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This week a young chimpanzee named Arden celebrated her 5th birthday at the Chimp Haven sanctuary in Keithville, Louisiana. Click here to watch a beautiful video about Arden.

Arden spent her first few years behind bars at the New Iberia Research Center (NIRC), which was the largest chimpanzee lab in the world. In June 2013, the National Institutes of Health announced that almost all of the government-owned chimpanzees at NIRC and other laboratories would be retired to sanctuaries (in the announcement, the NIH director stated, “new scientific methods and technologies have rendered their use in research largely unnecessary”). Arden and her mother were among the first chimps from NIRC to arrive at Chimp Haven in 2013.

It is wonderful to watch Arden climb trees, run on grass and play with friends at Chimp Haven. But if it was up to the President of Primate Products, Arden would have spent her life in a laboratory.

Thomas J. Rowell is President of Primate Products, an Immokalee-based company that imports and sells monkeys for use in research and testing. Before taking the position at Primate Products, Rowell served as NIRC’s Director for 15 years. In that role, Rowell was a leading proponent of the continued use of chimpanzees in biomedical research.

Thankfully, Arden is now safe from laboratory experiments!

We’ve written about Primate Products many times on this blog. Search “Primate Products” above to learn more about this company’s controversial history.

Stopping shark finning cruelty

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The 2014 Florida Legislative Session will begin in March, but legislators are already beginning to introduce bills that they will support during the session. On Monday, the first animal protection bill was filed: Senate Bill 540, introduced by Senator David Simmons, would ban the possession and sale of shark fins in Florida.

Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins, an ingredient in shark fin soup. “Finning,” removing a shark’s fins and dumping the injured fish back into the ocean, is banned in Florida waters. Unfortunately, it is legal to remove and sell shark fins once boats return to the dock. Each year, thousands of pounds of shark fins are sold by commercial fishermen in Florida. In addition, a large number of imported shark fins enter the U.S. through Florida ports.

The killing of sharks for fins is cruel and threatens some shark species with extinction. Eliminating the demand for shark fins, as this bill would do, is the most effective way to save sharks. The trade in shark fins is already banned in New York, Maryland, Delaware, Illinois, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii.

ARFF will be supporting this bill, which we hope is just the first of many bills related to animal protection to be introduced for the 2014 session.

Please thank Senator Simmons for introducing this legislation: simmons.david.web@flsenate.gov

To win victories for animals, ARFF will need your help during the legislative session. Click here to be added to our email list to receive legislative alerts and updates.

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Last week state senator Charlie Dean introduced a bill (SB 414) to create a public records exemption for home addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth and photographs of researchers at public universities whose work involves, “experimenting on animals for the purpose of conducting life-sustaining medical research.”

The Animal Rights Foundation of Florida (ARFF) does not oppose the right of individuals employed in the public sector to remove their personal information from public records for safety reasons, but the proposed legislation raises interesting questions about the different types of research involving animals.

In limiting the public records exemption to researchers who use animals in “life-sustaining medical research,” the legislation may not apply to researchers who use animals in basic research (research that is not focused on understanding or treating a specific disease), or who use animals in teaching. Other researchers who may not be protected under the proposed legislation include those conducting agricultural research, researchers who use animals in psychological experiments, and researchers working on projects funded by the U.S. Military.

ARFF would welcome a discussion about what research involving animals is life-sustaining (for the thousands of animals in laboratories in Florida, research is certainly not life-sustaining!).

The 2014 legislative session will begin on March 4. Click here to be added to ARFF’s email list to receive alerts and updates on animal protection legislation.

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.

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