Saturday, December 31, 2011

local media mute on public health risk: won't mention university's disturbing history of biosafety violations and misleading claims

World Health Organization 'Deeply Concerned' by Bird Flu Research
By Kate Kelland. The Atlantic. Kate Kelland is a reporter for Reuters.

Dec 31 2011.

Some scientists have engineered a form of the deadly H5N1 virus that is easily transmissible and could cause lethal human pandemics.

The World Health Organization (WHO) issued a stern warning on Friday to scientists who have engineered a highly pathogenic form of the deadly H5N1 bird flu virus, saying their work carries significant risks and must be tightly controlled.

The United Nations health body said it was "deeply concerned about the potential negative consequences" of work by two leading flu research teams who this month said they had found ways to make H5N1 into a easily transmissible form capable of causing lethal human pandemics.

The rest of this worrisome article...

Rather than repeat my many observations about all of this, just stick Kawaoka or biosafety into the little search window above provided by Google.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Where are the vivisectors?

A question posted to an email list I'm on got me to thinking about the groupthink that leads to vivisectors' perceptions of themselves. If you've had the opportunity to speak with very many vivisectors you have probably heard them say that they consider themselves animal welfarists, or even animal advocates, that they consider it a privilege to use animals, that they respect the animals they use, or that they wish they didn't have to hurt and kill them.

The question posed to the list came from a vivisector. She wrote:
I'm a veterinarian and scientist at the University of [anywhere] interested in exploring the issue of compassion fatigue and burnout in people working with animals. I'm brand new to this list. A critical aspect of animal welfare is taking care of the people who care for animals.
Someone else on the list suggested that she ought to have used "dilemma fatigue" rather than "compassion fatigue." I'll wager that Dr. X genuinely believes that compassion fatigue is a more appropriate term; she probably believes that the people involved in the industry are genuinely compassionate people who have been forced by their love of humanity into hurting and killing animals.

But I've yet to run across one of these vivisecting animal lovers at an anti-cruelty protest or even a public meeting about some non-vivisection related animal cruelty issue.

When the possibility of a citizens' panel to investigate the ethics of the University of Wisconsin, Madison's use of monkeys was discussed at county committee meetings, the vivisectors turned out in droves to talk about how much they care about animals and how hard they work to keep them happy while they are experimenting on them. And how dare anyone assume that they don't care as much about animals as the people asking for the creation of the citizens' panel.

But when something else happens, like a fur protest or a county hearing about the use of elephants in circuses, these vivisecting animal lovers are nowhere to be found.

Makes one wonder. The answer is groupthink. The vivisectors tell one another how much they care, but in their bones, they don't. They're zombies reciting what they've been told.

A hole in a dam signals possible collapse

December 27, 2011. The Sacramento Bee
When ethics and science must not be divided
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals

The federal government's recent decision to suspend funding for new experiments on chimpanzees, and to re-evaluate all current studies, has just knocked out a big chunk of the wall that is the species barrier.

Chimpanzees used to be considered "others" - creatures who, despite their human-like qualities, were different enough for experimenters to use in violent and deadly crash tests, to infect with debilitating diseases, and, in a twisted attempt to make them more like us, teach them human sign language. Now the others are us.

The National Institutes of Health based its decision to halt funding for chimpanzee experiments on the conclusions of an expert panel convened by the Institute of Medicine whose express purpose was to examine the scientific validity of using chimpanzees. The committee was comprised primarily of scientists, including some animal experimenters, and determined that "most current biomedical research use of chimpanzees is not necessary."

But make no mistake: The report and subsequent take-down of the chimpanzee grant gravy train has its roots in compassion.

The question of scientific validity was raised only after the massive outcry over NIH's decision to return more than 200 retired chimpanzees, many of them elderly, from quasi-retirement in a facility in Alamogordo, N.M., back into prison-like conditions in laboratories for use in infectious disease studies. NIH said they weren't really retired; they just hadn't been used for more than 10 years. The contract for their care was nearing its end. Why not just stick them back in isolation cages, infect them with painful, debilitating conditions, stab them with needles, watch their demise and, essentially, use them up until they die?

Because it's wrong, was the response from the public, animal groups, many scientists and some legislators. Why must these wonderful, sensitive individuals, who have already been subjected to more physical pain and emotional deprivation than any being of any species should have to endure, be returned to the hell they had already miraculously survived? Why must the United States be the only nation on the entire globe, with the exception of tiny Gabon, still to use chimpanzees as though nothing about them mattered but their perceived usefulness as tools?

Last New Year's Eve, in the face of this outcry, NIH announced that it was suspending the transfer of the chimpanzees (though tragically, at least 14 had already been sent to a laboratory) and had asked the Institute of Medicine to investigate the importance or lack thereof of chimpanzees to research. The committee stated that it would not deal with the ethics of the issue.

But here's the elephant in the living room: The question was only asked because so many people, indeed so many nations, believe it is unethical to experiment on chimpanzees.

While the committee found that nearly every use of chimpanzees in laboratories today is scientifically unjustifiable, the immorality of the practice was the subtext. At the briefing during which the Institute of Medicine announced its findings, the committee chair bioethicist Jeffrey Kahn of Johns Hopkins University, even stated, "We understand and feel compelled by the moral cost of using chimpanzees in research."

Chimpanzees are so like us that most people cannot ignore their desire to be free from subjugation.

Like the Berlin Wall, the barriers that separate humans from all the other species, including those who don't look like us at all, will crumble. Perhaps one day, and I hope not too far from now, the cages and other implements of animal experimentation will, like the Wall that once separated one group of nations from another, be found only in the Smithsonian and other museums.
Read more.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

News on the Torture, Kill, and Eat Them Cabal

FBI Says Activists Who Investigate Factory Farms Can Be Prosecu as Terrorists
by Will Potter on December 20, 2011

The FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force has kept files on activists who expose animal welfare abuses on factory farms and recommended prosecuting them as terrorists, according to a new document uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act.
Much much more...

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Student learns how guarded UW Madison actually is about discussion of controversy

December 15, 2011

Sean Becker

ILS 252

Final Paper

How do we go about making the world a better place? “The world” is quite a diverse place. Often times discussions about “improving the world” revolve around making the world better for humans to live in. But because humans are biological entities embedded in an environment with which they must constantly interact, humans have – over the arc of history – been increasingly concerned with the welfare of the environment and other organisms. And with the rise of the environmental and animals rights movements, there has – perhaps for the first time – been broad human concern for the welfare of the environment and animals beyond those concerns that would have immediate repercussions for humans. That is to say, humans have arguably become concerned over the welfare of non-humans for non-selfish reasons. read more...

NIH Makes Rare Wise Decision

The story below is from the December 21, 2011, Wisconsin State Journal It was published in the newspaper and on their website. The article is a modified story from the Associated Press.

Feds asked researchers at UW to withhold details about bird flu creation

WASHINGTON — The U.S. government asked scientists at two research centers, including UW-Madison, not to reveal all the details of how to make a version of the deadly bird flu that they created in labs in the U.S. and Europe.

Bill Mellon, UW-Madison associate dean for research policy, said virology professor Yoshihiro Kawaoka has gone through several iterations of a manuscript to the journal Nature to comply with the recommendations.

"That is an awkward situation to be in because, obviously, we're interested in disseminating science," Mellon said. Read more ...

This was a good decision. They ought however, to have stopped funding such total craziness.

The Wisconsin State Journal's article failed to bring up Kawaoka's history of biosafety violations. In this regard, the newspaper failed in its responsibility to its readers and the community. See:
UW-Madison: Bumbling Oafs or Big Fat Liars?
Ebola Error in Wisconsin
Millions dead within weeks
When Spin Turns Deadly

On another note, Bill Mellon's claim about "disseminating science" is pretty much just institutional-self-aggrandizing blather.

In fact, UW-Madison has an active program in place to limit the public's knowledge of what goes on in its labs. An example of the scale of this active white-washing and censorship is their willful destruction of almost 15 years of scientific data simply to keep the public from seeing what is going on in their labs. You can read the sordid tale here.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Let's Hope this Slope is Very Slippery

The New York Times reports that the National Institutes of Health on
Thursday suspended all new grants for biomedical and behavioral
research on chimpanzees...

In making the announcement the director of the N.I.H. said that the
agency was accepting the recommendations of an expert committee of the
Institute of Medicine, which concluded that most research on
chimpanzees was unnecessary.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A remarkable achievement.

Chimps bid farewell: Last of Coulston primates leave for Florida
By Elva K. Osterreich, Associate News Editor, Alamogordo Daily News.

The Great Chimp Migration has come to an end.

Almost 300 chimpanzees have moved from their cages in New Mexico at the former Coulston Research Facility on LaVelle Road in Alamogordo to Florida islands built especially for them.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Experimental Biomedical Research Fails To Bridge The Gap Between Test Tubes, Animals, And Human Biology

Reasoning used in many highly cited cancer publications to support the relevance of animal and test tube experiments to human cancer is questionable, according to a study by researchers from Universite Libre de Bruxelles published in the open-access journal PLoS Computational Biology on October 20th 2011.
Read more here, and the cited paper, here: Venet D, Dumont JE, Detours V, 2011 Most Random Gene Expression Signatures Are Significantly Associated with Breast Cancer Outcome. PLoS Comput Biol. I don't understand every detail of what the authors are saying, but it is clear that they question the validity of applying many assumptions about the meaning of usually animal-derived gene signatures associated with human breast cancer, and by extension, in much research looking at the genetics of cancer. They note: "Proving that research findings from in vitro or animal models are relevant to human diseases is a major bottleneck in medical science." Indeed.

A Slate three part article looking at the use of mice, rats, and naked mole rats in medical research (The Mouse Trap: The dangers of using one lab animal to study every disease. Daniel Engber. November 16, 2011. ) noted:
It's hard to measure such things in aggregate, of course, but science and health policymakers have reached an uneasy consensus on this fact: We're at a moment of crisis in drug discovery. Last winter, current NIH director Francis Collins established a new institute (his agency's 28th) to address the "pipeline problem" in biomedicine: Despite pouring billions of dollars into research every year, our rate of innovation has slowed to a trickle.
Did you get that? The Director of NIH admits that billions of dollars have resulted in a trickle of innovations in medicine.

While Collins's awakening might be news, the fact that medical research isn't paying off isn't. Sharon Begley, Newsweek magazine's science writer, said in her 2010 article "Desperately Seeking Cures: How the road from promising scientific breakthrough to real-world remedy has become all but a dead end," that:
From 1998 to 2003, the budget of the NIH—which supports such research at universities and medical centers as well as within its own labs in Bethesda, Md.—doubled, to $27 billion, and is now $31 billion. There is very little downside, for a president or Congress, in appeasing patient-advocacy groups as well as voters by supporting biomedical research. But judging by the only criterion that matters to patients and taxpayers—not how many interesting discoveries about cells or genes or synapses have been made, but how many treatments for diseases the money has bought—the return on investment to the American taxpayer has been approximately as satisfying as the AIG bailout.
Many observers and assessments of actual bedside care to patients have come to the same conclusion. In spite of gazillions of dollars spent: on basic research, mostly vivisection, the payoff has been next to nil.

What this means, or ought to mean to a normal rational observer, is that the likelihood of any, even all animal-based basic research approved by a university oversight committee -- no matter how many animals are harmed and/or killed -- is almost certain to yield no benefit. None. (Well, it is a job. So there's that.)

But university oversight committees are comprised of people who claim to believe that their approval of some hideous experiment is justified by the potential benefit. But the potential benefit is so low, so unlikely, that their publicly-voiced justifications must be either self-deception, lies, or else faith based.

I'm not opposed to either faith or science; but when literally millions of animals a year are subjected to mentally-damaging deprived housing conditions, endless injections and tissue collections, having chemicals forced down their throats, of being restrained for long periods, of having damaging surgeries performed on them, to being starved, electro-shocked, infected with deadly diseases, frightened, and killed because someone has faith that something good might come of it -- in the face of clear evidence that the probability of such an outcome is vanishingly small, well, then, in that case, both faith and science have gone awry, in somewhat the same way that the fear of Satan and evil resulted in the Inquisition.

The unfortunate reality is that science and rationality don't seem to be at work in academia's embrace and promotion of vivisection. No, the one straightforward undeniable matter-of-fact justification for experimenting on animals and for approving those hideous activities is money. Until that single confounding ingredient is constrained, a bloom of ethical thoughtful decision-making in the nation's universities' animal research oversight and approval committees is about as likely as is an experiment on mice leading to a real breakthrough in treating cancer.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Vivisectors think you are an idiot and that they are God’s gift. You damn well better be grateful.

During one of my methods classes, the chair of the School of Education told us that he believed a careful observer could infer a teacher’s philosophy of education – their beliefs about how people learn and how we ought to teach – by watching them teach. I don’t know that he was right to the degree he imagined, but I do think it possible to get some sense of someone’s opinions or beliefs about others by the things they do.

More to the point, I think we can get a sense of what someone believes about the opinions of someone else by looking at the things they do.

For instance, someone may dress a certain way, not so much because they like a certain style, but because they believe others will judge them one way or another based on how he or she looks. This is a driving force, I think, behind fashion trends, political affiliations, the way one keeps their yard, and on and on. We often act the way we do because of our beliefs about others’ potential or actual opinions.

By looking at what they do, what might we surmise about vivisectors’ beliefs about other people’s opinions?

I don’t think vivisectors have a particularly high opinion of “the public.” Their behavior suggests that the opposite is more likely.

They seem to believe that the majority of people who might someday or who already do suffer from some malady want them to experiment on animals.

I hope their judgment about people’s wishes isn’t right. If I were to get seriously sick, I wouldn’t want someone else hurt just because I was suffering. Wanting others hurt just because I’m sick would be darkly egocentric. The belief that a majority of people would want others hurt and killed to benefit themselves is a very unflattering vision of humanity.

Moreover, if one really believed that this is how most people feel, then catering to that base and viscous personality characteristic might be evidence of an affinity with it.

I think its fair to say that vivisectors probably think that humans are grotesquely selfish.

At the same time, vivisectors are obsessively worried about the public’s reaction were the realities of the lab better known. We see this fear reflected in the industry’s uniform resistance to releasing the gory details of what they do to the animals. Photographs and video recordings only very rarely come to light. Active and aggressive steps are taken to shield the vivisectors' activities from public scrutiny.

They must also believe that the public is made up mostly of complete dolts.

How else could they hold these apparent diametric opinions? On the one hand, they believe that the public wants them to experiment on animals, but on the other hand, they believe that if the public finds out what that really means, they will rise up in opposition.

I think it fair to say that vivisectors probably think that humans are grotesquely selfish idiots.

Vivisectors must believe that they are above both the law and what "the public" thinks of as common and expected ethical behavior, things like basic honesty.
In the case of the University of Wisconsin, Madison, a number of examples can be pointed to. The longest-running and best documented instance from there of vivisectors as a group lying to the public is the Vilas Monkey scandal. The nav bar to the right has links to some of my essays about this affair.

The biggest repeated lies were made to the County in official correspondence. Given that many vivisectors knew that the university was lying to the County, we can fairly surmise, I think, that vivisectors hold local governments in contempt. They seem to view themselves as outside the norms of basic ethical behaviors, like honesty.

This idea that vivisectors don’t believe they need to be honest when dealing with the public or its representatives, and the corollary – that the public is too stupid to notice – was seen very clearly when the Wisconsin Primate Center director at the time, Joseph Kemnitz, lied matter-of-factly about the Vilas affair to a student reporter. See too some documentation about this affair:

I think it fair to say that vivisectors probably think that most humans are grotesquely selfish idiots below some imagined threshold requiring their ethical treatment.

Vivisectors think they are above the law, probably because they think the law applies only to the public – a group they seem to hold in great contempt.

Vivisectors routinely break the law. The USDA has documented the number of violations discovered to be occurring in labs around the country. They note that:
An estimated 600 to 800 facilities have had trouble with the search for alternatives, 450 to 600 with review of painful procedures, and 350 to 400 with monitoring for compliance.
Vivisectors at the New Iberia Primate Center in Louisiana violated the federal ban on breeding chimpanzees. Even the editors of the journal Nature recognized the vivisectionists' disdain for the public when they wrote about the NIH shrugging off these violations: “By failing to explain why a moratorium on breeding chimpanzees seems not to have been enforced, the US National Institutes of Health risks a further loss of public support for chimp research.”

At UW-Madison, the vivisectors said matter-of-factly that the state’s laws against cruelty to animals dodn’t apply to them. And, when the district attorney said they did, they exerted the very power that fuels their belief that they needn’t follow the same rules as the public must, and simply had the laws changed to exempt themselves from such niceties.

So, I think it reasonably fair to say that vivisectors probably think that most humans are grotesquely selfish idiots far below some imagined threshold requiring their ethical treatment, and that they themselves are above the nuisance of local, state, or national law.

A word in their defense, it does seem that the public remains very gullible - no matter how many times they are told that they have been lied to and treated like chumps. To the person doing the repeated lying, this must result in some degree of contempt and feeling of superiority. In this regard, the vivisectors are responding predictably to the circumstances in which they find themselves. Poor babies.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Vilas Monkeys in the News

The history of the University of Wisconsin, Madison Primate Research Center is somewhat unusual. Harry Harlow, was instrumental in the creation of the Primate Research Center system and when Wisconsin received its initial grant he demanded that part of the money be used to build a monkey holding facility and exhibit at Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo.

Over the years, as the public got to know the 150 or so monkeys housed there, two rhesus macaque colonies and a stump-tailed macaque colony, concerns about the use of the monkeys in the university labs escalated and resulted in a written agreement signed by the primate center director and animal-care staff promising that the monkeys at the zoo would no longer be used in any harmful experiments.

Over about 8 years time there were three (probably four) written agreements that the Vilas monkeys were off limits to harmful experimentation. In 1997, documents were leaked that demonstrated in trumps that within weeks of the first written promise that the university had started again using the monkeys in its own labs and selling them to labs around the county.

(For much more about all of this, just search this blog. In 2009, Joseph Kemnitz, the Primate Center Director and acting-Director when the Vilas scandal was at it's peek in the news in 1998, told a reporter from a campus newspaper that the Primate Center had never entered into such an agreement. Unbelievable. What absolute unabashed liars these people are.)

The stump-tailed macaques ended up being sent to the Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO) in San Antonio, an irony-filled event. Primate Center staff set themselves up as overseers of WAO's program to rescue ex-lab monkeys. They did this, in my opinion, to shield themselves from the criticism that they were dumping the monkeys at a facility they had previously branded a roadside zoo when they stridently argued before the Dane County Board of Supervisors that it would be grossly irresponsible and unethical to send the rhesus monkeys there. (They thought it more ethical to send them to the Tulane Primate Center where they were infected with various tropical diseases and then killed.)

As public scrutiny of the situation died down (I moved the Bay Area), the primate center staff abandoned their involvement with WAO. WAO began experiencing various difficulties, all too common with sanctuaries housing hundreds of animals, and as a result, the care of the animals was compromised.

The Vilas stump-tailed monkeys started dying from exposure to the elements, poor quality food, and lack of adequate veterinary care when they became ill. The university did nothing to help.

The situation worsened; more animals died. USDA finally intervened. Wild Animal Orphanage (WAO) Board of Directors unanimously voted on August 31, 2010, to dissolve the organization and relocate all the animals. The university stood by doing nothing.

A recent press release from Born Free, the current operators of the Texas Snow Monkey Sanctuary, announced that they have provided homes for the remaining stump-tailed macaques from WAO, some of whom are the monkeys abandoned by the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

It is additionally ironic that Primate Center staff continue to claim in public that they care about the monkeys under their control.

See: 112 monkeys, baboon to get new home after bankruptcy
They 'would otherwise likely be euthanized,' Born Free USA says of transfer
updated 11/21/2011

Covance news...

... unlikely to be reported on by the Madison media:

Animal rights group complains of injured monkeys at Alice research supplier

* By Mark Collette
* Corpus Christi Caller Times
* November 28, 2011

ALICE — A group that opposes laboratory research on animals filed a complaint Monday with federal regulators alleging mistreatment of monkeys at a drug development company's facility in Alice.

The group, Stop Animal Exploitation Now, cited records from the University of California in San Francisco showing that primates shipped from the facility arrived with injuries including muscle wasting, missing fingers and damaged ears.

Covance, the global drug development service company that owns the facility, responded with a prepared statement saying its U.S. facilities have undergone more than 40 unannounced federal inspections in four years with few instances of noncompliance. The U.S. Department of Agriculture is the federal agency that inspects animal facilities.

"In the few instances where the USDA report cited areas where they found concerns, Covance has taken all necessary steps to assure that the issues identified by the USDA were thoroughly addressed and resolved," the statement said.

Michael Budkie, director of the watchdog group, said the federal Animal Welfare Act prohibits transporting animals for commerce that are obviously sick or injured.

Of 31 animals cited in the university records, 19 had injuries, Budkie said.

One of the reports involved a monkey that showed signs of self-injury so severe that it had to be euthanized within 24 hours of arrival at the university laboratory, Budkie said.

Budkie filed his complaint with the USDA. Agency spokesman Dave Sacks had not seen the complaint but said the agency usually sends inspectors to facilities in response to such complaints.

Covance's Alice facility supplies macaque monkeys used in laboratory research. It had 13,325 animals in June when the USDA last routinely inspected the site. A USDA review of medical records at the facility showed a recurring problem with frostbite on the tails of many of the animals.

The facility, which uses heated, outdoor enclosures, was in the process of constructing buildings that would provide further protection from the elements, the report said.

The USDA conducted four other routine inspections since 2009 and found no violations.

"Our Alice, Texas, facility has been in operation for more than 35 years and its experienced veterinary staff and technicians provide a healthy and comfortable environment for the animals in our care," the company's statement said.

New Jersey-based Covance has annual revenues of more than $2 billion, with more than 11,000 employees in 60 countries.

The Dangers of a Company Town

News yet to be covered by the Madison media.

I have yet to see any news anywhere in Madison about UW researcher Yoshihiro Kawaoka's role in the creation of the new potentially human race-eliminating air-borne species-jumping super strain of the bird flu. I wonder why. Maybe it has something to do with his lab's history of biosafety problems or that his lab is in the middle of town. Or maybe it's just that he brings in lots of tax dollars for his town boss employer. ($17,106,532 since 2008.)

The people living in and around Madison, ought to be told that the NIH National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity is worried about research being conducted by UW-Madison scientist Yoshihiro Kawaoka and that the Advisory Board's chair, Paul Keim, says that he "can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one. ... I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this."

A Company Town

That's where I live.

Local media self-censors coverage of events and situations that might embarrass the town bosses.

Here in Madison, some of the town bosses are deeply invested in cruel animal exploitation.

For instance, (a website owned and operated by the company town newspaper, the Wisconsin State Journal) has a list it calls the Star(s) of Madison (chosen by its readers of course.) The third largest employer in the city is Covance. Here's their entry:
Employer: Covance Inc.
Number of employees: 1,575 employees
Address 3301 Kinsman Blvd.
City: Madison
Zip code: 53704
Phone number: 241-4471
Web site:
Details Pharmaceutical, nutritional, agricultural, chemical and scientific testing
There's no mention of the 7,000 monkeys and 6,000 dogs they use every year in their "scientific testing," but it makes sense that a business dependent on advertising from local businesses doesn't want to offend them.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison is the largest employer and the most powerful player in city and county politics.

Even media outlets like WXXM, the Mic 92.1 FM, "Madison's Progressive Talk" radio station is nervous about angering some of these bosses. I know this because a friend used to have a program on the Mic, and was always willing to host a discussion about UW-Madison's use of animals, but always warned that I couldn't mention Covance.

Likewise, the Wisconsin State Journal appears loath to cover stories that might embarrass the University of Wisconsin but is quick to sing their praises, in spite of the paper's claim of being "Wisconsin's Independent Voice."

In many cases, these potential embarrassments involve animals, and because the university and Covance are financially dependent on the consumption of so many animals every year, any potential threats to their unbridled access to them -- like public discussion about what they do to the animals they consume -- are probably not favorably looked upon by these very powerful town bosses.

Media's self-censorship in this arena is noticed by only a few people, and since media controls almost exclusively what people know about current events, they are able to keep their self-censorship a secret, if they even recognize that they do it.

When this censorship involves blacking out news of a serious threat to the public's health, or even to its survival, there can't be much doubt about whose interests are put first. The public's come second or maybe even last.

This apparent self-censorship of coverage reminds me of the similar absence of news about the very serious problems at the USDA Plum Island infectious disease lab when the university pushed hard, but unsuccessfully, to have its replacement built in the Town of Dunn, just outside Madison.

Media, the Fourth Estate, has an unequivocal first obligation to the public. This obligation ought to precede its self-imposed arbitrary obligations to its advertisers and friends.

The people living nearby ought to know that the NIH National Security Advisory Board on Biosecurity is worried about this line of Kawaoka's research and that the Advisory Board's chair, Paul Keim, says that he "can't think of another pathogenic organism that is as scary as this one... I don't think anthrax is scary at all compared to this" when asked about this newly invented disease.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Public's Safety

Read this:

Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies. Martin Enserink. American Association for the Advancement of Science. November 23, 2011.

If you live near a university or other facility involved in infectious disease research, I suggest you move somewhere else; especially if you have children.

Frankly though, there may be nowhere to go.

We call the strain of influenza that swept around the world in a matter of months the 1918 Spanish Flu because it killed so very many people in such a very short time. Unlike other diseases, it didn't single out the sick or the elderly; it killed healthy young adults as readily as it did the elderly and infirm.

The 1918 Spanish Flu was and remains the most deadly most virulent disease humanity has ever encountered. Ever. It was essentially extinct until idiot scientists receiving salaries sucked from average people's paychecks traveled to the Canadian permafrost, dug up the remains of people who had died from the Spanish Flu, and revived the virus.

As idiotic as these grave robbers were, they couldn't have done their dirty work without the support and backing of university research oversight committees and government funding.

In other words, these weren't mad scientists working in the dark of night; these were mainstream researchers acting under the auspices of respected and fully authorized public institutions, like the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Here's a January 18, 2007, backgrounder from the BBC:

Lethal secrets of 1918 flu virus
Millions were killed by the virus
Scientists who recreated "Spanish flu" - the 1918 virus which killed up to 50m people - have witnessed its remarkable killing power first hand.

The reconstitution of the 1918 Spanish Flu occurred very recently. The results of the resurrection remain to be seen.

But, as deadly and dangerous as the Spanish Flu was, and now is once again, it killed only 8 to 10 percent of all the young adults on the planet. Only.

Thanks to the work of scientists like the University of Wisconsin's Yoshihiro Kawaoka we now have at our finger tips the opportunity to kill many, many more people.

I'm not suggesting that Kawaoka or anyone else is preparing to unleash this newest plague upon us, but Kawaoka and many other researchers around the world have proven themselves unable to maintain the security needed to keep such deadly organisms contained.

The most well known recent case is the hoof and mouth disease outbreak in England. But, unfortunately, and very disconcertingly, serious bio-containment breaches and failures of judgment regarding bio-containment of serious and deadly diseases aren't unusual. And, of course, even a single slip-up could lead to wide-spread disease and death.

But hey, there's money in it, oodles of it, so the institutions pocketing the associated tax-payer dollars rationalize their way out of the apparent cul-de-sac of a possible global pandemic. After all, we can trust scientists to do the right and prudent thing. Like building a hydrogen bomb.

The thing that drives me nuts about all of this (nuttier, some might say), is that the system of oversight in place today, the system that the involved institutions tell us we can rely on and ought to trust, is made up of people who have a vested financial and professional interest in promoting and defending the interests of the institution they work for.

The people approving things like the serial passage of deadly viruses through animals in order to create a super-deadly disease, are the same people who say they consider the morality -- that is, they fairly weigh the costs to the animals -- of doing things like keeping them hungry for their entire life, infecting them with diseases certain to kill them, keeping them in barren cages for decades, staging fights between them, causing deformities, or any of the myriad ways they think it appropriate and just to hurt them in the name of science.

Approving the creation of potentially human species-eliminating viruses strongly suggests that all other decisions made by any institution or government ought to be looked upon with serious and probing skepticism.


I imagine that nearly every university and research institution receiving federal tax dollars has a bioethics department or at least someone on staff who claims to be a bioethicist. This is certainly the case at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The Chair of the UW-Madison College of Letters and Sciences Animal Care and Use Committee (ACUC) is a bioethicist.

The public relation interests of institutions like the UW-Madison are clearly well-served by having "bioethicists" approve experiments of questionable morality.

I had a recent very brief conversation with the College of Letter and Sciences ACUC chair Robert Streiffer at a purportedly pubic forum on the ethics of using animals -- particularly monkeys -- in the university's (lavishly and publicly-funded) research.

I asked whether he had yet read veterinarian Andrew Knight's new book, The Costs and Benefits of Animal Experimentation. (The Palgrave Macmillan Animal Ethics Series, 2011.) He hadn't, but said he would have to add it to his need-to-read list. (I empathize with him.)

As far as I know, Knight's book is the most comprehensive compilation of systematic reviews of the utility of animal-based research as a means of advancing human clinical care yet published. The studies included in Knight's book seem to show that animal-based research isn't a very productive methodology. I mentioned to Strieffer that according to the reviews cited by Knight, that most animal-based research papers are never cited by other scientists.

Streiffer's response was that while that might be true, the UW-Madison researchers seeking approval from his committee produce papers that are highly cited, and so, their proposed experiments are justifiably approved.

Time did not permit me to probe his opinion of Knight's citation of evidence showing that even highly cited animal-based research findings infrequently translate into meaningful improvements in human health care.

I mention this apparent sidetrack from the issue of putting humanity's survival at risk because Streiffer, as a bioethicist, ought, one might suppose, be more sensitive to the potential repercussions of research like Kawaoka's. But no one at the UW-Madison seems to have voiced any concern what-so-ever about Kawaoka's and his ilk's potentially devastating creations.

This might be because Kawaoka's research is highly cited. And even a university-level bioethicist is unable to escape the corrupting power of the seeming authoritative approval of such a fact. Publishing papers that are highly cited is deemed sufficient reason to approve painful and deadly experiments on animals -- no matter the benefit to humans.

It isn't surprising then that a high number of citations is also sufficient to gain approval for the creation of diseases capable of exterminating the very species for whose benefit the unending torture of so many other animals is defended.

If you live near a university or other facility involved in infectious disease research, I suggest you move somewhere else; especially if you have children.

Frankly though, there may be nowhere to go.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Just in case you're confused about motivation...

Project Number: 1C06RR032709-01
Contact PI / Project Leader: CAPUANO, SAVERIO VINCENT
FY: 2011
Award Amount: $915,523

Abstract Text:
DESCRIPTION (provided by applicant): The Wisconsin National primate Research Center (WNPRC) supports an active HIV/AIDS research program with greater than $8,000,000 in funding from the National Institutes of Health and private entities. WNPRC investigators infect rhesus macaques of Indian ancestry and cynomolgus macaques of Mauritian origin with Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV) to study HIV pathogenesis and vaccine development. Currently, 205 macaques (153 rhesuses, 52 cynomolgus) assigned to 27 individual projects covered by 20 different animal care and use protocols are utilized for HIV/AIDS research at the WNPRC. WNPRC investigators acquire macaques for HIV/AIDS projects from the Center's own Specific Pathogen Free (SPF) breeding colony. This proposal seeks to acquire funding to replace aging stationary caging in the SPF breeding area with contemporary mobile caging. The proposal also seeks funding to augment the existing mobile caging to improve the psychological well being of the SPF colony and the SIV-infected macaques housed at the WNPRC. Finally, this proposal also seeks funding to upgrade the physical infrastructure (e.g., doors, flooring) of the SPF and SIV-infected macaque housing areas of the WNPRC. Successful completion of the aims outlined in this proposal will ensure that WNPRC investigators performing ZHIV/AIDS research are provided with quality animals and that the psychological health of these animals is protected.

Stupid is as stupid does...

Forest Gump was not a fool; the same simply can't be said for experimental biologists who diligently toil in their bunkers trying to create ever more deadly strains of disease or the various entities who pay for and build their deadly labs.

One of these dim bulbs is UW-Madison's star virologist, Yoshihiro Kawaoka. I've written a couple short essays about the incredibly dangerous nature of his and his numb-skull colleagues' tax-payer-funded research. See:
Courting Cash-Tajima-ushi Risks Deadly Return to 1918. Posted on April 2, 2007.
Millions dead within weeks. Posted on May 15, 2007.
Experts fear escape of 1918 flu from lab. Posted on May 15, 2007.
Ebola Error in Wisconsin. September 19, 2007.
The Mother of All Targets. November 3, 2007.
And a bit about biosafety at UW-Madison generally from an August 22, 2009 post: UW-Madison: Bumbling Oafs or Big Fat Liars?

A new report "Man-made super-flu could kill half humanity," November 24, 2011, suggests that the 1918 Spanish flu, the most virulent and deadly disease yet encountered by Homo sapiens might now be considered small bananas when it comes to raw killing power, and we can thank the experimental biologists for bumping the 1918 Spanish flu out of first place. I know I'll sleep better, and I'm sure you will too. (See too: Genetically Altered Avian Flu Experiments Under Review by Biosecurity Board – Major Controversy Brewing. November 25, 2011.)

Kawaoka is mentioned in the articles above. He apparently thinks it would be a good idea to publish the details -- the recipe so to speak -- of how one can go about making this new super-deadly infulenza. Jeepers.

This is like a scientist trying to justify his or her new doomsday device or mega-planet-busting-neutron bomb by arguing that without it, we just wouldn't have the tools needed to learn how to fight it. It's a dark and deadly circular argument; but, it's also one that has resulted, in Kawaoka's case, in the U.S. government pouring millions of tax-dollars into the research, and the UW-Madison building him a bigger specialized lab.

See too: Scientists Brace for Media Storm Around Controversial Flu Studies Martin Enserink. November 23, 2011. AAAS.

Dumb. And dumber.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

UW Research Forum No. 5

I do not want to belabor the point, but the UW-Madison Animal Research Forums that came about as the direct result of the university's absolute terror that a non-aligned citizen's panel empowered by a local governmental body to look at at and form an opinion about their use of monkeys has failed miserably to live up to the stated and implicitly promised goals of the series.

Nevertheless, and in spite of the near complete failure of the "forums" to educate the public about what is happening to animals in the university labs, I've enjoyed them. But entertainment wasn't the goal.

For more of my informative and incredibly insightful observations on this series, I'm sure you'll want to review these comments:

"Forum" Keeps Details Hidden October 22, 2011.

This is Jeopardy! April 2, 2011.

Dr. Lawrence Hansen's Visit Frightens UW Vivisectors into Hiding February 27, 2010.

So far, the forum speakers have been, from first to most recent:

Lawrence Hansen, M.D. An animal advocate from California with no knowledge of the university's use of animals.
Gary Varner, Ph.D. A philosopher from Texas A&M with no knowledge of the university's use of animals.
Charles Snowdon, a professor in the Psychology Dept who used tamarins, but who said he has no real knowledge of what is currently happening to monkeys at the university.
Paul Kaufman, M.D., who uses monkeys in his invasive glaucoma and presbyopia experiments, but who avoided talking about the monkeys themselves.
Andrew Rowan, Director of The Humane Society of the United States' Pain & Distress Campaign; adjunct professor at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine; senior fellow at the Tufts Center for Animals and Public Policy; faculty member at the Center for Alternatives to Animal Testing. He too had no knowledge of the university's use of animals.

I had always heard that Rowan was a matter-of-fact welfarist who embraced the efficacy of animal models. I was quite surprised by his talk. I was either wrong, or else he has come around.

Watch his presentation here or below.

Andrew Rowan animal ethics forum from luciano M on Vimeo.

Guiding Principles

In my previous post I argued that one could morally and ethically use various ill-gotten gains and still be justly opposed to the methods used to acquire them.

The folks over at the misleadingly-named “Speaking of Research” website were understandably nonplussed by my argument since it undermines a key tenet of their quasi-religious faith in and defense of the serial sacrifice of innocents at the altar of $cience. [They ought to use the more specific terms: vivisection or animal sacrifice.“Speaking of Animal Sacrifice”]

They believe (in the religious sense) that anyone critical of hurting and killing animals in the name of $cience ought not avail themselves of or allow a loved one to receive pretty much any medical care.

They make this claim based on their belief that: a) all (or at least most) of modern medicine rests squarely on animal sacrifice, and b) taking a drug or receiving medical care is hypocritical if one opposes hurting and killing animals.

In their response to my argument, they posted a link to a funny little PR device called the “Animal Rights Identification Card.” I was unable to locate this document when I was composing my argument, and thank them for linking to it. It reads:

So as not to violate my animal rights principles, I hereby request that in the event of an accident or illness, all medical treatments developed or tested on animals be withheld, including but not limited to: blood transfusions, anesthesia, pain killers, antibiotics, insulin, vaccines, chemotherapy, coronary bypass surgery, reconstructive surgery, orthopedic surgery, etc.

It’s an odd little thing. It supposes, apparently, that an emergency room doctor will be conversant with the history of medicine to such a degree that they will know what did and did not come about as a result of experiments on animals. (Literally everything has been tested on animals: water, paint, milk, uranium, etc. A few medical advances may have been absolutely dependent on animals.)

The difficulty with knowing the history of the development of every medical intervention is a problem that probably isn’t noticeable to a true believer because they have faith that all of medicine is pretty much the direct result of and absolutely dependent on animal experimentation. They must hold this belief, because otherwise, they wouldn’t point to this industry lobbiest-authored silly little wallet card.

I particularly like the “etc.”

You have to imagine that the authors of a list like the one on the card would name the really important, absolutely indisputable examples of the fruits of vivisection. I don’t imagine that many people are conversant with the history of every single medical intervention or drug in use today, I’m certainly not, but one might imagine that the authors would be sure of the items on their list.

And while I’m no authority on each and every medical advance, I have read about some of them.

An interesting easy read is Robert E. Alders Medical Firsts: From Hippocrates to the Human Genome. (John Wiley & Sons Inc. 2004.) In the chapter on anesthesia, “Such Stuff as Dreams Are Made On: The Discovery of Anesthesia,” Alders explains that pain-reducing and -eliminating drugs were in long use prior to the discovery of the pain-eliminating properties of nitrous oxide or the anesthetic properties of ether, or a method for its administration. The development of neither nitrous oxide nor ether involved the use of animals.

The inclusion of reconstructive surgery on this list is odd and also wrong. As far as I know, the earliest examples of reconstructive surgery come from India. Here’s an interesting little article about the history of this branch of medicine.

It starts like this:

Plastic surgery since 1600 BCE

Surgery has the power to cure and repair. It can also be used to minimise deformity after injury or illness. This is called reconstructive or plastic surgery and, surprisingly, has been with us since around 1600 BCE - surgical papyri have been found describing methods for repairing a broken nose and providing instruction in suturing to minimise scarring.

It is true that at some point in time, vivisection became so much the rage that animals were subjected to every new drug and device; there is however, significant disagreement as to the degree any of this quasi-science was or continues to be necessary.

The history of vaccines is interesting. It's true that many (most, all?) modern vaccines are based on organisms grown on animal tissues, but vaccines were invented in prehistoric antiquity, at least no good record of the origin remains so far as I am aware. An interesting book on the introduction of vaccination (variolation) into Europe and the American colonies is Jennifer Lee Carole's The Speckled Monster: A Historical Tale of Battling Smallpox. New York: Plume, 2003.

But the gist of the “Speaking of Research” rejoinder to my argument isn’t dependent on their mistaken beliefs about the value of animals in medical research.

They claim that it is unethical for an animal research critic to avail his or herself of a medical treatment if animals were used during its development but unproblematic to use the fruits of hurting or killing humans, if the practices that led to those advances are no longer sanctioned.

This paints them once again into a difficult corner. They must be getting comfortable in their tight quarters.

They say, under their “Guiding Principles” that:

Speaking of Research believes that animal research should be conducted with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals. All personnel involved in animal research should strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations and laws.

It seems then, by their measure, that data from a researcher or lab, or even an institution in some cases, is poisoned if research there wasn’t conducted “with the utmost care, responsibility and respect towards the animals,” or if anyone there did not “strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations and laws.”

Utmost care, responsibility, and respect are somewhat subjective. In my opinion, forcing a chemical down an animal’s throat when you expect it will probably die as a result, isn’t respectful, but I understand that opinions about the meaning of words like utmost care, responsibility, and respect are subjective. But breaking the law, no so much.

Violations of the pertinent guidelines, regulations, and laws are widespread and fairly common.

According to the 2000 "USDA Employee Survey on the Effectiveness of IACUC Regulations":

An estimated 600 to 800 facilities have had trouble with the search for alternatives, 450 to 600 with review of painful procedures, and 350 to 400 with monitoring for compliance. The high level of problems reported by VMOs supports the need for a review of Policy 12, “Search for alternatives.”

A more specific example: In 2010, it was discovered that the University of Wisconsin, Madison had been breaking the state law for many years that banned killing animals by means of decompression. It was later discovered that the university had also been breaking the state law that banned staging fights between animals, and had been doing so for a number of years.

These crimes mean that the university had also been in violation of its Public Health Service (PHS) Animal Welfare Assurance, which stipulated that the university’s use of animals complied with The Guide to the Use and Care of Laboratory Animals (the Guide), which says in three places that all local, state, and federal laws governing the treatment of animals must be obeyed.

What this means is that specific researchers were violating state law, and the university, by promising in writing that they were following the Guide which states clearly and repeatedly that all law applicable laws must be obeyed, was violating the PHS regulations and thus lying to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) on all the grant applications from researchers at the university. This was fraud because their false assurance resulted in (massive) financial reward.

The problems at the University of Wisconsin, Madison are not unique, but using that example, it appears that “Speaking of Research” might be in some ethical hot water.

The UW-Madison vies with the University of California, San Francisco as the largest recipient of NIH funding. (Johns Hopkins is always the top recipient.) It’s hard to name a disease or malady that at least someone there isn’t claiming to be using animals to study.

“Speaking of Research” will have to duck and dodge to explain how availing themselves of some medical treatment for some malady that is being investigated and written about by a researcher there fits in with their “Guiding Principle.”

There are a couple of honest ways out of this predicament. They could:

1. Argue that just because someone uses animals in their (name the disease) research, it doesn’t mean that their published papers have contributed anything at all to current medical care. (They would be right; this is one thing that makes it hard to accurately trace the real path of development.)

2. Argue that no animal research conducted at the university since the time the state laws against killing animals by means of decompression or staging fights between animals were passed has contributed to current medical practices. (This would require a level of investigation I doubt they are capable of -- I couldn't do it either.)

3. Argue that their “Guiding Principles” don’t actually guide them.

In any case, it seems that they have a problem on their hands. They say it’s OK to use drugs or knowledge gained through immoral methods so long as those methods are now illegal. And, they claim to hold as a guiding principle that all personnel involved in animal research should strictly follow the pertinent guidelines, regulations, and laws.

But in fact, the pertinent guidelines, regulations, and laws are violated with some regularity, as the USDA points out.

Somewhat as an aside, I think it worthwhile to call attention to an implicit result of their argument. It follows from their position that doing something one believes is immoral makes one a hypocrite.

But I’m not so sure that it’s such a straightforward matter. The case of a dying loved one who might benefit from a drug that was tested on animals seems somewhat akin to the situation known as a choiceless choice.

This is a term coined after World War II by Lawrence Langer as he tried to make some sense of the non-choices that confronted people in the death camps. A related example I read many years ago that has stuck in my head are the accounts of small groups of Jewish refugees fleeing from Nazi-held territory, particularly in fishing boats crossing the Baltic Sea.

They hid in false bulkheads and had to remain quiet when the Nazi patrols came along side or boarded their boats. Occasionally, among a small hidden group was a baby or very young child. If they began to cry or make any sound, their mothers or fathers, or whoever was with them, would cover their mouths. In some cases, the child would be smothered to death.

I am hard pressed to call the person holding their hand over the child’s mouth a hypocrite. I think victim is a better term.

Likewise, in the case of a dying loved one who might benefit from a drug that was tested on animals, I don’t believe it would be fair to call the person at the bedside a hypocrite if they sanctioned the use of that drug.

As I said in my previous post on this point, I think one can be absolutely opposed to the use of animals and still avail oneself to a drug that may have been tested on them. I think too, that making choices for another may force one to make decisions that are contrary to one’s morality, and that doing so would not be unethical.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Would you take a drug if ...

At the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s September 2011 “public forum” on the use of monkeys in its research programs, someone challenged a vivisection critic’s comments with the rather worn question: Would you avail yourself to a treatment if it was developed through experiments on monkeys?

People who ask this question may imagine that an answer in the affirmative necessarily identifies someone as a hypocrite whose opinions should be discounted or dismissed altogether.

If so, then they paint themselves into a very tight and difficult corner.

The unspoken premise is that an ethical person, a genuinely moral person, would forgo any potential benefit that stemmed from some practice they purport to find immoral or unethical. (I think these are interchangeable terms in this context, and thus redundant, but I use them together here because of potential shades of distinction others might believe they imply.)

As reasonable as their challenge sounds – explaining why it continues to be trotted out – it immediately places a difficult burden on those who voice it.

To live true to their own challenge, to avoid being the hypocrite, the cad, who they apparently hope to cast someone else as, they must:

1. Never travel in the Southern U.S., in Rome, and probably quite a few other places. They must do research ahead of time to ascertain that the places they visit and they roads and bridges they will travel on were not built by slaves. Otherwise, they are hypocrites or else really aren’t opposed to slavery.

2. Always query any surgeon who might treat them or a loved one as to whether or not they used or ever referred to Eduard Pernkopf’s infamous Topographische Anatomie des Menschen (Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy), and if the potential surgeon did consult the Atlas, then they must find a new doctor. Considered the pinnacle of anatomical atlases and consulted frequently by surgeons prior to a difficult operation, the subjects used in Pernkopf are now believed likely to have been Jews and others killed by the Nazis. If he who makes a challenge about the use of an animal-tested medicine does not make such inquiries ahead of time and turn down treatment if such is the case, then, by his or her own measure, he or she is a hypocrite or else isn't opposed to what was done during the Holocaust.

3. They must never receive, and must never allow their wives (if they are a married man) or daughters to receive gynecological care. The father of gynecology was the American doctor, J. Marion Sims. The Sims position, the Sims speculum, and other similarly named gynecological instruments were devised by him. He developed the first successful treatment for vesicovaginal fistula. He conducted repeated experimental surgeries on slave women without benefit of anesthesia, even after he was using it when treating white women. Allowing their wives or daughters to receive gynecological care must mean that people who believe that antivivisectionists who use animal-tested products are hypocrites must themselves be either hypocrites or else aren’t opposed to experimenting on non-consenting slave women.

There are other examples of the ethical dilemmas facing those who ask whether or not someone opposed to the use of animals in scientific research should avail themselves to a treatment if it was developed through experiments on monkeys. But the problem with such a challenge is clear.

A rational and moral person could oppose slavery and still drive on roads first built by slaves, could oppose non-consenting human experimentation and still undergo surgery conducted by someone who had studied Pernkopf’s Atlas, could visit a gynecologist and still oppose experiments on slaves and oppose slavery, and could take a medicine that had been tested on animals and still be morally opposed to the use of animals in biomedical research.

But the person who makes the challenge could not visit the South, could not fail to quiz a surgeon about their education, could visit a gynecologist, or do myriad other things without being a hypocrite or else a complete moral failure.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Vilas Zoo and Species Survival

First read this entire article (snipped below):
Beloved orangutan, BB, dies at Vilas Zoo
ROB SCHULTZ. Wisconsin State Journal. November 10, 2011.

The staff members at the Vilas Zoo were obviously distraught when BB the orangutan, one of the most popular animals at the Madison zoo for the past 15 years, died Sunday. But they found solace in the way she died: peacefully while taking a nap after lunch. ...

Her daughter, Kawan, 10, is still at the zoo and was recently paired with Datu, a male transferred from the Rochester, N.Y., zoo. The pairing is part of the Vilas Zoo's partnership to preserve the world's orangutan's population....

One of the comments (by someone using the apt nom de plume of CircusLady wrote: "I hope she will be replaced ...". Like a broken window pane. This shallow wish reflects a far truer perception of zoos than the common industry excuse for keeping these animals confined for their and their future descendants' entire lives.

Menageries have hit on a laudable-sounding excuse for keeping animals in their collections: Preserving the world's species. But they are really just preserving things to gawk at. Very very few reintroductions into the wild ever occur. Species are "preserved" for public display. They attract visitors.

The circumstances orangutans are commonly forced to endure in captive situations like the Henry Vilas Zoo seem inhumane, and increasingly so the more one learns about their natural history.

At the Vilas zoo, they essentially live in a concrete room. They have access to a relatively small outdoor space at times. I suspect they learn more-or-less everything there is to know about that small space in short order. Compare that with what they need to know about the world when they are free and how dull and mind-numbing their lives at the zoo must be.

According to the Orangutan Foundation International:
Orangutan offspring will sometimes be carried until they are 5 years old and be breast-fed until they are 8 years of age! Even when young orangutans are too old to be carried and fed by their mother, they may still remain close to her, travelling with her, eating, and resting in the same trees, until they are about 10 years old. Once they become independent, they will be alone or in the company of other immature orangutans. In the case of females, they frequently return to their mothers to “visit” until they are about 15-16 years old. Studies indicate that Bornean orangutans may “grow up” faster than Sumatran orangutans and may become independent from their mothers at an earlier age.

Orangutan in the tress

Such prolonged association between mother and offspring is rare among mammals. Probably only humans have a more intensive relationship with their mothers. Primatologists believe that orangutans have such long “childhoods” because there is so much that they need to learn before they can live alone successfully.
According to the authoritative Pictorial Guide to the Living Primates (Noel Rowe, Pogonias Press, 1996), orangutans have ranges of up to nearly 2,500 acres.

In the article about BB linked above, a zoo spokesperson says that 40 years of age is considered geriatric in orangutans; the article attributes her death in part to "advanced age."

But the University of Wisconsin's Primate Info Net reports that these animals live 50 to 60 years in the wild. 40 years of age doesn't sound geriatric in an animal that could live into her 60s. And, zoos (and primate labs) frequently claim that animals in the wild usually live shorter lives than they do in captivity, making the geriatric claim even more unlikely.

The Zoo Atlanta website reports: "Wild orangutans generally live to be between 35 and 40 years old; orangutans in zoological settings can live into their 60s." Which again, calls into question the Vilas Zoo claim that "advanced age" was a factor that contributed to BB's death.

Zoos don't preserve species in any meaningful sense. Only very rarely are animals born at zoos released into the wild. Zoos keep and breed animals for straightforward reasons: money and a desire to collect them. Claims to the contrary are transparently false. A cursory look at how the animals are kept, how frequently they are bred, the fact that they are almost never released, and the commonly poor and profoundly deprived conditions they are kept in casts the species survival claim in better light.

The Henry Vilas Zoo is not able to humanely keep most of the animals it currently has in its menagerie.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Human Use of Animals

Vivisectors, hunters, ranchers, and the majority of the rest of the humans on the planet who take the time to try to explain why they think its OK or even fitting that humans should mercilessly exploit every other species on Earth usually appeal to a claim that humans are special in a way that excuses or justifies all we do to every other animal. I think this image fairly characterizes that view:

So, I got to thinking about the things that set us humans apart from every other species. Every species is unique, by definition, but things like the number of toes, or even the presence of toes, don't seem to be the kind of things people mean when they defend the things we do to other animals with an appeal to our special-ness.

Here's a list of things that might be similar to the things people are thinking of when they say humans are special, that we have certain capacities, or behave in ways, or accomplish special deeds, or invent new things, that set us apart from every other animal on Earth:

Napalm; Crucifixion; The rack; The Inquisition; Cluster bombs; Landmines; Nagasaki; Hiroshima; Rape of Nanking; Factory farms; The Indian Wars; American bison slaughter; Dodos; Passenger pigeons; Cambodian killing fields; Sharia; Purdah; Foot-binding; Female circumcision; Nazis; Dresden fire-bombing; Circus Maximus; US fire bombings of Japan; Dog fighting; Bull fighting; Hot iron branding; Sport hunting; Sport killing; Genocide; Child labor; Stalin’s purges; Forced labor; Jim Crow; Vivisection; Sweatshops; Prisons; Social/economic castes; Nationalism; Sexism; Racism; Greed; Thumb screws; Burning at the stake; Bear bile farms; Foie gras; Zoos; Rodeo; Horse racing; Dog racing; Fur trapping; Slaughter houses; Child prostitution; Stoning; Capital punishment; Death squads; Fear mongering; Keel hauling; Cat-o-nine-tails; Cages; Aquariums; Glue traps; Gill nets; Whaling; Leather; Butchers; Pet stores; Puppy mills; Satan; gods; God; Captivity; Clubbing baby seals; Deforestation; Global warming; Desertification; Pollution; Toxic waste; PCBs; DDT; Plutonium; Military drones; Domestic turkeys; Dairy cows; Sadism; Ridicule; Bearing false witness; Electric prods; The electric chair; The Guillotine; Veal; Fish hooks; Bullets; Isinglass; Tail docking; Ear trimming; De-barking; De-clawing; Selective animal breeding; Saddles; Bridles; Soring; Hog nose-rings; Ankuses; Auks; Bataan Death March; Trail of Tears; Political borders; Religion; Demons; Nuclear weapons; Chemical weapons; Biological weapons; Phosgene gas; Flame throwers; Punji sticks; Horse tripping; Tar and feathering; Black ops; Child pornography; Poisoned bait; Bait; Rationalization; Water-boarding; Cover-ups; Animal agriculture; Ear notching; Forced castration; De-horning; Lariats; Shackles.

I suspect that some of the exploiters, priests, ethicists, philosophers, etc., who defend our various uses of animals will take exception to my list. They might argue that I've left out the good things that set us apart from the rest of creation.

Well, I actually tried to come up with that list as well, and just couldn't get very far. Here's the list of the not-necessarily bad things that I think are unique to humans.

Music, highfalutin ideas, the visual arts, advanced technology, civilization, human language, clothing, fashion, patriotism, the sciences.

Unfortunately, none of the items on the unique-to-humans-good list are as clearly good in the same way that most of the the things on the list above are clearly bad.

Music has led people into stupid and vicious battles. Highfalutin ideas have been used to justify many evil deeds. Pro-war antisemitic artists produced very successful advertisements. Advanced technologies are a well-recognized double-edged sword. Human language is regularly put to evil use. We've even used clothing to brand people and to sequester women. Fashion regularly promotes the use of fur and is responsible for the near-extinction of a number of species. Patriotism probably doesn't even belong on a list of good attributes. And the sciences have uncountable evils strewn at their feet.

Many of those who claim to see our special holy nature point to things like love, compassion, concern for others, self-sacrifice, generosity, kindness, and altruism. I thoroughly agree and also celebrate these things in humans; but these things aren't unique to us. They are behaviors and characteristics seen in many animals. So even though these are good things about us, they do not justify the other many uniquely horrible things we do.

We have bad things in common with other animals as well. Things like hate, anger, covetousness, jealousy, fear, pain, arrogance, self-absorption, and loneliness.

And many animals do nasty things to each other. Some animals are eaten alive. Parasitic organisms frequently have really icky life histories and can cause great suffering.

But all told, the planet and all its inhabitants are at grave unremitting risk from us. The evils we have created and caused and continue to heap upon each other far exceed those caused by other animal species.

And so, arguments and explanations for why we ought to feel good or at least justified in keeping calves in small boxes, shooting whales with explosive harpoons, drilling holes into monkeys' heads, force-feeding geese, injecting poisons into mice, or any of the other almost endless number of nasty things we do to animals, those arguments and explanations ought to be very strong and easily understood.

Moreover, the arguments ought to explain why the things animals do as well as or better than we do, or the characteristics and abilities they have in greater measure than we do, or the things they do that we can't, don't matter in an ethical weighing.

The only two arguments I can formulate that take everything above into account are that Might Makes Right, or that God's assertion in Genesis 9:2 isn't mere myth.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Micholito cucciolo agnello

Mickey is a schnauzer/poodle cross – a designer dog brought into existence by a puppy-miller. He’s old enough to have been born at Puppy Haven, a mill in Sun Prairie, a small town near Madison, Wisconsin. Wallace Havens, owner of Puppy Haven had been crossbreeding and selling dogs for 35 years until the Dane County Humane Society bought him out and closed his dog farm in 2009.

We adopted him from the Dane County Humane Society.

I am writing about Mickey because of an opinion written by Dave Lemery, the night news editor of the Northwest Herald, “Lemery: Wake me when PETA gets to bacteria abuse.” He said a couple of pretty dumb things, and while he singles out PeTA in his comments, I suspect he, perhaps unconsciously, employs “PeTA” as a placeholder for all those who believe that animals other than us deserve basic protections under the law similar to those currently reserved for humans only.

Here’s the first very dumb thing he says: “They think the best way to get their message across is to anger and offend. I tend to think that showing people images of tortured animals will fail to draw much financial support in Anytown, USA.”

He must think the National Holocaust Museum is a poor business model; people will not be moved to support their educational work by showing people images of tortured people. He must think that seeing images of people tortured at the Abu Ghraib prison was pretty ineffective. And he must think too, that showing people images of hungry poor children is the wrong way to go about trying to get people to donate money to feed them, or that showing people pictures of poor children with clef lips and palates won't bring in much financial support for reconstructive surgery.

I doubt that he really believes that showing people pictures of people in dire circumstances is a bad idea. He is simply miffed that anyone would have the gall to do the same for an animal. His dual standard – assuming he thinks seeing people in dire circumstances help us understand their situation – is an example of simple prejudice; just plain old-fashioned bigotry.

I’m used to seeing blatant bigotry toward animals; it is the widespread norm. What caught my eye was this: “We recognize that animals have some dim form of awareness... ” There is clearly a dim form of awareness at work in his article, but his claim is matter-of-factly wrong.

Many animals have an awareness of the world around them that is superior to our own in some ways. Many animals see much better than we do and also see things that we cannot. The same is true for every other sense humans possess: taste, hearing, smelling, and touch. Moreover, some animals perceive things in ways we cannot; they can perceive electrical fields, magnetic fields, and probably other natural phenomena that we have yet to discover.

Lemery says that animals “can feel things like happiness, sadness, fear, etc.” (That undefined etc. is rich with possibility.) I suspect that some animals’ capacity for happiness, sadness, or fear surpasses ours. And that brings me back to my un po' paffuto friend, Micholito cucciolo agnello.

I can’t remember ever being as happy or joyful as Mickey is fairly regularly. His happiness or joy appears immense – unbounded, and the result of really simple things like knowing we are going for a walk, or seeing my wife or me drive up and come into the house. He appears almost overcome with a happiness he seems unable to constrain. His capacity for exuberant joy seems to far exceed my own. Maybe I was able to be almost as happy when I was a child, but right now, his capacity for joy seems well beyond my own, and I'm generally a fairly happy fellow. It is my impression that other dogs whom I have known also have had this superior capacity for joy.

Characterizing their awareness as “dim” is a reflection of Lemery’s limited perceptions.

Sadly, I suspect too that many animals’ capacity for suffering, for fear, loneliness, or pain, also exceeds our own. Some who have written about the plight of animals have observed that humans frequently know that their pain and suffering is temporary. Experience has taught me that I can endure a significant amount of pain without too much mental anguish when I know it will pass. This is why I commonly choose to skip the anesthetic when having a tooth filled.

But an animal recovering from experimental surgery, say, probably has no expectation that the pain will ever cease. An individually caged monkey who self-mutilates must be unable to hold on to hope that he or she might one day again be with other monkeys. The hope for rescue, that apparently buoyed John McCain during his long incarceration and torture, probably isn’t available to animals in most cases.

Lemery concludes with the tired opinion that we should look away. No matter how poorly animals are being treated, we ought to first worry about how other humans are treated.

There is something ironic about this well-worn dismissal of personal responsibility to animals. I hear it most loudly and frequently from those who spend a goodly bit of time trying to derail the animal rights movement (or from people who do almost nothing about any problem facing society.) It seems that people who make this claim are really only trying to give their anti-animal bigotry an air of respectability.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Henry Vilas Zoo

About a month ago the Alliance was contacted by a student from the UW-Madison. She explained that she was a little involved with the student animal rights club, she was in the media arts program, and as a class project she was making a documentary about the local zoo. She asked for someone to walk through the zoo and give her their impressions of how the animals were being kept. I volunteered.

I met her and another student in front of the gift shop. We stopped at just about every exhibit. We didn't go into the bird house.

We started at the primate house. The Henry Vilas Zoo has gibbons, orangutans, colobus monkeys, and chimpanzees.

The primate house is the best animal housing at the zoo. And in some ways, it's not so bad. Each enclosure has a large climbing apparatus. The chimpanzees and gibbons have some access to an outdoor area; but overall it must suck to be imprisoned in such a place. The chimpanzees, orangutans, gibbons, and colobus monkeys are doomed to spend decades in an unchanging fixed environment offering very limited interactions with others of their kind. They will spend decades looking at the same flat dull imitation forest painted on the walls, while an endless stream of sometimes loud gawking obnoxious zombies file by. "Ooh, look at the monkey Johnny!"

The colobus monkeys appeared to have no outdoor access. In any case, a couple of the highest limbs of the concrete trees came to abrupt stumps only a few feet from one of the skylights in the ceiling. Perched on top sat a lone monkey. There was no room for a second.

The room they were in, like the rooms of the orangutans and the chimpanzees, was essentially a concrete cell with sad shadows of the world they belong in painted on the walls, more for the patrons than the animals.

I suspect there is almost always a colobus sitting alone at the tip top of the concrete tree in the middle of that concrete room as near to the skylight as possible.

This is the Vilas Zoo description of these animals:

Scientific Name: Colobus guereza

Habitat: Tropical rain and montane (a moist ecological zone located near timberlines and usually dominated by evergreen trees) forests in Gabon, Equatorial Guinea and southwest Cameroon.

Diet: Young leaves, fruit, leaf buds and blossoms.

Life Span: Up to 20 years in the wild or 24-plus years in captivity.

Reproduction: Males reach sexual maturity at six years; females at four years. Each female gives birth to one young about every 20 months after a gestation period of 4-½ to 5-½ months.

Fact: Unlike most primates, the colobus monkey has no cheek pouches and its thumbs are nearly absent. ("colobus" is derived from a Greek word meaning "mutilated.")
I don't believe it is possible to keep these animals humanely indoors. It might be possible to keep a few of them humanely in an outdoor enclosure large enough to provide room for enough large trees to sustain the monkeys' picking their leaves, but this would make it hard for visitors to see them, and zoos are primarily menageries -- collections of animals meant to entertain and amuse visitors.

I was bothered by the gibbon exhibit. White-handed gibbons, the species at the Vilas Zoo, have home ranges of between 30 and a 130 acres. At Vilas, they have a few hundred square feet. Gibbons have very long arms and fingers which they use to swing swiftly through the forest. Here's a video. The relatively tiny enclosure at the Vilas zoo makes it hard, perhaps impossible, for the two gibbons there to express their natural behaviors.

I couldn't watch the orangutans for more than a few moments. Our presence was far too intrusive. The chimpanzees made my throat tighten. I've known a few chimpanzees.

It is possible to keep some wild animals in captivity humanely, and sometimes, because of circumstances beyond the control of those involved, they may be faced with a lifetime of confinement. But in these relatively rare cases, our responsibility to them requires us to provide a large enough space so that they need not continually confront their captivity. If they cannot escape the sight of walls and fences, the cages we keep them in are too small.

Anyway, we finally left the primate house and continued our tour. As I said, the primate house -- with all its inhumane limitations -- is the Ritz of the Vilas zoo. It's all downhill from there. And so, I went back the following day with a camera; I was forced to by my conscience. I didn't go again into the primate house. Mainly because a photograph would be unable to capture the problems inherent there in a way the average reader might easily understand.

But the problems in much of the rest of the zoo seem pretty straightforward and fairly easy to depict in pictures.

Zoos make two interrelated claims to justify their existence: education and species conservation.

I'll consider both of these reasons in some of the situations below to see if they might conceivably excuse the circumstances the animals are being forced to endure.

The Reptile House

It is becoming harder for commercial animal breeders to defend practices that confine an animal so tightly that they are unable to engage in their normal postures and movements. (This is the problem with the gibbon cage.) There is growing pressure to force poultry producers to keep chickens in a manner that allows them to stretch and flap their wings. This seems like the bare minimum that any captive animal ought to be given. Humans in prison ought at least to be able to stand up and walk a few steps; birds ought to be able to stretch their wings. At a minimum, I think ground-living snakes ought to be able to stretch out to their full length and to crawl more or less straight ahead for some distance -- maybe a distance equal to their body length. Similarly, arboreal snakes ought to be able to express their normal bodily movements.

This is a photo of the anacondas at the Vilas zoo:According to the Vilas Zoo, "The average size of an anaconda is 300 pounds and 20 feet long!" Here's their website picture of an anaconda:

According to National Geographic:
Anacondas live in swamps, marshes, and slow-moving streams, mainly in the tropical rain forests of the Amazon and Orinoco basins. They are cumbersome on land, but stealthy and sleek in the water. Their eyes and nasal openings are on top of their heads, allowing them to lay in wait for prey while remaining nearly completely submerged.
Here's a short video that gives some idea of the anaconda's natural habitat and behavior.

The two snakes at the Vilas Zoo can't stretch out, can't swim, can't even really crawl. There isn't anyplace to go.

So what about the zoo's justification for having these animals? Is the exhibit educational? I don't think it is. Anacondas live in water; in fact, they are primarily an aquatic species. Here, they are in a puddle. They are good swimmers, but they can't swim at the zoo. They grow to great lengths, but at the zoo they are forced to remain more or less balled up. At the zoo they are in a small concrete box with little to suggest their natural habitat other than some plastic lily pads and a tired flat mural on the wall.

And what about the standard conservation argument? First, anacondas aren't threatened or endangered. What could anyone learn by looking at these animals lying in a shallow puddle in a concrete box that would encourage them to care or be more cognizant of the pressures on the planet's tropical rain forests? Very little I think.

These animals are being kept in these inhumane conditions simply because anacondas are one of the largest snakes in the world, and no collection of animals is complete without one.

I could go through the same list of problems for each of the other large snakes being kept at the zoo, but won't. Suffice it to say that they are unable to fully express their natural postures and behaviors and that there is essentially nothing that can be learned from seeing them in these circumstances that would not be more richly and meaningfully informative if learned from a book or video.

The two Aldabran giant tortoises are in an equally sad situation. It is impossible to tell from the sterile box they are being held in, with a floor made of plastic, but these very long-lived animals are highly social grazing animals. They live in the Seychelles Islands and a couple other places in the Indian Ocean. They are not endangered. Here are two set of slides about one of these tortoises and a hippopotamus: (1)(2). The two tortoises at the Vilas Zoo are being kept in inhumane conditions. Holding them in such a mind-numbingly sterile cell is cruel.

So, in this case, the standard arguments used to justify keeping animals in a zoo, education and conservation, fail miserably. There is absolutely nothing of value that can be learned from seeing these Aldabran giant tortoises in this pen; they are a mere novelty. They aren't endangered and moreover, there is absolutely nothing someone in Madison could do right now for the animals in the wild population.

Large Mammals

Can you tell which pair of rhinoceroses are at the Vilas Zoo? Do you think that someone in Madison looking that them would be able to call to mind how they might appear in their natural environment? Do you think that living on a bleak barren desert for years on end is conducive to these animals' well-being?

Here are a few elements from the educational component of this sad exhibit:
Not a single blade of grass is to be seen in the pen.The drawing of the tiger being impaled by the Indian rhinoceros is particularly odd. Tigers do occasionally prey on very young Indian rhinoceroses, but attacks on adults are exceedingly rare. So, the image is misleading. White rhinoceroses are generally docile.

Moving along, we come to the giraffes. Like zoos everywhere, these exotic beautiful animals are used as icons for the Vilas Zoo. You might be able to see the details of the poster on the right showing humans running with giraffes. It is promoting a 10K run and a 5K run/walk.

Sadly, and physically punishing, is the reality endured by the real giraffes.
Last Giraffe At Vilas Zoo Dies
It's Second Giraffe Death At Zoo In Month

November 17, 2006

MADISON, Wis. -- The last giraffe at the Henry Vilas Zoo has died.

It is the second death of a giraffe at the zoo in less than a month.

Dane County and zoo officials on Thursday confirmed that their remaining reticulated giraffe has died. It was euthanized Tuesday, after officials said the animal severely ruptured its hip joint and could no longer stand.

The death of the 7-year-old giraffe -- named Raymond Junior, or "RJ" -- comes less than a month after his 12-year-old father Raymond was euthanized under similar circumstances when he could no longer stand.

RJ's 11-year-old mother Savannah died about three years ago after she apparently fell and broke her neck.

The entire family had a degenerative bone and joint disease, similar to arthritis, and zoo officials said that disease led to a massive rupture in RJ's hip joint and severe trauma to his muscles. [More...]
And read this article too:
Giraffes Return To Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo
Activists Say Giraffes Don't Belong At Zoo

August 14, 2007

MADISON, Wis. -- A giraffe exhibit opened at Madison's Henry Vilas Zoo on Tuesday, but not everyone is happy that the zoo again has giraffes after two died there last year.

After standing vacant for nearly a year, the exhibit now features the first two of three new male reticulated giraffes.

Already 6-year-old Zawadi and 5-year-old Sweta are huge hits at the zoo.

"Yeah, they look really nice," said Andrew Edmonds of Beloit. [More...]
It's a sad joke on these animals that humans will be running 5 kilometers to raise money for the zoo, and at the most, the captive giraffes can walk only a few paces in their outdoor yard, and when winter comes around, will be confined to a relatively tiny space. What can people possibly learn about giraffes by seeing them in these circumstances? They are beautiful and tall. That seems a very poor excuse for keeping these animals is such tight confines. The educational or conservation value of having these animals in the Vilas Zoo is vanishingly small.

And that brings us to the American Prarie.Thankfully, the two bison behind this sign can't see it and be reminded of where they ought to be.

American bison are herd animals that historically walked across the continent as they migrated north and south. We can only imagine, but it seems likely that untold generations of living in unimaginably giant herds and walking such long distances led to a genetic predisposition -- probably a longing -- for walking long distances with lots of other bison. For the two sad creatures held in this barren small desert, the urge to walk and graze and to find other bison may well be an incurable ache --incurable because they are held here for our momentary amusement.

There is absolutely no conservation value in having these two animals here, and the educational value is suspect. In fact, like essentially every exhibit at the zoo, the impression taken away by a patron is invariably misleading and, worse, sends a subtle message that keeping animals in these circumstances is ethical and laudable. And this is the opposite of what is true.

Before moving on to the bears, I want to point out something you can't see in the image of the bison. To the right of their pen is a concrete elongated pit that visitors can peer into to. It holds a small colony of prairie dogs. There's no grass or other vegetation. It's just another desert.

I wonder what happens to the offspring of these prisoners?

Now consider the bears.

In spite of what is probably learned by children visiting the Henry Vilas Zoo, polar bears don't live in the mountains. If you watch these bears for very long, you can't help but notice that they pace back and forth, endlessly. And they will until they die.

One reason for this is because they are trapped, and must know it. Another reason is that polar bears normally travel large distances. Their home ranges are very large. In one case, a polar bear traveled over 3,000 miles while being tracked by satellite.

The polar bears held in zoos, like the bison, are stopped from engaging in their natural behavior.

The Henry Vilas Zoo, instead of working to improve the lot of the animals they now have, has embarked on a plan to build a new arctic habitat where they hope they will be able to breed polar bears. The down side of such a plan, aside from the lost opportunities to help the animals already there, is that more animals will be brought into the world merely to satisfy our own urges.

Here's an image of the grizzle bear. Apparently, we are supposed to learn that they too live above the tree line high in the mountains. It is a sad comment on what people are willing to allow to be done to animals.

Before I end this far too long lament, I have to mention two other sad situations among the seemingly endless cacophony.

There is a lone ostrich in a pen that is too small for her. I know it's too small because this lonely bird spends a goodly bit of its time biting the chain link fence. The fence is painted brown, but in the top corners, where it meets the fence separating pens, it is very shiny, and that polished shine is easy to understand when one watches this bird any length of time.

In captive-animal-parlance, or human abnormal psychology, this is called a stereotypy. Stereotypies are repetitive, purposeless actions seen frequently in captive situations where animals have insufficient room or mental stimulation.

Other cases could be seen at the zoo as well. One small tortoise was prevented from approaching the glass front of his cell. The glass was badly scratched where he had clearly spent long hours (years?) trying to push his way through, to escape his small barren cell. In a number of the enclosures, like the tiger's, a well-worn path marked his endless route along the perimeter of his small enclosure. The red panda, a recently much-ballyhooed addition to the menagerie was already working out his short pacing circuit.

And this:This peafowl is in a pen. But peafowl don't need to be penned to keep them around. Essentially every zoo I've ever visited, and a number of farms and sanctuaries, allow these birds to wander around. There is no reason to keep peafowl in a pen.

I could go on and talk about the goats, the lions, the camels, the alligators, the meerkats, or the other animals whose lives are being unnecessarily degraded to give us a moment's entertainment, but I'm too sick of it all to continue.

The Vials Zoo is celebrating it's 100 year anniversary and is holding fundraisers almost everyday it seems. Billboards with misleading images of animals -- touting them as "ambassadors" of the wild, are all over town. Local businesses have to tripped over each other trying to show they support the zoo and apparently, keeping animals in cruel and inhumane circumstances.

It is all very, very sad.