Dead by the side of the road and other American tragedies

Should Florida vote against a the amendment to kill High Speed Rail?

photo courtesy: Michael Leach Photography*

This Halloween there is nothing more frightening than the prospect that after election day we may be looking at more road construction, increased traffic jams and even higher fuel costs.

Special interests headed by the Road Builders Association and including among others: The Florida Truckers Association, Anheuser-Busch and CSX have formed a committee to oppose the train. They've raised millions in PAC money to fund Governor Bush's campaign against high speed rail and against the wishes of the voters in the last election.

The "Bullet Train" as it has come to be called is calculated to be an efficient alternative transportation system that, when completed, will criss-cross the state linking major population centers and tourist destinations for a fraction of the cost of building more roads. The train will produce little or no pollution once electrified and use, where possible, existing roadway medians.

Designers plan to integrate the system seamlessly over the next decade joining it with existing air and water transportation hubs, reducing road congestion and increasing visitor access to the state.

However for many interested Floridians the real benefit of the bullet train is not economical but rather environmental. Roads and road building have become the major polluter of Florida's environment. Tourism, the primary industry in Florida, seasonally brings millions of visitors to the Sunshine State and with them rental cars and hundreds of millions of tourist miles spent in frustrating traffic jams and increased automobile related injuries and death.

Among the dead every year are countless millions of Florida's endangered wildlife. By the thousands they die daily simply trying to exist in a landscape once so familiar and peaceful now grown divided and deadly. With each new road project animals not killed outright are forced to evacuate the only home they know and seek shelter elsewhere, often dying of exposure or killed crossing yet another road to an uncertain destination.

The existing rail mandate would significantly reduce wildlife mortality and as a further bonus provide relief to an otherwise overstressed ecosystem. Land now slated for highway construction could be preserved in huge tracts as wetlands and natural habitat thus preserving Florida's natural beauty and increasing our visitor appeal.

Consider that increasingly larger numbers of Europeans visit Florida every season, they come from countries where rapid rail is the norm, and it only makes sense to offer a safe, efficient and modern rail system for their comfort and to protect our environment.

Amendment 6 prososes to reverse the decision to build the high speed rail system in Florida so a NO vote, against amendment 6, will allow the rail to proceed.


Defenders of Wildlife contributed to this aticle

*Michael Leach - Wildlife Photographer and Author travels the world to photograph animals in their natural habitat, you can see more of his galleries by visiting michael-leach.co.uk/



Dale Schmidt, Executive Director of Clearwater Marine Aquarium, announced his resignation...
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Anyone who hates dogs and children...

For good or bad it is not often that politics and animal news share the same page but in Florida this fall we find ourselves in just such a situation. Just as with children, society barely accords animals legal status and virtually discounts their political existence unless, that is, the child or animal serves a purpose. Such political hay-making is on the ballot this season in Florida, and it stinks.

Gambling interests are betting that the education issue will lure voters into providing them with a windfall in the form of slot machines. It's a crass political ploy by the gambling industry to convince Florida voters that they care about our children, such a ploy may succeed but the fact is these owners care no more about our kid's education than they do about the welfare of the animals they exploit. It's all about profits and nothing more.

Let's back-track a bit to understand where this all began. For years gambling has been on the ropes in Florida, dependent on tourism and coping with competition from posh resorts elsewhere dog racing and horse racing have been iffy propositions in Florida because Florida has never allowed the trappings of more organized casino entertainment, namely the slots and tables.

Florida's gambling industry has repeatedly attempted to open the door, so to speak, by seeking permission from the legislature to place slot machines on their premises presumably to be followed in short order with tables, high-rollers, headliners and, well, you can see where this is going. Florida voters have always rebuffed the attempt. Frustrated and contemptuous of the electorate, owners have once again put the issue to vote in the form of Amendment 4.

Amendment 4 would allow dog tracks and horse tracks as well as jai alai venues in just two counties: Miami-Dade and Broward to install slot machines. The slots will increase traffic to the tracks, greatly enhancing the owners' profits and oh, by the way, in return the state would have the opportunity, though not the assurance that it could tax said slots directing the revenue toward Florida's impoverished educational system. The amendment is supported by "Floridians for a Level Playing Field" a group backed by the race track and jai alai industry has raised $13-million to support amendment 4 on the November ballot.

The problem is this, casino owners and dog and horse track owners are not generally fond of sharing revenue with anyone unless it's their lobbyists. It was the owners who proposed amendment 4 and it is their lobbyists who have worked to get it on the ballot and who have raised that much money from concerned citizens desperate to fund the school system. Most State Legislators agree that those same industry lobbyists will fight tooth and nail to resist the tax.

Where in all of this human free-for-all you might ask does the question of animal welfare come into play; exactly nowhere comes the answer and that is precisely the point. Dogs, racing to amuse the public and horses the same are not considered anything more than property by their owners and the gambling public. Because they know how unpopular that attitude is with most Americans, how outside the mainstream they are they concoct a scheme to make it appear as though gambling and animal abuse are acceptable as long as it serves the greater purpose; in this case schools but it could just as easily have been disaster relief or money raised through taxes to build more roads. In fact taxes are just that, taxes, once in the hands of the legislature taxes become revenue funds that can be spent on anything. There are no guarantees.

Florida, don't be fooled by the high sounding proclamations of the gambling industry that amendment 4 helps education, it helps the gambling industry - for them it's another free ride and the animals pay the price.

If parents want to improve education for their children then perhaps educating them that gambling and animal abuse are not in the best interests of society would be a better bet.

For more information on greyhound racing in the United States visit
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Cat Scam

A little company in Sausalito, CA called Genetic Savings and Clone and its CEO Lou Hawthorne have had a busy couple of weeks. Early this past June two kittens, Tabouli and Baba Ganoush, were born to separate mothers in what the company calls the first successful commercial clone experiment. There was an earlier clone named Calico born two years ago who remains in the study.

This past week the kittens were introduced to the press and appeared on Good Morning America with a beaming Hawthorne acting more like the proud father than a triumphant CEO.

The kittens are the first of a short list to be produced this year in GSL's bid for commercial success in the science fictionesque business of manufacturing pet clones for a clientele willing to pay $50,000,the company currently has 5 paying customers.

The prospect of cloning has spawned considerable debate in the past few years. Announcements like that of the first cloned sheep "Dolly", who died prematurely in February 2003 of organ failure, fuel the controversy and, it should be said, that Hawthorne and Genetic Savings continue to fan the fire. Their web site features a section of affidavit's from ethics scholars and scientists largely concerned that pet cloning is bad science at best, ethically unsupportable at worst.

Genetic Savings publishes their detractor's sentiments in the wan hope that an American public so befuddled by science and the need for immediate gratification will not be able to decearn the straight forward fact that cloning is a carnival side show, a Barnum Bailey ruse designed to mine the pockets of distraught pet owners.

In order to clone a cat a Genetic Savings veterinarian removes skin cells from the donor cat, then using a proprietary technology called chromatin transfer or CT to remove the "adult characteristics" of those cells, essentially regresses them to an embryonic state.

Researchers then remove the genetic material from another cat's egg and inject the donor cell into the egg, stimulating it to produce a single-celled cloned embryo. The embryo then is implanted into a surrogate mother cat in estrus. The surrogate mother carries the pregnancy for the regular two month feline gestation period.

Cloned animals are genetic duplicates of the single parent donor at a the time of conception. However, genetic identity is not, and does not ensure, physical identity; the difference between the two is significant. Environment and socialization factors now come into play; the resultant individual may diverge greatly from the single parent.

Ethitists have suggested that the cost in animal suffering raised by this new technology including forced surrogation and multiple birth defects ending in premature death hardly commends this enterprise as an undertaking for the welfare of animals or man.

Ultimately we are left with this final consideration, no matter what trait of personality earns our love of a pet, its' obedience, its' obstinacy, its' beauty or homeliness, some flaw in its' character or some perceived grace, we tend to bond with an animal through our shared common experience, a history that can not be duplicated, nor should it be.
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CITES, Black Rhino market value increases

BANGKOK, Thailand - A global ban on hunting rare black rhinos was partially lifted on Monday to the chagrin of some conservationists who say the lumbering titan is still in danger.

The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, adopted a Namibian proposal that will allow the southern African country an annual quota of five black rhinos for trophy hunters.

A proposal by neighboring South Africa to allow five of the animals to be hunted each year was also passed at the two-week conference, which began on Saturday.

South Africa had asked for a quota of 10 black rhino, but reduced it to five at the start of the meeting to address the concerns of conservationists.

The proposals will be raised again during the plenary session next week but are almost certain to pass because they have overwhelming support.

“We appreciate this recognition of our conservation achievements,” Malan Lindeque, the top civil servant at Namibia’s Environment Ministry, told Reuters.

Conservationists' concerns

Africa’s black rhino has been snatched from the brink of extinction and its numbers are on the rebound, but it still faces many threats, conservationists say.

“We know rhinos are still being poached for their horns and the poachers are indiscriminate, so we think this proposal sends out the wrong signal,” said Jason Bell-Leask, director of the southern African branch of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Demand for rhino horn in East Asia, where it is valued for medical purposes, and in the Middle East, where it is used for dagger handles, has left a bloody trail in its wake.

Rampant poaching drove black rhino numbers down to about 2,400 in the mid-1990s from an estimated 65,000 just two decades before. Poachers typically hack off the horns and leave the hulking carcasses to rot under the African sun.

But today there are about 3,600 of them — some estimates are even higher — and Namibia and South Africa say only old males who are no longer breeding would be targeted, so the impact on the populations would be negligible.

The cash raised will also be ploughed into conservation programs. Black rhinos are expected to fetch tens of thousands of dollars apiece.

There is already limited hunting of the more numerous white rhino in southern Africa.

For more information regarding Namibian business interests behind the CITES proposal visit this list of African hunting lodges.
reprint, MSNBC
related site interest:
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust
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