Asia for Animals: conference speakers call for tougher laws and changes in behaviour


The 11th Asia for Animals conference, which took place in Dalian, China, brought together hundreds of delegates from all fields of animal protection, rescue, and advocacy.

Focused on how laws can be used creatively to protect nonhuman animals, speakers talked about their successes and challenges, their hopes and their aims. Attendees were able to network, create new alliances, and develop fresh strategies.

During the three-day gathering, delegates heard horrific stories of cruelty and neglect and learnt about the continuing destruction of wildlife habitat. The statistics were shocking, but there are many positive initiatives and breakthroughs in animal welfare and protection throughout the region.

Animals in captivity, animal welfare and religious freedom, the shooting of pet animals by police, combatting the trade in donkey skins, and protecting orangutans were just some of the subjects tackled and numerous speakers provided detailed information about the legislative situation in China.

‘Animal cruelty linked to domestic violence’

Pamela Frasch, who is the dean of the animal law programme and the executive director of the centre for animal law studies at Lewis and Clark law school in Portland, Oregon, in the United States, said one of the hallmarks of being an animal law attorney was creativity.

Frasch told delegates about studies that have shown that people who abuse animals are also more likely to be abusive to human beings. “We find this particularly to be the case within the context of family violence,” Frasch said.

Frasch said that when the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) intervened in a case of animal abuse there was also, almost uniformly, some kind of domestic violence and this could include child abuse or abuse of an elder.

Frasch told delegates about a dog named Chewy, who made the national news in the US after he was left in an airport in Las Vegas along with a note that said: “Hi, I’m Chewy. My owner was in an abusive relationship and couldn’t afford to get me on the flight. She didn’t want to leave me with all her heart, but she had no options.”

The note told how the woman’s boyfriend kicked Chewy when they were fighting and the dog had an injury on his head and probably needed a vet. “I love Chewy so please love and take care of him,” the note ended.

Frasch said that sadly Chewy’s story was not unique and the woman had probably stayed in the abusive relationship longer than she should have because she was concerned about her dog.

Studies show that people are more likely to stay in an abusive relationship because they’re concerned about their animals, Frasch says. Up to 48 percent of victims of family violence had reported that they delayed leaving a dangerous situation because they feared for their pet’s safety and had no safe place to take them.

“It’s a very difficult and very dangerous situation not only for the other family members in the household, but also for any animals that are in the household,” Frasch said.

Frasch told delegates that, until 2006, there were no laws in the US that specifically referenced pets in restraining orders in the case of family violence.

“The problem was that sometimes some of the abusers would be abusing the pet to control the spouse,” Frasch said. “And because the laws did not have any reference in them to pets, they could not go in for a restraining order.”

There was, however, a law that stated that animals were property and victims could get a restraining order if an abuser was harming their property. However, the restraining order didn’t extend to the pet.

One of Frasch’s law students wrote a paper about the need to have pets included in the language of restraining orders. She drew the link between domestic violence and violence against animals.

The paper was published in the Yale Journal of Law & Feminism and, about a year later, a related law was passed in a northeastern state. Now, Frasch says, 36 of the fifty US states specifically include pets in restraining orders.

Frasch also talked to delegates about dog fighting. Dog fighting is not only very brutal, she says, it often includes many other types of organised crime, including illegal gambling, the sale of illegal drugs, and the use of illegal firearms. Children are forced to watch or participate, Frasch says.

All fifty US states now have a felony law against dog fighting and there is also another investigative and prosecutorial tool, the federal Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organisations (RICO) Act.

Frasch also spoke about roadside zoos. She told the story of a bear named Ricky, who lived in a roadside zoo at an ice cream shop in Pennsylvania for 16 years.

Ricky lived in an inadequate enclosure on a fenced-in concrete pad and had no contact with other bears. “It was an incredibly lonely and painful existence,” Frasch said.

The ALDF wanted to file a lawsuit about Ricky, but wildlife was exempt from Pennsylvania’s anti-cruelty laws. There were some wildlife regulations that could perhaps have applied in theory, but Ricky was held captive so was no longer “wildlife”.

The ALDF decided to approach the case from the point of view of sanitation as Ricky was living in an enclosure at an ice cream shop. The fund sued on the basis of public nuisance. It was a thin thread, Frasch says, but it was enough to keep the case in court and force Ricky’s owner, and the owner of the ice cream shop, to negotiate with the ALDF for Ricky’s release. The bear is now in a sanctuary in Colorado.

“You need to be creative and look for avenues to help animals using existing laws,” Frasch told delegates. Activists could use laws relating to tourism, criminal law, environmental law, and laws about land use and health and safety, she said.

“Look for ways that animal cruelty or neglect is connected to a human issue that people care about to broaden the appeal,” Frasch added. “Use the opportunity to educate people about the animal protection issue you’re concerned about.”

Embracing a new eco-civilisation


Jinfen Zhou from the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation talked about legal actions related to biodiversity. He spoke of the need to enter and embrace a new “eco-civilisation”.

Zhou talked about the three elements of animal protection: legislation, spreading knowledge about laws, and law enforcement. As a long-standing deputy and member of the Bills Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), he has been fully involved in the legislative process.

He argues that protecting animals is also protecting humans. Talking about the extinction of bird species, he said we are destroying not only their habitat but also human habitat.

“Human civilisation is facing a crisis; we have to change our lifestyle, our production, and our behaviour, and even our laws,” Zhou said.

Reflecting on the demise of Easter Island, he added: “We just keep chopping down the trees, destroying our environment … The 6th extinction is imminent if we do nothing.”

In the past, animals could run from us, Zhou said. “But now we are so advanced that all the fish will die because people put electrodes into the river. They can electrocute all the fish in one go. If we continue to do this we will destroy the whole biosphere.”

Activists have reported the electrocution of fish in the Yangtze River to the local authorities. “More than 10,000 fish have been electrocuted,” Zhou said. “The ecology of the Yangtze  has been seriously damaged.”

Biodiversity, Zhou says, must be given constitutional status. The Wildlife Protection Law, he says, is really a law on wild animal use. “We need to have a law on biodiversity protection. It would be more comprehensive.”

Animals cannot speak, Zhou says, so we have to be their voice. Zhou gave the example of the pangolin, which is one of the most trafficked mammals in the world.

All eight pangolin species are now listed under Appendix 1 of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), but smuggling has not been prevented because the demand and the market are there, Zhou says.

Every year Chinese customs officers make several hundred thousand confiscations of pangolin scales and body parts.

Pangolins breed very slowly, Zhou points out. Adequate legislation to protect them is urgently needed, he says.

Zhou also talked about the poaching of baby harbour seals to supply aquariums, and the need to better protect the animals. “We should not open new aquariums,” Zhou said. “The animals should be left to live in their natural environment.”

He also talked about bird poaching in the mountains around Dalian; people demolishing birds’ nests to catch them. Law enforcement to stop the practice is very weak, Zhou says.

Zhou also talked about the need for people to change their diet. Chinese people consume twice the recommended amount of meat, he says, and their health is suffering as a result.

He spoke of the need for human-based solutions. “The climate crisis, the biodiversity crisis, all these crises are caused by human beings. Only when we make changes ourselves can we change the habitat situation and our future.”

Animal welfare and religion

The executive director of the Animal People charity, Wolf Gordon Clifton, talked about legal dilemmas relating to animal welfare and religious freedom.

“Religion is one of the most powerful forces influencing the world as we know it, including people’s treatment of animals,” Clifton said.

Worldwide, more than eight in ten people affiliate with a religious tradition, and it’s projected that this number will rise to nearly nine in 10 people by 2060, he added.

“Religion can play an enormously powerful role in shaping human behaviour and actions, including their treatment of animals, whether for good or ill.”

Clifton gave examples of positive religious contributions to the way animals are treated.

Many Hindus and Buddhists are vegetarians, Clifton said, and the concept of ahimsa, which translates as harmlessness, has had a very strong influence on the modern animal rights movement and veganism.

Religious traditions are responsible for some of the world’s most ancient animal welfare regulations, Clifton said.

“These can be found, for example, in the Hebrew Bible or Torah, known to Christians as the Old Testament, and they can be found in the Quran and the Hadiths, or sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.”

The earliest regulations included requirements that an animal be killed in a single clean stroke and there were prohibitions on killing animals within sight or hearing of one another, which unnecessarily increases their fear leading up to their death.

In Buddhism, there is a long history of rulers passing legislation to restrict the killing of animals either for food or in sacrifice or for other purposes.

In China, numerous emperors required Buddhist monks and nuns to be vegetarian. Emperor Gaozu passed a law banning all slaughter of animals for three months of every year and the law endured for almost all of the three hundred years of the Tang Dynasty.

Clifton explained that there are four distinct types of animal sacrifice, with very different purposes. “I believe that understanding these purposes and the beliefs surrounding them can, and should, inform how animal advocates react to these types of tradition,” he said.

The first type of sacrifice is that of “nourishment”, which occurs in religions where it’s believed that the deities or the supreme spirits are reliant on offerings for their survival. These include the Caribbean religion of Santeria.

Then there are symbolic sacrifices in which the deity does not depend on the sacrifice being carried out. They are gestures of devotion. In Hinduism, most offerings are vegetarian, Clifton explained, but animal sacrifice is legal in most Indian states.

The third category of sacrifice is that in which something negative like sin or suffering or pollution is transferred from the human worshipper onto an animal, who suffers in their place. These practices were very common in ancient times, but are less so today. Some such rituals are practised by Orthodox Jews, but are controversial. Some Jews consider them to be not only cruel but antithetical to their religion.

The fourth category is ritual slaughter in which the primary purpose has nothing to do with religion, but is killing animals for human consumption. “The religious aspect comes in essentially to sanctify or to legitimate the killing,” Clifton explained.

“Slaughterers don’t always know or obey the rules of their own religion, and there are sometimes contradictions between this religious concept of animal welfare and a secular legal concept of animal welfare. Ritual slaughter may or may not also be considered a form of sacrifice.”

Clifton talked about the Buddhist practice of mercy releases, during which animals in captivity are bought and released into the wild to generate good karma.

The intention is of course benevolent, Clifton says, but, in practice, there are problems. Often animals are caught in the wild to supply the mercy relief industry and animals may be released in a sick or injured state and be unable to survive in the wild, or they may be non-native to the environment that they’re being released into.

“There are actually many populations of invasive species that began as a result of mercy releases,” Clifton said.

Clifton talked to delegates about the Gadhimai festival in Nepal, which is the largest organised animal sacrifice event in the world. It is held in December every five years.

There is controversy about numbers, but, in 2009, up to 18,000 buffalo and half a million other animals are believed to have been killed during the festival. The numbers killed are definitely in the tens of thousands, and perhaps in the hundreds of thousands, Clifton says.

Leading up to the 2014 festival, the Indian organisation People for Animals lobbied for a ban on the transport of animals across the border to be sacrificed in Nepal and the Supreme Court imposed such a ban.

A large percentage of the Gadhimai celebrants are Indians.

In Nepal, the Jane Goodall Institute also pushed the government to crack down on the transportation of animals and confiscate those that had been brought for sacrifice in violation of disease control laws.

The number of animals killed in 2014 was significantly lower than in 2009.

In 2016, the Supreme Court of Nepal ordered a gradual ban on animal sacrifice, including the Gadhimai sacrifices, Clifton told delegates. However, he says, a timeline has still not been established.

Clifton also talked about a legal action brought by a Santeria church in the US in 1993. The church had purchased land to build a temple in which animal sacrifices would be conducted.

The city imposed a ban on animal sacrifice, but this didn’t cover slaughter for food, hunting and fishing, or pest control. The church sued the city and the case reached the Supreme Court, which ruled that the ban on animal sacrifice was unconstitutional because it violated the US First Amendment, which states that the government shall pass no laws restricting religion or prohibiting its free exercise.

Prosecutions could still be brought in the case of harmful religious practices, for instance under animal cruelty laws. However, the Supreme Court decision has led to authorities being very reluctant to crack down on religious practices, Clifton says, and it is very rare for a person to be convicted of animal cruelty carried out in the name of religion. The sentences in such cases tend to be extremely light.

Currently, eight countries in the European Union have banned all slaughter carried out without stunning, including Kosher and Halal slaughter. Twelve others regulate Kosher and Halal slaughterhouse stunning.

It is argued that such bans unfairly target Jews and Muslims, effectively requiring them to be vegetarian, while allowing the rest of the general public to continue eating meat.

“It doesn’t help that, even though these bans have been initially pursued by animal activists, they’ve also been backed and supported by far-right political parties,” Clifton said.

Clifton says soul searching is needed about whether the outcome of such bans could be counterproductive for animal protection. It could be argued, he says, that the bans divert public attention from general abuses within the meat industry and shift all the blame onto religious minorities while giving a free pass to everyone else who consumes animal products.

One alternative could be private institutions imposing their own bans, Clifton says. In one such case Peking University in Beijing banned Buddhist mercy releases on campus.

Another approach is community engagement, which can be seen in sacred grove restoration projects in India.

The projects were instigated by the C.P.R. Environmental Education Centre (CPREEC) in Tamil Nadu.

Sacred groves are areas of land that are dedicated by communities to gods or spirits and are not used for economic purposes. However, they can still become degraded through illegal activities.

The CPREEC restores these sites by reintroducing native plants and animals and repairing local religious sites on the condition that the communities cease sacrificial practices.

“In this case, the abolition of animal sacrifice is a positive by-product of this general engagement with the community,” Clifton said. “And, so far, 52 sacred groves have been restored across three Indian states.”

A sacred Hindu grove near Chandod on the banks of the Narmada River, drawn by James Forbes, 1782.

In every society and culture there are people who care about animals and who will seek to reform their own traditions from within, Clifton told AfA delegates.

“This can be seen in the small yet growing vegan Muslim movement, which consists of Muslims who argue that, given their religion’s teachings on compassion for animals, it is a better practice of Islam in the modern age to avoid killing and eating animals.”

A new ‘Elephant Experience’

Dave Neale, who is the animal welfare director for the Animals Asia Foundation (AAF), gave a presentation about the work the foundation is doing with local people to improve the welfare of elephants used in tourism. The AAF is working to bring an end to riding elephants for tourism.

The number of elephants being used for riding by tourists in Vietnam is incredibly small and has dropped dramatically to just over forty, Neale told delegates.

However, the animals spend most of the day chained to a tree, waiting for tourists to come and ride them. They are often left standing in the heat without proper shade, and only intermittent access to water.

Most tourist riding of elephants happens in Thailand and Myanmar, but it also takes place in India.

In Vietnam, elephants are owned either by a local individual or a group of families, Neale says. The animals are either used by the owners or are rented out to a tourism company.

An elephant being prodded with a bullhook. Photo courtesy of the Animals Asia Foundation.

Neale says it’s important to respect the fact that elephants are part of day-to-day tradition among families in Vietnam. There was a need to provide as much freedom as possible for the elephants, but also to ensure that the elephant owners had an income, he said. A main goal was developing partnerships with local people.

It became clear at a conference in January 2017 that the elephant owners themselves wished to find an alternative to using the elephants for riding, Neale said.

After the conference, an elephant conservation centre was set up. Then, there was a major breakthrough in July 2018 when the operators of the Yok Don National Park expressed interest in exploring whether there was an alternative to using elephants for riding.

The AAF has signed a five-year agreement with the national park. Under the accord, the six elephants in the park are not to be used for riding and the AAF is providing compensation for the ensuing loss of income. The AAF aims to show that an alternative tourism model (visitors seeing five of the elephants, from a distance, in their forest environment, socialising in a natural way) can be financially viable.

The new Elephant Experience tours started in October 2018.

Neale says the mahouts enjoy talking about their elephants and are happy that the animals are healthier.

Hnon, a former tourism elephant, now has the freedom to roam in the Yok Don National Park. Photo courtesy of the Animals Asia Foundation.

Legal advocacy for performing animals

Hu Chunmei from Freedom for Animal Actors spoke about legal advocacy for performing animals. She talked about travelling circuses in which the conditions for the animals are very harsh. She spoke about African elephants being chained underground and bears huddling together because they were so cold. The teeth of tigers and bears would be pulled out, Chunmei said.

Two articles of China’s Wildlife Protection Law govern animal performance, Chunmei says, but there are loopholes in the law.

Under Article 27, to use wildlife for performance a circus has to get approval from the competent local authority and have a unique ID. The circus has to be traceable. A large proportion of the circuses Chunmei has studied lacked the required permits and were therefore illegal.

Article 26 governs artificial breeding of protected animals and the conditions under which those animals should be kept.

The law states that cruelty against animals is not permitted, but cruelty is not defined and there are no specifics about legal responsibility in the case of violation and no details about how offenders should be penalised.

There is no basic standard relating to the conditions of captivity of wildlife in China so the law is very difficult to enforce in reality, Chunmei says. Activists make use of the wildlife legislation and other laws such as those relating to public safety.

Activists are pushing for a definition of wildlife crime, bans on wildlife being used for performance and on tiger breeding for commercial purposes, and an end to imports of wildlife.

Chunmei shared some successes such as the decision, in 2017, after much lobbying, that there would no longer be animal performances at the China International Circus Festival, which is organised by the government.

Also, about 10,000 people supported activists in their bid to prevent important ocean habitat for the Chinese white dolphin being used as a venue for the international circus and the project failed to get official approval.

Photo courtesy of the WWF. © Lindsay Porter

There are two zoos where Chinese white dolphins are kept in captivity. In one of them, the dolphin, called Big White, was being used for performance. The dolphin’s beak was broken, Chunmei told AfA delegates.

“In 2017 we revealed the terrible welfare state of this dolphin and last year he was no longer performing, but the environment in which he is living in the zoo is terrible. The pool is very small. He cannot recover from his beak injury,” she said.

In 2013, the Ministry of Housing and Urban Development issued a National Zoo Development Programme, Chunmei explained. There were two mentions in the document of the complete stoppage of animal performance. “It sounds very good,” Chunmei said. “But it is only a document. It is not legally binding. It has no legal teeth and cannot be the foundation for law enforcement.”

Chunmei explained that many aquariums are privately run and the operators can argue that the government document is not enforceable in their case. She also cited the case of a zoo in which the performing arena was outsourced to an outside circus, and the contract couldn’t be breached before it expired.

There are newly built zoos and aquariums that are housing imported wildlife, Chunmei says, and some of those animals are listed as protected under Appendix 1 of CITES.

However, she says, certain public zoos have cancelled animal performance or changed the way animals perform. Activists have meanwhile succeeded in stopping 38 mobile animal performances.

“If you can stop only one performance,” Chunmei said, “you allow the animal to rest.”

‘Legislation needs to be strengthened’

Ping Mang, a professor from the Academy of Chinese Culture, who founded China Zoo Watch, also talked about the need to strengthen animal protection legislation.

Mang says that, traditionally, Chinese people care about animal welfare. It is something that is deeply rooted in Chinese culture, she says, but it has almost been lost in modern times.

“However, people still have a kind heart, benevolence, and empathy towards animals,” Mang said. “People can be moved or touched if we tell them how animals are suffering.”

We need to look around us, Mang says. “There are a lot of changes all across the world, environmental changes, changes in ethics. We cannot be isolated from the rest of the world.”

Mang believes that education and books are vital in enabling people to gain a deeper understanding of animal welfare issues.

“A lot of Chinese people think that animal protection is coming from the West, but they never realise that our traditions, our cultures, are also a very strong source for us to protect animals,” she said.

Mang says there have been dramatic changes in Chinese society over the past ten to twenty years. For instance, in September this year, the Ministry of Agriculture published, on its official website, its response to a proposal by a National People’s Congress delegate about animal cruelty legislation.

“The Minister of Agriculture has made it very clear that there will be changes as regards animal protection,” Mang said.

“There are insufficient laws and regulations relating to animal cruelty so we cannot crack down effectively on offenders. It is very necessary to improve our legislation.”

In the area of animal protection, the government’s administrative regulations are very effective and are sometimes stronger than the laws, Mang says.

The ministry’s response is an admission by the Chinese government that adequate laws are lacking and it is necessary to legislate, Mang says. “This,” she said, “is progress.” The response includes references to performing animals.

“In the near future we will achieve 100 percent stoppage of animal performance in all zoos in China,” Mang told AfA delegates.

Along with the Wildlife Protection Law, China has a livestock law, and lab animal management regulations. The lab animal regulations are very advanced, Mang says, but the Wildlife Protection Law needs to be revised. “In Taiwan,” she said, “the animal protection law is revised every two years.”

Public opinion needs to be taken into account in revision of the Wildlife Protection Law, Mang says. NGOs, she says, can make a very positive contribution.

Different Chinese authorities have overlapping responsibilities for zoos, Mang says. “This is bad for wild animals. When you have different authorities managing the zoos there will always be loopholes because nobody is taking comprehensive responsibility. We need to push for an integrated management authority.”

China Zoo Watch produced a major report after visiting 21 of China’s 25 wildlife zoos in 2003 and 2004. Living conditions in the zoos were dire, Mang says.

The report included information about live feeding, in which live horses, cattle, and sheep are put into the pens of predator animals like tigers and the public are able to watch the feeding. “Children were crying,” Mang said. “Adolescents were covering their eyes. It was too bloody for minors and even for adults.”

Such practices can make people indifferent to suffering, Mang says. “If you can watch a live feeding, it’s not going to bother you very much if you see a girl lying on the ground.

“If people are indifferent and cruel to animals, it’s very likely that the society will remain indifferent to the weak.”

China Zoo Watch has proposed that no more wildlife zoos should be built in the country, that the number of existing zoos should be reduced, and that there should be a ban on live feeding and animal riding.

Mang says China’s State Forestry Administration (SFA) called the general managers of all the country’s zoos to a two-day meeting and, after heated discussion, all of them agreed to stop live feeding.

‘10,000 dogs killed by police annually’

Chris Green from the Harvard Law School shared some shocking statistics about the number of dogs killed by police in the US.

The US Department of Justice estimates that police kill 10,000 pet dogs every year and Green thinks the number could be much higher.

Green talked about the increasing militarisation of US police forces and the massive number of operations carried out by Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams.

He told delegates about one operation in St. Louis, Missouri, in April 2014 in which a SWAT team raided the home of the Zorich family to investigate whether or not there was a gas supply to the house and, during the raid, shot and killed the family’s dog.

After a civil trial, St. Louis County agreed to pay Angela Zorich $750,000 in settlement.

Green told delegates that the number one reason why a police officer in the US fires a weapon is to shoot at a dog. “In some cities that proportion is as high as 75 percent of the time,” he said.

There was one case, Green said, of a police officer shooting at a dog and hitting his partner. One officer ended up shooting his boss, and one ended up shooting himself. In one case, a woman riding past on a bike was shot when police were aiming at a dog.

In another case, police opened fire on a dog at a party and the bullets bounced off the pavement, injuring one of the officers and killing a 17-year-old boy.

In yet another case, a woman in a domestic dispute called 911. When a police officer tried to separate the husband and wife, who were fighting, the family dog tried to protect the woman. The police officer tried to shoot the dog, slipped on some ice, and ended up shooting and killing the woman in front of her three-year-old son.

The surviving family members got $2 million in an out-of-court settlement from the city of Burlington, Iowa.

In a case in Columbus, the city agreed to a $780,000 settlement after four-year-old Ava Ellis was shot. The girl had been playing in her living room with her siblings when a police officer came to the front door. The family dog ran to the door. The police officer started firing at the dog and ended up shooting Ava.

The reason police officers most commonly give for shooting dogs is that they fear for their lives and feel that using lethal force to protect themselves is their only option.

Green says he has searched through every record since 1791 of a police officer being killed in cases involving animals and there wasn’t a single documented case of an officer ever being killed in a dog attack.

However, over those 228 years three officers were killed by bees, two by cows, one by a spider, and one by a cat.

Green told of one police officer in Detroit who, as of last year, had shot eighty domestic dogs during his time in the force, and another who shot 39.

One officer in Buffalo, New York, shot 26 dogs in two years.

Green cited the case in Saint Jose in 2003 of police shooting several dogs when raiding the home of members of the Saint Jose charter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club. The Hells Angels received a settlement of $2 million plus half a million dollars in attorney’s fees.

In a case in in Maryland in 2017, $1.26 million was awarded to a family whose dog was shot by a police officer. “A full $750,000 of that was for the emotional value of the pet,” Green said.

Animal-encounter training of police officers is the answer, Green says. The US justice department created a manual about dealing with “dog-related incidents and encounters” and distributed it to law enforcement agencies around the country.

It’s pointed out in the manual that the body language that police are trained to use is exactly the same body language that dogs perceive as a threat. The way that dogs respond to a threat, by barking and growling, is behaviour that makes police feel threatened. “The single best tool to defuse a charging dog is a fire extinguisher, and every single police car has one in them,” Green told AfA delegates.

Green said that, in New York, where there is great training and close collaboration with the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), only nine dogs were shot by police in 2014. In Los Angeles, eight dogs were shot by police in 2015.

In Chicago, before animal-encounter training was introduced in 2017, the average over a ten-year period was 90 dogs killed by police every year. Within one year of the training being introduced, the number  had dropped dramatically. It fell 67 percent as compared with 2014 (from 73 dogs in 2014 to 24 in 2017).

Shootings also dramatically reduced in Buffalo, New York, after animal-encounter training was introduced in 2013 (from 34 down to one).

In 2015, Colorado, was the first US state to pass statewide legislation mandating that every law enforcement officer had to have training in animal encounters.

Texas followed suit with a law in 2015. Before the law came into effect police officers in Texas shot 281 dogs in one year. Two years later the number had dropped to 32 and this year 17 dogs have been shot to date.

The trade in donkey skins

Photo © The Donkey Sanctuary.

Edie Bowles, who co-founded the UK’s first animal protection law firm, Advocates for Animals, talked to AfA delegates about using laws to tackle the donkey skin trade.

The horrors of the donkey skin trade have been spoken about at previous AfA conferences.

In January 2017 The Donkey Sanctuary, which is also based in the UK, and runs programmes in forty countries, produced a report entitled “Under the Skin“, which details the devastating scale of the trade.

The report details how donkey skins are boiled down into a gelatine, which is then turned into a medicinal product called ejiao. This is sold, mostly in China, and is used as a blood tonic.

Bowles told AfA delegates that since Advocates for Animals was launched in March this year there has been huge interest from people across the world. This shows that there is growing momentum within the animal protection movement to use the law creatively to protect animals, Bowles says.

Advocates for Animals works with The Donkey Sanctuary to combat the donkey skin trade.

Bowles told delegates that ejiao has become so popular in China that it is now advertised on mainstream TV.

“This demand has meant that there is huge pressure on donkey populations across the world,” she said.

The donkey population in China has more than halved since 1992, dropping from 11 million to 4.6 million, Bowles says.

“This means that the donkey skins that are needed for the trade can no longer be sourced domestically and instead industry is looking outside of China to source those donkey skins.”

Africa’s large donkey population is a key target in the donkey skin trade, Bowles says, and donkeys are often sold or stolen to supply the trade. People will even tie donkeys to their beds for fear of them being stolen.

“The initial financial gain that is obtained through selling your donkey is dwarfed by the financial loss,” Bowles told delegates.

In Kenya, for example, donkeys are said to contribute, on average, $2,272 per year to the community whereas they are sold for about $145.

Donkey slaughter is often carried out illegally in the African bush, and there are cases of donkeys being skinned alive. Donkeys are put into overcrowded holding pens to await slaughter and include pregnant and diseased animals.

There are very poor transport conditions, with donkeys being transported for hours and even days, and there is no food or water in the holding pens, Bowles says, and there is extra pressure on the remaining donkeys to work harder.

“It is roughly calculated that around two thousand donkeys per day are being slaughtered within East Africa,” Bowles said. “At this rate the donkeys would be gone within four years to meet the demand.”

There are serious biosecurity risks in the donkey skin trade, Bowles says. “Donkeys are prone to diseases such as equine flu and African horse sickness. There is a high risk that these diseases will find their way into the ejiao production system,” she told delegates.

Bowles outlined some of the tools that advocates are looking to use to combat the donkey skin trade in East Africa, and specifically in Tanzania: private prosecutions, international shipping laws, and working with the East African Legislative Assembly. Judicial review, in which a claim is made to the High Court for a review of a decision made by a public body, is another option, Bowles says, but it would only be used as a last resort as it is costly and time-consuming.

“We have video and photographic evidence from a slaughterhouse within Tanzania that shows a range of welfare offences,” Bowles told delegates. “These include animals arriving weak, sick, and diseased; animals being dragged off lorries as they arrive. All of these things are contrary to transport and animal welfare legislation.”

The advocates hav also seen a photo of a large foetus next to donkey carcasses. “This is contrary to transportation regulations that say you can’t transport heavily pregnant animals,” Bowles said. “There’s also lots of evidence of a failure to stun for slaughter.”

The donkey skin trade in Africa is essentially a regional problem, Bowles says. She has heard officials from countries within East Africa saying that they can’t ban the donkey skin trade if other countries in East Africa continue it. “What happens is donkeys just get smuggled across the border,” Bowles explained. “Currently this matter is with one of the assembly committees and we’re waiting to see how they proceed.”

Advocates for Animals believes that, under international transportation regulations, donkey skins could constitute a hazardous material because of the chemicals that they are washed in and the diseases and bacteria that may be contained in the skins.

When The Donkey Sanctuary began its campaign against the skin trade in 2017, only five countries had imposed a ban, but now the trade is banned in 18 countries.

This shows that real progress is being made on the ground, Bowles says. “However, we should absolutely not get complacent,” she added.

“The current rate of demand is so high and the donkey population does face the risk of shrinking. Beijing Forestry University has said that the donkey is at risk of becoming the next pangolin.”

Protecting orangutans

One of the working groups at the Dalian conference was about the challenge of protecting orangutans. Hardi Baktiantoro from the Centre for Orangutan Protection (COP) in Indonesia told delegates that COP has rescued about 2,500 orangutans.

Hardi talked about the horrific injuries suffered by orangutans captured by oil palm plantations workers. “They usually tie their hands with a metal wire or plastic rope,” Hardi said. Orangutans, including babies, are found with their fingers chopped off with a machete.

Most rescued orangutans have air rifle bullet wounds, Hardi says. One orangutan found by the COP team in February 2018 in the Kutai National Park in East Kalimantan, where there has been encroachment by oil palm plantation smallholders, had 128 bullets in his body, including seventy in his head.

In 2018, COP launched a nationwide “Banana-not -Bullet” Valentine’s Day’s campaign to highlight the killing of orangutans.

Hardi pointed to the low rate of prosecution of those known to have killed orangutans, and the light sentences.

He told delegates that the palm oil industry earns $23 billion a year in revenue for Indonesia. Many concession areas overlap with orangutan habitat, he says, so human-orangutan conflict is inevitable.

New laws are needed so that, when there is criminal activity, the company owners can be targeted, Hardi says. However, there is a lack of transparency about company ownership. “With most of the companies, we never know who is the real owner,” Hardi said.

In most cases, Hardi says, local shell companies are used when forests are cleared for oil palms.

Sari Fitriani from COP told delegates about COP school, where selected students learn about animal welfare and protection over six days. After COP school, which is held in Yogyakarta, each student is assigned a task that will help orangutans or other wildlife.

After nine COP schools, there are already 270 alumni, including five students from outside Indonesia, who are all members of the Orangufriends group, which fights crime against orangutans and other wildlife. Orangufriends volunteer in rehabilitation centres, help improve conditions in zoos, and do fundraising and campaigning.

Huge challenges remain, Hardi says, and there needs to be vigilance, even when palm oil companies say they are reserving land as a conservation area.

“We are dealing with money that can buy anything, including government policy,” he said.

Engaging politicians and government

Louis Ng Kok Kwang from Singapore spoke at AfA 2019 about his journey from animal rights activism to politics. There was controversy when he entered politics in 2015, not least because he joined the ruling People’s Action Party.

Entering politics was no overnight decision, Ng says. He was very influenced, he says, by discussions he had with the then Minister for Law and Foreign Affairs (now Minister for Law) K. Shanmugam.

Ng told AfA delegates about the first public forum on animal welfare policies in Singapore, which took place in 2011. The hall was packed. “The minister and myself took the stage,” Ng said. “We took feedback. We got scolded, which is a very rare thing in Singapore. The minister got booed as well.”

Three years later legislation was introduced into parliament to strengthen animal welfare.

Ng said that, after years during which activists were banging their heads against the wall lobbying against the government, he realised that there was a different way: collaboration rather than confrontation.

“Within a span of three years, we managed to increase the penalties for animal abuse and cruelty in Singapore,” Ng said. “We managed to introduce duty of care. We introduced a lot of things which I had been fighting for for ten years, and we succeeded by working from within.”

When, in 2015, K. Shanmugam asked Ng if he was willing to stand for election as an MP he said yes.

“I wanted to be in a position where I could effect policy changes, which would ultimately help a lot more animals. I wanted to be in a position where I can change legislation,” Ng said.

The party worked hard to rebrand Ng as a man who didn’t just care about animals, but also helped people, but, on election day, he was caught in a bind when, in full glare of the cameras, a cat approached him. Ng petted the cat, and that was the photo of the budding MP that the media used.

“I became the MP with the biggest mouth,” Ng said. “I’ve asked the most questions, given the most speeches, put my hands up as much as I can to speak up, but I always remember my whole life mission, which is to speak up for animals as well.”

Ng used to petition the government, but is now the person being petitioned. He advised AfA delegates about the art of campaigning, from a politician’s perspective: be prepared, make sure your facts are correct, use both science and emotion, include as many Asian case studies as you can, be constructive, be prepared to compromise, and don’t take the moral high ground.

“This is a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” Ng said. “You have to last to the end. If you’re sprinting all the time, it’s very unlikely that you’ll make it to the end.”

Ng spoke about some of the recent successes in Singapore: the domestic ivory ban that will come into effect in 2021, better scanning technology at Singapore ports and checkpoints, and a ban on the serving of shark fins at public events organised by the government. There is no more cat culling in Ng’s constituency, and nationwide, he says, they are close to ending the culling of pigeons.

The Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR) programme has been nationalised in Singapore, so no more dogs are culled. All the dogs are tracked and neutered.

Pet industry regulations are being reviewed and will be tightened. Pet ownership regulations will also be tightened. One aim is to get all cats microchipped to prevent abandonment.

Also, the government has financed the building of animal shelters that they rent to welfare groups. The groups were thus spared the task of raising funds to cover the capital costs.

Ng cited another success; something he had been battling about for ten years: “Last year, if you ran over a cat in the road in Singapore, you didn’t need to stop to render assistance. But, if you ran over a dog, you would need to stop. The legislation was so old it was really protecting farm animals.”

Now the legislation has been amended to cover all animals, Ng says. “Now, if you hit any animal you have to stop and render assistance.”

Ng is going to table legislation for a new wildlife protection Act. “As a member of the ruling party, when I table a bill it will pass because we have the majority in parliament. So we’re finally going to have new legislation that will protect our wildlife.”

The new legislation would ban mercy releases, the feeding of wildlife, and animal trafficking.

Ng says being a politician is a very lonely journey. “I do hope you think about entering politics,” he told AfA delegates. “Maybe one day we can have an ‘Asian MPs for Animals’.

“Wouldn’t that be cool if all the MPs actually meet and talk about animal welfare. It is not so far-fetched because we have an ‘ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights’, which I’m a part of.”

Ng urged activists to keep sensitising MPs and ministers to animal welfare issues. “With political will, a lot of doors will be opened, and anything can be changed. Nothing is impossible as long as there’s political will to do it.”

Moderator Andrew Rowan, who is the president of WellBeing International, agreed with Ng’s point about marathon campaigns.

“I started promoting the idea of alternative animal research in 1976, 43 years ago. Today I can say that we’re going to end the use of animals in safety testing in the next five or ten years.

“It’s going to happen, and then we’re going to end the use of animals in painful research altogether. The technology has got to the point where it’s quicker to use alternative technology than to use lab animals; and more scientific. You produce better results.”

Model Animal Welfare Act

On Day 2 of AfA 2019, delegates heard about the Model Animal Welfare Act, which was produced by Janice Cox and Sabine Lennkh from World Animal Net (WAN), and was presented to the conference by WAN president Wim DeKok.

The model Act was designed to serve as a basic template and guidance document for those interested in enacting new legislation or improving existing animal protection legislation and takes into account best practice in the field.

“It is aspirational in nature; seeking to provide the best possible structures, systems and provisions to protect the welfare of animals,” the authors state. “This may mean that countries which are just starting to establish animal welfare requirements might decide to introduce its provisions progressively. In such cases, a strategic approach (step-wise and prioritised) is recommended.”

Cox and Lennkh recommend that, where a country has a federal system, the model Act is introduced at national level, in preference to state, provincial, or other regional levels.

“It represents an international unification and harmonisation of animal protection and welfare legislation, which can be adapted or modified – if the circumstances require – in common law as well as civil law systems,” they said.



1= 5 euro, x 2 = 10 euro, X 3 =15 euro, etc.