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PAWS International Captive Wildlife Conference 2014- Compassion In Action

By Georja Umano

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The PAWS  (Performing Animal Welfare Society) International Captive Wildlife Conference took place this fall in Burbank, Calif. PAWS co-founder and co-director Pat Derby, although deceased for more than a year (and greatly missed by all), was very much the center and inspiration for the gathering. It was her impetus that created the three-day Elephant Summits of the past, which brought together elephant researchers, elephant conservationists and elephant activists from all over the world. (Please see previous articles on these in LASplash - links at end of this article.) The 2014 Conference, put together largely by Catherine Doyle, the Director of Science, Research and Advocacy, has expanded the theme to include other species, most of which are also represented at the sanctuary and have been rescued from dire situations.

Pat Derby, Inspiration and Guardian Angel of the conference


Day One was focused again on Elephants, and Day Two of the Conference was specifically devoted to other animals.  I attended Day Two and found it to be stimulating, informative and overflowing with creative experts devoted to helping our fellow Earthlings.

Co-founder and director of PAWS, and host of the conference Ed Stewart told the audience of animal lovers that, when he first started his journey with Pat Derby back in 1976, she took him on animal training programs.  “If people who went to the movies could only see how dismally they lived.” She had written a book about it in 1973, The Lady and Her Tiger, and people wanted to make a movie out of it, but it would have been necessary to utilize more abused animals to do it.  The bottom line is, “There is no right way to have an animal in captivity.”


Catherine Doyle and Ed Stewart

Today, luckily, new technologies in film and advertising allow for replacing wild animals in entertainment.  Two of the inspirational speakers at the conference included Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, film writers and producers of Dawn of the Planet of the Apes and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. They fought the good fight not to use animals in their productions. In their case it was not hard to convince the other producers, as CGI (computer generated imagery) is cheaper, and besides, you could never train an animal to depict a complex character as required by the script.

Their films have helped to start a trend. In Noah, one of the greatest animal stories of all time, not a single live animal was used.


Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver

However, in the case of chimps, Judy Galucci, formerly with PETA and now a primate welfare consultant, reminded us that many chimps are still being used today in film, TV and advertising, including the Scorsese film Wolf of Wall Street, as well as many car dealership ads.  Born in captivity, these chimps can only be used when very young. They are taken from their mothers when only a few days old and reared by humans, which is very traumatic. In the wild, chimps stay with their mothers for eight years.  Not permitting them this normal nurturing is both physical and psychological abuse. These chimps later become dangerous. Those reared by humans, when they get older, have not learned to engage with other chimps.  A former “actor” or someone’s pet could now be stuck in some uncredited roadside zoo, subsisting off garbage. 


All engaged at conference

In 1981 Stephen Wise thought himself the first animal protection lawyer. Former president of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, he has spent the past 37 years studying philosophy and the world history of law to discover what legal rights are and why we have them. Persons have them and things have no legal abilities.  What principles do judges feel are behind them? Human slaves until 1865 were legal “things,” much like animals today. You cannot go to court and represent the rights of animals.

In 2013, Stephen Wise argued that nonhuman animals should have rights and for the first time became an animal rights attorney. He started the Nonhuman Rights Project in 2007 and brought in more lawyers. By 2011 there were 70 who worked between 20-30,000 hours to go through the animal laws in each state. By 2012 their efforts were focused on six states - six states in which every abused ape and elephant in those states was researched. 


Will a chimpanzee be the first animal with nonhuman rights

For the first case, the lawyers decided to go with two chimps in a roadside zoo in New York state. Sadly, those chimps died before it came to court. Six other cases were brought to light of chimps in roadside zoos. The lawyers met Tommy, and he became the poster-boy for legal personhood. Wise is prepared to take the case to the highest court in New York as part of a strategic plan.  An autonomous self-determined being cannot be enslaved the way Tommy is.  The value of autonomy is treasured in the courts.  We value autonomy over the life of the person, more important than life itself.  The judges agree that chimpanzees are autonomous, too.  Personhood has nothing to do with biology. All kinds of beings who are not persons have been given personhood.  There are also plans in the works to give personhood to elephants.

Barbara Baker chronicling all captive elephants in the USA

There are experts on chimps from around the world and elephant cognition experts to show judges that elephants are autonomous and self-determining the way chimps are. This is all part of the first step, says Wise, who quoted Winston Churchill when the British beat the Germans in North Africa: “Finally we won. It’s not the end, not even the beginning of the end, but maybe the end of the beginning.”


Ed Stewart at the PAWS sanctuary

Another fascinating speaker was David Casselman of Casselman Law Group. He is founder of the Cambodian Wildlife Sanctuary on the last remaining million acres of wild land in that country. He has spent seven years prosecuting a case pro bono versus the LA Zoo, and it is still in appeal. The judge has ruled that all is not well at the exhibit, and elephants are not happy, healthy and thriving. Significant progress has occurred in those years. It is possible that the Court of Appeals could issue an opinion to tell the LA Zoo they cannot keep elephants humanely.  If the most expensive modern zoo is not adequate, such a finding could affect all other zoos. Casselman sees this as “a chance to close the exhibit here and maybe everywhere.”


Manny Oteyza

Manny Oteyza, producer of the famous documentary Blackfish about the abuse of orcas at SeaWorld, spoke.  Thanks to his film and its screening multiple times on CNN, over 24 million people have seen it. SeaWorld’s stocks have fallen, and recently the CEO had to step down. Bands, airlines, even kids have turned their backs on SeaWorld.  Whales in captivity and other animals will benefit if the protest continues.

Lincoln O’Barry spoke of the Dolphin Project. All captive dolphins can be rehabbed and released. All those who have been freed are now living with their original pods. Orcas and whales bred in captivity will need sanctuaries. This solution is being explored now and will become an important part of the advocacy.

Dr. Lori Marino, president of the Kimmela Center for Animal Advocacy, laid out the contrasts between orcas living in the wild with lots of space, travel, social networks, strong emotional bonds, being able to raise their children, planning ahead, contrasted with orcas in captiviity that have no challenges, no control and eat dead fish.  Clearly, they are unable to thrive in captivity.


The beautiful grounds of PAWS sanctuary

We were also informed of the saga of big cats in this country, of which there are approximately 14,000 brought in from the wild for circuses and theme parks, zoos and pet trade.  Half of these are tigers. William Nimmo, founder of Tigers in America, has found and taken on some of the neediest and sickest of the tigers. One of the most endangered species in their native lands, tigers have been found unkempt, in too-close proximity to humans, with behavioral stress and its effects, and thus extremely dangerous to the humans. He often finds sparse enclosures, broken glass and terrible smells.  Some tigers dead.  Heartbreaking.

Dr. Jennifer Conrad

Dr. Jen Conrad, wildlife veterinarian, and founder and director of The Paw Project, tells of felines from lions to kittens that undergo amputations in the “de-clawing” process, which actually removes parts of their paws, leaving most of them in excruciating pain and many crippled. Claws grow from bone, so it is the bone that is being cut.  She speaks about de-clawing (as does her popular documentary ) and does repair surgery around the country. “Human beings have responsibility of guardianship of animals,” she says. People often deny this and say we are anthropomorphizing. “We should take it back,“ says Conrad.  “Prove to us they don’t have pain.”


A tiger at PAWS

The day was jam-packed with many other expert speakers who inspired and urged the crowd of advocates to carry on.  Although, William Nimmo from Tigers in America gave a warning:  “Be careful what you say…

There seems to be a tiger problem….you’re an enthusiast.

We should tell someone…you’re an activist.

We should do something…you’re an extremist.

We should stop the breeding…you’re a terrorist.”


Pat Stewart with Georja Umano

Judging by the overflow of focused passion and creativity for animals at the conference, it seems like the movement is headed into the mainstream. Hopefully, we might be getting near the end of the beginning.


Georja Umano is an actress and animal activist.


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Published on Dec 12, 2014

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