On behalf of two national animal protection groups and several wild cat sanctuaries, Harvard Law School’s Animal Law & Policy Clinic today filed a petition with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) urging it to provide full protection to captive Canada Lynx under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).
In 2000, the FWS listed the Canada Lynx as a “threatened” species under the ESA. However, at that time the agency issued a “special rule” making clear that although the wild members of the species would be fully protected under the statute, the captive members may be “taken”—i.e., killed, harmed, and harassed—without any legal consequences.
The Petition, submitted on behalf of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), The Wildcat Sanctuary, Big Cat Rescue, and the Performing Animal Welfare Society, argues that this special exception for the captive members of the species is not only unlawful, it results in these animals suffering, including being killed for their pelts, and when used in exhibitions, bogus wildlife photography sessions, and as pets.
Hundreds of Canada lynx (sometimes called “Yukon lynx” or “Highland lynx”) are currently being held in captivity in the United States – in fur farms, as pets, in road-side zoos, and in faux wildlife photography outfits (where people pay a fee to take photos of “wild” animals). Many of these animals are either killed for their fur, declawed, abandoned as pets when they become adults, or otherwise mistreated. However, because of the FWS’s special rule, they are afforded no protection from such mistreatment under the ESA.
The Petition explains that such “special rules” may only be issued if necessary to further the “conservation” of the species as a whole—meaning they help the species recover to the point where the protections of the ESA are no longer needed. The Petition further explains that allowing the captive Canada lynx to be exploited and mistreated does nothing to “conserve” the species in the wild, and is inconsistent with other rulings the government has made in recent years to protect the captive members of other species, including the endangered chimpanzee and endangered orcas in the Pacific Northwest. Noting that the ESA does not allow economic considerations to play any role in listing decisions, the Petition argues that allowing a carve-out for captive lynx for the pelt industry is also illegal.
Elizabeth MeLampy, a recent graduate of Harvard Law School, who took the lead in drafting the petition explains that “the arbitrary exclusion of a captive member of a listed species is an unprecedented and unlawful deviation from decades of agency policy and practice for the Fish and Wildlife Service and should not be tolerated. These beautiful animals deserve the full protection that the Endangered Species Act entitles them to.”
Stephen Wells, Executive Director of the Animal Legal Defense Fund, also stressed that “there is no basis in the Endangered Species Act that justifies killing and exploiting a threatened animal simply because they are being held captive. The Fish and Wildlife Service must take action to correct this baseless discrimination.”
Brittany Peet, the PETA Foundation’s Deputy General Counsel for Captive Animal Law Enforcement added: “The Canada Lynxes trapped in ramshackle cages have a right to the same protections as their free cousins, just as captive chimpanzees do or Lolita the Southern Resident Killer Whale does. Striking down this illegal split-listing is a step forward in preventing tourist traps from turning these wonderful animals into sideshow props and to preventing fur factory farms from killing them for their skins.”
The three sanctuaries who joined the Petition explained that they are often the ones that have to provide refuge for abused or neglected Canada Lynx when they are abandoned or rescued. They cite many examples of lynx arriving at their sanctuaries underfed, diseased, disfigured, and exhibiting behavioral stress from years of mistreatment or neglect. Specific examples can be found in the Petition.
Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue, said: “Some of the worst conditions we have seen during rescue events involved Canada Lynx because they were not being afforded proper protection under the law.”
Catherine Doyle, Director of Science, Research and Advocacy for the Performing Animal Welfare Society added: “Canada lynx held in captivity are no different than their wild kin and they deserve the same protections under the Endangered Species Act. It is unethical and inhumane to allow the suffering of these animals to continue.”
The Petition requests that the Fish and Wildlife Service amend the listing rule for the Lynx to eliminate the exception for the captive members as soon as possible so that these animals can no longer be lawfully commercially exploited, harmed, harassed, or killed.
“Captive Canada Lynx deserve the same protections under the Endangered Species Act as wild Canada Lynx,” said Tammy Thies, Founder of The Wildcat Sanctuary in Minnesota. “In my 20+ years rescuing and caring for captive big cats, I have encountered numerous captive Canada Lynx that have needlessly and cruelly suffered as a result of exploitation and mistreatment. The loophole in the federal law needs to be changed immediately.”
Sarah Pickering 617 852-648; [email protected]
David Perle 202-483-7382; [email protected]
Mike Andrade-Heymsfield 707-364-8387; [email protected]
Notes to Editors:
The exhibits referenced in the Petition are available upon request.
Big Cat Rescue, one of the world’s most influential sanctuaries for exotic cats, is a leading advocate for ending the abuse of captive big cats and saving wild cats from extinction. We are the most hated, feared and lied about by circuses, backyard breeders, roadside zoos, cub petting pimps and pseudo-sanctuaries because we are the most effective at ending the abuse of big cats. We wear that as a badge of honor. We are home to lions, tigers, bobcats, servals, caracals, jaguar and other species most of whom have been abandoned, abused, orphaned, saved from being turned into fur coats, or retired from performing acts.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is the largest animal rights organization in the world, with more than 6.5 million members and supporters. PETA opposes speciesism, a human-supremacist worldview, and focuses its attention on the four areas in which the largest numbers of animals suffer the most intensely for the longest periods of time: in laboratories, in the food industry, in the clothing trade, and in the entertainment industry. The group also works on a variety of other issues, including the cruel killing of rodents, birds, and other animals who are often considered “pests” as well as cruelty to domesticated animals. PETA works through public education, cruelty investigations, research, animal rescue, legislation, special events, celebrity involvement, and protest campaigns.
The Animal Law & Policy Program at Harvard Law School is committed to analyzing and improving the treatment of animals through the legal system. In 2019, it launched the Animal Law & Policy Clinic to provide students with direct hands-on experience in animal advocacy on behalf of both captive animals and wildlife, including litigation, legislation, administrative practice, and policymaking.
The Animal Legal Defense Fund was founded in 1979 to protect the lives and advance the interests of animals through the legal system. To accomplish this mission, the Animal Legal Defense Fund files high-impact lawsuits to protect animals from harm; provides free legal assistance and training to prosecutors to assure that animal abusers are punished for their crimes; supports tough animal protection legislation and fights harmful legislation; and provides resources and opportunities to law students and professionals to advance the emerging field of animal law. For more information, please visit aldf.org.
The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) was founded in 1984 to rescue and care for abused, neglected, or retired captive wildlife. PAWS operates three sanctuaries in California, including the 2,300-acre ARK 2000 natural habitat refuge, and provides a lifetime home for elephants, bears, big cats, and other wild animals rescued or retired from circuses, zoos, and the exotic pet trade. PAWS is licensed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, accredited by the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and a member of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance.
The Wildcat Sanctuary (TWS) is the only accredited, non-profit sanctuary in the Midwest. TWS provides a natural sanctuary to over 100 wild cats in need and inspires change to end the captive wildlife crisis. Combining natural and spacious habitats with a life free of exhibition, TWS allows all residents to live wild at heart. As a true sanctuary, we do not buy, breed, sell or exhibit animals. The Wildcat Sanctuary is accredited by the American Sanctuary Association and the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries and a member of the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance. More information can be found at WildcatSanctuary.org