Flourishing Finish to the 106th Congress

A number of important bills were signed into law in the year 2000, hopefully signaling a move in our nation’s legislative branch toward compassion and conservation that will carry through the 107th Congress and beyond.

In December, two significant bills were enacted. 1) The Shark Finning Prohibition Act effectively prohibits the ruthless practice of hacking off the fins of live sharks and throwing them back into the ocean to die in agony. 2) The Chimpanzee Health Improvement, Maintenance and Protection Act (CHIMP Act) provides thirty million dollars from the budget of the National Institutes of Health to establish a national system of sanctuaries to provide for the long-term care of chimpanzees no longer needed in biomedical research. This legislation will enable a peaceful, appropriate retirement for chimpanzees exploited in American biomedical testing laboratories.

To conserve the rapidly disappearing great apes remaining in the wild, the Great Ape Conservation Act was enacted. The bill establishes a fund to support projects related to chimpanzees, bonobos, gorillas, orangutans and gibbons. Grants distributed under this Act are intended to stabilize the species’ populations in the wild and ensure their long-term viability. Logging—both legal and illegal—is destroying these species’ African and Asian forest homes. This loss of valuable habitat and the growing trade in the flesh of great apes, the “bushmeat trade,” has already reduced many populations to mere remnants.

Other bills signed into law would help animals engaged in law enforcement: one ends the Department of Defense’s practice of euthanizing military working dogs and instead facilitates their adoption; another provides for strict penalties against anyone who harms police dogs and horses used by Federal agencies. Still other successfully enacted legislation bans the sale of garments trimmed with cat or dog fur and encourages acceptance of alternatives to animal testing.

The Congressional Appropriations process also has increased funding for animal protection by federal agencies. 1) Animal Care Inspectors for the US Department of Agriculture had a desperately needed budget increase of two million dollars to undertake their essential enforcement of the Animal Welfare Act. President Clinton’s initial budget request for this item was a five million dollar increase. Efforts will continue to secure this much-needed funding. 2) An additional $500,000 was appropriated for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to protect manatees, the marine relative of the elephant, and their habitat. The money will be used to increase on-water law enforcement to prevent illegal speeding by motorboats whose propellers wound and kill manatees. 3) Fish and Wildlife also received an additional $7 million to hire new law enforcement agents and $2 million for the wildlife forensics laboratory in Oregon.

Many bills will be revisited in the year to come. Among them legislation to end: 1) the despicable trade in bear gallbladders for use in traditional Chinese medicine, 2) the sale of dogs and cats to laboratories by random source dealers, 3) the use of the barbaric steel-jaw leghold trap, 4) the transport of game birds for cockfighting, and 5) the unjustified practice of paying to shoot a confined wildlife, referred to as “canned hunts.”

Top Photo: The mountain gorilla is now being joined on the world’s most endangered list by all its closest living relatives, except man. Expert predictions reveal that chimpanzees, orangutans and bonobos as well as all gorillas may be extinct within 20 years. (Born Free Foundation)

Bottom Photo:  Additional funding from the Congress for the USFWS hopefully will help ensure young manatees, such as the ones pictured, will be able to play without being injured or killed by speeding boats. (Douglas Faulkner)