cumulative effect. Seaworld, for example, is experiencing a downturn in ticket sales, perhaps as a result of the movie Blackfish and the light being shed on the inhumane treatment of orcas in captivity.
Our time – we have options here, too. We can choose to donate our time to local organizations that help animals – whether a farmed animal sanctuary, wildlife, or companion animals, we can do direct activism and rescue work. We can also table or do fundraising for these organizations. Some of us might choose to adopt an animal from a local shelter. Some of us might become wildlife rehabilitators. Some of us might table for a local vegan group to educate people about their food options.
While participating in online petitions, tweeting, writing, blogging, or writing to people in positions of power to try and stop animal abuse and exploitation are all worthwhile activities, we can combine these globally oriented actions with local activism which may help us to feel more capable of enacting change. Hopefully, this can help us be encouraged to continue the fight for all animals.
Taiji, Japan – a place where, between September 1st and sometime next spring, an estimated 20,000 dolphins will be brutally slaughtered. Although there are always so many pressing and important animal rights issues to blog about, for me, as this date draws closer, there is very little else I can think about. These beautiful, intelligent, sensitive and social creatures will be herded into a small cove (which is where the name came from for the movie, “The Cove”), held captive, and will be violently and barbarically killed by being stabbed or hacked to death in full view of their family members and any other dolphins around. The ones who do not die of blood loss or trauma might drown, or, as in the case of at least one dolphin in a previous year, allowed herself to suffocate by closing her blowhole, killing herself. It is actually so bad that the waters of the cove become deep red from the blood of the slaughtered creatures. This atrocity takes place every year, and every year, the pressure on Japan to stop it grows more intense. The work of the entire production crew of “The Cove,” as well as organizations like Sea Shepherd, OPS, Save Japan Dolphins and others, have worked very hard in recent years to highlight to the entire world this previously hidden and unpublicized horror.
The fact that this slaughter continues is in stark contrast to actions other countries have taken, such as India declaring dolphins to be nonhuman persons with rights to life and liberty (the first country in the world to do so). In fact, India is in the process of starting the shutdown of its dolphin parks. How some governments can be so forward thinking in recognizing the sentient nature of dolphins while others fight world opinion to continue a barbaric, ruthless, and gruesome practice is a sad example of how wide a gulf still exists between those who might attempt to protect nonhuman animals and those who choose to continue exploiting and murdering them for profit.
And let’s not kid ourselves, this IS about profit. The people who commit these acts might claim it is a “tradition,” but in the end, money does change hands. Much as the whale flesh from the slaughter of whales in the southern ocean sanctuary is sold to be consumed, the flesh from these poor murdered dolphins will be sold to be consumed, despite growing concern about mercury levels in that flesh and the health effects on people who eat it. And for the small percentage of creatures who survive, many of them will end up in marine mammal parks such as Seaworld, recently highlighted in the movie Blackfish about the awful treatment of orcas in captivity.
So after reading all of this you are completely disheartened and horrified, you might be wondering if there is anything you can do. There is – as with whaling, the more economic pressure that is brought to the countries who still sanction these atrocities, the more likely they will be willing to abandon them in favor of activities that might actually improve their economies without horrifying the world.
Here are some things you can do:
1. Visit the Sea Shepherd Society’s website – they have an action page with contact information for Japanese government officials to write to and a link to donate if you are able.
2. Spread the word – through your facebook page, twitter account, or whatever social media you visit. Tell family, friends and coworkers.
3. If you know people who visit marine mammal parks, tell them about Taiji and suggest that they see the films The Cove and Blackfish. By buying a ticket to these parks, they are inadvertently supporting the dolphin slaughter industry, which sells surviving captives to these parks.
4. Educate yourself about the products that come from Japan and the companies that export their goods so that you can choose not to buy from them. Here are Japan’s top ten exported products, and here is a list of the top ten exporting companies. You can mention this to your friends as well or post the links to your social media pages.
At screenings of the movie The Cove in Japan, a survey found that 68 % of the people surveyed thought that the hunt and slaughter in Taiji should stop. This is clearly not the will of the world, or even perhaps of the Japanese people themselves. If we keep spreading the word and putting economic pressure, this horror could come to an end, hopefully sooner rather than later.
photo: U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
This is a pretty new blog, and it is not a high comment blog at this time. Due to the amount of comment spam, I am, for now, requiring a log-in to comment. I am hoping it will make the spammers discouraged enough to go away. I apologize to any of you who might be tempted to leave a comment, as there is one more step to take. I am hoping this will be a temporary measure. Thanks ~ Linda
Today I came across this video of rescued laboratory beagles being taken outside to see the grass and the sky for the first time. It is amazing and gut wrenching to see them timidly stick their heads out of their carriers, and, with encouragement from their rescuers, start to toe their way onto the grass. These animals have been victims of laboratory testing/experiments and have never been outside of a building. They have never even felt grass under their paws, nor seen the sky above them. They aren’t even used to being out of the confines of cages or crates. Like many, I was moved to tears watching these precious ones experience their first taste of freedom- not only to the outdoors but from the invasive, controlled, and terrifying experience of being tortured for so-called science. These tests are not only not necessary, but actually work against the objective of making drugs and products safe for humans, but that will be an article for another day.
Today I want to focus on these rescued beagles and others like them-because many people like to think “lab animals” are some other entity, some “other” animals that belong in a lab and don’t feel or experience feelings like their companion animals. That fantasy, which many people cling to, is just not true, although it probably does on some level assuage the collective guilt and discomfort with the idea of subjecting these beautiful creatures to laboratory horrors. Beagles, like many other animals, are purpose-bred, meaning that they are bred by commercial breeders specifically to be sold to research facilities. Beagles are often chosen because of their docile and trusting nature (how depraved is that?). These beagles could be YOUR beagle – they have the same personality, the same capacity to feel pain and anguish, the same capacity to feel loneliness and fear as any companion animal. And they are suffering, like many other species, in labs all around the world.
“So what can I do?” You might be asking. You may have watched this video and been moved and want to do something. There is plenty that we can do, depending on our skills, time availability, and financial circumstances. The following is a partial list of what we can do as individual activists to help end this atrocity and rescue the victims.
1. Shop for cruelty free products – Websites such as Leaping Bunny inform about which companies and products are cruelty free and were not tested on animals such as these beagles. Every dollar that goes to a cruelty free product is one less dollar that goes into the pockets of companies that sponsor this cruelty.
2. Write to companies whose products you are no longer purchasing and tell them that you will no longer be a customer until they end animal testing. Companies don’t like to lose customers and don’t like to hear from unhappy ones. If they hear from enough of them, they might rethink their policy.
3. Support cruelty free charities – PCRM keeps a list of charities that are cruelty free (there are other lists as well).
4. When solicited by a charity, tell them if you will not be contributing and why. If you get a phone call, tell them you don’t contribute to charities that conduct animal tests. If you get a mailer, you can write a note back to tell them why you won’t be supporting their charity but that you WILL be supporting a charity that does not sponsor animal testing.
5. Get plugged in to the legal and legislative pipeline. Organizations such as HSUS have information about the latest developments and issue legislative alerts, so that you can write to your congressional representatives on pending legislation.
6. Financially support organizations, such as the New England Antivivisection Society (NEAVS) , HSUS, and others who are actively working to put an end to animal testing and research and rescuing laboratory animals, such as Beagle Freedom project.
7. Donate your time to organizations that are working to end vivisection, are promoting alternatives, or are rescuing liberated laboratory animals.
8. Take advantage of opportunities to get the word out informally to family, friends, and coworkers who may not be aware that such testing still happens and might want to do something.
9. Adopt! If you are able. If you can adopt a rescued animal, great. But if you adopt from your local shelter, you are still making a space available that might go to a rescued lab animal.
10. Keep reading! Progress is being made on this front and you can keep up with it by checking in with the organizations and websites fighting to end animal testing.
Photo: National Archives (NARA)
Bill Clinton is now following a vegan diet, and according to this article, he has been doing so for about three years. How many of us remember the Clinton years – the jokes about all the fried food, not to mention the stories of how he would stop at a burger joint during his jogging sessions! Not anymore. After enduring a quadruple bypass surgery in 2004 and a more recent heart-health scare in 2010, Clinton, with encouragement from his friend (and heart specialist) Dr. Dean Ornish, adopted a diet free of all meat, dairy, and eggs. He has lost 30 pounds and says he feels great.
Although he admits the transition was difficult, Clinton says he was motivated by his desire to “live to be a grandfather.” That is certainly a strong reason for wanting to improve health. And a plant based diet tends to do that – not just for Bill Clinton, but for pretty much everyone who follows it. In my other blog, I recently wrote about some of the many health benefits of adopting a vegan (or plant-based, or animal-product free) diet, and a while ago on this blog about the possible effects on lifestyle advice now that obesity is considered a disease by the AMA. The health benefits of vegan diets range from improved heart health, to a lower risk for many cancers, less chance of type 2 diabetes, and a lower BMI, among others. Bill Clinton has said he is worried about the obesity epidemic in the U.S. and believes that collectively changing what we eat could go a long way towards improving health and reducing the overwhelming health care costs in the U.S.
Most interestingly, to me though, was this comment: “So I decided to pick the diet that I thought would maximize my chances of long-term survival.” Many people adopt a vegan diet because of concerns about the horrific animal suffering, environmental devastation, and potential food shortages which result from raising animals for the express purpose of killing and eating them. And for many of us who would like to see widespread veganism become the norm, it would be really emotionally satisfying if people were more aware of the suffering of sentient beings and acted accordingly. But what if people became vegan to save themselves? Would that be so bad? It certainly would be better for the suffering creatures, the environment, and the world’s food supply. Maybe we need to more strongly emphasize the health benefits of becoming vegan in diet and the consequences of not doing so (which is not to say we should ignore the other compelling reasons to become vegan). But for all beings, including those who cruelly and sadly end up in slaughterhouses, the drive towards self-preservation is great. Most people want to live long, healthy, active lives. And if Bill Clinton, a man who had a reputation for reveling in the consumption of cholesterol-filled, deep-fried, saturated-fat-laden heart-poison, is happily promoting a vegan diet and using his own story as an example, then there is definitely hope that anyone else can do it too. So keep talking up veganism, Mr. President!
Finally, since we are on the subject of veganism, I’d like to mention one of my newest-discovered vegan blogs: Have Gone Vegan. We ran into each other in the blogosphere, and HGV is another voice in the effort to promote a healthy and humane vegan lifestyle, so take a look if you like. A permanent link is over in the blogroll for future reference.
Roadkill – we see it nearly every day: raccoons, rabbits, squirrels, frogs, and perhaps less frequently, deer, dogs, and cats. Most of the time, the poor creatures are already dead. Sometimes, rescues are possible, and even more rarely, survival and rehabilitation occurs. Over my thirty-plus years of driving, I have had the occasion to rescue two robins who had been hit by cars. I’ve also had the unfortunate experience of having hit and killed a raccoon, a chipmunk, and a bird (type unknown). The number of dead animals I see on any given day out on the roadways and highways I try not to think about.
After being particularly disturbed upon seeing an adult opossum dead today, I decided to look into this subject, which I had been intending to do for a while. As it turns out, accurate statistics (at least in the U.S.) are difficult to come by. Each state wildlife agency keeps its own statistics. Insurance companies keep their own statistics on reported collisions and damages, usually involving larger animals, such as deer and moose. Car enthusiasts as well as those concerned about disappearing endangered species both keep tabs as best they can. A few university researchers are attempting to collect data from the public. But information involving animals killed by motor vehicles is mostly available through a patchwork of surveys, insurance statistics, and observations of state wildlife officials.
Here is some of what we know. There are about four million miles of roads in the U.S., of which more than half is paved . There are 240 million cars and trucks registered in the U.S. And the estimated miles logged in the course of a year? three trillion.
That’s a lot of opportunities for death and injury causing collisions to occur. The best estimate I have come across as to how many animals we lose is approximately four hundred million vertebrate animals on U.S. roads every year. That of course, does not count the untold number of insects, such as moths and butterflies. And as others have pointed out, this figure only includes the counted and seen dead – it does not estimate how many collisions occur leaving an animal to die later alone in the woods, the total of which could be several times more than what we actually see and count. So basically, every day on US roads, at least one million vertebrate animals (and unknown numbers of invertebrates) lose their lives as a result of motor vehicles – a direct result of motor vehicles. If we also consider the losses due to dwindling habitat and pollution of habitat by motor vehicle exhaust as well as paving dust, pollution of nearby waterways, and disruption of feeding and breeding behavior due to the impact of major road construction, the numbers only climb higher.
Not only is this devastating to those who lose beloved companions in this manner, but there are also real concerns about the potential impact on wildlife populations, especially endangered or threatened species. There are over 1300 threatened or endangered animal species in the U.S. , including twenty two species of butterfly. While many of these species exist far away from developed areas, not all do, and individuals in search of food or mates may wander far enough away from their territory to become another statistic.
So what can we do besides feel a twinge every time we see a roadkill victim? There is much we can do collectively, if the will is there. The ecological toll of motor vehicle collisions on wildlife needs to be assessed and quantified in a more accessible fashion, which means it needs to be prioritized and funds need to be allocated for such an assessment. The effects of commandeering major swaths of land to be paved needs to be weighed heavily against the potential benefit of having yet another road in town which may not be very far from other existing roads. Public transportation needs to be given more attention (and yes, more funding). Public transportation infrastructure in the U.S. is dismally far behind many other industrialized nations. Such a network of transportation possibilities could cut down drastically on the number of vehicles on the roadways. Speed limits should not continue to be raised in response to public demand, and existing speed limits need to be enforced with fines meant to seriously discourage further infractions. Purchasing locally grown or manufactured goods (becoming increasingly more difficult) when possible can reduce the number of truck miles driven. Whistles for deer that are attached to vehicles and are quite inexpensive are available, but their effectiveness continues to be debated. Such whistles and other warning devices attached to vehicles could be improved upon and made more widely available to motorists (such as offering one when registering a vehicle, for example). And perhaps most importantly, the reality about the potential long term effects of building and driving more miles on more roadways needs to be told more widely and more emphatically to the driving public.
Roadkill is one of the unfortunate side effects of living in a fast-paced, consumer based, human centric society. There are things that we can do, both individually and collectively, to reduce the number of fatalities and the impacts on wildlife populations. But people need to have the information and the will to make such changes.
photo: Piping plover (endangered), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service