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In a recent column, Lakeland Ledger environmental writer Tom Palmer accused ARFF of “environmental ignorance” for our suggestion that after 500 years of living in Florida, wild pigs should be considered a native Florida animal. We admit that it’s a challenging idea.

Palmer argues that wild pigs can be destructive, but so can other animals. Like pigs, armadillos damage lawns and gardens when rooting for food. In northern Florida, farmers are angry about deer eating their crops. Cormorants and other fish-eating birds are a big problem at aquaculture facilities in Florida. Even tiny bats can cause problems when they roost in buildings in large numbers. (Palmer also claims, but offers nothing more than anecdotal evidence, that wild pigs prey on native wildlife and spread disease.) ARFF would support creative, humane methods of reducing the pig population in areas where they are causing problems.

Unfortunately, Palmer does not address our main point: that the “non-native” designation for wild pigs has been used as justification for horrible acts of violence against these animals, cruelties that would not be ignored if suffered by “native” wildlife. For example, Florida hunters use packs of dogs, and primitive weapons like knives and spears, to chase down and kill wild pigs. Pigs are often castrated, without anesthesia, by hunters who then release the animal in the belief that he will grow fatter and have better-tasting flesh when captured in the future.

As tempting as it may be to turn the clock back to the year 1500, that’s not going to happen. Florida’s environment has changed dramatically since Europeans first arrived. It is unrealistic to demand that Florida’s wildlife look the same as when Ponce de León stepped off the boat.

ARFF will continue to speak up for these intelligent, adaptable animals. We hope that in the future Floridians will view wild pigs with compassion and understanding.

Is your city a bird sanctuary?

Last month ARFF was contacted by a resident at an apartment community in Hollywood who had witnessed a man rounding-up Muscovy ducks. When questioned, the man said that the ducks were going to be “relocated” somewhere far away (we suspect that this was not the truth).

ARFF contacted the community management and urged them to explore humane methods of reducing the duck population, such as collecting newly-laid eggs. We also alerted the management that the removal of ducks may have been in violation of city ordinances. The City of Hollywood is a bird sanctuary. According to city code, “It shall be unlawful for any person to hunt, wound, molest, injure or kill any bird within the city. It shall be unlawful for any person to capture any bird within the city for either resale or private use.”

We were happy to receive a response from the community manager stating that they would make sure to be in compliance with the city ordinance when dealing with ducks in the future.

Many cities across Florida have been designated “bird sanctuaries.” Such designations can offer protection against individuals who treat Muscovy ducks cruelly or capture ducks for profit. If your city is not a bird sanctuary, contact your city commission and urge them to consider adding this important protection for birds (contact ARFF, we can help).

In an email to members dated October 4, Frank Guida, Treasurer for Orlando’s Bahia Shriners, painted a dire picture of the organization’s finances: “…our cash has shriveled up. We are broke and we had to make some difficult decisions. As a result, we had to let go one of our valued employees who has been with us for many years.” In 2013, temple membership fell below 2,000 for the first time. Revenues (dues, rentals, circus) are down and expenses are up.

The problems faced by the Bahia Shriners are similar to those facing temples across the country (read our previous post). ARFF is convinced that the Shriners need to modernize to turn around the struggling organization. More than 100 Shrine temples in the U.S. and Canada will sponsor cruel circuses in 2013. In an effort to persuade the organization to improve its image and attract new members, ARFF has launched an online campaign to persuade Shriners International to discourage individual temples from conducting circus fundraisers. ARFF’s petition– www.change.org/petitions/shriners-international-stop-hosting-cruel-circuses — has attracted over 10,000 supporters since its launch in late June.

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The Sahib Shrine Circus begins tonight in Sarasota. This year, the Shriners have ditched the elephants, tigers and other exotic animals in favor of a more human-centered show featuring “high-soaring trapeze,” aerial acrobatics, stunt motorcyclists, clowns, jugglers, a trick roper and a “world-renowned juggling sensation.” The show does include performing dogs and a horse act, but the new circus is a big step in the right direction. ARFF hopes that other Shrine temples will also focus on willing, human performers and leave the animals in peace.

Sign ARFF’s petition (click here) and send a message to Shriners International that animal free circuses should be encouraged.

This month at Dade City’s Wild Things, for a fee of $200, guests can swim with a white tiger cub named “Remington.” Born in June, in a few weeks the tiger will be too large to safely (or legally) come into contact with the public. The State of Florida and the U.S. Department of Agriculture only allows the public to handle big cats between 8 and 12 weeks of age (under 8 weeks the animal’s immune system is still developing, and at 12 weeks the cub becomes a potentially dangerous juvenile).

Considering the brief window of time during which public contact with tiger cubs is legal, you might think that interacting with a baby tiger is truly the “once in a lifetime opportunity” that is advertised. But that’s not the reality at disreputable animal parks and roadside zoos in Florida. At Dade City’s Wild Things, there has been a steady stream of baby tigers. Before Remington, “Rocky” and “Thunder” were available to hold or get into a pool with, and at the start of 2013, the tiger cubs “Meg” and “Catness” and “Petra” were available for encounters with paying guests.

Animals to be used for photo ops or play sessions are often removed from the care of their mothers shortly after birth. When an animal grows too large to be handled, they may be abandoned in a cage or dumped at another exhibitor. In addition to being exploitive and cruel, these money-making schemes encourage the irresponsible breeding of tigers and other captive wildlife, and only worsen a nationwide crisis of unwanted exotic animals.

There is good news! The USDA has announced that it is considering a petition to amend the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit public contact with big cats, bears and primates, to protect public safety and animal welfare. Please submit a comment in support of the proposed ban.

To submit comments (before October 4), go to the Federal eRulemaking portal (copy and paste address): www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=APHIS-2012-0107, and then click on “Comment Now!”

Sample text (it’s best to use your own words):

“I support amending the Animal Welfare Act to prohibit public handling of big cats, bears, and primates, regardless of the animal’s age. Public contact puts animals at risk and endangers the public. Stopping these interactions would remove a financial incentive to breed tigers and other captive wildlife.”

Thank you!

florida-park-service-logo.jpgIn ARFF’s Summer newsletter we asked readers to send letters to the Florida Park Service to protest the trapping of wild monkeys living along the Silver River and Oklawaha River in North Central Florida (the trapped monkeys are sold to laboratories). If you wrote, you may have received a response from Florida Park Service Director Donald Forgione in which he argued that lethal control was necessary because:

1. “rhesus monkeys are not native to Florida”

Rhesus monkeys were introduced into the area by a tour boat operator in the 1930s. For over 70 years the monkeys have lived a peaceful existence in the wild. ARFF feels strongly that “nonnative” status alone does not justify killing the monkeys.

2. “they are known to exhibit aggressive behavior”

The State of Florida and the Marion County Health Department have no records of any bites from monkeys living in the area. The best way to protect the public from any potential harm is to strictly enforce rules against feeding or harassing monkeys. A USDA wildlife biologist has suggested that trapping may actually be causing monkeys to flee the area, which could make any problems worse.

3. “… and carry diseases transmittable to humans”

Although each year some of the trapped monkeys test positive for Herpes B, the danger is overstated. Human infections from monkeys are rare. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there have been only 50 cases of human infection in the United States since 1933 and most were “occupational” (employees of zoos/research facilities).

4. “risks to … the area’s native species”

The Park Manager at Silver River State Park has admitted that there is no evidence that monkeys are harmful to native plants or animals. In early 2012, the USDA suspended work on an Environmental Assessment of the monkey population in the area after they concluded there was not enough information on negative impacts of the monkeys.

5. “When control is necessary, it is done using safe and humane methods.”

Trapping wild animals for sale to research and testing laboratories, where pain and suffering is routine, is not humane. In addition, the trapping and removal of monkeys fails to address the issue long-term. There are ways to reduce the monkey population which are not only humane, but are also more effective. A sterilization program– in which monkeys are trapped, sterilized and returned to the environment– has been carried-out before, in collaboration with the College of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Florida. We urge the Florida Park Service to take another look at this alternative.

Contact the Florida Park Service and ask for an end to the trapping of monkeys for the research industry at Silver River State Park and on other state lands. Let them know that the trapping program is tarnishing the image of Florida’s state parks.

Donald Forgione, Director
Florida Park Service
3900 Commonwealth Boulevard
Tallahassee, FL 32399
Email: Donald.Forgione@dep.state.fl.us
Comment form.

Sign ARFF’s petition (click here).

On April 14, Everglades Wonder Gardens, a roadside zoo in Bonita Springs, announced that it would close and the property and animals sold. Early the next morning, a local resident, Steven Trew, broke into the zoo, cut the locks on almost every cage and opened perimeter gates. Deer, wild pigs and birds escaped from their cages. Tragically, one deer was killed in a collision with a vehicle on a nearby road. The other animals were recaptured. Trew was arrested on the property and charged with burglary and “animal enterprise disruption.” A zoo employee told the News-Press that Trew, “heard we were closing and he wanted to set the animals free.”

On June 25, Trew pled “no contest” to both counts and was sentenced to time served (he had been held at the Lee County Jail since his arrest), probation, community service and restitution. He was released from jail on July 6.

A special class of crimes

To our knowledge, Trew’s animal enterprise disruption conviction was the first under the Florida Animal Enterprise Protection Act.

The Florida Animal Enterprise Protection Act (828.40 – 43) was passed in 1993. Under the Act, a person who “intentionally causes physical disruption” to an animal enterprise by stealing, damaging or “causing the loss of” animals or other property, and thereby causing “loss of profits” or other economic damage, commits a felony. “Animal enterprise” includes zoos, circuses, research facilities, farms or any other “commercial or academic enterprise that uses animals.”

The Act, passed at the request of biomedical, agriculture and other industries that exploit animals, was modeled after the federal Animal Enterprise Protection Act (the federal law was passed by Congress in 1992 and expanded/replaced in 2006 by the Animal Enterprise Terrorism Act). At least 27 other states have enacted similar laws.

The laws have been criticized as unnecessary, vague, overly broad, and in violation of free speech and equal protection provisions of both the U.S. and state constitutions. Theft and vandalism were already illegal. The Florida Animal Enterprise Protection Act merely created new crimes targeted specifically at animal activists.

ARFF fears that these laws could discourage entirely lawful activities, such as protests and boycotts, that also threaten corporate profits.

*In April, a felony charge of animal enterprise disruption under the Florida Animal Enterprise Protection Act was dropped against activist Chris Lagergren. Lagergren was arrested in September 2011 for alleged trespassing and criminal mischief at the Marine Mammal Conservancy in Key Largo. His trial on remaining charges is scheduled to begin in late August. Click here to read more about the case.

Common sense about coyotes

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Coyotes are beautiful, smart, highly adaptable, and misunderstood animals. But judging from media coverage of coyote sightings, it’s obvious that some people in Florida don’t appreciate the animals as we do. Fortunately, recent news articles have also included knowledgeable voices.

In an article this week in the Ocala Star Banner, Joy Hill, a spokesperson for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), reminded readers that coyotes can be found in all 67 Florida counties and that although coyotes will prey on cats and dogs, such incidents are rare. She also explained that trying to eliminate coyotes isn’t the answer. “They’re here and they’re here to stay,” she said. “Efforts to eliminate them are not successful. They are real survivors.”

Sunday’s Orlando Sentinel featured an excellent Q&A about coyotes in Florida. In the article, Terry Doonan, an FWC biologist, reiterated the point that people should not look to trappers or the state wildlife agency for solutions to human-coyote conflicts. “People need to understand that there won’t be any ‘control’ of coyotes in the sense of managing where they occur, how many there are or how they behave. Coyotes are going to act like coyotes.”

Gary Morse, another FWC spokesperson, gave good advice about living with coyotes in an article last month in the North Fort Myers Neighbor. “The answer to the problem here is prevention,” he said. “Don’t let them become comfortable in and around human habitation. Pet food, bird seed, trash - don’t leave it out.”

Please contact ARFF if your city or homeowners association is considering hiring a trapper to kill coyotes. ARFF will work to encourage humane, proactive approaches to decrease negative encounters with coyotes.

Visit ARFF’s website to learn more about coyotes.

Good news! The National Marine Fisheries Service announced this week that it has denied an application by the Georgia Aquarium to import 18 beluga whales from Russia. The aquarium had planned to send at least two of the whales to SeaWorld in Orlando.

Last October (click here to read our previous post), ARFF asked people to submit comments against the ill-conceived and cruel plan. Thank you to everyone who contacted the National Marine Fisheries Service!

Between June 2012 and April 2013, Primate Products shipped 1,000 monkeys to contract research organizations, universities and government labs.

In the most recent* batch of State of Florida records that ARFF reviewed, it’s clear that business has changed for the company. Compared to the previous 11 months, Primate Products had fewer customers and shipped far fewer animals. Click here to download a summary of the shipments.

The biggest Primate Products customer (making up 30% of its total business) was the National Institutes of Health. Between September 2012 and April 2013, Primate Products trucked over 300 monkeys to the NIH Animal Center in Dickerson, Maryland. At the Center, the monkeys will be held for breeding or sent on to an NIH institute where they will suffer and die in experiments. (photo: rhesus monkeys at the NIH Animal Center)

The records also revealed a few new Primate Products customers, including Columbia University and Princeton University– two laboratories with histories of animal abuse and neglect (see here and here).

As ARFF reported previously, Primate Products has closed its Miami quarantine facility and is now operating solely out of its Immokalee location. How are they doing? On July 9, a USDA inspector found problems with food storage (insects and rodent droppings in food containers) at the facility.

*ARFF released similar sets of records in June 2012 and in November 2011. The summaries are based on health certificates filed by Primate Products with the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services, and may not include all shipments that took place.

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