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Tag: elephants

Banning Wild Animals in Entertainment

All around the world, cities, states, and countries are passing laws to make it illegal to use wild and exotic animals for entertainment, in circuses, in any type of performance. This is news to celebrate!⁠ ⁠ In my newest article for LiveKindly (“Oakland Just Banned Exotic Animals in Entertainment”) and in this short video below, I explain: ⁠ ⁠

  • why getting involved in local politics is incredibly effective (more effective than complaining about national politics)⁠
  • shaping compassion for animals in local officials means they’ll carry it with them as they move onto other positions of power⁠
  • how a local municipal ordinance closed down a huge commercial animal enterprise⁠ ⁠

Also, this story is an example of how one person has an impact if we use our skills, passion, and time to speak up, speak out, and act on behalf of compassion and animals. ⁠ ⁠

Read the full article at Live Kindly! Please share it, and comment below, and tell me: ⁠ ⁠


3 Tips for Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling

We may not intend to, but there are so many ways we contribute to animal cruelty and exploitation while we’re traveling (domestically and abroad)! National Geographic published a hugely important article about the rise of attractions around the world that exploit animals for tourists. Three of the recommendations for travelers:

  1. avoid any kind of attraction where you pay to directly interact with wild animals (don’t pay to pet, bathe, get photos with, or touch wild animals).
  2. make a point to see animals in national parks, protected habitats, refuges,  and ethical safaris that help generate income to protect wild animals and their homes.
  3. support genuine sanctuaries that provide refuge to rescued animals who can no longer survive in the wild. (Do your own research; just because they call themselves a “sanctuary,” it doesn’t mean they are. Always reach out to trusted sources if you’re unsure.)

I talked about exactly all of this in great detail in my podcast episode called Avoiding Animal Cruelty When Traveling to Thailand and Everywhere.

Sadly, one of the reasons we visited so many animal rescue groups in Thailand is because of how much animal cruelty, wildlife trafficking, and animal exploitation there is in that country, allowed by the government and deeply entrenched in the culture. For instance, elephants used in the tourism/riding and logging industries endure a lifetime of suffering and separation.

Seeing wildlife in their natural habitat — like the mountain gorillas in Rwanda, lions in Botswana, bison in Yellowstone, or the deer in our own backyards — is heart-stopping, breath-taking, and supports the animals, their habitat, and the local residents.

Of course, when we travel (either on our own or on the group Joyful Vegan Trips we host), we take care to avoid animal cruelty, and we visit true sanctuaries and protected habitat where the safety and well-being of the animals are the main priority. We take this very seriously and vet our partners very carefully.

We have hosted trips to Rwanda, Thailand, Botswana, Vietnam, Italy, and France, and we have upcoming trips to … well, see for yourself! I hope you can join us one day to experience the trip of a lifetime—while supporting the care and conservation of the animals whose homes we visit.


Lack of awareness and cognitive dissonance compels us to support industries that exploit and hurt animals for our own entertainment both when we’re at home (like going to the zoo or circus) and when we travel (like swimming with dolphins, getting photographed with tigers, or riding elephants). Our desire to be close to other animals and interact with them is exactly what causes them the most harm. Most of us are drawn to animals, and that’s a good thing, because it also means we want to help them and protect them, but it’s a bad thing when our desire to interact with them is at the cost of their own welfare, safety, happiness, or lives. Listen to today’s episode about how to travel to Thailand without harming animals.

More info here.

Vegan in Thailand (Animals, Food, Nature, oh my!)

I never wanted to visit Thailand until we created a trip of a lifetime for 20 travelers. 

Thailand was never on the top of my list as a destination, mostly because I had no connection to it other than through its cuisine and I thought of it only as a tourist destination with humid beaches and crowded cities — neither of which are especially appealing to me. Of course, it’s much, much more than that, but — like with so many things in life — I couldn’t know that until I experience it myself; well, myself and two dozen fellow travelers. 

We chose Thailand as our next CPG Trip since our co-organizers live in Bangkok and know the city and country really, really well. As a result, they created an incredible itinerary for this once-in-a-lifetime holiday. 22 people signed up to join us in Thailand, and it was as beautiful a trip as could be. I’m in the middle of writing the next Food for Thought podcast episode on our trip and will also be producing separate episodes on pressing animal issues and what it means to travel ethically. This small compilation of photos tells some of the story of our journey and the special people who have returned home with unforgettable memories and life-long friendships. 



In this photo album, you’ll see 

*canal boat rides in Bangkok
*visits to local markets
*communal meals of delicious cuisine
*interactive cooking class
*breathtaking scenery
*stellar accommodations
*cycling through Chiang Mai and its temples and rice paddies
*tubing on the Sok River to arrive at our jungle house
*staying at our jungle house
*canoeing down the river
*visiting the rescued residents at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary and supporting their important work
*visiting the dogs (and cats!) at Soi Dog Foundation
*learning about the work of (and supporting) the Gibbon Project to rehabilitate and rescue gibbons (listen to their amazing vocalizations!)
*our final day on a chartered catamaran (we don’t mess around)
*and most importantly: joyous faces and deepening friendships

That’s pretty much what we set out to accomplish, and I dare say we did it. I told the group that I feel like a proud momma watching everyone bond and laugh and cry and teach and learn and just be. That’s my intention for our next journey with CPG Trips: to celebrate the work being done to save and protect animals, to experience an abundance of the local vegan cuisine, to revel in nature, to be immersed in a new culture, and to create a safe space for like-minded travelers to experience the joy of reflecting their deepest values in the most abundant, meaningful, compassionate, and enriching way possible. 

Enjoy sharing our trip to Thailand with us, and I hope you can join us for Vegan Vietnam

[Tweet “Compassionate Travel is all about making choices that cause as little harm as possible.”]

How Oakland Got Animals Out of the Circus (TWICE)!

100 years ago, after learning about the inherent abuses perpetrated against animals forced to perform in circuses, Oakland’s most iconic figure, Jack London — author and social activist — wrote “I have a strong stomach and a hard head, but what turns my head and makes my gorge rise is the cold-blooded, conscious deliberate cruelty and torment that is manifest behind ninety-nine of every hundred trained-animal turns. Cruelty as a fine art, has attained its perfect flower in the trained-animal world.”

London called upon the public to “inform themselves” of the “inevitable and eternal cruelty” inherent in animal acts and urged them to walk out during animal performances. Though he died soon after, his words inspired a Jack London Club comprised of one million members who distributed literature outside of circuses, wrote to the press and circus management, and indeed walked out of the circus during the animal acts.

It worked.

In 1925, Charles Ringling was quoted as saying, “There has been enough criticism by the public of wild-animal acts to warrant us in withdrawing them, as a quite common impression is prevalent that tigers, lions, etc. are taught by very rough methods, and that it is cruel to force them through their stunts.” Ringling announced that it had “discarded” animal acts “for all time.” Sadly, after five years, they resumed the use of animals in their circuses to provide cheap entertainment to the public during the Depression.

100 years later, at the end of 2014, an ordinance to ban the use of bullhooks on elephants was brought before the Oakland City Council. Bullhooks are sharp weapons used to hurt and intimidate elephants to force them to perform unnatural acts for the amusement of humans. Despite the money Feld Entertainment, the owner of Ringling Bros. Circus, spent to fight this ban, over 100 compassionate citizens showed up to speak on behalf of elephants, and shortly after midnight, the ban passed.

“This is the right thing to do. It’s just that simple,” said Councilmember, then Mayor-Elect (now Mayor) Libby Schaaf.

“I don’t need to have an elephant stand on one leg to see how cute he looks….I don’t learn about the elephants over at the circus while I’m sitting there entertained.” said Councilmember Noel Gallo.

“We’re not going to look the other way when it comes to torturing animals. We shouldn’t be teaching the young folks in our city that it’s okay to harm animals for our enjoyment. That is just unacceptable,” said Councilman Dan Kalb.

And in her last city council meeting as Mayor, Jean Quan presciently stated, “I am certain that the day will come when we will see a ban on elephants being used in circuses altogether.”

Three months later, in March of 2015, Ringling announced it would be removing elephants from their circuses. Without being able to use pain, fear, and intimidation to train elephants, they wouldn’t be able to force large, intelligent, autonomous beings to act in ways that are anathema to their very nature.

As cities and counties across the United States began drafting legislation similar to that which passed in Oakland (and first in Oakland’s inspiration, Los Angeles), Ringling recognized how expensive it would be to fight in local jurisdictions across the nation.

A year later, Ringling announced they were closing — for good, and indeed May 2017 saw their last performance. A victory for compassionate people everywhere, but really…a victory for animals.

This is one very powerful example of how local politics matter. Often, laws passed at the local level inspire similar laws at the state or even federal level, but here they acted as a microcosm reflecting a greater public perspective: that animal abuse is unacceptable even when shrouded in tradition and masked by spectacle.

Of course, years of protests and leafletting by activists outside of circuses contributed to Ringling’s demise and to the public’s growing distaste for circuses with animals. As did undercover footage obtained by organizations to prove with video the abuses that take place behind closed doors. As did education, as did litigation. But in the end, it was the decision of local city council members and the activists working with local legislators that led to the closing of a 150-year animal-abusing institution. That’s the power of local political action.

The Greatest News on Earth: Ringling Circus is Closing!

(This photo of the elephant is one I recently took in Botswana; free and with his family — the way all wildlife should be.)

While enjoying a delicious vegan dinner at Millennium Restaurant in Oakland with a friend and fellow animal advocate (Kristie Middleton), we got a text: Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus was closing its doors! We laughed. We cried. We toasted.

We were two of the many activists (full props to Cheri Shankar, activist extraordinaire in Los Angeles) involved in working with Oakland city council members in 2015 to ban the bullhook, a weapon that inflicts pain and fear upon elephants to make them perform such unnatural acts as standing on their head. Oakland passed the ban, and soon after, Feld Entertainment, owner of Ringling Bros., announced that they would be removing elephants from their shows. A victory for elephants, no doubt.

But there was more work to do, and activists in cities around the country wasted no time working to ban all wild animal acts from circuses. Facing the prospect of spending millions of dollars defending an archaic and cruel form of entertainment, Ringling Bros. announced that it would be closing its doors altogether. A major victory for animals, no doubt, but much work remains to be done.

Entire countries have banned wild animals acts, including Mexico, Peru, Greece, Netherlands, and many others, and the United States would do well to do the same before another opportunistic company seeks to fill Ringling‘s void. This will probably be impossible on a federal level with the current administration, but we can do it state by state. At least for today— for a few days—we can at least revel in the awareness that the arc of history bends toward compassion and that thousands of animals will be spared humiliation, confinement, fear, and violence. 

[Tweet “Ringling Bros. said ‘this is not a win for anyone.’ I beg to differ. This is a win for the animals.”]

Jack London for the Animals
We were not the first residents of Oakland to express concern about the treatment of circus animals. 100 years ago, after witnessing the abuse that takes place against performing animals in circuses, our most iconic figure, our own Jack London—author and social activist—wrote two novels (Jerry of the Islands and Michael, Brother of Jerry) to spread awareness to the public about performing animals. In the foreword for these novels, he wrote, “I have a strong stomach and a hard head, but what turns my head and makes my gorge rise is the cold-blooded, conscious deliberate cruelty and torment that is manifest behind ninety-nine of every hundred trained-animal turns. Cruelty as a fine art, has attained its perfect flower in the trained-animal world.”

Because of the awareness he created, the public spoke up, and in 1925, Ringling Barnum and Bailey Circus withdrew all trained animal acts from their performance schedules and remained animal-free for almost five years. Unfortunately, they brought back the animals, but this time, they’re closing their doors for good.

Feld Entertainment, the owners of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, has said in press conferences that animal rights groups should not claim the circus’ closing as a victory—that “this is not a win for animal rights activists. This is not a win for anyone.” I beg to differ. This is a win for the animals. This is a win for every individual who won’t be sold or bred only to live a life of prodding, performing, abuse, fear, and pain. This is a win for the animals, who have—vis a vis their own suffering—put $2.7 billion into the pockets of Kenneth Feld, which is what he is purported to be worth. This is a win for every animal who has ever been separated from their family to be exploited and forced to perform for humans. 

This is a win for animals, indeed. And once you’ve properly toasted, it’s time to put away the champagne, and write some more history. We’ve got more work to do.

For the animals, 

Democratic Actions for Animals

I love this country. I love that we have inalienable rights. I love that we can vote. I love that we can take part in the democratic process. It’s not perfect; there is a lot of work to be done, but I love being part of that work. I love being a citizen — in the broadest sense of the word.

There’s a lot of skepticism in our country right now; we spend a lot of time being critical — as we should — but personally, I feel best when I’m being critical and active. And one of the best ways we can do this is by getting involved in local causes.

I remember a time when I was embarrassed that I couldn’t tell you which neighborhood district I lived in or who my district council member was, but I aspired to become more involved. Today, my civic participation pales compared to many people who are more involved than I am, but I try to make my voice heard, especially when it comes to how my city relates to non-human animals.

Two of the things I’m most proud being involved in is stopping slaughter hobbyists from killing animals in the backyards of Oakland (see news story below about our efforts) and speaking on behalf of elephants when the Oakland City Council took up the issue of banning the bullhook, especially by companies who bring the circus to town.