Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Monkeys for sale, no questions asked

First take on the IKEA monkey trial

I am guessing that Yasmin Nakhuda has never heard of "acquisitive mimetic desire", even though she displayed it to an absurd degree, thus contributing to an odious form of animal abuse: the exotic pet trade. It's the desire to have something because someone else has it, and is often used by advertising agencies and marketers to push products that people don't really need.

I sat just behind Nakhuda last week, as she sobbed nearing the end of a trial she had instigated. She had gone to court seeking to reacquire "Darwin", the baby Japanese macaque whose image was flashed on You Tube and on TV screens and newspapers internationally when he appeared in a faux-shearling coat in an Ikea parking lot in Toronto, last winter. He was dubbed "the Ikea Monkey". Nakhuda was crying because lawyer Kevin Toyne, defending the Story Book Farm primate sanctuary, suggested she had known what she was doing in signing Darwin over. The primate sanctuary was where Darwin was taken after being rescued by Toronto Animal Services (TAS). TAS is designed to deal with dogs and cats, not monkeys. Once ownership had been transferred it cleared the way to place Darwin in the sanctuary.

I've not been to Story Book, but I know that it is in its early stages of development, heading toward the high standards we have set with our own primate sanctuary, in Texas. Story Book, now housing 25 primates, needs support, but instead all Nakhuda's followers have done, is criticize it, without actually seeing it for themselves. Sadly, the law prohibits sending these rescued primates into the U.S., but that does not prevent real humanitarians, like the good folks at Story Book, from doing their best. As is true with our, much larger, sanctuary, many of their animals are former exotic pets who became too much for their owners to handle.

Even though she is a lawyer specializing in real estate, thus property rights, Nakhuda claimed she was tricked or coerced into signing the animal over. David Behan, the gently-spoken TAS officer in charge on the Sunday that Darwin escaped from where he had been locked in a dog kennel, in Nakhuda's car in the Ikea parking lot, denied it. Given how often Nakhuda changed her story I would be inclined to believe Behan, a decent chap just trying to do his job. An unhealthy man nearing retirement, he didn't look to me like he could intimidate a chipmunk. Behan's supervisor, phoned at home, told the officer to try to get Nakhuda to sign Darwin over. He did, but no evidence was presented to show he forced her to do so.

There is a real question about the form itself, which is badly written. It, and the bylaw in question, are to be updated to prevent any such confusion in the future. But none of that prevented Nakhuda from just saying "no", although she still could not have legally kept Darwin in Toronto. She claims she now has an offer on a house in one community that allows keeping of non-human primates, conditional on her winning the case. That community, Kawartha Lakes, plans to pass its own legislation to prevent the keeping of primates.

Throughout this mess Nakhuda constantly has referred to Darwin as her son, her baby. But he had a real mother who has been forgotten in all this. There are two ways that baby primates enter the exotic pet trade: in the wild it is normally the result of the mother being killed and the baby stolen. Otherwise she fiercely holds on to her baby. In captivity the baby is simply forced from the mother, against her will. But her emotional trauma didn't seem to touch Nakhuda or her small but loyal band of supporters.

We know nothing of Darwin's origins before he showed up in a filthy diaper, harness and doll-sized coat at the Ikea parking lot. At first Nakhuda said she had been given Darwin on the street in Montreal. That was later changed to a dealer in Toronto she met while looking to buy a hyacinth macaw. After swearing an affidavit that Darwin was a "gift" she admitted that, well, no, the dealer wanted ten thousand dollars, in cash, but settled for five up front. Oh, but he said he'd give it back, making Darwin a "gift" to Nakhuda's weird way of thinking. He actually never has returned the money. Some gift.

And why, while looking for an endangered parrot to buy, did Nakhuda purchase a baby macaque? The dealer didn't have a hyacinth macaw handy, but he had a couple of monkey species, one a capuchin. They're cute. Ah, but no; Yasmin had seen a You-Tube video from showing a Japanese macaque in Japan, the only country where they naturally occur, taught to do simple waiting chores in a restaurant. Wow, a monkey acting like a waiter.that was all the reason she needed! Talk about an acquisitive mimetic desire and I thought guys who thought they could pick up sexy dates if they drank the right brand of beer were pushovers!

Within a couple of days, voila, from Vancouver or Montreal or who knows where, suddenly there is a baby Japanese macaque, no questions asked. No documentation, either. No health certificate. No receipt. No concerns. Any problems about Darwin being a species it is illegal to keep in Toronto and the dealer would wave his magic permit. But when the excrement hit the rotating blades he didn't, telling Yasmin to "walk away", according to her testimony, and he'd return the cash. Yeah, sure.

As I write, the judge is determining whether Darwin can stay at the sanctuary, or must be returned to Yasmin, no doubt to be dressed in silly clothes and, who knows...maybe wait on her table in her new home in Kawartha Lakes? The judge is constrained by the law. Because of the bizarre nature of the case, and its look into the sordid world of the exotic pet industry, I'll return to this issue in future blogs.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA
Zoocheck Inc.

Monday, June 10, 2013

My Last Middle Island Blog, Yes, But Just For Now A Tale of Just Two Innocent Creatures

Published 06/06/13 Born Free USA

My last two blogs dealt with the days spent in a boat anchored just offshore of Middle Island, in the southern end of Lake Erie, the very southernmost land still in Canada, mere yards from where the country ends and the United States begins. I was there with my colleague, Liz White, to monitor and record Parks Canada's deadly assault on nesting double-crested cormorants. Staff armed with small calibre rifles and accompanied by spotters would walk up and down the island's length, usually hidden from our view by thick vegetation, shooting the nesting cormorants, and in the process causing havoc among the great blue herons, black-crowned night-herons, Canada geese and herring and ring-billed gulls also trying to make nests, lay eggs and raise babies on the otherwise uninhabited island. Great egrets were there, too, but the shooting has driven them completely away, even though they are noted for "nest site tenacity", the quality of staying with their nest even under duress.

One Parks Canada staffer would stay aboard the boat that brought the crew over from the mainland, an hour and a half trip. The shooters were trying to kill the cormorants with head shots, aiming carefully at a small, moving target. Birds who had their beaks clipped by bullets or were otherwise wounded by in ways that allowed them to fly, would flee to die or recover as best they could. But if the bullet brought them down to the ground they would tend to make their way to shore, and often into the water. There they would be pursued by the powered boat, diving to get away until, too tired and waterlogged to again dive, they awaited the blast of a 12 gauge shotgun; "euthanasia". Even then some found the energy to dive at the gun's flash, and sometimes it took two or three shots to render the birds dead.

These are nesting birds, bound by an instinctive imperative to maintain a presence at the nest. Except under intense duress one or both parents are always at the nest while there are eggs or young chicks. Cormorants swim and eat fish, but their plumage is not like that of loons, grebes or ducks; it is not entirely waterproof. Therefore they are limited in how long they could stay in the water.

And that was the plight of the two birds we saw on shore that the shooters and spotters had somehow missed reporting. What to do? We had neither the practical means nor the legal right to rescue them. To leave them meant that they would die slowly. Cormorants need to be able to fly to survive and these birds clearly would never fly again. The first was sluggish, perhaps bleeding internally, the second was more alert, but with an obviously shattered wing.

And so we called them in, on the boat's radio. On each occasion the power boat came as close to shore as was safe. With the gunmen on the island, and the boat looming nearer, the birds did what instinct directed, and took to the water. There, in spite of their respective wounds, each was able to swim hundreds of yards, gently chased by the Park's Canada boat, the intent presumably being to tire them. Cormorants can, when shot at with a shotgun, dive at the sight of the flash and be mostly or totally under the water by the time the shotgun pellets arrive. But I suspect, as well, the Parks Canada staff wanted to get the bird away from us and our cameras. Before the booming shots were fired the boat would position itself between us and the wounded bird, and I can't help but think this was intentional.

The wounded birds never had a chance. Their reward for not hurting any of our kind while simply fulfilling natural functions that have evolved through three billion years of life on earth, was to be first wounded, and then relentlessly, inescapably hunted down by the vast power we humans command with our internal combustion engines and high-powered firearms, and killed.

My emotions were mixed. I didn't want to aid the culling or see these birds killed, but on the other hand it would be cruel to let them suffer; we had to report them. But perhaps the most profound emotion of all was a sense of deep shame for my kind, mixed with admiration for the cormorants and anger at Parks Canada. The cormorants do nothing but ask their small share of a world we continually crowd out, and we deny them even that.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA
Zoocheck Inc.

Middle Island Mismanagement, Parks Canada Shows How Not to Conserve the Natural Environment

Published 05/23/13 Born Free USA

This is not the place to go into details, but in April and May I found myself on four occasions living in the 21st century, benefitting from GPS navigation, cellphones and my new digital camera, while viewing the bloody results of early 19th century thinking.

Before Charles Darwin, before the basic tenets of evolution and ecology came together, human policy tended to treat the natural world as an entity to be controlled, exploited and defeated by us. We were godly beings apart from nature, hubristic in our right to do as we pleased. Forests felled, species wiped out, native peoples shoved aside and profits made from “resources” evaluated by the amount of money we could earn by their exploitation, destroying what annoyed us.

Our ancestors tended to classify animal species as “good” or “bad” based on their immediate economic value or esthetic interest. “Game” species were good, thus species who ate game species were “bad.” Species who ate species who hurt our economic value could be good; their predators therefore were bad.

We had yet to understand the dynamic interactions between predators and prey. Hawks, owls and fish-eating species were, like wolves and foxes and snakes, bad, unless some economic value could be squeezed from them. Foxes were good, for example, if their skins could be sold, bad if they ate a grouse or raided the hen house. Rabbits were good if properly cooked, bad if munching in the vegetable garden.

Slowly things changed as scientists and naturalists came to realize that predators, all species, played roles in the ecological whole, and that “good” and “bad” were highly subjective designations based on simplistic and short-sighted value systems and quite lacking in scientific objectivity. To at least some degree public policy began shifting in reflection of growing understanding about naturally evolved predator-prey relationships.

Too often wildlife management agencies remain mired in early 19th century thinking. To a major degree this reflects political responses to concerns of a public where ignorance of nature is rampant. We also have immense capacity to resent other beings, and while political correctness is slowly curbing overt bias against humans who are different, animals are seen as ours to hate and abuse on whatever pretext. And few North American species seem to trigger more irrational prejudice than the double-crested cormorant.

In the United States, wildlife management agencies still kill large numbers of these native birds out of concern that cormorants eat too many fish. Study after study essentially indicates otherwise, and here in Ontario, at least, we’ve managed to get that particular argument off the table, simply because it is incorrect.

Indeed, as our boat left the mainland on southern Lake Erie’s northern shore for the hour and a quarter trip to Middle Island, I noted how one saw cormorants here or there, sometimes in flocks, but until we reached their island nursery, most water was empty of them. But we passed mile after mile of buoys and markers indicating a vast network of fishing nets whose consumption of fish dwarfs what the cormorants consume.

But cormorant excrement is high in nutriments that, in concentration, kill vegetation. While none of the trees on Middle Island is anything but common, several species are at the northern end of their range, thus rare in Ontario, where the mainland has been largely denuded of native forests. The great egret, the world’s commonest heron, is also fairly near the limit of its range and so one of the rationales for killing cormorants is to protect the trees for the egrets to nest in.

But Parks Canada managed to chase off the egrets. Nesting birds are vulnerable and even egrets, known for their nest tenacity, couldn’t take the pressure. We saw one on the first day of culling and a pair on the last day, but all were driven away as the gunmen made their way up the length of the island, shooting cormorants off their nests.

In a review of the first five years of culling, Parks Canada claimed that great blue herons were not especially bothered by the fusillades, not leaving their nests for more than 12 minutes. We knew that was utter nonsense, but to prove it when not allowed on the island is difficult. The island is off-limits to all but Parks Canada and their gunners, and after much negotiation involving Parks Canada and the Ontario Provincial Police, we were only allowed to anchor in one location with a limited view of the island.

But our position did provide a good view of one specific great blue heron nest whose owners tried to incubate, but wound up standing beside, or leaving, the nest for literally hours on end. Other great blue herons had to stand on the sand spit that extends off one end of Middle Island, a waste of their time/energy budget that could not help but compromise egg and brood survivability.

Given all the real conservation problems and challenges the world increasingly faces, it seems such a shame to see so much money go into such a cruel and needless exercise as shooting thousands of cormorants off their nests. The cormorants are native; if they kill off some or all of the trees it in no way results in anything other than an offense to the esthetics of some people who want to preserve the trees because they don’t realize or care that the cormorants belong. They say they want to preserve the “Carolinian” species, but there is nothing non-Carolinian about a cormorant colony in the middle of Lake Erie!

After the last shot was fired the birds could settle down and try, as they have done for so many millions of years before we came along, to raise their families. They are not good birds, not bad birds, just birds who belong in nesting colonies on islands in Lake Erie.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA
Zoocheck Inc.

The Species I Fear the Most, Or How I Spent the Past Few Days

Published 05/10/13 Born Free USA

OK. I’ll fill in the details in a later blog, but I here I want to talk about just getting back from Middle Island, a tiny 46-acre island in Lake Erie. I was anchored offshore, meters from the U.S. border, the most southern place one could be and still be in Canada. I was there with colleague Liz White to monitor gunmen as they shot hundreds of double-crested cormorants off their nests.

This was the sixth year the gunmen had done this, disrupting a large, mixed colony of nesting waterbirds: cormorants, night-herons, great blue herons, herring and ring-billed gulls and Canada geese. We had done this the previous Monday, as well; we’ll do it once or twice more this season. There had been egrets nesting there, too, but while we saw one the previous Monday, they seem to have been chased off by the gunfire. This is a national park. Protecting the egrets was part of the goal. I’ll explain all, in a later blog, meanwhile see this. If it sounds brutally insane, yep, I’d say so!

As we drove back we added to the list of road-kills we could identify along the highway: one wild turkey, one American kestrel, several red-winged blackbirds, a couple of opossums, numerous raccoons, a few cottontails and skunks and many undetermined. And then the trucks. One of the problems with being in this business is that you see so much more than others see. What to others is just an anonymous tractor-trailer we know carries 10,000 pheasants jammed close together in tiny crates, no food or water, no protection from the noise and confusion of the highway, or the cold slipstream.

Pheasants? Yes. Chickens are a species of pheasant, but of course we degrade the term “chicken” to mean something not worth worrying about.

We passed trucks in which you could glimpse pigs, so many in miserable discomfort en route to slaughter. At lunchtime we stopped at one of the highway’s pull-offs, called “En Route,” where restaurants sold cooked body parts of similar animals, now at least beyond suffering. Pulled pork? Wings? No thanks.

At home my mailbox contained the long-awaited copy of “Handbook of Mammals of the World, Volume III,” which describes all non-human primate species in the world, with up-to-date data on their population status. My e-mail contained concerns about one primate species, the long-tailed macaque of Southeast Asia and various islands and archipelagos of that region. Some 240,000 live macaques had been exported for “medical, scientific, commercial and breeding purposes from 2004 until July 2010,” according to the book, and according to my e-mail updates, some 100,000 more had been shot as part of a cull.

They, fellow primates, are denied life because they are a nuisance. The ones removed appear to be from the core population; no one knows how many there are, but they have, according to the book, been officially recognized as the first “widespread and rapidly declining” primate species. I can do no better than the quote in my e-mail from an anonymous writer:

“Where to begin? ... Not only do I weep for the inhumane experience the long-tailed macaques experienced before their souls left our planet, I disparage for the plight of our humanity. ... Violence and killing seem to be a strong strain within our collective DNA. ... We do far more damage around this spinning orb that is our home than all the other living species (combined), than proportionally to what these tinier primate cousins of ours are doing to inconvenience the humans in Malaysia. ...

“Every human who knows about this story should feel shame for the fellow humans who perpetrate these heinous encroachments upon others’ habitats and then rationalized their murdering of those effected by the encroachment. ... It’s not too dissimilar to what 'white' Europeans did to the indigenous peoples of the Americas."

And then, remembering that my colleagues and I are working hard to stop the brutal culling of mule deer in central British Columbia, because there are “too many,” I read the news article about 6,000 coyotes killed in Utah’s bounty program, in the hope that there will be more mule deer! They want more deer for the hunters to kill — the human hunters who don’t need to — so the coyotes are slaughtered in absurdly high numbers.

This brutality extends toward our own species. I also read about the horrific case of three young women held captive, raped and abused, in Cleveland, while the story of the terrorist bombing in the Boston Marathon lingered. Isolated incidents involving a few deranged individuals, of course, but also waiting for me was more news from the civil war in Syria, and lest we get all self-righteous, news of a book just out about the detention, also for a decade, of prisoners in Guantanamo never having found guilty of anything other than being of the wrong religion and in the wrong place at the wrong time, held without trial.

What is it about us? Why are so many of us so heartless?

Why is the term “do-gooder” seen as derogatory?

We are to accept that brutal side of our nature in the interest of ... what?

We’re rapidly, recklessly destroying so much, including our planet’s ability to sustain us, and our own ability to survive. We are capable of better. We are the most brutal of species, and never more so than when we reach out to others, our own and other species, to maim and kill.

Barry Kent MacKay
Born Free USA
Zoocheck Inc.