Animal rights activists stage a protest at Gwanghwamun, Seoul, in this Jan. 25 photo, calling for a halt to the culling of poultry as a method to prevent the spread of avian influenza, saying there are other options. Yonhap
While the government has been bolstering measures to prevent the spread of avian influenza, animal welfare organizations and veterinarians are criticizing the measures ― culling poultry regardless of whether or not they have been infected.
They say culling is nothing more than animal slaughter, and vaccines for the highly pathogenic H5N8 avian flu should be introduced as a preventive measure.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, the number of chickens and ducks culled here, since last Nov. 26 when the first H5N8 case broke out, topped 25.3 million as of Feb. 3. There were 75 cases of infections nationwide.
In Gyeonggi Province alone, more than 6.8 million chicken and ducks in 83 poultry and egg farms were culled during the same period. Of these, 4.24 million at 65 farms, or 61 percent, were culled as a preventive measure although they were not infected with the virus.
The government has been culling all poultry within a three-kilometer radius of infected farms since 2018.
However, animal welfare organizations and veterinary associations are questioning whether the government’s policy is the only viable solution.
Members of 45 organizations, including the Korea Association for Animal Protection (KAAP), held a press conference in Gwanghwamun in Seoul last month, saying more than 100 million poultry have been buried underground since the very first outbreak of avian influenza here in 2003.
“Based on scientific and elaborate analysis, culling should be carried out mainly on the farms infected with the virus. As a fundamental measure to solve the problem, a vaccine for H5N8 should be introduced, just like vaccines turned out to be the fundamental solution to end the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” said Lee Won-bok, head of the KAAP.
“Although the country can minimize culling by using vaccines, the government sticks to culling and it seems to only be because of administrative convenience.”
Lee Sung-sik, head of the Gyeonggi Veterinary Medical Association, also said even though there is a simple test kit that can detect the virus within three hours, the government adheres to culling the animals without convincing reasons.
“It seems the authorities are hesitant out of fear of losing the country’s status as a bird flu clean zone if they use vaccines for avian influenza, but now we have to begin vaccination as the virus breaks out every year,” he said.
According to him, losing its status as a “bird flu clean zone” could result in restrictions on the export of domestic poultry and related products, and increase the possibility of allowing imports of poultry products from China, which have been banned as the country is not designated as a clean zone.
In August 2008, Korea declared itself a bird flu clean zone in accordance with guidelines set by the World Health Organization.
He also noted the biggest reason for the government’s hesitation to implement a vaccination program is fear of a virus mutation that could be deadly to humans.
Culled chickens are buried near a poultry farm in Yongin, Gyeonggi Province, Jan. 21, after an outbreak of avian influenza was confirmed there. Yonhap
Virus variants can develop when vaccines are used; the H5N8 strain of avian influenza does not pose a great threat to human health, but there is a chance for a variant to develop that is lethal to humans, he explained.
“The virus is powerful enough to infect a million birds with just 1 gram,” an official of the agriculture ministry said, adding no one can predict what mutations could occur or how these mutations might affect humans.
“Despite the large number of culled birds, it should be understood as a measure to prevent greater damage,” he added.
Some other experts argued that the government’s position is understandable given that some types of avian influenza can infect both animals and humans, but claimed the government still needs to consider other options.
“We should not blindly block the introduction of a vaccine, but examine the possibility of a variant in a scientific and rational manner,” said Song Chang-sun, a professor of veterinary medicine at Konkuk University.
Coun. Scott Anderson says he’s been asked why the program costs so much.
“We know why it costs so much, but I don’t think the public does,” he said at Monday’s council meeting.
A memo included in the council agenda package does break down the spending somewhat:
$7,000 covers planning and permits
$27,000 covers catching the birds
$4,000 covers killing and disposing of the birds
The cull will take about three to four weeks to complete. About 10 people in kayaks will cover beaches including Paddlewheel, Lakeshore and Kin to roundup the birds.
Once killed, the federal government doesn’t allow for the donation of the meat, which means the bird carcasses will either end up in an animal compost or the landfill.
Anderson says they were allowed to offer the meat to the Okanagan Indian Band, but the OKIB turned it down. One group has requested the goose cull meat be donated to hunters as bait, and city staff have been asked to investigate that use.
City staff believe Vernon is the first city in the Okanagan to actually kill Canada Geese, rather than addling eggs or scaring them away. Municipalities on Vancouver Island have used lethal force.
The geese are considered a nuisance because of their prolific amounts of poop and their potential to destroy habitat.
The American white pelican is so called to distinguish it from the distinctively different Eurasian white pelican, but it nests in Canada’s three prairie provinces and the westernmost part of Ontario.
You may recall from prior blogs that we have been trying to prevent the shooting of thousands of nesting double-crested cormorants on Middle Island by Parks Canada, a federal agency. Middle Island is the southernmost land belonging to Canada, a little over 100 yards from the U.S. border in the middle of the southwest end of Lake Erie. It is 46 acres, uninhabited, and part of Point Pelee National Park, the main part of which is on the mainland, over 20 miles away. The island is closed to visitors all spring and summer, ostensibly to protect the colonially nesting birds there – double-crested cormorants, great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, and great egrets, plus herring and ring-billed gulls and Canada geese.
Each spring since 2008, except for this year, when boating was halted to reduce infection by COVID-19, thousands of these birds have been shot by Parks Canada staff (and more recently, shooters from First Nations) based on claims that the killing must take place in order to protect “at risk” vegetation on the ground. Even though the plant species of are common in the U.S., which starts about 100 yards to the south of the island, Ontario lists the plants as “threatened” under the provincial Endangered Species Act.
The cormorants change the vegetation dynamics mainly by accumulation of their excrement. Vegetation that can withstand the high nitrogen load from the guano survives while other vegetation does not. As our colleague James Kamstra points out in his evaluation of the Middle Island vegetation, island climates are mercurial due to harsher conditions and plant species thrive and then disappear with the changing conditions.
I have gone with my Canadian colleagues each spring to monitor the cull, and I have been saddened to see the huge degradation of the colony, with ever fewer of various species, not just cormorants. There is a ghost forest emptied of birds where once there was so much life, vibrancy, and activity.
In these last few years, we have also seen Parks Canada activity prevent American white pelicans from using the island. That the pelicans were there at all was a surprise as they were previously designated as a “rare vagrant” in the region, with their nearest nesting site in the northwest corner of the province, roughly 700 miles away. Yet, there they were, in the nesting season.
Because Parks Canada has not allowed them on Middle Island (ironically called a bird sanctuary), the pelicans have tried other islands nearby, first on a low-lying island where high waters washed the nests away, but lately with success on Big Chicken Island, really just a small, treeless sandbar, and Middle Sister Island, about nine acres, privately owned by Americans, uninhabited, and, most importantly, treed. The latter nesting proved that the pelicans, which typically nest in the company of cormorants on treeless islands, can nest on habitat similar to Middle Island, but for Parks Canada’s gunmen.
Because of the pandemic and a ban on boating during the time of the cull, Parks Canada’s annual cormorant slaughter did not happen. This spring, the cormorants, pelicans, and all wildlife on the island, were, for the first time in a dozen years, left in peace. The island is still out of bounds to Canadian taxpayers, until September, but we decided to investigate the status of the colony offshore from Middle Island and, on July 23, Liz White, Vicki Van Linden, and I travelled more than 20 miles across the water to see if we could find young pelicans on Middle Island.
Yes! We were pleasantly surprised and elated. We saw lots of them, both adults and fully grown youngsters, in company with cormorants on the shore and on a nearby exposed sandbar. It was not proof that they nested on the island itself, but indicative. We also travelled to two other islands in the area, Hen and East Sister. As we neared Hen Island, we observed white pelicans on the dock. Hen Island is owned by Americans, who use it as the base for the Quinnebog Fishing Club, complete with a hotel like central building, lawn, retro-decorated club house, and docks and has been unused due to the pandemic. On East Sister Island, we saw flocks reaching 50 birds in number. Again, because of the pandemic, the island had been undisturbed.
Why do we care? Because the pelican, no less than the plants, is a threatened species under provincial legislation, making it illegal to disturb their nesting sites. They and cormorants habitually nest together. Parks Canada can’t cull cormorants without disturbing the nesting pelicans. Aside from the gun shots, which cause massive number of birds to flee the island, their very presence would negatively impact the pelicans. Parks Canada cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue to necessity of protecting “at risk” vegetation while not protecting “at risk” pelicans.
Less than a week later, the Ontario government did something no other government on the continent has done, and turned the virtually inedible cormorant into a “game bird” whose meat can be wasted. An open season starts this September 15, with a bag limit of 15 birds per day. Originally Ontario wanted the killing season to go most of the year, so we’ve won a major concession, as I will discuss in a future blog.
Keep Wildlife in the Wild, Barry
Barry Kent MacKay Director of Canadian and Special Programs
Comments: Migratory Bird Permits: Management of Conflicts Associated with Double-Crested Cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritus) Throughout the United States Proposed Rule by FWS on 06/05/2020 ID: FWS-HQ-MB-2019-0103-1411
These comments are submitted on behalf of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER):
1. Public Resource Depredation Reversal Unexplained
In Chapter 3.0 of the 2017 Environmental Assessment for issuing Double-crested Cormorant (DCCO) depredation permits, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) eliminated reduction of adverse impacts on free-swimming fish populations from the list of resources qualifying for permits. In section 3.2, FWS stated that to determine if there may be significant impacts essential to a reasoned choice among alternatives the agency would need additional information requiring analyses beyond the scope of the EA. FWS acknowledged that scientific evidence to demonstrate DCCO presence as a limiting factor for declines in free-swimming fish on a landscape level was limited, and that available data indicate impacts are likely site-specific. FWS also noted limited ability to clarify whether DCCO depredation on free-swimming fish is compensatory or additive and that in some systems, the issue is further complicated by introduction of invasive species.
In 2020, however, FWS revived the idea of a Public Resource depredation permit for 48 states and an unknown number of tribes yet cites no new information to justify the reversal of its 2017 position.
2. Not Science Based
The current FWS proposal is not based on new scientific research. Indeed, the new proposal appears as legally vulnerable as the predecessor Depredation Orders (DOs) which were invalidated by court order in 2016 in a lawsuit brought by PEER.
In the succeeding years, FWS has failed to take the required “hard look” at impacts or to explore alternatives. Instead, FWS appears to have fashioned what it believes to be a political solution that is unsupported by any scientific research. In short, this proposal appears to be the antithesis of competent wildlife management.
3. Nature of Conflict Undocumented
The purported purpose of the new FWS plan is to reduce predation of fish by DCCOs. Yet, FWS has not even specified which fish populations are at risk from unabated DCCO predation.
In the prior litigation, PEER and co-plaintiffs offered significant evidence that DCCOs actually benefitted native fish populations by feeding on invasive species that were competing with those native stocks. FWS offers no evidence that these impacts have changed.
Further, FWS overlooks evidence in its own Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) that
* The majority of studies find that important commercial and sport-fish species made up a very small proportion of the cormorant diet. (p.30) * Invasive fish make up much of DCCO diets, up to 85% of the biomass during periods of the breeding season, (p.31) * There remains “much controversy regarding whether cormorants, in and of themselves, have the ability to affect an entire fish population.” (p.33)
In addressing the criticism that FWS has failed to show that avian-suppression measures have had an appreciable impact on the fish populations that such measures were supposed to protect, FWS response is that “assessing the influence of predation on a fishery is a complex endeavor that requires vast amounts of data.” (DEIS, p.33). Yet, FWS has not marshalled any of this data.
Instead, it offers vague generalities. In its Federal Register notice FWS states:
“Importantly, reducing the abundance of double-crested cormorants is not the goal of the Service or this proposed management action. Reducing their overall abundance does not guarantee that conflicts in specific areas will decrease. If cormorants are attracted to an area due to food resources, nesting habitats, or other factors, those places will remain attractive regardless of the size of the cormorant population and may still experience damage to the resources. Rather, the goal of the Service is to reduce the number of conflicts with cormorants by combining lethal and nonlethal methods and allowing the lethal take of cormorants only when supported by information that such take would reduce conflicts.”
This distinction is meaningless, however, since FWS lacks data to indicate whether conflicts will be reduced.
4. No Coherent Explanation for Eschewing Individual Permit System
In his May 25, 2016 ruling, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates concluded that revoking or vacating these DOs was the appropriate remedy by finding that individual permits for removal, as are used for most other birds protected by the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA), would be sufficient to alleviate any “any serious detrimental impact” caused by cormorants.
Nothing in the latest FWS filing invalidates that finding or explains why the issuance of individual depredation permits is an unworkable approach for controlling excessive DCCO damage.
In its Federal Register notice, FWS stated that “between 2007 and 2018, the number of permit requests to take depredating birds (exclusive of requests to act under the depredation orders) increased from slightly less than 200 to almost 300.” This hardly seems like a burdensome number, considering it covers all bird species. FWS does not specify the number of depredation
permits it has issued in the past few years for DCCOs except to claim that they are administratively burdensome.
In that notice, the FWS declares that “the use of only depredation permits to address conflicts will become increasingly time- consuming and cumbersome, and will be less responsive to needs of those seeking relief from conflicts with cormorants.” The basis for that statement is not articulated.
In its place, FWS proposes far more elaborate permits for 48 states, the District of Columbia, and an unknown number of tribes. Unless FWS does not intend to perform the monitoring described in its DEIS, the level of administrative burden on FWS will actually increase under its proposed rule.
In the DEIS, FWS concedes it “can still authorize the take of as much as 76,000 cormorants nationwide under depredation permits for other purposes (e.g., human health and safety, property, aquaculture, vegetation, co-nesting species damage).” (P.62). However, FWS does not explain why the take of that many DCCOs is insufficient.
5. One-Size-Fits-All Proposal Inappropriate
Contrary to the earlier DOs which were limited to Eastern states, the new FWS proposal is national (the lower-48) in scope. Yet, FWS makes no showing that there is a DCCO problem in all 48 states or that shoot-on-sight permits are an appropriate remedy in any one state.
In the earlier litigation, the lack of appropriate controls in DCCO hunting programs within South Carolina and Texas was a factor in the ruling striking down the DOs. FWS offers no evidence indicating that the failures of these state programs have been cured.
6. Sole Focus on DCCOs Unexplained
DCCOs are not the only aquatic wildfowl that eat fish, yet it is the only species FWS targets for mass lethal removal. FWS offers no evidence justifying this singular focus. If all DCCOs were suddenly to be lethally removed, it is unclear whether other birds would fill that void with the same impact on fish populations.
The closest thing to a rationale can be found in the DEIS where it explains why the No Action alternative was rejected:
“Because mortality of cormorants would occur only from natural causes, the continental and regional populations would likely increase to the carrying capacity of the landscapes they inhabit before density-dependent mortality and/or recruitment limit further growth. At that point, the populations would stabilize around a mean value, although annual and periodic fluctuations in abundance around that mean would occur due to extant environmental conditions. Given the growth of cormorant populations in the absence of lethal management efforts, the abundance of cormorants likely would be higher than it is currently. Additional population growth would result in increased conflicts between cormorants and society exacerbating issues that presently exist. Therefore, we do not believe this alternative to be a reasonable action.” (p.20)
This is hardly a compelling rationale. Nor does it explain why this reasoning would not apply to every cormorant species or every fish-eating bird species.
7. Bias against Non-Lethal Measures
The FWS Potential Take Limit model used to justify killing more than 123,000 wild cormorants presupposes the failure of non-lethal measures in favor of lethal removal. However, the empirical basis for this presupposition is never presented, let alone explained.
The DEIS cites studies that “have shown that harassment at hatchery release sites is often sufficient to reduce cormorant foraging until fish are able to disperse. Likewise, non-lethal measures are sometimes effective at deterring migrating cormorants from foraging on local fish stocks as they are moving through an area.” (p. 62)
FWS claims that it permits would require that non-lethal means are exhausted prior to undertaking lethal removal. If these studies are correct, no lethal take should be required to protect fish populations and state-wide permits would be unnecessary.
8. Take Level May Be Excessive
The DEIS states that the current estimate of cormorant abundance in the continental U.S. and Canada is 871,001 to 981,394 birds. (p.24). FWS’ proposal would set an allowable take of 123,157 cormorants per year, nationally. (p.10)
That take level would allow removal of between 1 in 7 and 1 in 8 cormorants in North America every year for the five-year duration of the permits.
Notwithstanding FWS’ convoluted Potential Take Level calculations, this take allowance appears excessive and could destabilize DCCO populations.
9. FWS Lacks Ability to Monitor
These high take levels underscore the importance of FWS monitoring of DCCO populations, what the DEIS labels “an important component of all the alternatives.” (p.10)
Yet, FWS admits that it “has not yet developed population-monitoring programs for the alternatives presented in this DEIS.” (p. 57) The Service also concedes that “To minimize significant negative impacts to the Southern and Western populations, the Service would need to develop a more comprehensive take-tracking program that would entail participation of monitoring from WS [USDA Wildlife Service], states, tribes, and commercial aquaculture facilities to ensure authorized take levels are not exceeded.” (p. 58)
FWS further recognizes the particular vulnerability of “the Western and Southern populations, which may be more vulnerable to negative impacts if authorized take is exceeded.” (p. 72) These are regions that were outside the scope of the previous DOs.
Yet, it is not at all clear that FWS has the ability or the organizational will to invest in achieving substantially upgraded monitoring capability, especially since the driving motive behind this plan is easing the agency’s administrative burden. In sort, FWS should not proceed with this proposal until it has developed the monitoring capacity to prevent excessive DCCO take.
10. Harm to Co-Nesting Birds Inappropriately Minimized
The DEIS acknowledges “an increasing concern” about harm to co-nesting birds who will also be driven from their nests during DCCO take operations and creating “opportunities for gulls to prey on eggs and chicks” of co-nesting species (p.45). Yet, on the next page of the DEIS, FWS goes on to minimize this concern with the statement –
“However, the Service anticipates the unintentional take of nontarget species to occur infrequently and involve very few individuals of a particular species.” (p.46)
FWS offers no evidence or analysis for this apparently unfounded optimism.
11. No Meaningful Check on Take of Look-Alike Birds
FWS also discounts the danger to look-alike bird species, such as neo-tropic cormorants, great cormorants, and anhingas. The DEIS points out why this should be a concern:
“Those species often intermix with cormorants. The misidentification of a bird species that appears similar to a cormorant can occur especially when those species mix with cormorants in flight and lowlight conditions.” (p.46)
The only safeguard FWS identifies is that states and tribes with permits would be required to report any other species of bird taken incidentally due to double-crested cormorant management activities under this permit, along with the numbers of birds of each species taken.
It is unclear how often misidentifications will ne noticed, especially if carcasses are promptly destroyed. Moreover, states and tribes have no incentive to report mistakes, especially if doing s could result in suspension or loss of their permit.
Nonetheless, without evidence or analysis, FWS dismisses this concern in the DEIS, writing:
“The Service anticipates the unintentional take of nontarget species to occur infrequently and involve very few individuals of a particular species; therefore, the Service does not anticipate cumulative adverse effects to occur from unintentional take of nontarget species under any of the alternatives.”(p.75)
12. The Illogic of Depredation Trigger
The permits FWS proposes would authorize killing DCCOs only when cormorants are committing or are about to commit depredations. Yet, DCCOs diet consists almost entirely of fish. Thus, these birds are always either predating on fish or are about to. In essence, FWS through this proposal and past DOs wants to extend shoot-on-sight authority to whichever entity it deputizes to dispatch cormorants.
This indiscriminate approach is poor wildlife management which reflects no credit on FWS.
13. Inability to Assess Environmental Impacts
Without any knowledge of what permits will be issued for taking what numbers of cormorants in what locations under what circumstances, it is impossible to evaluate the environmental impacts of this proposal.
As traumatised US farmers continue to cull their animals in response to the slaughterhouse crisis, an Iowan pig producer has developed an on-farm method which he believes is quicker and more humane than other available options.
The coronavirus crisis has hit US meat plants particularly hard. As a result there is a lack of slaughter capacity, and farmers are being forced to cull or “depopulate” their animals on-farm.
Approved methods include gassing with CO2, but the practice is controversial. “Dying this way is not a peaceful experience”, even under normal circumstances, let alone in makeshift sheds or trailers, said president of welfare group, Mercy for Animals, Leah Garcés.
Gassing the animals is currently thought to be one of the fastest and most humane methods, leaving animals unconscious within two minutes and dead within 10. The carcasses are incinerated, composted or rendered for fat, fertiliser and pet food.
But for Dwight Mogler of Iowa’s Pig Hill Farms, that is too long. Mogler is a sixth-generation pig farmer with firsthand experience of gassing newborn pigs. “I have talked to people who have been on site for a CO2 depopulation and we have used it for neonatal [new-born] pigs. It can take up to a minute,” he said.
Mogler, who produces about 150,000 pigs a year, says he is fairly confident the gassing is not painful for newborns, but it is disturbing. “There are muscle spasms and the limbs flail, but no vocalising,” he said.
Another depopulation option is overheating, or hyperthermia, commonly known as ventilator shutdown (VSD). A recent undercover video of an alleged VSD pig cull at a different Iowa producer contained disturbing scenes and sounds.
Asked about the video, Mogler said it would have involved turning off the ventilation, turning up the temperature and then the introduction of steam. “It would take less than one hour and any remaining pigs would be shot with bolt guns. It might only take 10 minutes in fact for the pigs to die. But for us that is too long.”
Having rejected CO2 and VSD, Mogler decided to build his own cull facility. It will replicate a slaughterhouse death time of less than two seconds. Ready to undergo testing, Mogler’s system consists of a mobile unit with a V-restrainer, an electrical stunning point and a captive-bolt gun.
Mogler aims to slaughter about 170 pigs every 45 minutes, using a rotating slaughter crew to avoid mental or physical fatigue. “Our capacity would be about 1,500 to 2,000 pigs a day,” he said, and no pig caretakers will be involved in the slaughter.
As well as developing his own cull technique, Mogler donated two pigs to a Missouri sanctuary. Initially reluctant, because the goals of a sanctuary are so at odds with those of a farmer, Mogler changed his mind after talking to a rescue coordinator. “ I found we had so much more in common [than expected]”, he said.
Donating pigs to food programmes is another option for farmers, particularly with so many Americans facing increased financial and food insecurity, but slaughtering remains a challenge. For a few there is still space at local lockers, as Iowa’s smaller, state-inspected butchers are known. Most, however, are already overwhelmed, with some fully booked into 2021.
Animal feedlots are a likely threat to drinking water in Minnesota, says report
Despite donation difficulties, psychologist and Iowan farmer Dr Michael Rosmann thinks it’s worth the effort. “It helps the farmers a bit, to know they have tried to find a solution for at least some of their pigs,” Rosmann said. “It’s probably only going to help with about 1% of their animals. These are farmers with anywhere from 3,000 to 10,000 pigs. It’s a very complex situation and it is not going to end soon.”
Farmers are extremely distressed by the possibility of having to depopulate their animals, said Rosmann, who has talked to several in the past few weeks. “One of them was in tears. He could not bring himself to kill his pigs and he was asking for advice,” Rosmann said. “My suggestion was to find food programmes or local butchers, or people who are able to butcher the animals themselves – that’s allowed by law, if you kill it and eat it yourself.” Sadly, he said, many of those able to slaughter their own animals might be illegal migrants and afraid to come forward.
At industry level, Iowa Pork Producers Association spokesperson, Dal Grooms, said its newly created food-bank donation programme, Pass the Pork, has seen 48,404lb of pork, about 456 pigs, enter the food chain via local lockers.
By Karen Davis, PhD,
President, United Poultry Concerns
“Share the fact that you are an animal lover.”
– Advice to farmers depopulating their animals.
There’s love and there’s “love.” There’s humane and “humane.” There’s euthanasia and “euthanasia.” There’s euphemism.
According to Merriam-Webster, “Euphemism derives from the Greek word euphēmos, which means ‘auspicious’ or ‘sounding good.’ The first part of ‘euphēmos’ is the Greek prefix eu-, meaning ‘well.’ The second part is ‘phēmē,’ a Greek word for ‘speech’ that is itself a derivative of the verb phanai, meaning ‘to speak.’ Among the numerous linguistic cousins of ‘euphemism’ on the ‘eu-’ side of the family are ‘eulogy,’ ‘euphoria,’ and ‘euthanasia’; on the ‘phanai’ side, its kin include ‘prophet’ and ‘aphasia’ (‘loss of the power to understand words’).”
Speaking of farmed animals, euphemism is the cover-up equivalent of the mass burials of these animals in the ground or the stomach – their “euthanasia.” Call it collusion, conspiracy, complacency or corruption, a pact between agribusiness and the major news media guarantees that the animals will not truly be seen, heard or empathized with. A stock photo or video clip of a piglet “nursery,” a “meatpacking” plant or a “poultry processing” plant does not enlighten a public content to let industry and the media interpret the meaning of these images. See, for example, Meat Plant Closures Mean Pigs Are Gassed or Shot Instead and Millions of Pigs Will Be Euthanized As Pandemic Cripples Meatpacking Plants.
Though current society seems to have forgotten that the word “euthanasia” means, literally, a good death, or to die well – exemplifying a “loss of the power to understand words” – there’s a kind of implicit social agreement that this term can magically relieve us of culpability for inflicting horrible death and atrocity on innocent nonhuman creatures.
Yet there is awareness of the real meaning of euthanasia, as is evident in the fact that we do not call mass-killing, live burial, suffocation, throat-cutting, gassing, paralytic electric shock and the like “euthanasia” in the case of ourselves. Speciesism is not a mere abstract concept. It’s the wellspring of our attitude toward nonhuman animals. It determines the fate we subject them to and our language of justification.
I’ll wager that once the coronavirus news cycle has passed, the sympathetic attention being paid by the media to the plight of “meatpackers” will dissipate. For the animals, nothing will change, since the major media have shown them no mercy, compassion or acknowledgement to begin with. The occasional op-ed or letter to the editor expressing sorrow for our animal victims is overwhelmed by the standardized coverage. An example of the rare exception is Our Cruel Treatment of Animals Led to the Coronavirus.
An article in the Progressive Farmer, Hard Decisions: How Consumers View Mass Depopulation, in which I’m cited, draws attention away from the euphemistic use of the word “euthanasia” as a synonym for the mass-extermination of “livestock,” focusing instead on how to manage the negative publicity of “mass depopulation.” An industry representative is quoted: “producers should expect to see visuals hitting the news and social media that will be shocking.”
Actually, this prediction is what has not happened. Farmers needn’t worry that the major news media will blow their cover. Or that “visuals,” if shown, would shock a public worried about having enough “meat” on the table – a worry amped up by the media. As for social media, these outlets seem mainly to attract those who already care strongly one way or the other.
So what’s a farmer to do? Advises the industry representative: “It’s okay to share that this is an incredible crisis for you and your family just like it is for families all around the world. Share the fact that you are an animal lover and have dedicated your life to spending more time with animals than humans. Remind people you are just one person in a community of farmers all dealing with this heartbreaking reality.”
But what, for the farmer, is the “crisis,” the “heartbreaking reality”? It can’t be what the animals are being put through, since for them a terrible death and its attendant pain and terror await regardless. More to the point, the “crisis” is the loss of income, the “waste” and disposal of animals whose purpose, from the farming perspective, is to become a marketable product.
Photo credit: Vancouver Chicken Save.
Back in the days when I attended farm animal “welfare” conferences, I used to wonder, listening to the speakers and watching their slides, “Do they honestly, personally believe that the filthy, cobwebby, manure-filled buildings, cages and related contrivances of cruelty to chickens constitute welfare?” To what extent, I wondered, did self-deception figure in the professional deception that relies on euphemisms, including that the captive birds are “happy,” “content,” and “singing,” and that farmers “care” about their animals above the bottom line.
Currently, some animal advocates seek to turn agribusiness adversaries into allies in an effort to change the chicken industry from maniacally cruel to marginally kinder. The ultimate goal of this undertaking is to reverse the business of transforming plants into “chicken” by transforming “chicken,” so to speak, into plants. Real chickens in this remake no longer figure in the plant-based version of themselves or in the cellular meat version either.
This reminds me a little, inversely, of how in ancient Greek and Roman mythology, people seek to transform the goddesses of vengeance and retribution, known as the Erinyes or Furies, by giving them the euphemistic name Eumenides, meaning “the Kindly Ones.” A thing to remember about the Furies, though, is that they personify guilt and the pursuit of justice in the wake of murder and other crimes, so transforming them into “the Kindly Ones” amounts to a euphemistic subterfuge to avoid moral reckoning.
The carefully constructed obliteration of our animal victims from the coronavirus coverage shows how casually we turn our Furies into “Kindly Ones” where other species are concerned. In this instance, “the Kindly Ones” function as a disabled conscience. With our words of commission and omission we muzzle our guilt – the condition of guilt we refuse to feel. The animals are being euthanized – put to sleep – so we can rest easy and return to normal.
The provincial government is moving forward next month with plans to remove about 90 wolves in the Itcha-Ilgachuz mountain ranges in an effort to save the area’s dwindling caribou herd.
Today approximately 385 caribou remain in the area, a decline from 2,800 in 2003, a spokesperson for the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations and Rural Development noted.
“Wolves are caribou’s principal predator in B.C. and high wolf numbers are associated with declining caribou populations,” the spokesperson stated. “It is clearly the case for the Chilcotin/Itcha-Ilgachuz caribou herd which has reached a critically low population.”
In addition to the cull, other recovery actions including habitat protection, habitat restoration and maternal penning may be implemented.
“Based on five years of research on wolf management in the central group, we know that wolf populations can rebound quickly. It is imperative to implement a predator control plan to ensure the last remaining caribou in the Itcha-Ilgachuz have a chance to survive.”
Cariboo Chilcotin MLA Donna Barnett supports the wolf cull.
“The Itcha-Ilgachuz herd are living in an isolated area, hard to get to,” Barnett said. “I’ve talked to many people who know something about wolves who say it is the right thing to do, so let’s hope it does what it is intended to do and we protect what caribou are left.”
She criticized the ministry for not having public meetings about the caribou recovery plan.
“The more people that understand why this is being done the better. We’ve asked for meetings throughout the region.”
So far the ministry confirmed it has consulted with local government and Indigenous communities on caribou recovery planning.
In 2019, the licensed hunt for caribou was closed in Management Unit 5-12 to protect the Itcha-Ilgachuz herd.
Residents living in the remote area say they have notice a rapid increase in wolf numbers, and a sharp decline in caribou numbers in recent years.
The wolf cull is expected to be carried out by helicopter.
Aerial removal is the favoured method for wolf culls as it is considered the most effective and humane, according to an August 2019 letter penned by ministry staff.
“Just as ships’ bottoms pick up layers of barnacles over time, so, through their lives, human societies and individuals become encrusted with layers of cultural and ideological sediment. … The cemented coating clings as though chemically bonded to me and screams bloody bloody murder at my slightest advance…”~John Livingston
Awar on wildlife in British Columbia never ends; cruelty goes on, unabated. We cannot unshackle ourselves from the self-centered belief system — the thickened layer of barnacles — that destines us to view nature as a resource subordinate to our needs. When, in 1981, John Livingston wrote “Fallacy of Wildlife Conservation”, he cautioned against the fallacy of turning the Earth’s fabric into a “natural resource”. It was echoed by Neil Evernden who recognized that, once deemed a resource, nature inevitably becomes a casualty of reckless exploitation. And this is what has happened. Under the guise of fostering “conservation”, we have concocted a management approach that gives us a license to discard a delicate assembly of life as if it were a lump of coal.
The decades-long tragedy of the caribou habitat is a proof, as good any, of cruelty and travesty inherent to current wildlife management strategies. What strikes the most is how long it has lasted. In the 1970s, a biologist, Michael Bloomfield, showed that the widespread destruction of the habitat by logging and other resource development activities threatened caribou survival. These warnings were never listened to. The B.C. government has allowed for the destruction of the habitat to continue, and the caribou population dwindled from 40,000 in the early 1900s to approximately 15,000 today, all scattered among 54 herds. Thirty of those herds are at risk of extinction and 14 have fewer than 25 individuals.
This is the current reality. With impunity grounded in political support — regardless of a party in power — the industrial encroachment fragments the caribou habitat and decimates their food source. Consequently, chances for the survival of the caribou diminish as their habitat shrinks in size. The resilience of nature is no match for greed and political expediency. A cycle of life gets broken. What is worse, the officially sanctioned ecological devastation not only ensures the eventual disappearance of the caribou but sentences to death wolves, cougars, and many other species that depend on the same habitat.
Death comes in many forms, and, for some animals, anguish and agony mark the path. The fate that wolves suffer shows most glaringly the tragedy that befalls nature when the government gives in to demands of the resource-extraction industry. In 2014, the B.C. government, with its Management Plan for the Grey Wolf, authorized the war on wolves. Since 2015, under the guise of caribou conservation, over 700 wolves have been killed. They were trapped, hunted, poisoned to death, gunned down from helicopters. Even more abhorrently, extermination tactics have used “Judas wolves” to find their packs and wipe out all of their members. But this not where the war against the wolf ends. The stated number does not include “wolf whacking” contests that take place in the interior of B.C. — an officially sanctioned bestiality that not only dooms wild animals but debases us, as human beings.
And, yet, even this is not enough. Now, the NDP government argues that “landscape scale habitat management is needed to support self-sustaining caribou populations”. It thus proposes a predator hunt legislation that would — in the name of reversing caribou population declines — erase more than 80 percent of the wolf population in parts of the central B.C. In other words, it would get rid of the “surplus” of wolves. To call this wildlife management approach fallacious and unethical is to be greatly euphemistic. The innocuously sounding phrase — “landscape scale habitat management” — camouflages an outright slaughter.
And it is the slaughter compounded by ecological ignorance. Any discussion about maintaining stable wolf populations — an underlying premise behind the predator hunt legislation — defeats its purpose if the exact number of wolves in a habitat remains unknown. As so is the case here. The Management Plan for the Grey Wolf states that the wolf population might be approximately 8,500. In reality, this number can be anywhere between 5,300 and 11,600, since, as the plan admits, estimating the population size is challenging due to the secretive nature of wolves, their extensive range, and the density of forested habitats they inhabit. Moreover, hunting data in B.C. lack reliability. The plan states that there is “considerable uncertainty in the current take of wolves by resident hunters and trappers as B.C. does not have a mandatory reporting system…[and] without more reliable estimates of the harvest, it is difficult to assess the sustainability of BC’s wolf harvest.” This ignorance does not, however, prevent the government, Max Foran states, from accepting “generous hunting quotas, no limit on killing females or pups, no bag-limit zones, long and sometimes open year-round hunting seasons, no license requirement for residents.” This is not management but a “wolf killing plan”, he writes.
Killing that will never stop. The ministry’s scientists claim that “a very extensive effort will be required every year to continue to keep the wolf population low” because of the wolf’s natural resilience and quick recovery. Like stubborn weeds, wolves must be eradicated repeatedly. This malignancy cannot be allowed to grow.
Unfortunately, the cruelty and the bureaucratic cold-heartedness underpinning this statement account for merely a part of its tragic perversity. However inhumane, the perpetual killing of wolves is based on the premise that, following a bout of slaughter, the species is able to recover. Only an unfounded human hubris would allow for such a premise to sustain itself. The so-called “surplus” of wolves is very fragile in the face of climate change, and wolves are vulnerable to the unpredictable ecosystem dynamics. Precariousness and unpredictability are the words that define a broad range of interdependences in the critical caribou habitat. The social-ecological system operates on various scales– some of them observable and some not — and there are tipping points, the crossing of which takes us into a place of no return. After all, we live in the times of a rapid environmental change where the only certain expectation is uncertainty. That is why the “managed” killing of predators is a callous misnomer that is bound to unleash not only savagery but also unknown ecological ramifications.
Still, numerical variations in the wolf population, as well as both known and unknown ecological consequences of their repeated slaughter, do not tell the whole story. What remains hidden from all of us, living far away from the land of the wolf, is individual suffering to which, through our political indifference, we implicitly consent. What we do not see is paralyzing anguish, pain, and psychological trauma that comes in the aftermath of the shattered family structure. Death destroys even those who survive. After a killing spree is temporarily over, surviving wolves return to mourn a loss. They also face a world unknown to them. As Marc Bekoff and Sadie Parr write, “those individuals that survive to make new wolf families must do so without access to the knowledge and culture held by their slain family members, something that takes generations to build. They become refugees on their own land.”
Finally, this is not only about the caribou or the wolf, but also about us, humans. Perceiving nature through the prism of its cruel and ignorant management comes at a price that we will have to pay. Destroying wolves destroys us as a society. It diminishes us. Our appreciation of and compassion for the natural world have evolved throughout centuries and molded into moral and ethical principles. We break these principles at our peril.
It is time to start peeling layers of “cultural and ideological” sediment we wrapped ourselves in. The cemented coating that clings to us offers the comfort of familiarity, but it is a false comfort that chips away at our humanity. The main argument for killing wolves in the caribou habitat is ensuring that the caribou will still be there, in the future. So our children and their children can watch them roam the forest. Given the ongoing destruction of the habitat, it will not happen no matter how many wolves we decide to shoot. But even if the demise of the caribou were to be somehow temporarily postponed by the merciless “recovery” plan, what then? Should we tell our children how many generations of wolves we have killed to accomplish this? Should we tell them that they what they see is the legacy of killing fields?
“The Ford government wants wolves and coyotes to pay the price for declining moose populations in Ontario. By re-opening a proposal abandoned by the previous government after it was outed as being unscientific and unethical, the PCs are trying to liberalize the hunting of both wolves and coyotes across northern Ontario.”
Denver Parks and Recreation Manager Scott Gilmore calls it a “rodeo”
As summarized by Julie Marshall in Boulder County’s Daily Camera, July 1: “Two weeks ago, our tax dollars paid a gaggle of federal employees to stalk Canada geese by land and by lake at Denver’s highly popular Washington Park, without witnesses, at the break of dawn. It was hardly a stealthy operation, because seasonally molting geese cannot fly. The goose hunt was triggered by Denver Parks and Recreation, whose manager, Scott Gilmore, explains that it’s mostly about poop. People complain a lot about goose poop, he says. And so up to 2,200 geese will be rounded up this year, poisoned or gassed, and churned into meat to feed to poor families, our government tells us.”
In The Healing Power of Geese and Other Animals, June 30, Marc Bekoff, PhD, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, describes the magnificence of these geese and criticizes the horrific terror attack being conducted in Denver on them and their goslings:
“Humans are usually the reason why geese go where they go, and when they become a nuisance, some humans favor culling them. Of course, ‘culling’ is a way to sanitize what they’re really doing, and that is killing them. Sometimes those responsible for these killing sprees or those who carry them out say they’re euthanizing whoever is on their hit list. This also is misleading because euthanasia refers to mercy killing because an individual is in interminable pain or incurably ill. It’s the last and most difficult choice that people have to make, and geese who are being killed in Denver are healthy bird beings.”
What Can I Do?
Please sign & share this Petition to Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock urging that Denver Parks and Recreation Manager Scott Gilmore be fired:
Planned sale of elephants to Angola will help reduce ‘excess’
Zimbabwe tourism minister Prisca Mupfumira says in interview
Zimbabwe plans to sell elephants to Angola and is prepared to ship wild animals to any other interested countries as the southern African nation seeks to reduce its elephant population due to growing conflict between people and wildlife.
“We have no predetermined market for elephant sales, we are open to everyone who wants our wildlife,” Tourism Minister Prisca Mupfumira said in an interview on the sidelines of a wildlife summit in Victoria Falls. “The main problem is landmines in Angola, so we are trying to assist them by having a fund to deal with those before we send the animals.” Millions of landmines were used in Angola’s 27-year civil war that ended in 2002 and many have yet to be cleared.
Leaders of the four southern African nations that are home to more than half of the world’s African elephants gathered in Zimbabwe on Tuesday to discuss a common management policy and reiterate calls on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species to relax some of its rules, including a moratorium on ivory sales.
The four countries – Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Botswana – joined forces earlier this year to lobby CITES ahead of a global conference scheduled for August. They say they should be free to decide how to deal with their wildlife, and income from sales of ivory stockpiles can be used for conservation. Botswana says it has too many elephants, while Mupfumira said Zimbabwe had an “excess” of 30,000 of the animals.
Namibian President Hage Geingob and Zambia’s Edgar Lungu told delegates at the summit that the rights of communities living among elephants are being overlooked and there should be a “new deal” with CITES that allows them to benefit from wildlife. President Mokgweetsi Masisi of Botswana, who oversaw the lifting of a hunting ban in May to enable villagers to shoot some elephants if they destroy crops, made similar comments.
Zimbabwe has already sold African elephants to China in recent years. The West African nation of Gambia, which doesn’t have any pachyderms, has also expressed interest, Mupfumira said.
“They said come and teach us and send us technical know-how,” she said. “We must allow free movement, and we must also decide – its our own resource.”