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It wasn’t very many decades ago that campaigns for animal protection were largely focused on the treatment of dogs and cats. But in the last 10 years, we have seen what were once considered fringe issues—such as animal captivity and farmed animals—move from the margins to the mainstream, and this year saw some tremendous victories. Consider that more and more cities and countries are making an effort to ban trophy hunting, animal testing, declawing, elephant rides, and shark fins. Even the fight against fur, which seemed to be slipping through the fingers of the animal rights movement, made tremendous strides in 2019. None of these would have been possible without a seismic shift in the public’s attitude toward how we treat animals—coupled with their growing embrace of vegan foods. Can you imagine just a few years ago consumers clamoring for plant-based options the way they do today? This is one of the principal reasons dairies are going out of business. (So, activists: keep fighting the good fight!)

Yes, 2019 was full of misery as well. But it’s time to celebrate some wins. From foie gras to fur, here’s a look at a dozen of the year’s top stories for animals.

  1. U.S. Supreme Court Upholds California Ban on Foie Gras (January)

Ever since a California law banning foie gras went into effect seven years ago, those who enjoy or profit from this cruel product have devoted their time and money to getting the ban lifted—and activists have been diligently fighting them. The law was challenged in a 2012 lawsuit by foie gras producers from the Canadian province of Quebec and New York’s Hudson Valley and by a Southern California restaurant chain, after which a U.S. district judge ruled that the ban violated the federal Poultry Products Inspection Act, which prohibits states from imposing their own conditions on the sale of bird flesh. In 2017, the California state attorney general appealed the ruling, and two years later, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed it. But the appeals court put a stay on the ban so that the plaintiffs could petition the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case. Now, by refusing to listen to further arguments, the highest court in the land affirmed that the “fatty liver” of force-fed ducks and geese cannot be produced, served, or sold in California.

  1. Sheep Farmer Takes Lambs to Sanctuary Instead of Slaughterhouse, Goes Vegetarian (January)

Two-lambsAfter nearly 50 years of raising and killing animals for food, farmer Sivalingam Vasanthakumar of Devon, England, had a dramatic change of heart. While taking 20 lambs to the slaughterhouse, he turned around and drove them nearly 200 miles, delivering them instead to the 92-acre Goodheart Animal Sanctuaries. “I just couldn’t cope any more and I had to say no,” he said, noting that he had made the same journey many times before and could always sense the terror the lambs felt. “They would try to hide in the back of the trailer and wouldn’t want to come out. I would have to push them out, it was very stressful for me and the animals.” He said he’s a vegetarian now and will grow vegetables rather than raise animals. Goodheart manager Dave Bourne said this was the first time a farmer had brought lambs to the sanctuary.

  1. Colombia Bans Recreational Hunting (February)

Citing the need to protect animals and the environment, Colombia became the second country in Latin America (after Costa Rica) to ban hunting for recreation. “Animals are not things, they are beings with feelings,” said magistrate Antonio Jose Lizarazo, who was behind the legislation. The ban, which goes into effect on February 6, 2020, was the result of a lawsuit filed by activist and attorney Laura Santacoloma, who sought to have recreational hunting outlawed as environmentally detrimental to a country with such remarkable biodiversity.

In trying to fight the ban, hunters in Colombia apparently argued that shooting animals for fun fit into the national culture and that it was even an educational pursuit.

  1. Australia Bans Use of Data from Animal Tests in Cosmetics (March)

When the Parliament of Australia finally passed the Industrial Chemicals Bill 2017, it began a new chapter in the history of Australian animal rights. The new law takes effect on July 1, 2020. Under the legislation companies will be banned from using data taken as a result of animal testing when introducing a new chemical or ingredient for the beauty market. According to the Department of Health, “As technology has advanced, there has been an international move away from the use of animals for this purpose. Animal tests are expensive, time consuming to conduct and are questioned on both ethical and scientific grounds.”

The ban is far from perfect, as it only applies to ingredients used exclusively in cosmetics products. Also, although the ban restricts companies from relying on animal test data for regulatory testing, it does not necessarily ban tests on animals. This means that products sold in China—where tests on animals are mandated by law for imported cosmetics—may still be sold in Australia provided companies also demonstrate equivalent non-animal test data where appropriate. But it’s a step in the right direction.

  1. Cuba Has Its First Animal Rights March (April)

In what is considered to be the first independent protest of any kind allowed in the country in decades, activists in Havana, Cuba, organized a short but significant march on behalf of animals. More than 400 animal advocates, some carrying signs, walked about a mile with their dogs and chanted slogans as they demonstrated peacefully and called for an animal welfare law.

“It’s not easy to see the situation of many abandoned animals, who roam the streets without food and safe medical care and are mistreated by irresponsible people,” said co-organizer Beatriz Batista. “That’s why this type of action is very important at this time, when Cuban society is gaining awareness and is increasingly involved in this issue.”

“It’s unprecedented,” said Alberto Gonzalez, co-organizer and publisher of The Ark, an online Cuban animal-lovers magazine. “This is going to mark a before and an after.”

Marches in Cuba had until now been strictly controlled by the government and were mostly limited to demonstrations celebrating the 1959 revolution or religious processions.

  1. Indian Court Rules That All Animals Have Legal Personhood (May)

On May 31, the Punjab and Haryana High Court ruled that animals, including birds and fishes, have legal rights like humans and declared citizens the “guardians of the animal kingdom” with a duty to ensure their welfare and protection. The ruling came after 29 cows were packed and transported nearly 400 miles in appalling conditions from Uttar Pradesh to Haryana. “We have to show compassion towards all living creatures,” wrote Justice Rajiv Sharma. “Animals may be mute but we as a society have to speak on their behalf. No pain or agony should be caused to the animals. Cruelty to animals also causes psychological pain to them. In Hindu Mythology, every animal is associated with god. Animals breathe like us and have emotions. The animals require food, water, shelter, normal behaviour, medical care, self-determination.”

The decision saw the court issuing several “mandatory directions” for the “welfare of the animal kingdom” in Haryana. This isn’t the first time such a judgement has been declared in India. Last year, the Uttarakhand High Court accorded the status of “legal person or entity” to animals in the northern state, and in 2014, India’s Supreme Court ruled that all animals should have constitutional and legal rights.

  1. Canada Bans Keeping Whales and Dolphins in Captivity (June)

orcaCanada’s House of Commons passed the Ending the Captivity of Whales and Dolphins Act, known colloquially as the “Free Willy” bill, which was introduced in December 2015. It bans keeping whales, dolphins, and porpoises in captivity and bans their use in performances. Cetaceans who are already in captivity are grandfathered in by the bill, however, meaning Marineland in Niagara Falls, Ontario, can keep all the animals they currently exploit—55 beluga whales, five bottlenose dolphins, and one orca—even though they strongly opposed the bill. Phil Demers, a former Marineland trainer-turned activist, called the bill’s passing a “historic day for Canada.” He has been an outspoken critic of Marineland and says keeping mammals in captivity is abusive. “This is validation for all the concerns that … former Marineland employees and activists alike have been stressing for many decades.” Former Senator Wilfred Moore, who introduced the bill four years ago, said, “We have a moral obligation to phase out the capture and retention of animals for profit and entertainment. Canadians are calling upon us to do better—and we have listened.”

  1. England Bans Wild Animals in Traveling Circuses (July)

Coming into effect in January 2020, the Wild Animals in Circuses (No. 2) Bill is the result of more than 20 years of investigations and campaigns by animal protection organizations, including Animal Defenders International, which began exposing circus cruelty in the UK in 1993. “Travelling circuses are no place for wild animals in the 21st century and I am pleased that this legislation will put an end to this practice for good,” said Environment Secretary Michael Gove, who introduced the bill in May of this year. The legislation follows similar bans recently passed in Ireland and Scotland and a ban under discussion in Wales.

  1. Zoo Trade in Baby Elephants Banned Internationally (August)

After a contentious debate at a meeting of parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species held in Geneva in August, the member countries decided to impose a near-total ban on snatching African elephants from the wild and selling them to zoos. The decision was strongly opposed by Zimbabwe, which, along with Botswana, is the main provider of wild African elephants to zoos outside the continent and tried to block the vote, saying they view elephants as an “economic opportunity” and should be allowed to sell them. The ban went into effect on November 26, 2019.

  1. California Becomes the First State to Ban Fur Trapping (September)

Demonstrating that just because a practice is “tradition” doesn’t mean it’s worth keeping, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law the Wildlife Protection Act of 2019, banning the trapping of animals for fur. “Fur trapping is a cruel practice that has no place in 21st century California,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, who authored the ban bill. “The fact that the majority of California taxpayers overwhelmingly disapprove of this archaic practice and have been unknowingly subsidizing it for years is simply unacceptable.” Trapping animals for their skins has had a long history in California, dating back 200 years, when thousands of trappers plied their trade while cruelly killing countless bears, rabbits, beavers, racoons, coyotes, otters, foxes, and other species.

  1. California becomes the first State to Ban Fur Products (October)

AB44_TY_California_2Just weeks after banning fur trapping, California took an even bigger step into a compassionate future by banning the manufacture, sale, and display of clothing, shoes, slippers, hats, keychains, or handbags with fur. After signing it, Gov. Newsom called the legislation “one of the strongest animal rights laws in U.S. history.” It even bars residents from donating fur products. Other states may soon follow in California’s footsteps: Hawaii and New York have introduced their own fur-ban legislation.

The Fur Information Council of America condemned California’s ban, which goes into effect on January 1, 2023, as being part of a “radical vegan agenda” and has threatened a court challenge.

  1. Animal Cruelty Officially Becomes a Felony Across the U.S. (November)

I admit I debated whether or not to include this among the top 12 victories of the year—which is always a subjective list anyway. On the one hand, this new anti-cruelty legislation is a significant statement against animal cruelty, making it a federal crime to crush, drown, suffocate, sexually exploit, stab, or burn animals (thus making it easier to prosecute the makers of so-called “crush videos,” which I examine in detail in Bleating Hearts). On the other hand, it does not cover the estimated nine billion farmed animals raised and killed every year for food in the U.S., nor does it include fishes killed through fishing or animals killed by hunters. So we’re left wondering: just what is animal cruelty? And the answer to that should never be subjective.


Other stories of the year worth noting:

Veganuary ends on record high with 250,000 participants (January)

Pig escapes transport to slaughterhouse and ends up in Iowa animal sanctuary (February)

Chimps use branch as ladder to escape from Belfast zoo enclosure (February)

Milk sales declined by $1.1 billion last year (March)

Escaped lamb finds home in sanctuary (March)

Dick’s Sporting Goods removes guns from its stores (March)

Madrid bans wild animals in circuses (March)

Rhino poacher killed by elephant and eaten by lions (April)

Animal rights protest causes chaos in Melbourne (April)

Norway to end fur farming (April)

How a B.C. cop crossed the protest line for animal rights (April)

Rescued ‘bile bears’ find sanctuary in Vietnam (April)

Prada bans fur (May)

‘Historic day for Scotland’ as beavers get protected status (May)

Hundreds of animal rights activists march against slaughterhouses in Paris (June)

Nevada becomes second state to ban cosmetics testing on animals (June)

Animals trapped in notorious Russia ‘whale jail’ begin path to freedom (June)

Fur farming banned in Ireland (June)

Canada becomes first G7 country to ban shark fins (June)

New York becomes first state to ban cat declawing (July)

Wild animals in circuses to be banned in Wales (July)

79% of respondents say they would support a federal law prohibiting animal testing for cosmetics (August)

Record 12,000 vegan activists march for animal rights in London (August)

SeaWorld blames ‘radical animal rights activists’ as British Airways cuts ties (August)

Illinois becomes latest state to ban animal testing for cosmetics (August)

The ACT become the first jurisdiction in Australia to change the legal status of animals from being purely ‘property’ to sentient beings in their own right (September)

Animal rights activists win free speech ruling in California (September)

Squirrel blocks woman’s path then leads her to injured baby by ‘tugging at her leg’ (September)

Taylor Swift cancels Melbourne Cup performance, animal rights activists applaud (September)

California bans most animals from circuses (October)

Scottish farmer drives 275 miles to rescue lamb she sold for meat (October)

Hen escapes egg farm by hiding out in delivery truck (October)

Slovakia bans fur farming (October)

New York’s elephant act ban goes into effect (October)

TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets to attractions that breed captive dolphins and whales (October)

Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s ditch fur (October)

California’s oldest dairy is closing its doors after more than 125 years (October)

Queen to go fur-free for first time says official dresser (November)

This orangutan’s ‘personhood’ victory brings hope to U.S. animal rights movement (November)

Paris moves to ban wild animals from circuses (November)

Tuna seller Bumble Bee files for bankruptcy (November)

Cambodia to ban elephant rides at Angkor Wat (November)

Russia releases last of captured whales into the wild (November)

The Humane Cosmetics Act is now in front of Congress (November)

Biggest U.S. milk company files for Chapter 11 (November)

New York City bans foie gras (November)

House approves bill to eliminate sale of shark fins nationwide (November)

Newfoundland fur farm closes due to sagging market (December)

Federal judge halts enforcement of Iowa’s newest ag-gag law (December)

Ontario passes new animal welfare legislation with stiffer penalties (December)

Greeting card company stops selling images of captive apes after campaign by animal rights protestors (December)

Half the UK population is cutting back on meat or giving it up, according to market analysts Mintel (December)

Russian circuses face calls to ban performing animals (December)

Federal judge blocks law that would stop ‘fake meat’ from marketing with ‘real meat’ terminology (December)

Anti-fur activism is on the rise. What does that mean for Canada Goose? (December)


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