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January 5, 2010

HSI in China: 2009

Humane Society International

  • We are working for better animal protection in China. © iStockphoto/Yan Zenkis

  • Illegal trade threatens tigers. © iStockphoto

In 2009, China remained a challenge to animal advocates around the world. Intensive farming of animals for food continued to expand as the Chinese economy regained its growth trajectory. The plight of farmed wildlife including bears, tigers, and fur animals continued to draw international criticism. The welfare of companion animals, objects of random cruelty and state-launched violence, aroused the concern of animal lovers everywhere. In the past year, Humane Society International (HSI) stepped up efforts to push for humane progress on the Chinese mainland. HSI stood firm against animal cruelty, spearheaded an exchange program with Chinese law enforcement agencies, co-sponsored events to encourage policy change, reaffirmed support for Chinese grassroots animal protection organizations, and strengthened our affiliations with other international animal protection organizations with a focus on China.

Confronting cruelty

In June, HSI acted quickly when government response to 11 suspected cases of rabies in humans led to the brutal and indiscriminate killing of more than 38,000 household dogs in Hanzhong, Shaanxi. Pictures of brutalized animals enraged animal protection communities in China and around the world. To stop the extension of the cull order to other counties in Hanzhong, HSI pulled together three other international organizations (Animals Asia Foundation, International Fund for Animal Welfare, and Act Asia) to jointly draft a letter addressed to the mayor of Hanzhong, governor of Shaanxi, and China's chief veterinary official. The letter urged the Chinese officials to stop the slaughter; pointed out that indiscriminate dog culls for curbing rabies were ineffective, unscientific and inhumane; and called on Chinese authorities to start adopting alternative and internationally proven measures for urban animal management.

Earlier, Humane Society International had also joined in an international effort to oppose a proposed dog cull in Heihe, in northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. Our efforts, together with those of other international and Chinese domestic NGOs, succeeded in preventing the dog cull from happening in Heihe and in preventing the cull order from being extended to other counties in Hanzhong.

Encouraging policy change

China continues to lack any formal animal protection legislation. This partly explains the prevalence of intermittent and institutionalized animal cruelty in the country. Encouraging anti-cruelty legislation and policy change has been an important objective of HSI's China operation and we are following and encouraging the efforts of a new national Chinese organization, Animal Guardians, as they support a new initiative by Chinese officials to draft a national animal protection bill. HSI reviewed the draft, offered feedback, and was present at a December conference organized to collect comments on the draft. It is our hope that this unofficial initiative will encourage the Chinese government to pass national legislation. In May, when HSI co-sponsored China's 3rd Companion Animals Symposium in Chengdu, we expressed support to the leading members of the drafting team. Through two presentations at the Symposium, HSI encouraged the Chinese legal experts to include animal evacuation in disaster situations and modern urban animal management in the draft legislation.

HSI co-sponsored two other events as part of policy change efforts. In the wake of the Hanzhong dog cull, HSI co-sponsored the Beijing Forum on Scientific and Humane Rabies Control and Prevention in June. With the presence of Chinese officials, renowned epidemics researchers, media representatives, Chinese scholars, and local and international animal advocacy NGOs, the Forum sent a strong message to authorities that China had come to a historic juncture and needed to leave behind old, unpopular and unscientific urban animal management policies.

In September, together with Animals Asia Foundation, Act Asia, Care for the Wild International, and One Voice for Animals, HSI co-sponsored a Forum on Promoting Animal Welfare Legislation in China. The forum gathered legal experts who had drafted the unofficial animal protection law, participants in drafting Taiwan's animal protection legislation, Chinese officials and scholars, and representatives from international NGOs in a two-day meeting. HSI's Professor Peter Li delivered a speech on China's livestock industry and its welfare implications, appealing to the Chinese government to include animal welfare on the radar screen of China's national legislature.

Exchanges with Chinese law enforcement officers

"In China, the government is a mighty force that can be a great help or an insurmountable obstacle," a retired Chinese official in charge of wildlife conservation once commented. In view of the exclusive role of the Chinese government in policy making and implementation, HSI approached Chinese law enforcement agencies in 2009. In May, HSI representatives met with officials in charge of urban animal disease prevention from Beijing Municipal Government's Agriculture Bureau. At the meeting, HSI expressed support for the Bureau's proactive measures aimed at controlling urban strays and preventing the spread of zoonotic diseases. In May and September, HSI representatives met with officers from Beijing Police Department's dog management office, conveying to them that a forceful program of public education, pet registration, vaccination and sterilization would be most effective in preventing an outbreak of rabies. These meetings allowed HSI to gain valuable insight into the workings of Chinese law enforcement offices, the challenges they face, and, most importantly, their interest in adopting more progressive animal management practices.

In September, HSI coordinated and led an exchange program in Nanjing. The program, also joined by Animals Asia Foundation and Hong Kong Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, involved activities with Nanjing Police Department's Pet Dog Management Office and a visit to Ping An Animal Protection Center. Our Nanjing visit allowed us to see the progress made as a result of a partnership between a police department and an animal shelter. Importantly, Nanjing Police Department expressed interest in further exchanges and training in cooperation with HSI and other international NGOs.

HSI and Chinese NGOs

Supporting capacity building for Chinese grassroots animal advocacy groups is a key focus for HSI. As mentioned above, in May, HSI co-sponsored the 3rd Companion Animals Symposium in partnership with Animals Asia Foundation. More than 100 Chinese delegates attended this event, where new veterinary techniques, fundraising strategies, emergency animal rescue and evacuation protocols, anti-cruelty legislation, and advocacy tactics were discussed. Earlier, HSI also co-sponsored a veterinary training program for veterinarians whose main clients were local animal protection groups. The training showcased the latest veterinary care and surgery procedures, particularly spay/neuter techniques.

In the past year, HSI also responded to emergency requests from several Chinese protection groups. We provided a small sum of money to a northeast Chinese group for its winter rescue project aimed at taking in the most vulnerable stray animals. In October, HSI responded to another group in Beijing with financial aid to support emergency veterinary needs. Altogether, HSI provided financial assistance to seven Chinese groups.

2010 and beyond

The year 2009 saw an important expansion of HSI's China operations, fueled by the efforts of Professor Li, our special consultant on China. HSI recognizes the need for greater support and engagement of animal protection advocates in China and seeks to strengthen our ability to communicate with and help them by providing more materials in Chinese and strengthening our ability to communicate in the local languages. China will remain a major focus for animal protection advocates around the world in 2010.