Category Archives: General News

HSUS: The Pacelle Propaganda Machine Hampers Progress For Animals

By Erika N. Chen-Walsh

This post was previously published on my personal blog, A Legal Perspective, on December 3, 2012.

Wayne Pacelle, CEO and president of the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) blogged today, lambasting Andrew Wyatt and U.S. Rep. Steve Southerland (R-FL) for opposing  U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney’s (R-FL) animal rights driven House Resolution 511.  HR 511 seeks to amend title 18, United States Code (the “Lacey Act”), to prohibit the importation of nine species of constrictor snakes as injurious species.  These include the Burmese python, the reticulated python, the North African rock python, the South African rock python, the Boa constrictor, and three species of anaconda.

Andrew Wyatt preparing to testify before the House Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs

Apparently, the reptile community, led by Andrew Wyatt, has struck a nerve with the $200 million plus per year animal rights legal behemoth, HSUS.  Pacelle’s angst at Wyatt is not particularly surprising.  Since co-founding the United States Association of Reptile Keepers in 2008, Wyatt has emerged victorious in more than two dozen state engagements defending the rights of herptile owners as well as multiple federal entanglements.  These victories have come on a shoestring budget and against HSUS’s powerhouse millions.  Wyatt is most certainly a bothersome thorn in Pacelle’s manicured paw, and one that will not go away.

Pacelle said today, “But the reptile lobby—yes, there is such a thing—has been thrashing its collective tail and saying how benign these snakes are and that cold weather will prevent the snakes from going much farther than the Everglades (I guess it’s no matter to these supposed snake “lovers” that the snakes will freeze to death).”

Pacelle’s comment is interesting for two reasons.  First, using HSUS’s own statistics, 17 people have been killed by large constrictors in the US since 1978.  HSUS further claims that there have been 1,111,768 large constrictors imported since 1977.  Using those figures alone, without factoring in the millions of large constrictors bred in captivity this country since 1978, it makes the risk of death from a large constrictor less than 0.01%.  Large constrictors may not be “benign,” but the risk of being killed by a vending machine, a clothes dryer, a sand hole, a shark attack, a dog or a bee are significantly higher than the statistical risk of being killed by a large constrictor.

Second, Pacelle seems to concede that the snakes will freeze to death if they travel north of the most southern tip of Florida.  HSUSclaims on its own web site about reptiles, “Wild animals are best left in the wild where they belong.”  As great a shock as it may come to HSUS, animals in the wild are not frolicking about making daisy chains and counting stars as they do in Disney movies.  Wild animals die of disease, injury, predation, starvation, and yes, from the elements of nature.

Clearly, Pacelle’s remark is intended only to inure sympathy from animal lovers who don’t truly understand the issue. HSUS has used similar rhetoric about dog breeders, showing a decided recalcitrance to distinguish between responsible breeders and puppy mills.  Responsible reptile owners and breeders do not want to see the suffering of any herptile, and they certainly don’t advocate releasing any captive reptiles into the wild.

Pacelle’s tantrum continues, “Somehow the snake lobby, in the form of the U.S. Association of Reptile Keepers, has hoodwinked a number of Republican House members and apparently convinced them that this is a matter of “economic freedom.”

This is about economic freedom. HSUS does not have the right to deprive American citizens of their property interests and their livelihoods simply because Pacelle doesn’t agree with reptile ownership.  It must be incredibly empowering for one person to believe that his ideology should translate into law for every American citizen, but it is the duty of lawmakers to protect the interests of their constituents, no matter how much it upsets Mr. Pacelle.  The majority of people involved in true herpetoculture, the breeding and ownership of captive bred reptiles, care immensely about the health and welfare of the animals they keep.  (If Pacelle is truly concerned about the welfare of animals, perhaps he should revisit his endorsement of convicted dog fighting felon, Michael Vick, who, for a monetary donation, now receives Pacelle’s endorsement.)

Pacelle speciously condemns U.S. Rep. Southerland for condoning the import of  “dangerous invasive species into the country for use as pets, even if they are creating ecological havoc, injuring and killing private citizens, and costing the nation millions of dollars in terms of containment activities.”  (When he hasn’t got facts, he embellishes.)  Notably, Pacelle provides no back up for his inflammatory and false rhetoric.  HSUS’s fall back plan is to continue to terrify the public about non existent threats in order to feather HSUS’s own legal nest.  (HSUS has conceded in its Motion to Intervene in Ohio that it has an economic interest in winning legislative engagements because doing so attracts more monetary donations.  I will be writing on that topic next.)  If Pacelle needs to succeed in state and federal legislatures in order to attract the hundreds of millions of dollars that pay his six figure salary, perhaps he should set his sights on those more dangerous predators, such as vending machines, clothes dryers and sand holes.

U.S. Representatives Fleming and Southerland, Dr. Brady Barr, Shawn Heflick, Colette Sutherland and Andrew Wyatt should be commended for bringing facts to the table regarding the threat of pythons in the Everglades and the economic impact of arbitrary and capricious government action.  The role of our representatives in Congress is to protect our rights from unnecessary and harmful legislation, not to ensure that Pacelle has enough “wins” to fund HSUS into perpetuity.

Herp Nation's Dan Krull Interviews Erika Chen-Walsh

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Herp Nation’s Dan Krull talks with Erika N. Chen-Walsh, the Vice President of the new “Herp Alliance”. Erika comes on the Dan Krull Show to answer many of the questions you’ve been asking, along with more detail about the direction of the new Herp Alliance.

http://www.herpnation.com/audio/erika-chen-walsh-talks-to-herp-nation-radio/

The Founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc.

1-USHA5By Erika Chen-Walsh

There have been excessive rumors flying on the internet about Andrew Wyatt resigning as president and Chief Executive Officer of USARK and the founding of the United States Herpetoculture Alliance, Inc. (the “Herp Alliance”).

Wyatt was one of the founders of USARK and together, the USARK team enjoyed phenomenal success from 2008-2012. On a shoestring budget, USARK was able to do extraordinary things for reptile and amphibian keepers at the federal, state and local levels. Wyatt spearheaded a massive grass roots campaign to defeat federal HR669. S373, and HR2811 in 2009-2010. He also launched a successful federal case to remove five species of large constrictors from the Injurious Wildlife listing of the Lacey Act in 2008-2011. His team filed the Information Quality Challenge with USGS on the Constrictor Report in 2010, laying the groundwork for a federal lawsuit on the rule change issue. He commissioned the Georgetown Economic Services comprehensive assessment of the reptile/amphibian industry in 2011 and he participated in the defeat of anti-herpetoculture legislation in more than two dozen states. Perhaps most notably, Wyatt has put USARK on HSUS’s radar screen and made the reptile community a force with which to be reckoned.

Those successes with USARK were hard fought and hard won and although Wyatt was the main strategist and face of USARK during his tenure, those successes belong to every person who contributed ideas, time, resources, talent and money to the cause, including but not limited to every member of the USARK board and every member and volunteer of USARK.

After such a long and colorful history, leaving USARK could not have been an easy decision, and Wyatt wishes USARK continued success in the years to come.

Many members of the reptile community have come forward with strong opinions regarding Wyatt, USARK and the Herp Alliance. Bob Ashley and Brian Potter of NARBC have released a public statement throwing their support behind USARK and the Pet Industry Joint Advisory Council (“PIJAC”) and criticizing Wyatt as being a divisive figure. Other prominent individuals have reached out to me personally and privately expressing concern over the impact on the industry.   Brian Potter has been a close and respected personal friend of mine and my experience with Bob Ashley is that he is an ethical leader in this industry.  I respect their opinions. In fact, I value them, and I take seriously their concerns about division in the community and the future of herpetoculture.

USARK has come forward with a bold plan for 2013 and has set forth their goals and alliances, and USARK board member, Dr. Warren Booth, has been generous in his communications with the community even while on vacation overseas, trying to assuage concerns about the change in leadership and to calm anxieties.

The goal of the Herp Alliance is not to further divide this community, but to provide additional voice to our numbers. We, too, can learn from the model of the Animal Rights Industry. Invariably, when legislation is introduced seeking to restrict the rights of animal owners, HSUS shows up alongside PETA, Born Free, and other animal rights organizations. Indeed, HSUS unashamedly admits to bringing others in from out of state to testify at their side. The sheer number of these groups that appear, give them multiple opportunities for testimony (both written and oral), multiple witnesses, and multiple bodies to call upon legislatures. That numerosity makes them appear to be a majority interest when often they are (as in Ohio), by far, the minority. These groups do not have identical goals, but they are able to find enough commonality to stand together toward a single purpose.

There is no reason that the reptile community, indeed the exotics community, cannot do the same thing.  In fact, we must.

Bob Ashley was correct when he said that the pet industry can help the reptile community. There are many situations in which our interests are perfectly aligned. And then there are issues of concern within the reptile community that are not related to the pet industry (such as large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids) and it would not make sense for the pet industry to be involved. The Herp Alliance is interested in vigorously defending the private right to responsibly keep all species of herpetofauna.

Similarly, it’s true that the interests of zoos and researchers are not always aligned with private keepers. However, the ability to keep species and to move them easily across state lines presents more commonality.

Commonality is what binds us and what will help the entire community – private breeders, large and small pet stores, researchers, educational institutions and zoos – to be able to continue to work with the animals that we all love and in which we are interested.

The Herp Alliance will work in tandem with any group that seeks common ground toward our common goals. We would welcome the opportunity to work alongside USARK or PIJAC in any engagement.

The Herp Alliance is in the process of finalizing the details of our 2013 Strategic Prospectus. Once it is completed, it will be available. Our Board of Directors will include breeders of large constrictors, venomous animals, crocodilians and varanids. Our financial statements will be public and we will provide significant transparency of our goals, actions, and finances.

Some goals of our 2013 road map include, but are not limited to:

Our number one goal in 2013 is to file a federal lawsuit to challenge the Constrictor Rule;

To establish a separate legal fund to enable the filing of lawsuits to challenge inappropriate legislation and bills where we have legal justification for doing so;

To continue to evaluate and oppose federal, state and local legislation adversely affecting the rights of responsible herpetoculturists;

To contribute to conservation efforts, with a focus on conservation aided by captive breeding programs; and

To work with zoos and research institutions on common issues.

Herp Nation Radio Network's Dan Krull interviews Andrew Wyatt about the Herp Alliance

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From the Herp Nation web site:

The Herp Nation Radio Network’s Dan Krull talks with Andrew Wyatt about his resignation from USARK that was first reported to you here on HerpNation.com. Dan asks the questions the herp community wants answers to about Andrew’s departure, and also what the future holds for his new organization. Herp Nation has reached out to USARK and will bring you that information as soon as it becomes available. Listen now….

http://www.herpnation.com/audio/dks-sr2-010112/

ASPCA Settles Lawsuit with Ringling Brothers for $9.3 Million

By JESSICA GRESKO | Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — An animal rights group will pay Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus $9.3 million to settle a lawsuit the circus filed after courts found that activists paid a former circus worker for his help in claiming the circus abused elephants.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals said Friday it was not admitting any wrongdoing in settling the lawsuit. The New York-based animal rights group was one of several involved in a lawsuit filed in 2000 against the circus’ owner, Feld Entertainment Inc., claiming elephants were abused. Courts later found that the animal rights activists had paid a former Ringling barn helper involved in the lawsuit at least $190,000, making him “essentially a paid plaintiff” who lacked credibility.

Two courts agreed the former barn helper, Tom Rider, wasn’t credible and didn’t have a right to sue. As a result, they didn’t address claims the circus violated the federal Endangered Species Act by allegedly chaining the elephants for long periods and allowing trainers to use sharp tools called bullhooks.

The Vienna, Va.-based Feld Entertainment Inc. sued the animal rights groups and Rider in 2007, accusing them of conspiring to harm the company’s business and other illegal acts. The lawsuit claims the groups were working together with the goal of permanently banning Asian elephants from circuses.

Friday’s settlement covers only the ASPCA. Twelve other defendants including The Humane Society of the United States, the Animal Welfare Institute and The Fund for Animals are still involved in the lawsuit.

The ASPCA said in a statement that “this litigation has stopped being about the elephants a long time ago” and that officials decided it was in the group’s best interest to resolve the lawsuit after more than a decade.

The chairman of Feld Entertainment, Kenneth Feld, said in a statement that the settlement was a vindication for the company and its employees.