HSUS Smear Campaign
Last month the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) attempted to smear the good name of TIGERS with lawmakers in South Carolina. They passed out a handout characterizing TIGERS as a “roadside zoo,” alleging “violations” of the federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA), and citing “inspection reports” from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Well nothing could have been further from the truth. TIGERS has never had a violation of the AWA. And now USDA has taken steps to prevent animal rights activists from misusing their good work to defame legitimate stakeholders.
As some of you may know, there is a bill in the South Carolina legislature that seeks to regulate the ownership of big cats, non-native bears and great apes. It will require owners to have a USDA license or register their animals with local animal control. Last month, TIGERS attended a committee hearing on the bill at the House Agriculture Committee. During the hearing HSUS testified that they would like to see all primates added to the list of animals regulated, and further, they wanted all owners to be accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), a private trade association that has the endorsement of HSUS with an agreement to promote HSUS ideology.
Intention to Deceive
After the hearing, the HSUS lobbyist gave the bill sponsor a handout that implied TIGERS was a sub-par “roadside zoo” with multiple “violations” of the AWA. As evidence, the handout cited USDA “inspection reports.” When the citations in the handout were followed, they didn’t lead to the USDA website, but to the website for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PeTA). PeTA, using the publicly available, pre-decisional reports that had been available on the USDA website, had created their own ideologically based interpretations designed to make stakeholders look like villains. The actual reports were quite benign, and amounted only to minor “non-compliance” issues that every zoo deals with every day.
A teachable moment is a minor non-compliant item that: 1) the facility is willing and able to correct quickly; 2) is not impacting the welfare of any animal(s); and 3) has not previously been cited. — USDA/APHIS, January 2016
There is a huge difference between a “non-compliance” issue, and a “violation.” These minor compliance issues are easily corrected prior to USDA follow up; facts conveniently omitted by PeTA, and happily exaggerated by HSUS to indict TIGERS for “violations.” Violations are serious, and constitute grounds for USDA to revoke a stakeholder’s license. Again, TIGERS has never had a violation of the Animal Welfare Act.
TIGERS/ Myrtle Beach Safari
The Institute of Greatly Endangered and Rare Species (TIGERS) is one of the top wildlife preserves in the country. We are accredited by the Zoological Association of America and licensed, inspected and regulated by the USDA. Our facility is built outside of Myrtle Beach on 50 acres and houses approximately 100 animals. We have invested millions of dollars in a state-of-the-art, interactive facility that is unmatched anywhere in the country. Our investment in handler training, humane care, secure containment, and enrichment for our animal ambassadors, is far beyond what is required by the USDA. We are proud of the fact that we bring millions of tourist dollars into South Carolina every year.
USDA Moves to Protect Stakeholders from Animal Rights Abuses
Because of abuses by HSUS, PeTA and other animal rights groups, the USDA has changed it’s policy about the types of information made available on their website.
USDA/APHIS is implementing actions to remove documents it posts on APHIS’ website involving the Animal Welfare Act (AWA) that contain personal information. These documents include inspection reports, research facility annual reports, regulatory correspondence, lists of regulated entities, and enforcement records (such as pre-litigation settlement agreements and administrative complaints) that have not received final adjudication.— USDA/APHIS, February 4, 2017
The USDA decision to provide some protection from the malicious characterizations of USDA reports is supported by the Zoological Association of America (ZAA), the second largest zoological accrediting body in the United States.
For too long the Federal Government through the USDA has been violating the privacy of citizens with its acts of intrusion in the name of transparency. The USDA records availability were intended for use by animal welfare advocates to monitor government regulation of animals and the treatment of wild and domestic animals. However, this welfare information soon became the fuel and ammunition of animal rights activists in a smear campaign to discredit zoos and animal owners.— ZAA, February 9, 2017
HSUS/ PeTA Track Record
It is important to understand, that while groups like HSUS and PeTA portend to protect animals, their interest is purely ideological. The primary mission of most animal rights groups is to raise money using slick propaganda designed to tug at the heart strings of an animal loving American public. They are very good at this, but HSUS and PeTA are not in the business of caring for animals. The idea that with no practical experience they could analyze and interpret USDA reports without ever visiting a facility is preposterous.
Marketing materials showing abused dogs and cats suggest HSUS plays an active role in caring for homeless pets, however according to HSUS’ 2015 annual report, they took in over $194 million with less than 1% donated to animal shelters. They operate no animal shelters on their own. But HSUS did find enough in their budget to spend over $33 million on fundraising. Additionally, in 2014 HSUS and co-defendants were forced to pay almost $16 million to settle a Racketeering Lawsuit filed against them, after the judge discovered evidence of witness tampering and bribery by an HSUS subsidiary and their attorneys.
PeTA is just as bad, maybe even worse. According to a watchdog group, in 2009 PeTA “rescued” 2366 dogs and cats. 31 were transferred to other facilities. 8 were adopted out. 2,301 were killed at PeTA’s little shop of horrors in Norfolk, VA. That’s a kill rate of over 97%. PeTA’s idea of “rescue” appears to be euthanasia on a grand scale.
Thank You to the USDA/APHIS
It is a huge step for USDA to limit the ease with which animal rights groups abuse efforts at transparency. We consider USDA to be a crucial partner in creating an ever improving environment for our beloved animal ambassadors. With the help of USDA we bring the message of conservation of these magical creatures to thousands of people every year.