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Ask the BC government to do more to combat the cruel and dangerous wildlife trade

VHS is shifting the focus of our campaigns and communications to include the wildlife and exotic pet trade, which has been implicated in the emergence of COVID-19.

The emergence of new zoonotic diseases (diseases that spread from animals to humans) has been ignored for far too long, especially its connection to the international wildlife trade (explained in our recent op-ed). It’s time the international community and all levels of government in Canada took action to put and end to the illegal wildlife trade, which is not only inhumane but also is a threat to biodiversity and public health.

Here in B.C., the provincial government’s Controlled Alien Species Regulation governs “the possession, breeding, shipping, and releasing of alien animals that pose a risk to the health or safety of people, property, wildlife, or wildlife habitat.”

We’re calling on the government to review the regulation to ensure it addresses the threat of zoonotic disease from the trade in wild and exotic animals.

Please send a message to the provincial government’s Wildlife and Habitat Branch, asking them to take action to address this important issue.

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Challenging captivity

VHS has a long history of opposition to animal captivity. Most recently, we published a report, commissioned from Zoocheck, that drew attention to a number of issues at the Greater Vancouver Zoo.

The report found that animals at the zoo were suffering from boredom and frustration caused by the lack of activity and stimulation that comes with captivity.

In addition, the report identified animal enclosures that were too small, including cages for raptors (owls, hawks, kestrels) that provided no opportunity for flight. Tanks in the zoo’s reptile house were also found to be under-sized, preventing animals from engaging in natural behaviours.

A key finding was that a number of the zoo’s exotic animals are not suited to B.C.’s climate and should be moved to more appropriate facilities. In the longer term, the report recommended, the zoo should transition toward becoming a sanctuary for native species.

The report has received widespread media attention and many people joined our e-campaign calling on the zoo to address the issues it raises. Our opinion editorial in the Georgia Straight gives an overview of the psychological suffering experienced by captive animals at the Greater Vancouver Zoo and other zoos around the world.

The management of the Greater Vancouver Zoo has not responded directly to VHS or Zoocheck, but has told news media that it has plans to make changes and improvements over the next few years. It remains to be seen whether these changes will make a positive difference to the lives of the animals, but VHS will continue to monitor the zoo and draw public attention to their conditions and welfare.

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Are women and young people the best hope for fighting animal cruelty?

A recent poll of Canadians about a range of animal issues is cause for optimism in the animal protection movement.

The poll, by respected polling company Research Co., found that majorities of Canadians are opposed to using animals in rodeos (59%); hunting animals for sport (85%); keeping animals in zoos or aquariums (52%) and killing animals for their fur (75%).

These results are encouraging but they may contain even more positive news when the survey sample is broken down by age and gender.

On a number of these issues, higher percentages of women and younger people oppose the exploitation of animals (which is consistent with other polling on animal issues). For example, while 59% of all Canadians oppose using animals in rodeos, 67% of women and 64% of people aged 18-34 take that position. Similarly, while 52% of Canadians oppose keeping animals in zoos and aquariums, 56% of women and 56% of the 18-34 age group are opposed.

Even on the animal-related issue of eating meat, where a significant minority of Canadians (19%) oppose eating animals, the poll found opposition higher among women (22%) and those aged 18-34 (25%).

On a number of animal welfare issues polling shows greater opposition to animal exploitation among younger people.

All this may bode well for animals in the future, as the younger generation moves up the demographic ladder and replaces the older generation.

The same may be true of the support for animal welfare from women, but this could depend on whether women continue to gain more social power and status in fields such as politics and media. Progress in these areas has been slow.

In October 2019, Canada elected 98 women to the federal House of Commons. Women now represent 29% of the 338 elected Members of Parliament, up from 27% in the last parliament.  However, a recent report found that, based on the rate of change over the last five federal elections, it will take 87 years before gender parity is reached in our national elected chamber. There are currently no female provincial premiers.  Another study found that women accounted for just 29% of all people quoted in major Canadian media, compared to 71% for men.

While polls show women tend to be more supportive of animal welfare, the gender gap in politics and media suggests their voices may not be heard in the public discourse on animal issues. This photo of current provincial premiers illustrates why that might be the case.

If women and younger people gain stronger voices in Canada’s public discourse, it’s possible that animal welfare issues will garner more attention, and the opposition to the abuse and exploitation of animals will grow.  If so, the future for animals might be brighter than we think.

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Montreal SPCA supports call to cancel Grey Cup rodeo

 

Bucking horse at Calgary Stampede. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur, We Animals

 

UPDATE: Since we first published this post, we’ve received another letter of support, this time from the Ottawa Humane Society, backing our call for the CFL to cancel the Grey Cup rodeo.

The Montreal SPCA has joined Vancouver Humane in calling on the Canadian Football League (CFL) to scrap plans to hold a rodeo at this year’s Grey Cup.

In a letter to CFL commissioner Randy Ambrosie, Montreal SPCA executive director Élise Desaulniers said, “Canadians want family-friendly, cruelty-free entertainment to be part of national celebrations, not out-dated spectacles of animal cruelty.”

Vancouver Humane is grateful for this support from one of the leading animal protection agencies in Canada and will be engaging with other animal groups to build wider opposition to the rodeo, which is to be held on November 23, as part of the Grey Cup Festival in Calgary.

Vancouver Humane has launched an e-campaign that allows concerned members of the public to send a message to the CFL and organizers of the Grey Cup Festival, urging them to cancel the rodeo.  If you haven’t already participated in the campaign, you can do so here.

Vancouver Humane recently had an opinion editorial published on the Daily Hive, which explained why holding a rodeo at the Grey Cup is not only wrong because of the suffering caused to animals, but also because it is a marketing blunder to associate the CFL with inhumane rodeo events.

Your donations help our campaigns against rodeo cruelty.

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Nuggets from peas, not chicks, is progress

This week, KFC made headlines around the world when it tested Beyond Meat’s plant-based nuggets and boneless wings at a single KFC restaurant in Atlanta.  The test appeared to be a resounding success, as there were long line-ups to try the new meat-free product and it sold out in five hours.

Less well-known are KFC’s plans to test the nuggets in Canada, which were revealed to the Daily Hive by a KFC Canada spokesperson:

“KFC Canada is cooking up a new plant-based creation of our own in our Canadian kitchen with our world-renowned craveable taste… We plan to test in select restaurants by the end of 2019 with a national launch in 2020.”

Of course, this is just the latest in a stunning number of plant-based product launches in recent years.  Just about everyone has heard of Beyond Burgers and Impossible Burgers, but food companies (including meat companies) have been introducing meatless alternatives to bacon, sausages, ground beef and chicken nuggets at an astonishing pace around the world.

This is good news for anyone seeking to replace these fast-food staples with meat-free products.  (The KFC nuggets and wings, like all Beyond Meat products are derived from plants – in this case, with soy protein, pea protein, rice flour, carrot fiber, yeast extract, vegetable oils, stabilizing agents and seasoning like salt, onion powder and garlic powder.)  However, a healthy, balanced diet is not one based solely on burgers and nuggets.  As dietitians and nutritionists frequently remind us, a whole-foods, plant-based diet, with lots of fresh vegetables, grains and legumes is much healthier. Beyond Burgers, they say, should be an occasional treat.

Nevertheless, the plant-based revolution that appears to be taking place in the fast-food industry should be welcomed.  It’s that industry that is supplied by factory farms, where billions of animals are confined to a life of suffering before going to slaughter. Every plant-based KFC nugget that replaces a meat nugget means fewer chickens will need to be slaughtered.

For more information on switching to a plant-based diet, visit our Plant-Based Plates page.

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“we love what we do” – Excelsior Hog Farm Case Re-Opens

Photos from Meat the Victims

Back in April animal advocates released hidden camera footage from Excelsior Hog Farm in Abbotsford revealing sick, dead, and dying pigs. Some pigs can be seen to have abnormal growths and mobility issues. As this footage was released anonymously and without timestamps or indications as to the location being filmed, the BC SPCA was not able to bring charges forward, despite the video evidence suggesting a high level of suffering along with unsuitable conditions and improper monitoring for illness and injury.

Less than a week after the video’s release, dozens of animal advocates ventured to Excelsior to stage an occupation of the property, Canada’s first #MeatTheVictims event. Locked in with the pigs, the advocates began broadcasting and posting to social media, with live video and photos inundating Facebook and Twitter timelines. During the day of the occupation, friends of the farm came to show their support while several media outlets were eventually brought through the farm by the owners for a tour. One activist was arrested for break and enter as well as mischief. Many farmers and individuals spoke out against the animal advocates and defended the farm and the family who owns and operates it (the patriarch also happens to be a board member of BC Pork).

Now, months later, a second hidden camera video was released (and since removed from YouTube). This video showed
the owners of the farm kicking and mishandling pigs, castrating piglets without pain management, as well as showing pigs being shocked on their faces with electric prods. The person behind the camera has since come forward to the BC SPCA, who have re-opened the cruelty case against Excelsior.

It’s important to remember the “friends of the farm,” and many of those who have defended Excelsior, have ties to the animal agriculture industry. What you or I see as inhumane may be considered standard operating procedure in the eyes of a farmer, as many claimed after the release of the first video. While our Society does not approve of farming animals in principle, we nevertheless expect those who live and work with non-human animals to meet a certain standard of care, and what’s been shown in the two videos released is far from anything resembling care for these animals. We will continue to follow this story.

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Rodeo Recap: Calgary Stampede 2019

In case you missed it, here’s our recap of this year’s Stampede:

Six chuckwagon horses died during this year’s 10-day Calgary Stampede, with five dying or being euthanized as a result of injury, and one horse being euthanized for an “unrelated medical issue.”

 

This brings the total number of non-human casualties to 102 since 1986 (PDF), with almost 70 of those animals being chuckwagon horses. (Two humans have died either during chuckwagon races or as a result of injuries sustained during a race.)

a steer is killed in competition

Leading up to and during the Stampede we called on compassionate Canadians to contact the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association to voice their concerns surrounding the use of animals in rodeo, with over 6000 individuals joining our campaign.

 

Following this year’s stampede the CBC have visualized the data we have collected since 1986, meaning you can easily see the deaths by year or by event

Now, as the dust settles, and Stampede officials begin reviewing chuckwagon racing, you have an opportunity to be heard. We are urging everyone to contact both the Stampede and the CVMA through our website to let them know that these races are not safe and must be drastically changed through consultation with impartial experts or banned altogether.

Want to do more? You can donate online to our rodeo campaign and receive an immediate tax receipt thanks to Canada Helps. Not only that, but a generous donor is MATCHING all donations up to $10,000, so your donation will be doubled for a limited time!

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Calgary Stampede vet says pressure from VHS affects “how seriously” it takes animal welfare

Calf-roping at the Calgary Stampede. Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur

First time a Stampede official has acknowledged campaign’s impact

The Calgary Stampede’s chief veterinarian has admitted that pressure from the Vancouver Humane Society affects how seriously the Stampede takes animal welfare.

The admission, buried in a news story in the Calgary Herald, was part of an interview with Greg Evans, a veterinarian employed by the Stampede.

The story states: “Evans said pressure from the Vancouver Humane Society, which openly calls for an end to all animal competition and entertainment at the Stampede, plays a role in how seriously both the Calgary Humane Society and the Stampede take animal welfare.”

This is the first time a Stampede official has acknowledged that Vancouver Humane’s anti-rodeo campaigns have had an impact on the Stampede’s sensitivity to animal welfare concerns.

Under this pressure, the Stampede made a number of rule changes in 2011 and 2016 to the rodeo and chuckwagon races. However, the changes do not affect the fundamental cruelty involved in the rodeo and horses have continued to die in the chuckwagon races. The Stampede needs to eliminate cruel rodeo events such as calf-roping and steer-wrestling and they should suspend the chuckwagon race until independent equine experts can determine whether it can be made safe for horses.

While the Stampede’s rule changes do not go far enough, the admission that it feels under pressure concerning animal welfare shows the importance of public opinion. We hope compassionate Canadians will continue to support our campaign against animal cruelty at the Stampede. We aim to draw attention to this issue at this year’s Stampede (July 5-14).

Let’s continue to hold the Stampede to account. Your support makes a difference and your donations will help us keep up the fight to end rodeo animal suffering.

Thank you!

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The Vancouver Aquarium needs a new vision

News that the Vancouver Aquarium is suing the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver Park Board over the 2017 cetacean ban is a sad reminder that the aquarium remains out of step with changes in public attitudes and has no vision for the future that could reflect those changes.

With federal legislation banning cetacean captivity now the law of the land, the aquariums’s lawsuit seems particularly ill-timed and contrary to the spirit of the times.  It’s even more peculiar given that the aquarium itself said in 2018 that it would no longer keep whales and dolphins.

Still in the business of cetacean captivity

While the issue of cetacean captivity is largely settled, there remains much to be concerned about regarding the aquarium and its future direction.

First, the revelation that Ontario’s controversial Marineland amusement park is transferring two beluga whales owned by the Vancouver Aquarium to a facility in Valencia, Spain (which the aquarium manages), clearly demonstrates that it is still in the businesses of cetacean captivity.  They’re just not doing it in Stanley Park. The aquarium is also believed to own belugas kept at other facilities in the U.S. (Two belugas owned by the aquarium died at the notorious SeaWorld in 2015.)

The Valencia facility, L’Oceanogràfic, is the largest complex of its type in Europe and reportedly keeps 45,000 animals of 500 different species including fish, mammals, birds, reptiles and invertebrates. Its dolphinarium features two shows a day, with trained dolphins performing tricks for a large crowd. It’s clearly a place of entertainment.  While L’Oceanogràfic is a popular attraction it is not hard to find visitor reviews that are critical of animal welfare at the complex.

Facilities like Marineland, SeaWorld and L’Oceanogràfic represent everything that the Vancouver Aquarium should be moving away from. While the aquarium has done some rebranding, calling itself part of Ocean Wise, a “worldwide conservation organization” it remains primarily a place of entertainment, not conservation.

Restraints on speaking out against threats to marine life 

One of the most pressing marine conservation issues in B.C. is the potential extinction of B.C.’s Southern Resident killer whales.  The National Energy Board has admitted that the proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project will likely “cause significant adverse environmental effects on the Southern resident killer whale and on Indigenous cultural use associated with the Southern Resident killer whale.”  Conservation groups like the Raincoast Conservation Foundation have opposed the pipeline for this reason.  Yet, the Vancouver Aquarium’s voice is rarely heard in the pipeline debate.

Some fear that the aquarium’s reticence on such issues may be due to its links to business, especially to resource extraction industries. Mining company Teck donated $12.5 million to the aquarium in 2012 and one of its galleries is named for the company.  The Vancouver Board of Trade supported the aquarium in its fight to keep cetaceans in captivity, obviously cognizant of the tourist dollars the aquarium brings in. There is clearly a potential for a conflict of interest that would keep the aquarium out of important debates that are relevant to a genuine conservation role.

A drift toward becoming a zoo?

Another concern is the aquarium’s apparent “mission creep” toward becoming a zoo. It’s collection of 58,000 animals includes sloths, penguins, monkeys, snakes and macaws, which are hardly aquatic species. It would be unfortunate if this trend continued and the menagerie grew just to provide an additional attraction.

The Vancouver Aquarium, like all zoos and aquariums, justifies putting animals on display by claiming that they serve to educate and inspire people to value wildlife.  Yet there is little evidence to show that is the case.  There is, however, research to the contrary, as Zoocheck executive director Rob Laidlaw has stated: “There have been a number of studies examining how long zoo visitors look at animals. The results show that for some animals, particularly if they are not active, observation times can vary from about eight seconds to 90 seconds. There’s not much that can be learned about an animal in that length of time.”

Need for transparency

There is also a need for the aquarium to show greater transparency in its operations if it seeks to build public trust, especially as a conservation organization.  Its website states:

“Aquarium animals come to us from many places and in many different ways. Many animals arrive at the Aquarium as part of an exchange program with other large aquariums, zoos and universities. Most of the tropical fish are flown to the Aquarium from dealers around the world. The Aquarium tries to buy fish from sustainable fisheries and conservation-based associations, and only purchases from dealers who collect fish with nets, and not chemicals or explosives.

“Aquarium divers have permits to collect marine invertebrates including octopuses, sea stars, sea anemones and species of fish. Other collectors walk out from the beach with seine nets to gather local invertebrates and fishes. Many animals are also born into our care. Once in the Aquarium, animals normally live for many years.”

Who are these “dealers”?  How reputable are they and are they also involved in the exotic pet trade, which has damaged wildlife populations.  And there is the basic ethical question about removing animals from their natural habitat just to put them on public display. Who benefits? Certainly not the animals.

The aquarium should be transparent about where all its animals come from and how they are obtained. It should also be open about what happens to them after they become part of the collection. How many die prematurely?  Does the aquarium keep data on survival rates?

Opportunity for genuine change and new vision

The Vancouver Aquarium has an opportunity to do more than rebrand itself with name changes and new websites. But it needs to resolve the conflict between being a tourist attraction and a genuine conservation organization. 

There are ways forward. Some aquariums are moving away from making captive wildlife their star attractions. The Aquarium of the Pacific in California is opening a multi-million dollar “immersive theatre” that features “wind, fog, scent and vibrating seats to storms playing out on a massive, two-story-tall screen.” The theatre is part of a new “Pacific Visions” wing designed to “explore pressing environmental issues and suggest alternative pathways to a sustainable future.”

Hawaii’s Maui Ocean Centre, which has no captive cetaceans recently launched a digital “Humpbacks of Hawaii” exhibit using the integration of 4k imagery, 3D active glasses and a 7.1 surround sound system. The centre says the exhibit “transports guests deep into the ocean, giving them an inside look into the complex and vibrant lives of Maui’s humpback whales, and allowing them to forge new connections with one of nature’s greatest marvels.”

The aquarium could develop a vision for the future that is based on genuine education and conservation. It could employ the latest technology to make learning about marine life exciting and compelling.  It could use its voice to contribute to debates about real threats to B.C.’s coastal waters.

It could also invest in research about some of the big questions surrounding marine life. One of most recent and most profound of these has been the question of fish sentience.  The latest research shows that, contrary to previous perceptions, fish feel pain.  What are the implications of this?  The Vancouver Aquarium could be at the forefront of discussions about such big issues.

And why doesn’t the aquarium explore cooperation with the U.S.-based Whale Sanctuary Project, which has considered the B.C. coast as a possible a site for a sanctuary? There would be huge public support for the aquarium’s involvement.

It’s time the Vancouver Aquarium left the entertainment industry behind and became something much more valuable: A beacon to help guide us through the challenges that face our seas and a champion of the precious marine life they contain.  That is what Vancouver – and the world – needs, not just another place to see captive animals living out their lives in tanks.

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Thinking about going plant-based?

Navigating through the all the advice and information about plant-based diets can be confusing.  Arguments rage in the news media and online about the ethical, health and environmental considerations involved in moving away from animal-based foods.

Ethical arguments

The ethical case for switching to a plant-based diet is strong.  Science has shown that most animals are sentient. That is, they have the capacity to feel pain, pleasure, suffering or comfort. There is no doubt that the billions of animals raised for food suffer, mainly because of industrialized agriculture, which deprives them of the ability to engage in natural behaviours, forces them to live in confined spaces, subjects them to painful procedures, transports them in stressful conditions, and ends their lives prematurely in a slaughterhouse. 

Many people who have researched and thought about the sentience of animals and about the nature of modern animal agriculture have given up meat. For example, famed anthropologist and conservationist Jane Goodall has written that she stopped eating meat some 50 years ago “when I looked at the pork chop on my plate and thought: this represents fear, pain, death.”

Dr. Lori Marino, a renowned neuroscientist, recently wrote: “…the scientific literature on everyone from pigs to chickens points to one conclusion: farmed animals are someone, not something. They share many of the same mental and emotional characteristics that we recognize in ourselves and acknowledge in the animals closest to us – dogs and cats. To continue our self-indulgence, we resist the evidence and reinforce the status of farmed animals as objects, as commodities, as food.”

If you accept the ethical arguments against raising animals for food, the question then becomes: Okay, now what?  For a growing number of people, the answer is to simply stop consuming animal products. The good news is that it’s never been easier to do so, but there are still practical matters to consider.

What do I eat?

The first big one is: What do I eat?  This is where the debates over dietary health begin. It’s important to know that there is plenty of scientific evidence to show that a plant-based diet can be healthy. The Dietitians of Canada have stated that: “A healthy vegan diet has many health benefits including lower rates of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.”

However, if you’re concerned about health, you can’t just switch to a diet of veggie burgers, fries and vegan donuts. That’s why nutrition experts recommend a “whole foods” plant-based diet that focuses on including vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, seeds and nuts.  It can take a little time and effort to learn how to plan, shop for and prepare whole-food meals, but fortunately there are boundless resources online and in print to help you. (One of our favourites is Easy Animal-Free. You can also sign our Meatless Monday Pledge and receive weekly plant-based recipes.)  In Vancouver, there are also plenty of plant-based restaurants to choose from, so going out to eat isn’t a problem.

The new meat alternatives

But what about all the new meat substitutes people are talking about, such as the Beyond Burger and the Impossible Burger?  These products are sometimes criticized for being processed foods or for being high in calories.  However, many also contain important nutrients such as protein and vitamin B12, which are important to a meatless diet. In many cases, the products have similar or better nutritional profiles than the meat products they’re replacing. The best approach to these foods is to eat them as occasional treats rather than as a staple of your diet. You can also check labels for nutritional information if you have specific concerns about ingredients. 

Vancouver Humane is very supportive of the rise of the plant-based food industry. If all the world’s burgers, sausages and chicken nuggets were replaced with plant-based alternatives it would likely mean the end of factory farming, which exists only to mass produce cheap meat. It would also mean the end of suffering and slaughter for billions of animals. That’s a prize worth striving for.

It’s also essential to know that eating the new plant-based meat substitutes is far better for the environment than eating meat. The global meat and livestock industry is a major contributor to climate change and causes considerable environmental damage and harm to wildlife.

Take a step in the right direction

So, for a variety of important reasons, it’s a good idea to transition to a plant-based diet. Not everyone can make that change overnight, so go at your own pace. Even just reducing your meat consumption helps and is a step in the right direction.  At Vancouver Humane, we recognize that change can be difficult and we don’t condemn people for their food choices. Instead we believe in providing helpful and reliable information, giving encouragement and being supportive.

If you’re ready to join the plant-based movement, please support our Go Veg campaign. You can help by eating more compassionately and by encouraging others to do the same.

Remember, every time you sit down to eat you can stand up for animals.