Thursday, April 28, 2011

Elephant hunting

With the new film Water for Elephants arriving in theaters, it's a good time to reflect on how elephants actually make their way from the wild into captivity.

Here's an excerpt from Derrick Jensen's book, Thought to Exist in the Wild:
"The traditional method for capturing many social creatures, including elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and many others, was—and remains—to kill the mothers. About elephants it was said, "The only way to capture a living animal was to kill the suckling females or the herd's leaders. Hagenbeck [a famous circus man] found himself 'too often obliged to kill' elephants who were protecting their young by using their bodies as shields."

And from Nigel Rothfels book Savages and Beasts:
"Soon Dominick [an elephant capturer] encountered a female with a young calf; after several shots…the female was dispatched with a shot in the left eye. The calf was roped to a tree, where it 'churned up the soil with its small tusks, bellowed and moaned, charged backwards, stood on its head, and foamed at the mouth in rage as bloodshot eyes protruded from its head.' Three remaining calves were soon captured as well, one dying of suffocation after having its trunk pulled between its forelegs and tied to its rear legs so that it 'breathed with difficulty and lay on the ground like a large gray sack.' Another calf died during the night of wounds sustained in the capture, but Dominick had still managed to secure two calves from the herd and soon added three more to his collection. Two died a month later, but the remaining three apparently thrived [sic] in their new environment, and one found its way through Hagenbeck to the Berlin Zoo."
Another account of a specific hunt, from John George Wood:
"One of the wild elephants in the struggle got half-drowned, and then entirely strangled; she just staggered to the shore, and then dropped dead without a struggle. It was really quite piteous to see her poor little young one, about ten days old; she kept walking round the body, pushing it and trying to coax her dead mother to rise up; then uttering the most heart-rending cries, and lying down by her side, as it were to comfort her." 
And here's an all-too-similar story about the capture of the world's most famous elephant, Jumbo:
"A hunter, Hermann Schomburgk, shot his mother. He describes it himself: 'She collapsed in the rear and gave me the opportunity to jump quickly sideways and bring to bear a deadly shot, after which she immediately died. Obeying the laws of nature, the young animal remained standing beside its [sic] mother….Until my men arrived, I observed how the pitiful little baby continuously ran about its mother while hitting her with his trunk as if he wanted to wake her and make their escape'."
Needless to say, I will not be seeing the movie Water for Elephants.  It's 45-year-old "star" elephant, Tai, was captured in the wild in 1966. Does she remember seeing her mother slaughtered in front of her eyes? Did she try in vain to a rouse her mother from death? What was it like for her to be roped and chained and shipped to the other side of the world, so she could used as "entertainment"?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Vegosphere's take on "Photogate": The VegNews scandal that's rocked the vegan community

VegNews, the premier vegan magazine in the U.S., has been outed by the blog quarrygirl for publishing phony photos of meatless meals. Yes, the publication whose stated goal is to "help you live your best veg life ever" has apparently been deceiving its readership for years by passing off stock images of animal-based food as vegan.

Food Fraud Exposed
If you've ever read VegNews, whether in print or online, then you've seen the images I'm talking about. Colorful and yummy-looking, they're designed to showcase just how appetizing vegan eating can be. Sometimes these photos accompany a recipe, such as this one for a "soul-satisfying" dish of "veganized Brunswick stew": 

According to VN, what the picture shows is a hearty, 100% meat-free stew made with vegan sausage links, vegan burger crumbles, and assorted vegetables and spices. But here's the catch: the picture is a hoax. Not only is it not vegan, it's not even Brunswick stew!

Instead, it's a ready-made picture of chicken stew that VegNews purchased from iStockphoto:

The same chicanery occurs not just with recipes, but throughout VN in general. For example, in the first installment of their Vegan 101 series (which claims to focus on "one of the best things about being vegan: the food!") there's a photo of a juicy-looking burger that readers would, quite naturally, assume to be a veggie burger: 

But this, too, is a con. The photo is just another regular hamburger (aka ground up dead cow burger), acquired from the same stock photography site:
In one of the most egregious examples of VN's deception, they've not only used non-vegan pictures to illustrate vegan dishes, but they've even doctored photos to disguise the animal parts. Here's the original stock photo of the spare ribs (note the clearly visible bones):
And here's the same photo used by VN, with the bones conveniently Photoshopped out:

VegNews Responds
In response to the public outcry over its deceptive practices, VN has posted an open letter to its readers. In the letter, VegNews states that they are "deeply saddened"—not by their own misconduct, as one might expect, but by "the dialogue that has transpired" since their fraud was exposed.

The letter's first 3 paragraphs are a strange mix of self-congratulatory and woe-is-me prose. Readers are reminded that the "labor of love" known as VegNews has "won numerous major magazine awards" (impressed yet?), and that it's accomplished this with "no funding or investors" to help cover its "exorbitant costs" (get out your hankies).

It's not until the fourth paragraph that VegNews addresses the revelations about its duplicity. Except it doesn't. Rather, they complain about how it's "not financially feasible" to use "custom-shot photography for every spread," and how stock companies offer "very few specifically vegan images."

But this misses the point entirely. The vegan readers of VegNews aren't asking the magazine to go bankrupt, or insisting that every photograph appearing in its pages be custom-shot for that particular story.

No, what readers are expecting is simply this: That a vegan publication not use pictures of animal-based foods. For that, we can turn to Bon AppĂ©tit or Martha Stewart Living or even Vegetarian Times.

Even if VegNews feels they must use such images (which is highly debatable), to do so in secrecy is downright dishonest. If ever there was a situation crying out for a disclaimer, it's this one.

(Speaking of which, one of the things that's long bothered me about VN is the snobby disclaimer that accompanies the monthly I Can't Believe It's Vegan column. For those not familiar with this regular item, it usually features vegan "junk" food such as Charms Blow Pops or Ore-Ida Tater Tots. And every month, a disclaimer appears beneath the article that reads: All foods mentioned in this article are vegan, but not necessarily good for your health —or ethics. Such paternalism always seemed out of place. If VN really thinks the food is that bad, then why feature it at all? And if it is featured, then why the self-serving disclaimer? Readers are certainly smart enough to understand the difference between Sour Patch Kids and Organic Three Grain Tempeh, aren't they?)

How "Photogate" Hurts the Vegan Cause
The issue isn't merely that VegNews misled readers and betrayed their trust, which is plenty bad enough. But by substituting animal-based food photos for plant-based ones, veganism itself is harmed. That's because VN's actions imply that vegan dishes just aren't attractive or appealing.

What the world needs to know, and to see, is that vegan foods look and taste delicious. If the number-one, mainstream-style vegan magazine has to resort to using flesh, eggs, and dairy to "portray" vegan fare, then how is the average person supposed to believe that veganism works—for the palate as well as for the planet and its inhabitants?

The message that VegNews has unwittingly conveyed is that vegan food can't hold a candle to "real" animal-based food. Of course this is not true, as proven by the many gorgeous, non-deceptive food photos featured on countless vegan websites and blogs.

But until VegNews changes its photographic practices, it's going to continue to make veganism look like an impossible ideal instead of a feasible option. If VN really wants to "create a more compassionate future" as it claims, it needs to start by offering a true apology for its deceit and by making sure that all its future artwork accurately and truthfully represents the the beautiful, viable lifestyle that is veganism.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Please sign the petition to help this captive tiger

Click here for the petition. 

In honor of World Day for Animals in Laboratories

Is animal testing necessary, or even effective? 

Here's what doctor Adrian Stallwood has to say about animal research:
That animals suffer in such research is beyond question. The clinical reports detail a massive catalogue of misery. Removing parts of the brains of marmosets and depriving them of food and water to ’research‘ Parkinson’s disease; millions of mice ’given‘ cancer by poison, irradiation, injection with tumours or genetic tinkering; dogs with their coronary arteries tied off to ’simulate‘ heart attacks by attempting to mimic the fat-laden arteries from which humans suffer and animals naturally do not.
Advocates for animal testing claim that it’s a trade-off: we need some animals to suffer in gruesome ways so we can find a cure for this or that serious disease in humans. But however appealing this mantra may be to the general public, it is completely untrue. The experiments are almost always futile and tell us nothing we did not know already or could not have discovered by other means. Neither should we think it strange when Animal Aid declares that animals are poor surrogates for people. It is obvious that there are significant, intractable inter-species differences. Even more worryingly, there is a wealth of evidence that animal experiments are at best delaying medical progress, and at worst making medical practice positively dangerous. 
Thirty-six states in the U.S. allow stray dogs and cats to be sold to research facilities if they are scheduled for euthanasia at animal shelters. Read more hereFor more about World Day for Animals in Laboratories, click here

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Great work day at Sunny Meadow Sanctuary!

Annie, the rescued dairy cow. (Read her story below.)
Sunny Meadow Sanctuary is a safe haven for rescued farm animals in Central Massachusetts.

Today was a work day at the sanctuary, where nearly 20 volunteers came together to make improvements to help the animals and then share a delicious potluck vegan meal.

This was the first chance for Tim and me to visit the sanctuary and to meet Helen and Steve, who are not only the caretakers and guardians of the animals, but also the founders of MARC, the Massachusetts Animal Rights Coalition. MARC is the largest and most active animal rights group in Massachusetts, with over 2600 members.
Spring crocuses at Sunny Meadow Sanctuary.

It was a beautiful day for working outside—sunny and brisk, with a hint of spring in the air. We first were introduced to the Sanctuary's furry, feathered, and scaly residents, including the most recent rescues: Annie the cow, Nelly the donkey, and Cisco the horse.

Nelly, the donkey. (Read her story below.)

Cisco, the horse. (Read his story below.)
Then we began to work. The job requiring the most hands was first installing a platform/shelter in the new, larger goat yard, and then fencing it in. But with so many people helping out, these jobs were completed in no time!

Installing the new fencing.
New ramps and platform for the goats, with new barn in the background.
Hannah and Ivy enjoying fresh spring greens in their new goat yard.
A fun and satisfying day was had by all!

About the newest rescues
Nelly's Story. If ever an animal needed sanctuary, it was Nelly. She may have originally been a BLM burro but then she went somewhere where a man beat her badly to get her to work. Then she ended up somehow at her current barn. From what could be gathered, they were trying to run an animal buying/selling/boarding/breeding operation that went totally haywire. 

Consequently, the donkey is very shy and scared of new people, especially men, but she seemed ok with Helen and Steve after a while. And she is not aggressive at all. 

Only Sunny Meadow and a logging company in Maine, where she would haul logs for the rest of her life, were interested in her. She is such a smart, sensitive animal that it's hard to imagine what could be worse for her than if these people sold her to the loggers. Poor animal, she's had 5 foals in under 6 years. 

When she came to the Sanctuary she was totally terrified. Throughout the day, she wasn't calming down at all—shaking, covered with sweat, wouldn't eat, etc. (Although she ate grain but only if Helen hand fed her.) 

Nelly is eating now and taking treats—she loves bread and horse treats—that is helping her calm down too. Whatever happened to this poor animal was really, really traumatic. And donkeys are really smart and never forget.

Cisco's Story. While Nelly's rescue was in progress, a horse rescuer contacted Helen and Steve about a rescued gelding who had been starved for 2 1/2 months (the police found him almost dead after receiving a tip) but who was ready to leave the rehab barn and who was currently living with a donkey. When Helen and Steve emailed the rescuer about the situation, she offered to bring Cisco to be a companion to Nelly, right away. Amazingly, as soon as Cisco was in the stall next to Nelly, she settled down. 

Although Cisco was severely underweight when he arrived at Sunny Meadow, he has been getting the best of care and this good boy is well on his way back to good health.

Annie's Story. Annie is almost six and has been impregnated every year since she was able to be and milked on a milk machine continuously when she wasn't pregnant. She recenty had a calf but she barely had enough milk. (Her previous owners kept breeding and milking her as long as they could to get every penny out of her.) Sunny Meadow had no hope of getting her baby but was able to save her. 

Her transition to the Sanctuary went as well as could be expected, given that this poor sweet cow was being taken from her baby. She was so sweet, even in her sorrow and longing for her baby. She was incredibly gentle and even came to Helen and Steve for comfort, but her mooing was so sad. They consoled her with petting and treats, and the other rescued mom, Nellie the donkey, helped, but nothing could take away her agony completely. 

This agony of loss is the dark, hidden side of dairy consumption—this happens to every single dairy cow every single year—until she is sold at a very young age to become hamburgers or dog food. Her female babies become future dairy slaves and the males are killed almost immediately for veal.

If you have not gone vegan yet, please, in honor of this and the millions of other poor mother cows, do so.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Chained, kicked, and beaten: Graphic animal abuse exposed at UK circus

Annie the elephant being beaten by worker at Bobby Roberts Super Circus.

ADI (Animal Defenders International) has released video footage of horrendous scenes of animal abuse suffered by circus animals. Some of the most shocking footage shows an elephant named Annie repeatedly being struck with a metal pitchfork and kicked in the face and body while shackled in heavy chains.

An arthritic 57-year old Asian elephant, Annie is "owned" by the Bobby Roberts Super Circus. Her violent abuse at the hands of circus workers occurred at the circus's winter quarters in Northamptonshire, England. ADI reports that Annie, who was captured as a baby in Sri Lanka in 1954, was "constantly chained" during the entire three-and-a-half week period of filming. During this time, circus workers were "also seen beating and spitting on a camel," as well as "beating miniature ponies and horses on numerous occasions."

The secret filming sparked a massive public outcry in the days after it went public, and media outlets are now reporting that Annie will soon leave the circus and be rehomed at a park where she will be provided with a secure environment and proper veterinary care.

ADI's exposé of the Bobby Roberts circus is part of its global campaign to end the suffering of animals in circuses:
"ADI has now exposed the shocking abuse of animals in UK circuses from several random undercover investigations over the last fifteen years. Only recently, in 2009, the beating of elephants at the Great British Circus was exposed and now in 2011 Bobby Roberts Super Circus shows that this is a way of life at the circus. A clear pattern has been proven and this time the government needs to act."
The group is calling for a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. For ways to help, visit the Stop Circus Suffering section on the ADI website.