Police officers investigate a scene in Kongsberg, Norway, after a man armed with a bow killed several people before he was arrested Wednesday.Hakon Mosvold Larsen/NTB/AFP via Getty Images
Authorities in Norway have identified the suspect in “an act of terrorism” perpetrated by a bow-and-arrow wielding assailant that killed five people and wounded three others.
Espen Andersen Braathen, a 37-year-old Danish citizen, was arrested after Wednesday evening’s attack in the town of Kongsberg, located about 50 miles southwest of Oslo, police said. Authorities believe he acted alone.
The head of Norway’s domestic intelligence service, known as the PST, said the attack “appears to be an act of terror.”
“We do not know what the motivation of the perpetrator is,” Hans Sverre Sjoevold said in English, according to The Associated Press. “We have to wait for the outcome of the investigation.”
Police allege that Braathen killed four women and one man; three other people were seriously wounded. The victims were between the ages of 50 and 70, police said.
Earlier, officials said that the suspect is a Danish citizen and Muslim convert who had previously been flagged by authorities over concerns that he had become radicalized.
“There earlier had been worries of the man having been radicalized,” regional police chief Ole B. Saeverud said at a news conference on Thursday. He also said there were “complicated assessments” regarding a motive and that it would take time before it could be clarified. He said the last report of concern over the suspect was last year.Article continues after sponsor message
The attack took place just as Norway was in the midst of a change of government, which took place Thursday morning.
Speaking on Wednesday, acting Prime Minister Erna Solberg called the attack “gruesome,” according to Euro News. In comments to Norwegian news agency NTB, incoming Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere said the assault represented “a cruel and brutal act.”
The suspect’s court-appointed attorney, Fredrik Neumann, said the suspect’s mother is Danish and father is Norwegian. He said his client was cooperating and that he would appear before a judge on Friday, when details of the charges against him would be made public.
The police attorney leading the investigation, Ann Iren Svane Mathiassen, said that after his arrest, the suspect told police “I did this.” Police said he is believed to have been the sole assailant. “We’ll have to see if he also pleads guilty,” she later told private broadcaster TV2, according to Reuters.
“There are people who saw him in the city. Before the killings. That is when he injured people,” she said.
At 6:13 p.m. local time, police received several messages that a man was moving around with a bow and arrow in the Kongsberg town center, according to a police statement translated from Norwegian. Saeverud said that police urged residents to stay indoors and then briefly made contact with the suspect but did not manage to apprehend him until 6:47 p.m.
“From what we know now, it is reasonably clear that some, probably everyone, was killed after the police were in contact with the perpetrator,” Saeverud said.
First responders in Washakie County deal with a tragic situation after an accidental shooting during a hunting excursion leads to a California man’s death.
The Washakie County Sheriff’s Office and Worland Police Departmentshared an update on a tragic incidentnear Ten Sleep. Washakie County Sheriff Steven Rakness published information on the incident on the department’s Facebook page.
On Wednesday, Oct. 6, an emergency call into the Washakie County Sheriff’s Office. An incident had occurred near the Smilo/Sand Draw Road (B.L.M. Road 1416) east of Ten Sleep.
63-year-old Ron Blank of California was elk hunting with his son, 40-year-old Dan Blank of Texas. While the pair were traveling back to their pickup – parked on the top of a ridge – they encountered a rock face and attempted to climb over it. Ron…
What images come to mind when you think of kangaroos? Giant marsupials with teeny babies in hidden pouches happily hopping around Australia? Maybe you picture their massive thigh muscles that propel them into the air? Well, those visuals aren’t wrong, but they also aren’t the whole story.
Kangaroos are considered pests in Australia. They are hunted, eaten, and used for their leather. The discussion surrounding kangaroo harvesting is a sensitive one intertwined with Australian culture, but they are still animals, and therefore should not be killed – especially in such high numbers. Advertisement
Kangaroos are Livestock
While kangaroos aren’t farmed like chickens and cows are, they are commercially harvested. This means corporations and even individuals are allowed to hunt kangaroos in the wild to sell as meat in grocery stores and even as pet food.
There are four main species of kangaroos that are hunted; the red kangaroo, the eastern grey kangaroo, the western kangaroo, and the euro/wallaroo kangaroo. In the past 20 years, 90 million kangaroos and wallabies have been killed commercially. In 2018, the number of kangaroos allowed to be killed in New South Wales, Queensland, Southern Australia, and Western Australia was a staggering 6.9 million. That’s about 15% of their population. The actual death toll was 1.5 million, which is still incredibly high.
It’s Far Too Easy to Shoot a Kangaroo
As previously mentioned, kangaroos are considered pests in Australia. Until recently, it was easier to kill a kangaroo on private land than it was to shoot a feral deer in New South Wales. The NSW government introduced new regulations in August of 2018 that made getting a license to kill kangaroos on private property much easier. These regulations also allowed multiple shooters to operate on the same land simultaneously.
There are rules for killing kangaroos. For example, they must be shot in the head. However, as most of us know, there is no real way to humanely kill something that doesn’t want to die. Kangaroo babies, called joeys, are often killed by the hunters if their mother is shot. Advertisement
We all know about cow leather, snakeskin, and exotic furs, but many people don’t know that kangaroos are also used for their leather. It’s estimated that Australia exports about $60 million worth of kangaroo meat and leather annually. Nike and Adidas are two of many brands that use kangaroo leather for some of their products.
The US Congress is considering a proposed law that bans kangaroo leather in the country. The Kangaroos Are Not Shoes campaign is also committed to stopping athletic shoe companies from using leather in their footwear. Advertisementhttps://851c8f969cdc562b158ebf20b2248dcf.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
The animal rights activist group, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA)supports the campaign, “any move to stop kangaroos from being shot, their joeys from being pulled from their dead mothers’ pouches, and their heads from being bashed in — which is what kangaroo killers do — is a good one.”
Does Culture and Population Numbers Justify the Killing?
If you Google kangaroo harvesting and kangaroo leather, you’ll find several articles from giant publications supporting the unethical killing. U.S activists have been accused of “trying to halt an Australian way of life” by The New York Times and being uninformed about Australian culture. The kangaroo meat trade industry has also been praised for being sustainable by The Guardian. However, the reality is that there are other ways to manage kangaroo populations without killing masses of them. Spaying and neutering animals is much more ethical and helps manage population growth without culling. Advertisement
Most people don’t know the gruesome side of Australia’s kangaroo population. The killing is often masked by charming reservations and jellybean-sized joeys. There’s no harm in enjoying this side. After all, kangaroos are incredibly intelligent animals. We just think more people need to know about the masses of kangaroos being killed annually. Like all animal agriculture, it needs to stop.
For more Animal, Earth, Life, Vegan Food, Health, and Recipe content published daily, subscribe to the One Green Planet Newsletter! Lastly, being publicly-funded gives us a greater chance to continue providing you with high-quality content. Please consider supporting us by donating!
Sea Shepherd’s shocking findings will be released in a mini-documentary titled “Distant Waters”, to be released on the 30th of September. ( See the trailer above)
In 2020, a fleet of more than 300 Chinese squid fishing vessels garnered extensive international media attention when they were detected fishing near the border of Ecuador’s sovereign waters that include the Galapagos marine reserve, raising concerns of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.
The fleet was targeting the jumbo flying squid, a species for which the conservation status is “data deficient” due to insufficient information on abundance and distribution; and a critical food source for many species including the critically endangered hammerhead shark and the Galapagos fur seal.
The Jia De 11, a squid jigger in the Chinese distant waters fleet. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior on patrol. Photo by Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd Director of Campaigns, Captain Peter Hammarstedt. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
The Zhou Pu 27, one of the squid jiggers in the Chinese distant waters fleet. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
The Jia De 11, a squid jigger in the Chinese distant waters fleet. Photo by Sea Shepherd.
Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior on patrol. Photo by Sea Shepherd
Sea Shepherd’s Ocean Warrior on patrol. Photo by Sea Shepherd
Over the past few decades, the Chinese distant water fishing fleet has become the world’s largest and ranks first in the prevalence of illegal fishing by fishing countries. Its focus on squid fishing is a recent phenomenon, driven by the decline of finfish species. In a process known as ‘fishing down the food web’, when top predators like sharks and tuna are removed from an ecosystem, fishing operators target species that were formerly less lucrative.
For several years, Global Fishing Watch–an international non-profit organization that monitors international fishing trends–has raised flags about irregularities with the vessel tracking systems of Chinese squid jiggers including vessels using multiple electronic identities at once, several vessels sharing one identity, and the suspected manipulation of onboard transceivers to transmit false positions.
As it’s not possible to confirm the true identities of these vessels without documenting them in the field (known as ground truthing), Ocean Warrior set sail from Callao, Peru on the 13th of July to track down and expose the notorious Chinese squid fleet.
Of the 29 squid jiggers documented, 24 had either: a history of forced labor allegations; past convictions for illegal fishing; a track record of using multiple electronic identities to elude monitoring organization; or operated “dark”, turning off their mandatory location transponders. Sea Shepherd also intercepted a refueling tanker managed by an affiliate of a company accused of violating United Nations (U.N.) Sanctions on North Korea.
Refueling tankers allow the Chinese squid fleet to stay out for long periods at sea instead of making port visits, increasing the risk of labor abuses. When interviewing an Indonesian fisher on board the squid jigger Chang Tai 802, the fisherman told the journalists and Sea Shepherd crew, “I’m stuck here” and “I want to go home”. Almost a year and a half after the World Health Organization (WHO) declared Covid-19 a global pandemic, the fisher asked the Associated Press journalist, who is American, if the virus had reached the United States yet–that is how long he’d been out at sea.
Alarmingly, the South Pacific Regional Fisheries Management Organization (SPRFMO), the inter-governmental organization responsible for managing the squid fishery in the High Seas, has not placed a single squid jigger on its “blacklist”. This include not listing Hua Li 8, a Chinese squid jigger that has been detected fishing illegally in the waters of Argentina and is suspected of illegal fishing in Peruvian waters; was arrested by Indonesian authorities who determined that the crew were victims of human trafficking; and was the subject of an International Criminal Police Organization (Interpol) Purple Notice. Hua Li 8 continues to be authorized to fishing in the SPRFMO convention area.
Sea Shepherd’s Distant Waters will unmask the Chinese squid fleet while calling for action to get unscrupulous squid jiggers blacklisted.
New South Wales Police told BBC that the kangaroo packs were hit by a car, but officers did not provide any information about the motive.
If found guilty, individuals charged with animal cruelty in New South Wales may face up to five years in jail and a fine of AUD $22,000 BBC reported.
Whether the teens will face different consequences because they are not yet adults is a decision left to the courts, a representative from the New South Wales Police Force told Newsweek.
One joey was found injured, but alive by a resident.
“It is a tragic and senseless act that has left an indelible mark on our dedicated Mid South Coast branch volunteers who attended the scene, as well as the local residents,” a post published to the WIRES Facebook page read. “A single surviving joey was located on Saturday morning by a member of the public. She has been aptly nicknamed ‘Hope’ and is now in care with local WIRES member Shelley.”
There have been several reports of people killing wildlife and facing legal issues as a result.
Newsweekreported in September that wildlife officials in Colorado were looking for information about a person who shot and killed a mother bear, leaving her cubs orphaned.
“Someone made a decision to kill this animal, orphaning her two cubs,” said an area wildlife manager for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “We need to find this person.
The cubs were taken for care to the Wet Mountain Wildlife Rehabilitation facility where they were being taught the survival skills they need and “to restore their natural fear of humans.”
When they are old enough, the cubs will be released back into the wild.
Newsweek has reached out to WIRES for further comment but did not hear from a representative at press time.
Greta Thunberg is “open” to meeting with Joe Biden at the United Nations climate summit in Glasgow, though the young Swedish activist does not expect much from either the US leader or the make-or-break summit that runs from 31 October to 12 November.
In an interview with the global media collaboration Covering Climate Now, Thunberg expressed surprise at the idea that the US president, or any world leader, might want to sit down with her at Cop26, but said she was open to the possibility, if asked. “I guess that will depend on the situation,” she said. “I don’t see why these people want to meet with me, but yeah.”
A week before she entertained the question about whether she would meet with Biden, Thunberg had accused the US president and other world leaders of offering pretty words but no real action on climate, only “blah blah blah”, in a speech to the Youth4Climate summit. That 28 September clip went viral. In the CCNow interview, conducted by NBC News, Reuters and the Nation, she complained that youth climate activists “are not being taken seriously” by world leaders. “They’re just saying, ‘We listen to you,’ and then they applaud us, and then they go on just like before.”
The suggestion that Biden has not only spoken strongly about the climate crisis but also is trying to pass the most ambitious climate legislation in US history does not impress Thunberg. The climate measures in the Democrats’ spending plan now under ferocious negotiation in Washington have “been so much watered down by lobbyists”, she said, “so we should not pretend that this would be a solution to the climate crisis”. Biden’s political problem – that as president in a democracy, he shares power with a legislative body where he faces unanimous Republican opposition that is determined to block his agenda – does not interest her. She judges by results only: “Emissions are still going up.”
The notion of meeting with the president of the world’s other climate change superpower, Xi Jinping of China, seemed even more distant to Thunberg than a meeting with Biden. Calling Xi “a leader of a dictatorship”, she nevertheless did not rule out the idea. She stressed, however, that “democracy is the only solution to the climate crisis, since the only thing that could get us out of this situation is … massive public pressure.”
Wearing a grey hoodie and speaking from her kitchen table in Stockholm, Thunberg said that she will attend November’s Cop26 despite the summit’s potential for “empty talk” and “greenwashing”, because the gathering of thousands of government officials, activists, scientists and journalists is an opportunity “to show that we are in an emergency, and … we are going to try to mobilize people around this”.
“In such an emergency as we are in right now, everyone needs to take their moral responsibility, at least I think so, and use whatever power they have, whatever platform they have, to try to influence and push in the right direction, to make a change,” she said. “I think that’s our duty as human beings.”
Thunberg endorsed the many lawsuits demanding compensation from fossil fuel companies for their decades of lying about climate change and the resulting damage and suffering, especially in frontline communities. “I think that these people need to be held accountable for all the damage that they have caused … especially for the people whose communities and whose health and livelihoods have been devastated by the actions of these companies,” she said. “I think that’s the bare minimum to ask for.”
The activist also called out the world’s media, which she said have largely “failed … to communicate the emergency that we are in”. She noted that “there are many, many news organizations and journalists that are trying” to do more, and she called the media “one of my biggest sources of hope right now”. Citing the coronavirus, she said that “when the media decided to treat this pandemic as an emergency, that changed social norms overnight. If the media decided, with all the resources that they have, to use their platform … they could reach countless people in no time, and that could have huge consequences, positive consequences.”
Thunberg’s core message has been consistent from the time she first emerged on the world stage with a fiery denunciation of global elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos in January 2019: listen to the science and do what it requires; the science says our planetary house is on fire, and world leaders and everyone else should act like it.
The fact that world leaders, by her own account, are not doing what she and millions of activists are demanding has not led her and other movement leaders to consider new strategies and tactics, at least not yet. “Right now, we are just repeating the same message, like a broken record,” she said. “And we are going out on the streets because you need to repeat the same message … until people get it. I guess that’s the only option that we have. If we find other ways of doing it in the future that work better, then maybe we will shift.”
Thunberg emphasized that she sees “many, many bright spots” in the climate emergency, citing the millions of people around the world who are taking action. “When I’m taking action, I don’t feel like I am helpless and that things are hopeless, because then I feel like I’m doing everything I can,” she said. “And that gives me very much hope, especially to see all the other people all around the world, the activists, who are taking action and who are fighting for their present and for their future.”
Asked where she sees herself, and humanity, 10 years from now, Greta Thunberg smiled and said, “I have no idea. I think as long as I’m doing everything I can, as long as we are doing everything we can, we can just live in the moment and try to change the future while we still can, instead of trying to predict the future.”
This story originally appeared in the Nation and is part of Covering Climate Now, a global media collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story. Mark Hertsgaard is the executive director and co-founder of Covering Climate Now and the Nation’s environment correspondent.
All eyes are on Cop26 in Glasgow since the climate crisis aroused worldwide attention and compelled more than 120 countries to join the unprecedented global Race to Zero carbon-emissions campaign. But the UN biodiversity conference in Kunming, or Cop15, should not be overshadowed, as biodiversity loss is an equally grave threat to humanity.
Cop15, delayed repeatedly by the Covid-19 pandemic, will take place in two parts, online from 11 October, with more detailed discussions left for April’s meeting in Kunming, China. The conference will convene governments from around the world to agree new goals for nature for the next decade, as global biodiversity losses pose a threat to human wellbeing, affecting food, health and security, and increasing the likelihood of pandemics.
Humanity has achieved unprecedented development and prosperity over the past 50 years, with the world population more than doubling and global GDP growing from barely $3tn in 1970 to nearly $85tn in 2020. But in this time nature has suffered enormous losses, with the global populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles and fish declining by two-thirds on average, according to last year’s Living Planet report.
We must not forget nature’s vital role in climate mitigation, resilience and adaptation
We should not take biodiversity for granted from a human development perspective either. About 75% of crops depend on pollinators; approximately 75% of our fresh water comes from healthy forests; and more than half of the global population depends on nature for their livelihoods. When the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services concluded in 2019 that among the world’s 8 million species, 1 million of them were threatened with extinction in the next few decades, it served as a wake-up call.Advertisementhttps://6d7ced8f34dc73e76da0d264b73f24ef.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
While conservationists hope an ambitious global biodiversity framework can be crafted in Kunming, it is necessary to recall the lessons of Cop10 in Japan, which agreed the 20 Aichi biodiversity targets to stem the destruction of wildlife and ecosystems. More than a decade later, the world has failed to reach even one of those targets. In a more complex context of global pandemic and climate challenges, the tension between development and conservation is even more pronounced. Without sufficient attention, even if such an ambitious plan were put down on paper in Kunming, it may share the fate of the Aichi targets.
So, first and foremost, governments and societies must recognise that humanity and nature are one community with a shared future. Then we must properly value all products and services provided by biodiversity and the planet’s ecosystems. When all eyes are on the climate crisis, we must not forget nature’s vital role in climate mitigation, resilience and adaptation. As healthy ecosystems, including forests, wetlands, seas and grasslands, have served as enormous carbon sinks and helped mitigate climate change, a better way is to coordinate the two Cop processes for a synergised solution.
Despite the challenges, we see hopeful signs that the importance of biodiversity is being acknowledged and that innovative conservation solutions are being developed in different parts of the world. Costa Rica is well known for its pioneeringworkin restoring natural ecosystems and reviving rainforests. As the host country of Cop15, China has held up eco-civilisation as one of its fundamental socio-economic development principles. It has designated 25% of its land andterritorial waters as “ecological red-line” zones and curbed the trend of eco-degradation through concrete measures such as a logging ban, returning farmland to forest and grassland, establishing national parks, controlling water pollution and a ban on fishing in the Yangtze basin.Advertisementhttps://6d7ced8f34dc73e76da0d264b73f24ef.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
Information technologies could serve as a gamechanger in building awareness and sharing knowledge. Global Forest Watch provides real-time mapping data for monitoring the world’s forests and unsustainable practices. Our organisation, the Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs (IPE), is working with partners to depict China’s red-line ecological zones on our Blue Map website and apps, side by side with local air and water-quality data, and the geolocation and environmental performances of 5m companies.
Over the next 10 years, we hope to see biodiversity knowledge and best conservation practices pooled to better coordinate the protection of nature with pollution control and climate actions, and to help mobilise public supervision, strengthen government regulations and enable green supply chain and responsible investment and financing.
Only such broad-based actions may bring about a transformation in society’s understanding of and relationship with biodiversity and ensure that, by 2050, the shared vision of living in harmony with nature can be fulfilled.
Ma Jun is founding director of China’s Institute of Public & Environmental Affairs. Xu Xin contributed to this article
The case is filed in the Western District of Wisconsin, a federal court in Madison.
The lawsuit claims the DNR and the Natural Resources Board violated the tribes’ rights when setting up the fall wolf season and “purposefully and knowingly discriminated against” the Ojibwe.
A 1983 federal court case commonly called the Voigt Decision affirmed the Ojibwe have rights to 50% of the harvestable resources in the Ceded Territory, about the northern one-third of Wisconsin.
But in a Wisconsin wolf season held Feb. 26-28, state-licensed hunters and trappers killed 218 wolves, far in excess of the 119 quota established for non-tribal use and effectively taking more than the 81 wolf quota reserved for the tribes.
Then in August the NRB set a quota of 300 wolves for the fall wolf season, overruling a DNR recommendation of 130 and “willfully acting to nullify the Ojibwe Tribes’ share,” according to the motion.
The tribes, who view wolves as a brother and place a high value on the species’ ecological role, choose to use their quota to try to protect rather than kill the animals.
“Our treaties represent a way of life for our tribal people,” Mike Wiggins Jr., chairman of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, said in a statement. “Eroding and disregarding our treaties is unacceptable. We view violations of our treaty rights as hostile actions against our tribal sovereignty and the very lives of tribal people.”
In addition to the Bad River Band, plaintiffs in the case are the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, Red Cliff Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians, the Sokaogon Chippewa Community and St. Croix Chippewa Indians of Wisconsin.
The tribes are represented by the California-based environmental group Earthjustice.
The DNR and NRB had no comment on Friday’s motion or upcoming hearing because the matter was in litigation.
Judge Peterson said the defendants’ response to the motion is due Oct. 22.
The court will hold an evidentiary hearing on the motion for a preliminary injunction at 9 a.m. Oct. 29 in courtroom 260.
If any of the material facts are disputed, the parties should be prepared to support their version of the facts with evidence, Peterson said Friday in instructions.
The court will give each side 90 minutes to present evidence, after which the parties will have the opportunity to answer the court’s questions.
It’s unknown if a decision will be rendered before the scheduled Nov. 6 start of the wolf season.
A separate lawsuit, filed Aug. 31 in Dane County Circuit Court by wildlife advocacy groups, also seeks to stop the fall wolf season as well as challenge the state law that requires it. No hearing has been held in that case.
Further, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has been sued over wolves in a federal court in California. That case, still pending, seeks to restore Endangered Species Act protections to wolves.
As of Friday, the DNR had not held a drawing for wolf licenses. It had intended to do so and notify successful hunters and trappers by Sept. 21.
The DNR received 27,288 applications for the fall wolf season, which included 10,551 for a preference point only, according to DNR wildlife staff.
Adisease outbreak blossoms in China. Exactly how it emerges, far from the eyes of any surveilling scientist, no one can quite explain. It spreads with incredible speed, killing in wide swaths, freezing transport and trade, and causing vast economic disruption. Hitchhiking on global travel, it circles the world. There is no cure, and no vaccine. Inevitably, it arrives in the Americas, in July 2021.
Yup, 2021. The year is not a typo. This outbreak isn’t Covid; it is a parallel, hidden pandemic, a deadly animal disease called African swine fever that was detected in the Dominican Republic in July. African swine fever poses no risk to humans, but it is incredibly destructive to livestock: Those deaths in China were millions of pigs, at least one-quarter—and possibly one-half—of the entire herd of the world’s largest pork producer.
“Long-distance transboundary spread of highly contagious and pathogenic diseases is a worse-case scenario,” Michael Ward, an epidemiologist and chair of veterinary public health at the University of Sydney, told WIRED by email. “In agriculture, it’s the analogue of Covid-19.”
As with the Covid pandemic at its start, there is no vaccine—but also as with Covid, there is the glimmer of hope for one, thanks to basic science that has been laying down findings for years without receiving much attention. Two weeks ago, a multinational team led by scientists at the USDA’s Agricultural Research Service announced that they had achieved a vaccine candidate, based on a weakened version of the virus with a key gene deleted, and demonstrated its effectiveness in a field trial, in pigs, in Vietnam.
The vaccine candidate is being developed by a commercial partner, a Vietnamese company called Navetco, on a timeline that isn’t yet clear. It’s the fifth experimental vaccine developed by the USDA team. (The first four are being developed by private companies without further federal involvement.) “As far as we know, we have the most advanced African swine fever vaccine in the process of commercialization,” says Douglas Gladue, a microbiologist who is one of the developers.
To step back a bit: African swine fever is a longtime agricultural foe. Though it devastated China’s pork industry, China isn’t the disease’s place of origin. The story of African swine fever actually does begin in Africa, almost exactly 100 years ago.
A Scottish veterinarian named Robert Eustace Montgomery, who was working for the British colonial government in East Africa, published the first description of it, in September 1921. Montgomery reported outbreaks of a hemorrhagic illness in farm pigs that was so destructive “an owner … must be prepared for a practically total loss,” he wrote.
The new disease, caused by a virus, became a regular companion to farming in East Africa. Wild swine and warthogs harbor it and periodically spread it to livestock; so do certain species of ticks that feed on swine. The symptoms were always the same: Pigs would develop fevers, lose their appetites, develop bleeding under their skin and in their internal organs, and collapse. Whenever an outbreak flared, it either burned through a herd and killed all the pigs or was quenched when farmers slaughtered their pigs to stop it. The first farmers to observe the disease found that nothing could prevent it other than keeping pigs confined instead of letting them roam free, and building fences strong enough to keep wild swine out.
Once the virus was discovered, agriculture experts assumed the main route of transmission was direct contact, a healthy pig being exposed to a sick one’s body fluids and feces. But the disease’s first appearance in Europe showed that proximity wasn’t the only risk. In 1957, crews cleaning an airplane that had traveled from Africa to Lisbon threw out leftover in-flight meals. The food went into the airport’s garbage dump, and a herd of feral pigs invaded it. Among the food was ham sandwiches. The outbreak that erupted after the pigs ate the sandwiches showed for the first time that the virus also could travel in pork, even if it had been cooked or cured.
If that sounds like a formidable pathogen—yes, that’s right. Portugal snuffed out that 1957 outbreak, but the disease kept being transported from East Africa into Europe. Research showed that the virus could remain stable in the environment, outside a pig’s body, and could cling to clothing and farm equipment and contaminate dried feed, which is traded around the world.
That might help explain how it leapfrogged such long distances: It arrived in the Republic of Georgia in 2007 and then moved through the Caucasus and into Asia. It landed in China, the home of 45 percent of all the world’s pigs, in 2018. In one year, according to a paper published in September in Nature Food, it killed or caused the slaughter of more than 43 million pigs, costing China more than $111 billion.
Those numbers—which are much larger than the Chinese central government ever admitted to—were tallied before the Covid-19 pandemic began to chill world trade. But the researchers say the disease continues to simmer in China. They predict that if the country cannot get it under control, a further outbreak could cost more than 1 percent of its annual gross domestic product, almost $200 billion.
And now the disease is in the Americas, on the doorstep of the US. African swine fever has been in this hemisphere once before, with terrible consequences. In 1983, it appeared in Haiti, possibly due to an accidental importation from Brazil. To shut that outbreak down, the US and the Organization of American States forced the slaughter of all the swine in Haiti, taking away a crucial underpinning of its fragile rural economy and extirpating its treasured, locally adapted Creole pig. That 1983 slaughter demonstrated that African swine fever isn’t just a profound animal disease; it also is an agent of severe economic damage. It cripples farms and also undermines rural economies.
This time, the disease has been found in multiple locations in the Dominican Republic and was identified in Haiti in September. If it comes to the US, its arrival and the measures needed to control it would threaten feed sales, equipment leases, truck transport, slaughterhouses, and the social fabric of small towns.
“The US is the largest pork exporter in the world,” says Andres Perez, a veterinary epidemiologist and director of the Center for Animal Health and Food Safety at the University of Minnesota. “If African swine fever were to enter the US, there would be an extreme impact on the economy of a number of states. That is why it should be a concern for the public.”
If the disease were detected in the US, the USDA would oversee comprehensive animal slaughter—delicately called “depopulation”—at the farm where it was found, ones nearby, and also farms that had any contact with the first farm via movement of people, trucks, rented-equipment operators, or field reps. At the same time, the agency would order a “national movement standstill” of all swine in the US (and even swine semen being shipped somewhere) for at least 72 hours. Depending on the location, the agency might also send out teams to hunt feral hogs that might be involved.
Because those measures would be so dire, the USDA already is imposing the preventions it is legally allowed. The US had previously forbidden importation of pork from Haiti and the Dominican Republic because of concerns over other animal diseases. Now it is also blocking importation of any pigs, tissue, or semen, and pork or pork byproducts, from the US territories of Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands, which are close to Haiti. (The disease has not been detected in either territory.) That’s in addition to putting strict new controls on rescue animals—dogs, for instance—being brought into the country from places where African swine fever is extant, a loophole that had infuriated North Carolina hog producers two years ago when Chinese strays were adopted into their state.
The challenge, says Raymond Robert Rowland, head of the department of pathobiology at the University of Illinois College of Veterinary Medicine, is that African swine fever—known to veterinarians as ASF—is a disease spread by movement. And as Covid demonstrated, the world is more linked by international movement than it has ever been. So a person who walks through a farm, stockyard, or abattoir where African swine fever is present could pick up the virus on their shoes or clothing and carry it with them as they fly across the world.
That might be the pathway African swine fever followed to reach the Caribbean this time—but, Rowland points out, the transfer may have occurred in other ways. “Where do people come from to vacation in the Caribbean?” he asks. “Name a country in the world: Eastern Europe, China, Africa, all areas that have ASF. You can easily think of a scenario where someone brings in a contaminated product, discards it into compost or garbage, and feral pigs come along and pick it up.”
There are more sinister avenues by which the disease could be imported, through criminality instead of carelessness. In 2019, port authorities seized more than 1 million pounds of pork products that were being smuggled into the US, in 50 shipping containers packed with laundry detergent, in order to bypass agricultural controls. The products came from China, and they were shipped out just as African swine fever was hitting its peak there. That may have been the largest pork interdiction at US borders, but it’s far from the only one: Pork is the single most-seized food item at airports and land crossing, according to an analysis of customs data that Bon Appetit conducted in 2014.
Pork that gets nabbed at the border (random examples: ham sandwiches in 2016, sausages in 2018, bologna in 2019 and this year) is incinerated. But pork that isn’t detected, and gets discarded in the US—to evade detection, or maybe just because it’s gone bad—could spark a chain of infection here. Analysts are convinced the vast expansion of African swine fever in China was triggered by feeding pigs swill, an industry term for a mix of discarded human food, cooked and raw food-waste garbage, used cooking oil, and abattoir leftovers such as guts and bones. That same practice, known in this country as “garbage feeding,” is legal in 27 states.
All of which makes it clear how vital achieving a vaccine against the disease will be. Dozens of approaches have been tried over the years, but the research announced by the USDA in September appears the closest to making that hope into reality. (The four other candidates from the same research team are being developed by companies that have not disclosed what progress they have made.) This version was developed by deleting a gene in the virus that had not previously been characterized but turned out to code for how virulent the disease is. With that gene deleted, the virus was attenuated—or weakened—and was administered as a vaccine. It created immunity in all members of the small group of pigs that received it.
Many steps lie ahead, but as the Covid pandemic demonstrated, public health emergencies can force pharmaceutical innovation. It would be good for the pigs of the world—and for biosecurity and the food supply—if this animal health emergency could do the same.