A Wildlife Biologist/Conservationist Perspective
I realize my chosen field of study is very unique to the average person. After dual majoring in Secondary Education and French for over 4 years, I took half a year off to really reevaluate my interests and passions and decided to obtain my Bachelor’s degree in Fisheries and Wildlife Science with a specialization in wildlife conservation. I started volunteering at local wildlife rehabilitation centers, which then turned to moving a couple of hours away to a random person’s house to intern at a wildlife refuge, which then turned to moving out of state and living in someone’s basement who I found off of Craiglist to work at a conservation center for canids (dog and dog-related species, ie. wolves, African wild dogs, foxes, etc.), which then turned to moving away yet again to work at a zoo or two, which turned into traveling to South Africa for two weeks on somewhat of a whim to study endangered predatory species in a natural setting. Which leads me to where I am now- a graduate student in Wildlife Biology, Management, and Conservation who is yet again about to travel internationally to Scotland to better learn field study techniques.
With all that being said, it’s not far-fetched to assume that I am an overall huge lover of both wild and domestic animal species alike. You would be very correct in that assumption. I am a lover of all species; and when I say all, I mean all. I am the type of person who catches the spider (well, makes my husband catch the spider) despite my lingering childhood arachnophobia and bring it outside rather than kill it. The next assumption that most people often make is that I am also a supporter of PETA. That assumption could not be more wrong. As someone who has dedicated the last 7 or so years of her life studying animals and working towards several conservation projects, please believe me when I say that supporting PETA is NOT equivalent to supporting animal welfare; in fact, it’s the furthest thing from it. Most people who do support PETA have done so flippantly throughout their lives, not really knowing the depths of their corruption and malpractices. Others have been brainwashed and pandered to with the relatively recent upsurge of veganism into thinking this cult-like organization really has animals’ best interests at heart, disillusioned by their true sole aim which is, unsurprisingly, the aim of most big-wig corporations: money and power.
Before I get into what you are really supporting when you support PETA, please note that I don’t think that all PETA advocates are corrupt. The vast majority of them have their heart in the right place. The organization may have even started with its heart in the right place. But, again, it is not the supporters or campaigners that are always corrupt, it is the current entity itself. It’s just that the supporters are unaware. This is where I come in. Here are some examples of gross malpractices that PETA has been directly involved with:
1. PETA believes that the idea of “pets” should have never existed but has record high kill-rates for their shelter. A direct quote from their site states, “This selfish desire to possess animals and receive love from them causes immeasurable suffering, which results from manipulating their breeding, selling or giving them away casually, and depriving them of the opportunity to engage in their natural behavior. They are restricted to human homes, where they must obey commands and can only eat, drink, and even urinate when humans allow them to.” Many companion species began to be domesticated because they had a predisposition of an “interest” and dependence on humans without necessarily being prompted to do so (hence why we have domesticated rabbits and not domesticated squids). This is how dogs became the domesticated descendants of wolves. They showed curiosity in humans, began to be dependent on them once humans started feeding them, and then humans made the conscience decision to tame them to use the wolves in a way that would benefit the humans’ survival (keep in mind, this was ten to tens of thousands of years ago). But the relationship was a mutual one. The dogs were provided food and safety/shelter, the two core components of their survival in the wild, while the humans were provided with an animal that could help more efficiently complete a task for their own survival. Not a bad setup for either. And now, most companion animals are not required or expected to complete any sort of task. So, as long as the animal is being treated humanely, again, this is not a bad gig for the pet. Also, domesticated animals are different than their wild counterparts, which means their brains act differently, as well, allowing them to emit oxytocin, the “love hormone,” when physically interacting with their human owners.
So, where’s the biggest hypocrisy in PETA’s “don’t own pets because it causes immeasurable suffering” statement? PETA continually has some of the highest kill rates for their shelter, in some years going above even 90%. “New figures from the animal ‘shelter’ at PETA’s headquarters in Norfolk, Virginia show that, of the 2,470 cats and dogs the group received in 2018, 1,771 of them were killed. PETA was single-handedly responsible for two-thirds of the cats and dogs killed by private animal shelters in Virginia. Just 35 cats and dogs were adopted out. PETA’s adoption rate of barely 1% is shockingly low in comparison to the rest of Virginia, where the adoption rate at private shelters is 71% and at public shelters is 33%. PETA’s kill rate of 73% also greatly exceeds the average for Virginia shelters.” While Daphna Nachminovitch, the senior vice president of PETA’s Cruelty Investigations Department, argues that PETA kill rates are higher because they often take in the “worst case” animals, there have been cases of animal abuse/cruelty from this organization that are inexcusable. “The group’s reputation wasn’t helped last October  after news broke that PETA had taken a healthy chihuahua from its owner’s porch on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and euthanized it. Nachminovitch said PETA was ‘devastated’ by the mistake, and she drove to the owner’s home and personally, tearfully, apologized. The employee was fired for what Nachminovitch said was a breach of PETA rules.” In another incident, a veterinarian gave the PETA shelter a mother cat and her two kittens, all of which were healthy, under the false pretenses that they would be adopted out. Allegedly, within minutes, they were killed in the back of their van. And despite identifying themselves as a public shelter, in 2010, the Virginia Department of Agriculture stated that the PETA facility “does not contain sufficient animal enclosures to routinely house the number of animals annually reported as taken into custody… The shelter is not accessible to the public, promoted, or engaged in efforts to facilitate the adoption of animals taken into custody.” And with an organization who has many supporters that think companion animals are better off dead than under human ownership, it’s not hard to see why they would do such little promotion to attempt to adopt out these animals. On their own page, PETA writes, “Because of the high number of unwanted companion animals and the lack of good homes, sometimes the most humane thing that a shelter worker can do is give an animal a peaceful release from a world in which dogs and cats are often considered ‘surplus’ and unwanted.” This would also apply to healthy animals who are not suffering from untreatable life-threatening illnesses or injuries. I could go on and on about the hypocrisy on PETA’s stance on animal cruelty. Nathan J. Winograd wrote a detailed article for the Huffington Post in 2017 that contains many of these facts plus other alarming stories and statistics. Read it here.
2. PETA doesn’t believe in hunting, a practice that can attribute to the health of a species. A lot of us don’t like the idea of hunting. I’ll be honest with you, I’ll never partake in it because I am fortunate enough that I currently am not in the position that I’d ever have to for my own survival. However, this doesn’t mean that I am so blinded by my affection for animals that I can’t see the immense benefits in responsible hunting practices. You know “deer season” or “bird season” where hunting is opened up to a limited amount of hunters for a specified period of time? This is done to not only contribute to the health of the species being hunted but the ecosystem in general. The time frame is also determined by those who understand population dynamics who can specify a period of time where hunting would not have an irrecoverable impact on the population. Throughout the U.S., several deer species are being ravaged by a number of diseases and parasites because of overpopulation. They are overpopulated because of habitat loss from humans but also from previous years of humans killing off predatory species like wolves that acted as natural predators for deer. So, in many areas, deer populations are booming out of control because there are no natural predators that can hunt them, and thus, the number of individuals who act as hosts for parasites and diseases go unchecked, as well. This is where hunting comes in. And if the hunting is being done responsibly by obtaining the proper permits, using the proper equipment, hunting in allowed areas, and all of the animal parts are being used, then, again, this could be very beneficial. While I worked for a canid conservation center for a brief stint, local hunters would often donate fresh dear carcasses or parts to the wolves and African wild dogs. But while PETA doesn’t support hunting, a practice that can benefit both people, the animal, and the ecosystem, it does support the mass killing of feral cats in order to combat feral cat numbers. PETA directly opposed a bill that would promote trap, neuter, and release programs instead of euthanasia.
3. PETA believes that no animal should be in captivity. I know this is a controversial one. But here’s the deal- the mission of zoos have changed considerably in the past decade or so. Yes, there are still some bad zoos out there. But the majority of zoos within the U.S., particularly those accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), are held to a very high standard and operate with the intent of conservation at their forefront. In fact, AZA zoos and aquariums even participate in, coordinate with, and financially contribute to conservation projects outside of zoos. Many zoos are primarily responsible for bringing back numerous endangered species from the brink of extinction in conjunction with Species Survival Plans (SSPs). Some examples of species saved by zoos include: the Arabian oryx, Przewalski’s horse, California condor, Corroboree frog, the bongo, regent honeyeater, Panamanian golden frog, Bellinger river turtle, golden lion tamarin, Amur leopard, Puerto Rican parrot, and freshwater mussels. A recent AZA article stated that, “AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums rescued over 2,800 sea turtles, and rehabilitated nearly 4,400 [in 2018]. Brevard Zoo alone rehabilitated 2,362 sea turtles, and Texas State Aquarium rehabilitated 1,247. In total, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums returned 3,441 sea turtles to the ocean last year.” Additionally, by the logic of no animals being allowed in captivity, conservation centers, centers that are solely dedicated to the conservation and repopulation of endangered species, would cease to exist, as well. Sometimes the only way to repopulate a species is by removing healthy individuals from the wild to breed them in captivity to help increase not only numbers but also genetic diversity within the population. Some successful conservation centers in the U.S. include the Endangered Wolf Center, Fossil Rim Wildlife Center, White Oak Conservation,and Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute. Check out the Facebook page Zoos Saving Species to read about more amazing strides in conservation from zoos and conservation centers around the world.
4. PETA is not a research or science-based organization and often promotes practices that are not scientifically sound, including practices that are harmful to pets. This can tie into any of the other points I made above, such as not understanding how hunting can positively impact ecosystems, how conservation centers and zoos can contribute to not just population increases but genetic diversity which is crucial to saving a species, and how wild and companion animals differ genetically and behaviorally as two distinct species. A further point to add to this is that throughout the years, PETA has been promoting vegan pet food and treats to its supporters and followers. PETA’s site states, “The nutritional needs of many dogs and cats can easily be met with a balanced vegan diet and certain supplements… Making vegetarian food for dogs is easy because dogs are omnivorous and usually hearty eaters.” Sigh. Where to begin again…Just because a human adopts a particular eating habit, whether that stems from political, religious, economical, or ethical reasons, that does not mean that you can impose said eating habits on an animal who has different dietary needs than you. And while dogs do possess omnivorous traits, veterinary health professionals as well as scientific researchers conclude that dogs have a strong carnivorous bias (unsurprisingly, given their wolf ancestors) and should have a diet primarily consisting of meat-based products. Veterinarians have concluded that it is possible that dogs can survive on vegetarian or vegan diets but that it is not recommended and can even be dangerous. Researchers from Tufts University stated, “Designing a meat-free food for dogs that contains all of the necessary nutrients for them to thrive is extremely difficult, even for licensed veterinary nutritionists. While the canine digestive system can get nutrition from plant matter, it has a much easier time processing animal matter. Fruits and vegetables are great for providing vitamins and antioxidants that can help your dog thrive, but they lack the necessary amounts of fat and protein. Proteins derived from animal products, like collagen, elastin, and keratin— all of which are vital for healthy skin, muscles and joints — are difficult, if not impossible, to derive from a vegan diet. The bottom line is that, unless it’s done very carefully under the guidance and supervision of a licensed veterinary nutritionist, making your dog vegan could lead to severe health complications and malnutrition…It’s important to realize that the health benefits that you derive from eating vegan don’t extend to your dog.” Cats’ diets are even more cut and dry than dogs’; they are considered true obligate carnivores. From the New World Encylopedia: “An obligate carnivore (or true carnivore) is an animal that must eat meat in order to thrive (Syufy 2008). They may eat other foods, such as fruits, honey, grains, and so forth, but meat must be included in their diet. True carnivores lack the physiology required for the efficient digestion of vegetable matter, and, in fact, some carnivorous mammals eat vegetation specifically as an emetic. The domestic cat is a prime example of an obligate carnivore, as are all of the other felids (Pierson 2008).” So, NO, PETA, it is not healthy or ethical to feed a cat a vegan diet by any means.
5. PETA promotes radical behavior and violence. You will not find a shortage of information looking into how many instances of outward violence and radical behavior PETA leaders and advocates have promoted over the years. Former PETA Vice President Bruce Freidrich stated, “If we really believe that animals have the same right to be free from pain and suffering at our hands, then, of course, we’re going to be blowing things up and smashing windows. For the record, I don’t do this stuff, but I advocate it. I think it’s a great way to bring about animal liberation, considering the level of suffering, the atrocities. I think it would be great if all of the fast-food outlets, slaughterhouses, these laboratories and the banks who fund them exploded tomorrow. I think it’s perfectly appropriate for people to take bricks and toss them through windows. Hallelujah to the people who are willing to do it.” In 2013, they promoted their video game, in which the premise was traveling around pharmaceutical laboratories and assaulting scientists, by tweeting, “Ever wish you could punch an animal experimenter in the face? Here’s your chance.” When Dr. Walter Palmer killed Cecil the lion, PETA tweeted that Palmer should be “extradited, charged, and preferably hanged.” I didn’t agree with the killing of Cecil, either, but I think it’s more than a tad hypocritical that this statement not only comes from an organization that claims they promote “nonviolence,” but also from one that kills thousands of animals, including cats, each year. The FBI has also found that PETA has provided support to the two groups that are known as the most serious domestic terrorism threat to the U.S.- the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), an international radical leaderless resistance that believes in destroying laboratories and farms and illegally removing animals in the name of “freeing animals,” and the Earth Liberation Front (ELF), an international coalition that uses “economic sabotage and guerilla warfare to stop the exploitation and destruction of the environment.” I can sympathize with those who feel they need to go in and rescue puppies from squalid conditions in puppy mills. The problem is when organizations like PETA, ELF, and ALF don’t openly condemn illegal or violent behavior and oftentimes partake in the criminal activity. In fact, leaders in these groups acknowledge that it’s illegal and still promote it. One PETA cofounder, Alex Pacheco, stated, “arson, property destruction, burglary, and theft are acceptable crimes when used for the animal cause,” while the other, Ingrid Newkirk, said that she wished she had “the guts to light a match” in reference to burning down animal laboratories.
6. PETA leaders have provided support to criminals and have participated in criminal activity in the name of “animal welfare.” This ties into my last point, but I wanted to touch on the depths in which PETA leaders involve themselves in acts of domestic terrorism. PETA Senior Vice President of Communications, Lisa Lange, openly admitted on Fox News to giving ELF $1,500 for one of their programs. This article states: “PETA also has given $2,000 to David Wilson, then a national ALF ‘spokesperson.’ The group paid $27,000 for the legal defense of Roger Troen, who was arrested for taking part in an October 1986 burglary and arson at the University of Oregon. It gave $7,500 to Fran Stephanie Trutt, who tried to murder the president of a medical laboratory. It gave $5,000 to Josh Harper, who attacked Native Americans on a whale hunt by throwing smoke bombs, shooting flares, and spraying their faces with chemical fire extinguishers. All of these monies were paid out of tax-exempt funds, the same pot of money constantly enlarged by donations from an unsuspecting general public.”
But perhaps what is most alarming is PETA cofounder Ingrid Newkirk’s collaboration with ALF bomber Rodney Coronado in a multi-million dollar arson at Michigan State University. Newkirk arranged to have Coronado send packages (at least one of which was intercepted by the FBI) of stolen university documents before committing the bombing. Newkirk even asked Maria Blanton, a longtime PETA member, to accept one of the packages on her behalf. After Coronado’s arrest, PETA donated over $45,000 for his defense and $25,000 to his father. A search at Blanton’s home revealed that Alex Pacheco (the other PETA cofounder) had been planning other burglaries and break-ins with Coronado. Federal agents seized “surveillance logs; code names for Coronado, Pacheco, and others; burglary tools; two-way radios; night vision goggles; [and] phony identification for Coronado and Pacheco.”
7. PETA spends ~2% of its received donations on animal research. In 2010, PETA made $68 million in revenue, of which $33 million came from donations. While approximately 17% of donation revenue was spent on campaigns to raise more money, only 2% was used to go towards grants to help researchers discover animal alternatives. Other chunks of money are going towards defending and funding radical animal activists engaging in violent and terrorist behavior (see above point for some of those expenses broken down). Much of their other funds go towards buying stocks in opposing-minded companies in order to gain enough of a share to have an influence on their practices… aka they buy shares in companies that practice what they deem as “animal cruelty” in hopes to force them to change their practices. This type of investment is not unique to PETA, but it is quite jarring when PETA buys into companies that are inherently against its values in every way, shape, and form, such as its new partnership with AZA. And given their radical practices, it becomes questionable if their true motives are to change an organization or destroy it through demands that will gain them massive media attention. They are self-proclaimed “press sluts,” after all.
8. PETA manipulates children by feeding them propaganda meant to elicit fear. PETA has released several children’s books that scream cult and often include themes of violence and adult topics. In 2017, a child received the book, Fetch: How a Dog Brought Me Home, from PETA that contained profanity, images of a father beating a mother, and discussion of the mother’s suicidal thoughts. Another book that PETA circulated to children was a comic book called Your Mommy Kills Animals with a violent image on the front of a woman holding a bloodied knife and stabbing a rabbit. Inappropriate advertisements include an image of Santa looking down his pants with the words, “Santa isn’t coming this Christmas. Milk can make you impotent. Soy is joy,” as well as another picture of a bloodied knife and the words, “Question authority.” I truly can’t make this up, folks. Former PETA Vice President, Dan Matthews, stated that PETA’s campaigns are and always will be geared towards children. If this point alone doesn’t make you want to never give PETA the time of day again, I don’t know what will.
Please don’t follow and support organizations blindly, even if they are ones that have had a strong public presence for many years. Wherever big-money is involved, there is a high potential for corruption so please do your research before pledging your support or you may just be funding the exact opposite cause of what you thought you were. If you are an animal lover like myself, please consider donating time, money, or tangible goods to local animal shelters. If you are even more like me and feel impassioned in issues of wildlife conservation, volunteer time and research for your state’s department of Fisheries and Wildlife programs, volunteer internationally for reputable organizations, become an advocate for scientifically sound campaigns, or even pursue a career in the field. The world is at its tipping point in the area of conservation at the moment, and we are teetering over the edge of losing many of the species and habitats that are so important to all of us. Your support may mean a world of difference.