Africa’s Endangered Black Rhino: the illegal horn trade

Posted by on Dec 16, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

Rhino photo credit: Daryl Mitchell

photo credit: Daryl Mitchell

According to the International Rhino Foundation, gold is trading at approximately $1,410 a kilogram; meanwhile, a kilogram of rhino horn (comprised of the protein keratin, calcium, and melanin) is worth between $50,000 and $60,000 on the Asian black market. Most often, the horn is ground into powder for use in Traditional Chinese Medicine. Mid-20th century, there were approximately 65,000 black rhino; now, there are estimated to be only 3600 African black rhino left in the world.

Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)
In 1973, an agreement among 175 member countries established CITES. This became the primary international treaty concerning wildlife trade, with the purpose of preventing species from becoming endangered or extinct as a result of international trade. Article II of CITES includes three appendices, with Appendix I listing species that are given the highest priority for protection as “critically endangered,” meaning they are closest to extinction: the black rhino is among them. The international trade of rhino horn was banned in 1976 by signatories to CITES. In 1988, the United States prohibited importation of rhino caught in the wild. In 1993, the Chinese government also banned the use of rhino horn, or any other parts from endangered species, in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

As impressive as CITES may sound, it is important to keep in mind its inherent limitations. Members adhere to CITES agreements as binding; however, decisions about measures and implementation are at each member’s discretion when creating their own domestic laws. Thus, CITES provisions figure into the protection of animals only in as much as they influence the crafting and enforcement of each nation’s individual laws. Secondly, the impact of CITES is limited because, unlike our Endangered Species Act, it does not address the preservation of species habitat. The depletion of the African landscape only exacerbates the problem for rhinos that are already losing the battle against poachers.

Laws in Africa
African countries have laws and bans in place with the purpose of protecting the rhino and other endangered species. For example, in South Africa, the Threatened or Protected Species Regulations of 2007 (TOPS), drafted in terms of the National Environmental Management Biodiversity Act of 2004 (NEMBA), states that no person, without a valid permit, may hunt, capture, kill, convey, import, export, keep live rhino in captivity, or possess a rhino horn. Despite these strict laws, the illegal rhino horn trade is flourishing in South Africa, where most of the remaining black rhino can be found. First, there is an exception made to allow the trade of rhino horn as part of a trophy resulting from a legal trophy hunt. And now, South Africa is considering the legalization of the rhino horn trade — asserting that legalization will facilitate regulation. However, the push for legalization puzzles me because, with internal bans still in place in Asia, South Africa will be creating a market that has no legal end point. The strategy, then, seems more of a misguided attempt that almost certainly will have tragic, irreversible consequences.

What We Can Do: A Multi-pronged Approach
Stronger laws and their enforcement are essential to helping the rhino (and other endangered species) survive the illegal wildlife trade. However, a successful program of protection must address all aspects of the trade market. Some other recommendations:

  • Anti-poaching and relocation efforts for population recovery; this will necessitate coordinated efforts of local community members and larger, well-funded organizations.
  • Injection of the horn with a non-lethal substance as a standard preventative measure. The Rhino Rescue Project  promotes the injection of chemical dyes similar to those used in the banking industry, where the dye is visible on an x-ray scanner even when the horn has been ground into powder. Although not harmful to the rhino, the use of chemicals can cause illness in others who come into contact with the treated horn. (The injection method seems more promising than the practice of dehorning rhino, which has had mixed results in deterring poachers.)
  • Education outreach, both for local communities and for global consumers. Local communities need to learn more about conservation of species and habitat; and they need to learn skills that will enable them to be self-sufficient without having to resort to poaching to make a living. Global consumers need to become more aware of the rhinos’ plight in order to make better consumer choices, thereby decreasing the demand for rhino horn on the market.

During my travels in Africa this past summer, I met several people who are active in anti-poaching and relocation programs. An anti-poaching poster — the picture of a bloodied rhino left for dead without his horn, was one of the first things I saw when I arrived at the Johannesburg airport. So the good news is that awareness is growing, and people are trying to do something about it. But the challenge remains: we’re running out of time.

While in Zimbabwe, I’d planned to visit Matusadona National Park, home to one of the few sanctuaries left for the black rhino. Unfortunately, my plane ride to the next camp arrived earlier than scheduled that day, and so my trip to the park was set aside. I hope there will be black rhino left to see the next time I am in Africa.

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Pet Estate Planning

Posted by on Nov 18, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 1 comment

When my dear friend Jennie told me she was working on a Pet Estate Planning Questionnaire, I asked her right away to share it with me so I could better provide for my own canine kids. I am very grateful that she also was willing to write a guest-blog for all of us on such an important subject.

guest blogger: Jennie Schenck

In modern times, a high percentage of Americans regard their pets as family members.  Approximately 45% of dog owners report that they take their dogs on vacation with them. More than half of pet owners would prefer the company of their pet to that of a human if stranded on a desert island. Half of all pet owners would be very likely to risk their lives to save their pet’s life.

These views are become increasingly apparent in the estate planning context. The most recent famous cases have involved hotel heiress Leona Helmsley leaving $12 million (later reduced to $2 million) to her maltese, Trouble, and a rumored million-dollar estate plan for talk show host Oprah Winfrey’s cocker spaniels. However, people other than the rich and famous are utilizing pet estate plans as well. Currently, approximately 20% of Americans provide for their furry and feathered friends in their estate plans.

Pet Estate Planning Questionnaire
Perhaps the simplest way of making sure your pets are cared for upon your death or incapacity is to write a letter or fill out a questionnaire for the person in charge of administering your estate plan.  This document should go into the fine details of your pet’s personality: what kind of food does he like? Where are his favorite hiding places? What kind of play does he enjoy? The letter/questionnaire should detail every little thing that you think would be helpful for a caretaker to know about your pet. This document can then be kept in a safe place with the rest of your estate planning documents. To download a (free) copy of the pet questionnaire, click here.

If you plan accordingly, you can have the letter/questionnaire incorporated into your trust or will by reference, making it legally enforceable and allowing you to change it without having to amend the actual estate planning documents.  However, the letter/questionnaire is not legally enforceable in and of itself. For this reason, a lot of pet owners choose to account for their pets directly in their estate planning documents.

Will or Trust?
The will is the first estate planning document that comes to mind for most people.  Simply put, the will directs where probate property (the majority of most people’s property) should be transferred upon your death.  Unfortunately, wills may not be terribly helpful for the pet owner who wants to set forth a detailed pet care plan after his death – wills cannot legally enforce instructions regarding pet care.  Additionally, wills transfer property in a lump sum.  A caretaker who receives one large lump sum money and realizes there is no legally enforceable way to make him care for the pet will be very tempted to spend the money on a shiny new house or car for himself, not on the pet.  As such, unless the caretaker has a personal attachment to the pet and is very trustworthy, pet owners should avoid wills for pet estate planning purposes.

A more appropriate estate planning tool for pet owners is the trust.  A trust has a grantor, or creator, who funds the trust; a trustee who holds legal title to the property and is a fiduciary, thus making him legally liable for any notable deviations from the grantor’s trust plan; and a beneficiary, who holds beneficial title to the property and is ultimately allowed to enjoy its benefits. Due to the recent surge of people who want to create pet estate plans, both the Uniform Probate Code and the Uniform Trust Code have created statutory rules that allow courts to find pet trusts valid. Thanks to these rules, all a grantor has to do is, for example, say, “I designate $5,000 for the care of my cat, Fluffy,” in the trust document itself. A court will then fill in the blanks according to the grantor’s presumed intent (though it is best if the grantor states his intent as clearly as possible, of course). The grantor can also designate alternative caretakers and direct where the property should go after the pet’s death.

The greatest advantage of the trust is that the trustee will be liable if he does not care for the pet according to the grantor’s wishes. Pet owners with trusts can be confident that their pets will continue to lead happy, healthy lives after the pet owner is gone. While pet trusts are a great way for any pet owner to create a pet estate plan, they are especially useful for people who are older, who live alone, whose spouse or children does not want to care for the pet after the grantor dies (under laws of intestacy, pets, as property, are automatically passed to the decedent’s spouse – or, if there is no spouse, to his children), or whose pets have a long life expectancy.

Because statutory pet trusts are fairly new, there are still a few kinks that need to be worked out.  For example, if a court finds that a pet owner has left too much property to the pet, they can substitute their judgment for that of the grantor in deciding how much property should go to the pet.  In the case of hotel heiress Leona Helmsley, the court eventually slashed the $12 million she left to her beloved dog Trouble to $2 million. While this may still seem like an astronomical amount for a pet, some worried that the money would run out before Trouble’s death due to the expensive gourmet dog food that Helmsley directed that Trouble should eat and the huge cost of guarding the dog from dog-napping. There is a current movement to eliminate the court’s ability to lower the amount of property designated for the pet – after all, the entire purpose of a trust is to honor the grantor’s intent.

Additionally, the tax ramifications of pet trusts are currently not favorable. For example, these types of trusts are taxed at the trust’s high income tax rates, and charitable deductions are not allowed, even if a charity is designated as the remainder beneficiary. A bill regarding more favorable income, gift, and estate tax treatment of pet trusts has been introduced in the past, but it has not gone anywhere.

Comet & Jupiter

In conclusion, pet owners/guardians have many options for making sure that their animal friends will be treated well after the pet guardian is gone. From a simple letter to an elaborate trust agreement, a person can make sure his companion animal enjoys the same standard of living (s)he enjoyed during the person’s life. Hopefully, as people begin to utilize pet estate planning more and more, the trust rules will become more refined and user friendly. Until then, a little strategy can go a long way in creating an effective pet estate plan.

Jennie Schenck is a third-year law student at the University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law. She is a board member for the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund at the U of A. Her legal experience includes family law, personal injury, estate planning, and federal contracts. She created the pet estate planning questionnaire as a 2011 summer law clerk at Beth Allen Law, P.C., in Portland, Oregon. She lives with her two crazy cats, Comet and Jupiter.

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How Farm Subsidies (Mal)Function

Posted by on Nov 10, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

I attended a presentation by Dr. Andrew Weil a couple of weeks ago on the subject of  food in today’s culture and public health. Part of the discussion focused on the role of  farm subsidies, which  make unhealthy food products the most accessible. Meanwhile, no fruits or vegetables are subsidized. Looking at the increasing rates of obesity and Type 2 diabetes in the U.S. — just those two factors alone — we cannot ignore that something’s gone terribly awry, and a lot of it has to do with the food we’re putting into our bodies. It’s time to get real about food. Real food, not processed food products.

Farm Subsidies & the American Farmer
Government subsidies to farmers really blossomed under Roosevelt during the New Deal era as a way of helping farmers during the Depression. The sad truth is that, in an economic climate today where small farmers are struggling, the effect of subsidies largely has the opposite of its intended effect. Today, the government gives about $30 billion in agricultural subsidies. Nearly 75% of subsidy dollars are given to only 10% of subsidized farms — the biggest players in agribusiness rather than the family farmers. Furthermore, more than 90% of the subsidies go to just a handful of crops: corn, wheat, soy, cotton, and rice. Consequently, we have an over-production of a few products and a lack of diversity in farming.

Government subsidies usually are not available to smaller farmers. Unlike subsidized farm operations, small farmers have to bear the actual costs of producing the same crops that the subsidized businesses are producing. What’s worse, they have to sell at the lower market prices that are a direct result of the surplus created by their subsidized competitors. As it turns out, rather than helping small farmers, government subsidies widen the gap in competition to the point of practically taking the smaller farmers out of the game completely.

Corn Syrup & Animal Feed
The subsidization of corn has led to a surplus of the grain, which means agribusiness is always looking for creative ways to package and sell the overabundant supply. The surplus is what led to the explosion of the corn syrup industry in America (obesity!). It’s also created a monster otherwise known as the animal-feed industry. Feeding grain to animals whose systems cannot digest grain results in sick animals on massive feed lots. There, agribusiness is only interested in growing animals as big and quickly as possible — treating living, sentient beings just like any other “crop,” with little regard for the animals’ welfare and quality of life. Cows are supposed to eat grass, not corn.

What It Really Costs Us
In the form of government subsidies, we are enabling agribusiness to present its products at prices below the actual production costs. So it’s important to figure in the tax dollars we’re handing over to be spent this way, along with our receipts from the market. Not to mention all our tax dollars that are going towards healthcare in this country. Healthcare costs are through the roof, largely because of illnesses related to America’s over-consumption and nasty food habits. It’s a vicious corporate-driven cycle and we’re smack in the middle of it.

For more details about the farm bill, check out “Top 10 Things You Should Know About The Farm Bill” by the Environmental Working Group.


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Bills in Play on Capitol Hill

Posted by on Oct 21, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

Last weekend during the Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark, ASPCA’s Nancy Perry presented the latest news in legislation concerning animal welfare. There are quite a few federal bills in play during this first session of the 112th Congress. I encourage everyone to contact your own representatives in the House and the Senate to express your support for legislation that can make a difference in countless animals’ lives.

  • American Horse Slaughter Prevention Act
    100,000 horses are exported from the United States each year to slaughter in other countries for human consumption. This bill would prohibit the sale or transport of horses in interstate or foreign commerce for the purpose of processing them for human consumption.
  • Horse Transportation Safety Act
    Although there is a USDA regulation that prohibits use of double-decked trucks to transport horses to slaughter, the agency has commented that it lacks resources to enforce the regulation. (The federal law as it stands also allows transport in double-decked trucks for horses going to destinations other than slaughterhouses.) Although states such as Pennsylvania and New York have banned this method of transport, we need a federal law that will protect horses as they are transported across state lines.
  • Interstate Horse Racing Improvement Act
    This bill would amend current law to prohibit the use of performance-enhancing drugs in horse racing.

    Mom & baby at Currituck Reserve

    Corolla Wild Horses Protection Act
    Gorgeous mustangs along the coastline! This bill directs the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement that would ensure the management of  the free-roaming wild horses in North Carolina’s Currituck National Wildlife Refuge.

  • Veteran Dog Training Therapy Act
    The implementation of a pilot program to include dog training therapy for veterans. Even better: this bill, which just was passed as part of a package of veteran benefits, includes the use of shelter dogs. Helping veterans and giving shelter dogs loving homes — LOVE it!
  • Animal Fighting Spectator Prohibition Act
    Prosecuting animal fighting is tough, especially when a crowd of spectators scatters and not one of them is held responsible for complicity in the criminal behavior. It’s simple: if someone goes to a dog-fighting event, (s)he is helping to make these kinds of ventures profitable. And, besides providing economic incentive, spectators are participating in an immoral, criminal activity. This bill would ensure that spectators are held accountable for their part in the animal fighting underworld. Long overdue.
  • Fairness to Pet Owners Act
    Medications for animals can be extremely pricey. This bill provides people with the ability to receive a copy of veterinary prescriptions so that they can choose to have those prescriptions filled elsewhere, perhaps at a significantly lower cost.
  • Puppy Uniform Protection and Safety Act
    Lots of attention has been given to the problem of puppy mills, but the fact is that not nearly enough has been done to correct this problem. This bill seeks to amend the Animal Welfare Act to further protect dogs, keeping in mind breeders’ newer business model of selling directly to the public via the internet (currently not regulated). The bill also requires exercise for the dogs, which would improve the quality of life of the puppies and the breeding dogs; typically, these dogs are suffering terrible living conditions and continuous confinement. While efforts on the state level are laudable, the pups need the protection of a federal law. Let’s do all we can to end the atrocity of puppy mills in this country.
  • Great Ape Protection and Cost Savings Act
    I’ve written extensively on the experimental use of chimpanzees. Even the scientific community agrees that research on primates has proven more a waste of taxpayer dollars than anything else. This bill would, once and for all, put an end to invasive research on great apes. And we’ll save an estimated $20 million in doing so. Win-Win.
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In Portland for the Animal Law Conference

Posted by on Oct 14, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

Animal Law Conference, Lewis and ClarkThis weekend, I’m in Portland for the 19th Annual Animal Law Conference at Lewis & Clark. The conference is the result of a collaboration between the Center for Animal Law Studies at Lewis & Clark, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and the Lewis & Clark’s student chapter of the Animal Legal Defense Fund (SALDF). Each year, law students and lawyers come together to explore a wide range of hot topics in the field of Animal Law.

This year’s theme is “Standing Up for Animals: Can a Bad Economy Inspire Greater Goodness?”  Topics include:

  • Human Science: Is the End of Testing Within Reach?
  • International Voices in Animal Law: Canada & Mexico
  • Enforcement: Building a Case Against Cruelty
  • Drawing Connections Between Animal law & Other Disciplines
  • Whose Case is it Anyway? Animals’ vs. Owners’ Interests in Litigation
  • International Voices in Animal Law: Switzerland & Egypt
  • Using Your Law Degree to Help Sanctuaries
  • Animal Shelters, Humane Societies, & Rescues: When Funding Dries Up
  • Exotic Pets, People, and Public Policy
  • Global Animal Concerns
  • Making Cultural Judgments: Animals We Eat, Animals We Love
  • Wolf re-Introduction, Management, and Protection
  • Private Prosecutions & the Enforcement of Canadian Animal Protection Legislation

As you can see, it’s a weekend packed with thought-provoking topics. It’s also a wonderful weekend of catching up with friends who, during the rest of the year, are scattered around the country — all doing amazing things on behalf of animals everywhere. Extra special for me this year: Joyce Tischler, who was my instructor for the law class on Farmed Animals this past summer, will be the keynote speaker at tonight’s reception.

The conference is sold out, but you can view most of the sessions through the live webinar option available on the conference’s web site. If you’re a law student or lawyer, mark your calendar for next October so you can join us!


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Great news from the makers of Botox!

Posted by on Oct 6, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

The Animal Welfare Act sets minimum standards of care for animals bred for commercial sale, used in research, transported commercially, or used in public exhibitions. The USDA, through the Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, is required to enforce these standards. However, the Animal Welfare Act — the only federal law that covers animals used in research — excludes mice, rodents, and birds, which comprise approximately 95% of the animals being used for research purposes. Thus, the law offers no protection for these animals, as many as 100 million each year, and industries are left to regulate themselves.

So isn’t it GREAT news to know that Allergan — maker of Botox and other products — has made the decision on its own to phase out its use of animal testing? Last June, the company announced it will eliminate 95% of its animal testing within the next three years. YES!

I know any talk about  the use of Botox and other aesthetic products is going to ignite a debate. Whatever your stance on these products — like it or not — they’re not going anywhere anytime soon. As with any other pharmaceutical product, animal testing is still widespread. And, in this area, the LD50 test often has been the standard. In a nutshell, this kind of testing means that doses are tested on animals to figure out at what level 50% of the animals die. For the 100,000+ mice used each year in Botox-related research, this has meant a slow death by suffocation once the mice were injected with the product’s paralyzing ingredient.

Kudos to Allergan for committing to this change, which took ten years of research and over $65 million to achieve. Although it’s not 100% cruelty-free, Allergan’s decision will save thousands of animals each year from suffering. Taking such a step, Allergen sets the example, and we can only hope its competitors will follow suit.

Allergan aesthetic products include Botox, Juvederm, and Latisse. The company also manufactures products for eye care, including artificial tears for dry eye and eye drops for glaucoma.

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Foie Gras & Faux Gras

Posted by on Sep 28, 2011 in Animals & the Law | 0 comments

If you’re already aware of where  foie gras comes from, feel free to skip the next paragraph.

OK… so for those of you still reading, here’s the lowdown: foie gras is actually a diseased (!) liver, about 80% fat. UGH. However, even more repulsive than the idea of eating a diseased organ is the fact that these diseased livers do not happen by accident.  Geese and ducks are force fed, either by a farm worker or by a mechanical device. Necropsy reports of the birds show injuries to the esophagus, from the tubes and funnels used to force feed them; reports also describe many of the dead birds with food still coming out of their throats, which indicates that the birds are dying while in the midst of being force fed. Production of foie gras is a horrible, torturous process that causes the unnecessary suffering of up to 500,000 birds in the United States each year.

The treatment of birds that end up on people’s plates in one form or another is outside the realm of any established laws — birds are not covered by the Humane Methods of Slaughter Act. However, The Poultry Products Inspection Act (PPIA) is a federal law that requires the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service to inspect the products once the birds have been slaughtered. The emphasis is on human health rather than animal welfare. In 2007, the Humane Society of the United States, Farm Sanctuary, Animal Legal Defense Fund, New York University’s chapter of the Student Animal Legal Defense Fund, and three New York residents petitioned the USDA to prohibit the introduction of foie gras into the human food supply. Based on the PPIA , the petition claimed that foie gras, diseased liver, was essentially an “adulterated” food product and therefore in violation of the Act. Unfortunately, two years later, the USDA officially denied the petition for a rulemaking.

For a more in-depth look at foie gras in the United States and what the legal system has to say about it, see Lovenheim v. Iroquois Brands (1985) and Illinois Restaurant Association v. City of Chicago (2007). California passed legislation banning the production and sale of foie gras (goes into effect in July 2012), and other state legislatures are considering similar bans.

While foie gras production is still legal in European countries, Israel banned the production of foie gras back in 2003, and the production of foie gras also is illegal in Argentina.

Faux Gras — Cruelty-Free Alternatives!
There are countless vegan pate recipes available on the web, like this Vegan Walnut Mushroom Pate. I’ve had creative pate dishes at restaurants in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Portland, so it’s often easy enough to find truly delicious alternatives even when you’re dining out. And for my New York friends, The Regal Vegan makes a Faux Gras that is available in many of your neighborhood stores.

Educating Consumers: Support Labeling of Foie Gras!
Please lend your voice in support of labeling foie gras so that consumers know where it comes from! I sincerely believe that if people knew the truth, they would stop eating foie gras and buying it. Please take a minute to sign this Animal Legal Defense Fund petition to the USDA.


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