Thursday, 30 July 2015

Cecil and the Killer

by Barry Kent MacKay,
Senior Program Associate, Born Free USA's Canadian Representative
Animal Alliance of Canada, Director

Published 07/29/15
© Bryan Orford/YouTube

Unless you've been sequestered on the back side of the moon, you probably know by now that, in early July, Walter Palmer, a 55-year-old dentist from Minnesota, illegally killed Cecil, a lion who had lived in Zimbabwe's Hwange National Park. Cecil, age 13, wore a radio collar installed by researchers from Oxford University. He neither feared nor threatened human visitors to the park, including numerous tourists who photographed him, often as he strolled down park roads or rested in the middle of the road, truly looking like a king. With his distinctive black mane, he was surely among the most charismatic of the rapidly vanishing charismatic megafauna of Africa—a handsome cat, indeed.

Palmer allegedly paid more than $50,000 to Bushman Safari, whose owner, Theo Bronkhorst (reportedly "a professional hunter" and member of the Zimbabwe Professional Hunters and Guides Association [ZPHGA]), is now "suspended indefinitely" from ZPHGA, pending investigation of the hunt that took Cecil's life. Bronkhorst and the owner of the farm where Palmer shot Cecil have been charged with poaching offenses. Cecil had been lured from the relative safety of the park by tying a dead animal to a vehicle, and reportedly using a "spotlight" to illuminate the lion.

It has been further reported that Palmer's arrow only wounded Cecil, who was then tracked for 40 hours before being found, shot with a rifle, skinned, and decapitated... the headless body left behind.

The poachers then tried to destroy the radio collar, presumably realizing it could provide evidence of their perfidy. But, they bungled that, too, and Cecil's remains were found, and charges were laid (although not against Parker, who, as of the time I am writing, is in hiding, his dental office closed).

In a press release, Palmer claimed innocence: "I had no idea that the lion I took was a known, local favorite, was collared and part of a study until the end of the hunt. I relied on the expertise of my local professional guides to ensure a legal hunt. I have not been contacted by authorities in Zimbabwe or in the U.S. about this situation, but will assist them in any inquiries they may have. Again, I deeply regret that my pursuit of an activity I love and practice responsibly and legally resulted in the taking of this lion."

In 2008, he pleaded guilty in a federal court to misleading a federal agent investigating the killing of a black bear in Wisconsin, 40 miles outside of where his permit would have allowed the legal killing of the animal. He got one year's probation and a fine of nearly $3,000, according to the Star Tribune. He has also paid a fine for fishing without a license: a misdemeanor that, like the rest of his unfortunate history, would remain unknown to most people, but for Cecil's radio collar.

Palmer has numerous photos of himself posing with hunted animals: an elk, a mule deer, a cape buffalo, a rhino, and a warthog, among others.

A warthog? Well, the animal had big tusks—which are, I guess, to guys fixated on large horns, antlers, or thick and beautiful manes (as Cecil had), important additions to the trophy room. Big tusks are, too. (No surprise; he has shot an elephant.)

Palmer has been credited with 43 kills, including moose, mountain lion, and polar bear, by Safari Club International (SCI), which boasts 55,000 members worldwide. SCI loves to keep lists of measurements of their members' various victims. Palmer's "kills" are all with bow and arrow, and we'll never know how many "kills" were as cruelly bungled as Cecil's death. Palmer bragged that he could put an arrow through a playing card 100 yards away.

SCI appeals to the rich and uncompassionate. Society would generally frown upon SCI's love of killing beautiful animals ("love" being Palmer's word)—and so the group claims to be conservationist, thus serving a cause more noble than mere bloodlust. The large amounts of money these people are willing to spend for the ‘privilege' of ending the lives of the most magnificent of animals is, they claim, used to conserve animals... as if that justifies the killing.

Cecil's death belies all that. Lions are in decline in Africa, and by removing a viable male, the likelihood is that Cecil's cubs will be killed by the next lion in the community's pecking order—thus reducing still further the number of individuals and genetic variation of a species in freefall decline. Furthermore, whatever—if any—of Palmer's money may fund conservation, Cecil was far more valuable alive, drawing tourists to Hwange National Park from around the world.

Precisely because trophy hunting is inherently unethical to so many people, and tends to focus on removing the healthiest individuals, it has to be constrained. The favored way of doing so is by charging high license fees. This seems to make it all the more attractive to military leaders, executives, and highly paid professionals, who seem to delight in wealth-fueled power over others. They are the "might makes right" crowd who is used to getting its own way.

There is no aspect of the trophy hunt that can be accomplished without slaughtering magnificent and often rare animals (or "taking," to use their word for it).

The killing aspect is important to trophy hunters. Consider, for example, the game farms of Texas and elsewhere. Hunters go into huge, fenced compounds and shoot a "trophy" of a species that is native to Africa or Asia, without the cost of going to Africa or Asia, or the inconvenience of hunting for an animal who can get away. It's as "sporting" as killing a lion who's unafraid of people and dazzled by a spotlight—easier, in fact, because the fence is always there—and they don't have to spend 40 hours searching for the wounded, as Palmer did with Cecil.

By all accounts to date, the extent of Palmer's "remorse" is not that he shot a lion—but that he shot that particular lion, and got found out. Killing does not seem to bother him at all. On the contrary, he is shown all over the internet, grinning over the bodies of his victims. He is actually proud, it seems, of what he does.

I believe that these trophy hunters are the rewarded, the privileged, the elite: secure in a relatively rarified air of insulation from what is felt by the majority of people, whose ethical compass they will never understand. They are the entitled, given power by money or position. Usually, they remain well hidden within our midst. Yes, Palmer got caught. But, he's one of many: at least 55,000, I'd estimate. And, there are still more who yearn to join their ranks and kill innocent, beautiful, valuable creatures.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

A Hero who chose compassion over killing now needs heroes to save his job


TORONTO, July 14, 2015:  When two orphaned bear cubs needed a hero to save their lives, British Columbia conservation officer Bryce Casavant acted, even though his superiors had ordered him to kill the young bears.

For disobeying the order to kill, Officer Casavant is being punished by being suspended from his job. It is not clear if Officer Casavant will be reinstated after the matter is fully investigated.

We think this is wrong.

Liz White, Director of Animal Alliance of Canada, says: “We need to encourage conservation officers, like Officer Casavant, not punish them. Officer Casavant values the lives of these cubs, an admirable quality in a conservation officer.”

Officer Casavant did not act recklessly when he refused to kill the bear cubs after their mother was killed for breaking into a freezer where food was stored. The Officer had the two cubs assessed by a veterinarian and then transferred them to the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association. This rehabilitation centre is experienced with the rehabilitation and release of bears into the wild, and they have stated they believe the cubs are good candidates for release next year.

Whether these two cubs will get that chance, and whether Officer Casavant will keep his job, still has to be decided. It is critical that B.C. government authorities make the right choices.

That is why we are asking Canadians to contact B.C. Environment Minister Mary Polak, and B.C. Premier Christy Clark, to let them know that the two cubs, named Jordan and Athena, deserve their chance at a natural life and should not be killed.

The government should also provide the North Island Wildlife Recovery Association assistance to care for Jordan and Athena for the next 18 months until they can be released back into the wild. Too often donor-funded groups do the work that government agencies should do.

And, Officer Casavant must be reinstated without censure.

Animal Alliance of Canada hopes that this incident can mobilize public opinion and increase the political pressure on the B.C. government to enact policies that encourage responsible wildlife rehabilitation so that B.C. conservation officers are not in constant fear of losing their livelihoods when they do the right thing and help animals.
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Liz White, Director
416-462-9541 ext: 23 /

Animal Alliance of Canada is committed to animal protection through politics, advocacy and education. Since 1990, Animal Alliance of Canada has been bringing together dedicated professionals with proven records in animal and environmental protection, together we work on local, national, and international educational and legislative advocacy initiatives to protect animals and our environment. Online at

Friday, 10 July 2015

Open Letter to Premier Notley

July 10, 2015

The Honourable Rachel Notley, M.L.A., Premier of the Province of Alberta
Office of the Premier
Room 307
Legislature Building 10800-97 Avenue
Edmonton, AB  T5K 2B6

Phone: (780) 427-2251
Fax: (780) 427-1349

Dear Premier:

RE:  Animal cruelty at the Calgary Stampede

We, the Directors of Animal Alliance of Canada, strongly and urgently request that the Chuckwagon Race events taking place at the Calgary Stampede cease immediately.

We further request that Chuckwagon Races and all other events that negatively impact the animals be permanently removed from all future Calgary Stampede schedules.

Two horses have already been injured, resulting in their being destroyed.

These deaths have occurred after the Calgary Stampede Directors have made adjustments to how the races are conducted in an attempt to make them safer for both human and animal participants. Clearly, those changes have not made this event safer nor is it really possible to do so given the nature of the event itself.  Year after year we hear expressions of regret from Stampede organizers as horses suffer and die in the name of entertainment.

We believe that horse injury and death cannot simply be attributed to human error. Humans do make errors, especially during an event such as this. The event is of itself unacceptably dangerous and distressing for the horses made to participate.

More than 50 horses have died as a result of being forced to participate in the Chuckwagon races at the Calgary Stampede since 1986, according to reports. These recent deaths clearly demonstrate that this event is inhumane and unacceptably dangerous to animals in its essential design. Chuckwagon racing causes distress and injury to animals and so must be stopped immediately and not reinstated.

It is our position and belief that under the statutes of the Alberta Animal Protection Act that there are legislative grounds for deeming this event to cause and permit undue distress to animals.

We note that the industries and uses that are exempt from this statute, such as animal care, management, husbandry, hunting, fishing, trapping, pest control or slaughter, do not include entertainment.

Chuckwagon racing cannot be considered to be an extension of agricultural use and should not be exempt on those grounds. Chuckwagon racing is clearly designed for the sole purpose of providing entertainment and as such is not an exempt activity or use.

Further, our position and belief is that under the Alberta Animal Protection Act that Peace Officers working with the Calgary Humane Society and the Alberta Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals have both the power and the duty to act in this matter.

We call on all parties that have influence, including:
all Directors of the Calgary Stampede,
the Calgary Humane Society
The Alberta SPCA
The Mayor and Council of Calgary
The Premier of Alberta
and all Canadian citizens to act as soon as possible to end this event immediately to prevent further injury, distress and death to animals.

We kindly request a response.

The Directors of Animal Alliance of Canada

cc:  Members of the Legislative Assembly of Alberta

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Why are Canadian animal protection laws still so weak?

What are our next steps?

by Vicki Van Linden, Director

In February of 2015, a woman was accused of hoarding 201 dogs on an Alberta property. Some dogs had broken bones and parasite infested wounds. Many were emaciated and in a state of severe malnutrition. Five dogs were discovered already deceased, believed to have died of starvation. This person already had a previous conviction for animal neglect issued in another province. Yet, she was able to acquire more than 200 dogs and keep them in her possession – even after being investigated again on concerns about dogs while living in another community.

In June of 2014, undercover video taken by an advocacy group, Mercy for Animals, revealed extreme acts of cruelty against cows on a British Columbia dairy farm. The video showed cows being punched, kicked and beaten with chains, tools, feet and fists. Some of these beatings were inflicted on downed or trapped cows who had no means of escape. An officer with the BC SPCA was reported saying that the video evidence indicated an urgent need for better standards to protect farm animals.

In July of 2015, a senior was taken into police custody in Calgary for allegedly killing three cats. When officers entered his yard, 15 rabbits were found to be living in distressing conditions. The man was keeping the rabbits to be used as food. 

Why do otherwise progressive people accept and even support industries that hurt and kill animals?

Why are Canadian laws that protect animals still so weak?

The concept of ‘Speciesism’ might help to explain.  ‘Speciesism’ is a prejudice that devalues non-human animals, in the same way that Racism and Sexism devalue differing groups of humans.

Simply put, the assumption of all prejudice is:

‘Because you are different from me, you are less than me,’ and:
‘Because you are less than me, your suffering matters less than mine,’ therefore:
‘Because your suffering matters less than mine, I am free to use you as I please.’

When it comes to animals ‘using them as we please’ is the norm for legally protected industries like farming, research, hunting and entertainment.

We know from history that once a group is devalued then abuses of the devalued group are easily justified. We offer protection only to those that we value.

Since the exploitation and use of animals can be very profitable, there is great opposition to raising the status of animals in even modern societies like ours.

People are often distressed that the horrors of puppy mills continue. How can something that is so obviously wrong be so difficult to stop? Why won’t governments just pass the laws needed to end the abuse of dogs, the most widely loved species of animals? Could it be that animal-using industries and their political supporters understand that there is not much difference between the suffering of a pig in a gestation crate and that of a dog in a puppy mill cage?  Is that why puppy mill breeding dogs continue to be poorly protected, just as pigs, cows and chickens are poorly protected?

Animals as Property:

Author and Lawyer, Lesli Bisgould, writes about the legal protections that we give to animals in her book: ‘Animals and the Law’ (published by Irwin Law inc. 2011.)

Bisgould writes: “…people do not treat animals badly because animals are property, animals are property so that people can treat them badly.”

How do we gain protections for animals as more than just someone’s property?

What are the next steps we need to work through to get better animal protection laws passed by our governments?

How do we help as many animals as we can, as quickly as we can?

Animals are suffering terribly right now, and cannot wait for a global awakening on the rights of non-human animals. If we keep in mind that the rights of women are still not enshrined in every nation on earth, how long will it be before animals of all species are no longer regarded as property to be exploited? Animals need help now.

Sentient beings:

New Zealand has passed legislation that grants the status of ‘sentient beings’ to animals. This designation recognizes that animals are more than mere objects but are living beings that experience both positive and negative emotions like pain, fear, and distress as well as joy and even love. Will such a change in legal status result in animals finally being given legal protection as more than just property?

Uncharted territory:

Nowhere on earth can we look to a nation that has already truly protected animals from exploitation and abuse. But we can see nations that are farther ahead than Canada is on this journey.

Still, there is no proven template to adopt, no sure road-map to follow.

We still have more questions than answers.

So, let’s keep talking. Let’s keep working. And, let’s not give up.