Fighting for a better world for animals is an ongoing, often uphill battle. So it’s important for animal advocates to stop and take stock of wins and steps forwards, however small they may seem, once in a while.
To that end, we’ve rounded up nine positive things that happened for animals around the world in 2023. They’re not all perfectly good things; the legislative successes don’t go as far as we’d like, for example. But they mean that the lives of the animals concerned are better – or will be – in some way than they were this time last year.
So let’s celebrate what we can and recharge ourselves before we get back to work for the animals in 2024.
UK moves closer to banning some live exports
The UK government has promised a lot on improving animal protections and hasn’t always delivered. In May this year, it looked like the government would let down animals again when it dropped the Kept Animals Bill. Banning live exports for some animals was a key part of the Bill.
Now it has revived hopes for a live export ban by introducing The Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill to Parliament on December 5. The legislation will put an end to the export of cows, sheep, goats, pigs, and horses for fattening or slaughter.
The ban will be far from comprehensive. Exports for reasons such as breeding and competitions will still be allowed, and poultry has been left off the Bill entirely. Animals are shipped as far afield as Brazil for breeding purposes, so many will still suffer horrendous journeys. But around half a million animals a year will be spared by the ban.
UK (mostly) bans keeping primates as “pets”
The UK government has revived another of its pledges from the abandoned Kept Animals Bill. New legislation introduced earlier this month will make it illegal to keep primates in “domestic settings as household pets in environments that fail to provide for their needs.”
There are an estimated 5,000 primates being held captive as “pets” in the UK. The new bill falls short of completely banning this practice. People who can “provide the highest welfare standards” will still be allowed to apply for a license to keep primates.
But the ban, if properly enforced, will help save some primates from horrific living conditions.
Dr Ros Clubb, head of the RSPCA’s Wildlife Department, said in a statement, “We hope this [bill] will put an end to the shocking situations we have seen – with monkeys cooped up in bird cages, fed fast food, sugary drinks or even Class A drugs, deprived of companions of their own kind, living in dirt and squalor and suffering from disease.”
Tigers and leopards rescued from Thai farm
Fifteen big cats have been rescued this month from a tiger farm in Thailand, and more are expected to be rescued soon too. Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) described the rescue as “the first part of the largest tiger rescue operation by an NGO in Thailand’s history.”
WFFT, Thailand’s biggest wildlife rescue centre, chose the first fifteen animals to save based on the urgency of their medical needs. Twelve elderly tigers and three ill leopards were removed from the farm, which is subject to legal action from the Thai government for alleged wildlife trafficking.
“[W]e are thrilled to now finally give these magnificent animals a new life at WFFT’s Tiger Rescue Centre,” said WFFT founder Edwin Wiek. Though the big cats can’t be returned to the wild, they will have “a safe, sanctuary home where they can roam forested land, socialise with other tigers, and even swim in the lake.”
Lonely elephant moved to sanctuary
Last year, animal advocates hoped to finally see Happy, an elephant who has been held captive at the Bronx Zoo in New York, moved to a sanctuary. A bid to have her legally recognized as a person and so illegally confined at the zoo made global headlines, but ultimately failed. So it’s a comfort that another long-captive elephant called Mundi was moved to a sanctuary in May this year.
World Animal Protection (WAP) and Elephant Aid International (EAI) worked together to get 41 year-old Mundi moved from Mayaguez Zoo in Puerto Rico to EIA’s Elephant Refuge North America in Georgia, US. Mundi had spent 35 years alone. She was initially brought to the US from Zimbabwe, and was exploited in a circus for two years. After that she went to Mayaguez, which lost its license in 2018 and is now shutting down following numerous animal welfare violations.
Mundi’s rescue is part of a bigger effort by Wild Animal Sanctuary to relocate all the animals from Mayaguez to sanctuaries. The sanctuary where Mundi now lives has 850 acres of hills, pastures, and forests, and a lake. Mundi will no longer have to live alone; two other elephants called Bo and Tarra already live at the sanctuary.
California passes law on animal experimentation alternatives
In October, California passed a law expanding the list of non-animal alternatives that must be used in laboratory experiments. The new legislation build on a bill passed in 2000 requiring labs testing products such as pesticides and household products to replace animals in experiments with certain non-animal alternatives. This will help spare more animals from cruel and painful tests.
The new law also requires labs to report annually on the number and type of animals and alternatives they’ve used. The Humane Society of the United States, which sponsored the bill, called this provision “a first of its kind.” Animal testing facilities are only required by federal law to report on tests using certain animals. This excludes around 95 percent of the animals used in tests – mainly rats, mice, birds, fish, and reptiles.
The Humane Society estimates that more than 50 million animals are currently used in experiments around the US. Nearly 4.5 million of them are in California. The new law will spare more of these animals from suffering.
Some wild birds gain immunity from bird flu
The H5N1 strain of bird flu has been tearing through poultry farms and wild bird populations at a terrifying rate for the past few years. Intensive poultry farming has been linked to the emergence of fatal strains of the virus such as H5N1. Millions of wild birds have died from the virus and millions more farmed birds have been slaughtered in efforts to contain it.
Though the avian pandemic is not over yet, some positive news recently emerged. Scientists discovered that two communities of seabirds seem to be developing immunity to H5N1. In the world’s largest colony of northern gannets in Scotland, about a third have antibodies protecting them from the virus. The colony has shrunk by about a quarter due to the bird flu outbreak. Around half of shags tested by researchers were also found to have gained immunity.
Supreme Court upholds Prop 12
In 2018, 63 percent of voters in California approved Proposition 12. The law bans the sale of pork in California that had come from farms confining pregnant and nursing sows to tiny “gestation creates.” Prop 12 also prevents eggs from battery caged hens and veal from calves kept in tiny hutches from being sold in the state. The pork industry has fought tooth and nail to have the law overturned because it would cost it money.
Several failed legal bids to undo Prop 12 eventually led the pork industry to take its case to the Supreme Court. But the majority conservative Supreme Court decided to uphold Prop 12 in May this year. The lives of pigs, laying hens, and veal calves across the US will still be terrible, but the defeat of the mighty pork industry in favor of improving animal lives is a big step forward.
World’s first octopus farm still hasn’t materialized
This is something that didn’t happen rather than did happen for animals. The world’s first octopus farm was supposed to open in the Canary Islands this summer, but it still hasn’t appeared. The prospect of the farm, which reportedly aims to raise and kill around one million octopuses a year, has united animal rights campaigners and scientists against it.
There is now no clear timeline for when the farm will open. Nueva Pescanova, the Spanish seafood company behind the plan, had a simplified version of its environmental impact assessment rejected by officials. The company must now carry out a more extensive environmental impact assessment process, which will slow things down further, with no guarantee it will be approved.
Nueva Pescanova’s poor financial performance in recent years has also led to most of the company being acquired by the Canadian corporation Cooke Seafood Inc. Hopefully this changed situation will further help to derail plans for the octopus farm.
Norway takes a stand against unethical dog breeding
Norway’s Supreme Court ruled against unethical dog breeding this year in a decision that will help save many dogs from being born with serious health problems. The Court decided that the breeding of Cavalier King Charles Spaniels must stop as the breed has become too inbred and unhealthy. It also ruled that unless the breeding of English bulldogs is in line with new rules it will be illegal.
Breeding animals for specific extreme traits, such as flat faces (brachycephaly) in dogs has become popular. Such physical features cause serious health and welfare problems for the animals.
The issue came before the Supreme Court after the Norwegian Society for the Protection of Animals sued six individual breeders as well as the Kennel Club of Norway, the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Club, and the English Bulldog Club. The lawsuit claimed that the breeding of these specific breeds violated Norway’s Animal Welfare Act.