Clearly, 2016 was a mixed bag. We had some exciting wins for the first 10 months or so, and things were looking good. Then, around November 9, there was an unmistakable pivot in the national mood. The world seemed a little darker.
As a sit down to reflect on the last 12 months of victories for animals, my feelings are tempered by the knowledge that 2017 could be a very different year not only for nonhuman animals, but for many vulnerable groups and the environment. Perhaps that makes this entry all the more poignant. I can’t say what the future holds, but I can recognize some of the stories in which animals won and animal activists have reason to celebrate. In that spirit, here are a dozen stories I loved, and I think you will, too.
1. SeaWorld agrees to end captive breeding of killer whales (March)
This is spectacular news, not just for animals, but for animal advocates. It clearly shows the impact that activists can have when they use a variety of methods to campaign for animals. (One sour note to this news is that the orcas in captivity at SeaWorld locations will remain in captivity—at least for now.) SeaWorld also promised to end orca shows at all its entertainment parks by 2019.
My profound thanks to everyone who has agitated on behalf of orcas, even long before the release of Blackfish kicked this campaign into high gear. The struggle is far from over, but it’s important we acknowledge how far we’ve come.
2. Armani goes fur free (March)
After years of campaigning by animal rights groups, fashion designer Georgio Armani pledged to go 100 percent fur-free across all his labels from the autumn/winter 2016 collection onwards.
“I am pleased to announce that the Armani Group has made a firm commitment to abolish the use of animal fur in its collections,” said Giorgio Armani. “Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposition that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary as regards animals. Pursuing the positive process undertaken long ago, my company is now taking a major step ahead, reflecting our attention to the critical issues of protecting and caring for the environment and animals.”
Most fur used in the fashion industry comes from fur farms, where wild animals are kept in small cages and killed by cruel methods that preserve the pelts—such as gassing and anal electrocution. Moreover, fur production has high environmental costs and health risks due to its chemical-heavy production process.
By committing to a fur-free policy, Armani joins other luxury brands, including Hugo Boss, Tommy Hilfiger, Calvin Klein, and Stella McCartney.
3. Iran bans animal acts in circuses (March)
This year Iran joined a growing number of countries—including Austria, Bolivia, Colombia, Greece, Mexico, and Singapore—that have banned circuses that use wild animals. The law led to the immediate closure of at least 13 circuses across the country and follows the successful No to Circus! campaign launched by Animal Rights Watch in September 2014 and supported by Animal Defenders International.
4. Octopus escapes from NZ aquarium and back out to sea (April)
When Inky the octopus slipped out of a tank in New Zealand’s National Aquarium, crawled across the floor, squeezed his football-sized body into a six-inch-wide drain pipe, and escaped into the Pacific Ocean, he literally became a breakout star. By liberating himself, he also symbolized the will of animals in captivity. Animal activists tirelessly campaign against circuses, zoos, marine parks, and other enterprises that confine animals, and this story illustrated that octopuses are not only smart, but resourceful.
Inky had been inside the aquarium since 2014, when he’d been inadvertently caught in a crayfish pot and given to the aquarium. (Going after one species and catching another—called “bycatch” in the fishing industry—is all too common.)
5. Ringling Bros. “retires” its elephants 2 years ahead of schedule (May)
For decades, animal activists and animal rights groups have been urging circuses to stop using animals. Last year, the biggest target of their campaigning, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, finally agreed to stop using elephants. Feld Entertainment, which owns the circus, had originally planned to retire the elephants in 2018, but moved up the timeline in the face of constant criticism from activists and an increasing number of local laws aimed at restricting their animal shows.
The elephants will now settle into the Ringling Bros. Center for Elephant Conservation, just a few miles from Disney World and tucked behind cattle ranches and orange groves. Unfortunately, controversy still surrounds this so-called retirement, as some of the elephants will be used for cancer research.
6. National Aquarium will retire all its dolphins to a sea sanctuary (June)
Dolphin sanctuary rendering
Another longtime target of protests against animal captivity, the National Aquarium in Baltimore has kept dolphins for 25 years. They finally stopped forcing the dolphins to perform in 2012 but continued to “display” them to the public. In June, the aquarium announced the dolphins would be released into an oceanside sanctuary by 2020.
The National Aquarium is exploring seaside sites in Florida and the Caribbean to create a new home for its eight Atlantic bottlenose dolphins, seven of whom were born in captivity and have never swum in the ocean. Officials say this will be a first-of-its-kind protected, seaside habitat where the dolphins would still be cared for by humans.
7. Egg producers say they will eliminate killing of male chicks by 2020 (June)
One of the most insidious—and little-known—practices of the egg industry has long been the killing of male chicks. Since male chickens don’t lay eggs and are considered worthless to egg producers, some 200 million male chicks a year in the United States are killed shortly after hatching. These babies are either ground up while still alive or thrown into garbage bags to suffocate.
But with technology now able to determine the gender of a chick inside a fertilized egg just a few days into the 21-day incubation period, egg producers in the US and elsewhere have pledged to stop the cruel killing of male chicks by 2020.
None of this excuses the misery chickens endure in the egg industry (and 2020 is still a long way off), but it’s a step in the right direction.
8. Australia bans cosmetic animal testing (June)
The banning of animal testing and products that use such testing has become a growing trend. Now Australia joins the European Union, India, Israel, Norway, and Turkey, all of whom have passed similar measures to cut down on animal testing.
Australia’s ban goes into effect in July.
9. Sales of cow’s milk sour while sales of plant-based milk increase (July)
According to a report by the market-research firm Nielsen, “Almond milk is now America’s favorite milk substitute, boasting sales growth of 250 percent over the past five years.” The dairy milk industry has been campaigning against milk alternatives, no doubt because while the popularity of almond milk grows, as the Nielsen report noted, “the total milk market shrunk by more than $1 billion.”
Meanwhile, a separate survey from this year reveals that half of omnivores are consuming plant-based beverages for health, taste, and ethical reasons.
Another concern for the animal ag industry: More and more dairy farmers are getting out of the business. In California, which happens to be both the #1 producer of almonds and dairy milk in the nation, dairy farmers are converting their farms into almond orchards.
10. California bans SeaWorld’s killer whale shows and breeding program (September)
Although SeaWorld announced it would cease breeding orcas and phase out orca shows earlier in the year, that wasn’t enough for California. Home to SeaWorld San Diego, the state formally banned both practices when Governor Jerry Brown signed the Orca Protection and Safety Act. The law goes into effect next June, after which the orcas can only be used for “educational purposes.” SeaWorld currently keeps 28 orcas in captivity in the US, 11 of whom are in California.
The bill’s sponsors say the legislation was important to make sure that SeaWorld can’t change its mind, and that no other California park can breed or do non-educational orca shows in the future.
Here’s hoping all orcas in captivity—as well as dolphins and other marine mammals—will eventually be placed in seaside sanctuaries.
11. India bans cruel Draize irritation tests on rabbits (November)
Named for the FDA toxicologist who developed it in 1944, the infamous Draize test is intended to evaluate the safety of cosmetics and other products using live animals. It’s most commonly used on rabbits, who are locked into restraining stocks so they cannot struggle or clean their eyes. A test chemical is then applied to one eye or to a shaved area of skin on their backs and they are monitored for 2 to 3 weeks, without any pain relief, for signs of permanent damage. This may include swelling, bleeding, ulceration, and blindness. A number of validated and internationally recognized non-animal alternatives, including reconstructed human skin and corneal tissues, have been available for years.
Thank you, India, for banning this horrific practice, and thanks to the animal advocates who campaigned to end it.
12. Massachusetts votes to ban extreme confinement of farmed animals (November)
One bright spot from the US’s November election was the passage of Question 3 in Massachusetts. Like California’s Proposition 2 in the 2008 election, this new law will prohibit Massachusetts farmers from confining egg-laying hens, breeding pigs, and calves raised for veal in spaces that prevent the animals from “lying down, standing up, fully extending its limbs, or turning around freely”—and the sale of meat and eggs resulting from these practices outside Massachusetts.
The new law will take effect in 2022 (presumably to give farmers time to reconfigure their facilities into compliance). The state attorney general will be required to issue regulations and enforce it, including a $1,000 fine for each violation.
Other stories of the year worth noting:
Warsaw, Poland, Bans Circuses That Use Animals (January)
Indian Health Ministry to End Repeat Animal Testing for Drugs (March)
India Bans Cosmetics Testing on Animals (April)
Bull Spearing Outlawed by Spanish Regional Government (May)
After 140 Years, Buenos Aires Zoo Closed Because “Captivity Is Degrading” (June)
Florida’s Bear Hunt Cancelled for the Year (June)
Rhode Island Becomes First State to Ban Elephant Bullhooks (July)
California Becomes Second State to Ban Bullhooks (August)
Norway Bans Elephants in Circuses (September)
After Uproar, US Government Says It Does Not Plan to Kill Wild Horses (September)
Gov. Brown Signs Bill Allowing People to Break Into Cars to Rescue Animals from Heat (September)
TripAdvisor to Stop Selling Tickets to Many Animal Attractions (October)
Last Fur Farm in Japan Closes (November)
Argentina Bans Greyhound Racing (November)
SeaWorld Cutting 320 Jobs in Restructuring after Attendance, Revenue Have Suffered in Face of Animal-Rights Campaign (December)
No More Wild Animals in Circuses in India (December)