A LAME DUCK SHALL LEAD THEM
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, July/August 1997:
MONTGOMERY, Texas––Not the
nail of Confucian proverb who sticks up, so is
hammered down, Yong Gwinn wasn’t thinking
about religious or cultural context when
she called minister Jean LeFevre recently
about an injured duck. She was just thinking
about the duck. A cake decorator at the
Woodlands Executive Conference Center and
Resort in Montgomery, Texas, Gwinn knew
LeFebvre and her husband Lawrence rehabilitate
birds at the nearby St. John’s Center, so
she picked up the telephone and became
As the duck later waddled free,
greeted by his surprised and delighted mate,
the San Francisco Board of Supervisors Rules
Committee moved to de-escalate a year-long
flap over the sale of live animals as food by
dropping two of the four members of the
Commission for Animal Control and Welfare
who unsuccessfully pushed to ban such sales.
Although the ban cleared the Commission last
November, the Supervisors never voted on it.
Out by demand of Chinatown merchants
and cultural activists are Vickie Ho
Lynn and Lorraine Lucas, whose two-year
terms were up. Appointed in their place were
National Park Service wildlife biologist Nola
Chow and Eva Hue, a special education
teacher who has facilitated stray pet adoptions.
Both are believed to hold a more utilitarian
outlook than their predecessors.
“It’s not just animal welfare,” Board
of Supervisors member Leland Yee told Yumi
Wilson of the San Francisco Chronicle. “It’s
animal welfare as it relates to the Chinese, the
merchants, and the consumers.”
The live food issue may ultimately
be decided not by local politics, ethnic or otherwise,
but by the courts, ruling on a petition
by attorney Baron Miller, who holds that the
sale of live animals for food is already barred
by state law for sanitary reasons.
Emphasis on the sale for home
slaughter of turtles, songbirds, and other animals
rarely eaten by mainstream Americans
tends to overlook the paradoxically central role
such sales have in the Asian humane tradition.
As New York Times reporter Debra
West explained recently, “It has long been a
custom among some Buddhists [and religious
Moslems] to liberate animals whose destiny
would otherwise involve a lifetime of captivity
or worse––dinner. Setting animals free is considered
an act of compassion that will be
rewarded with good karma.”
Conservationists have recently recognized
the growth of ethnic Buddhist communities
as a major factor in the invasion of protected
wildlife habitat by non-native species,
and from San Francisco to London, England,
are clamoring for the enforcement of laws
against such practices as releasing goldfish––a
form of carp––into lakes where they wipe out
perch and sunfish. Buddhist bird releases may
explain the appearance of feral parrot colonies
in recent years around several major North
American cities, while ceremonial turtle
releases are blamed for spreading disease into
the upstate New York wild turtle population.
“There are more than 12 species of
turtle native to the Hudson Valley,” Wildlife
Conservation Society herpetologist Michael
Klemens told West. “Half are on the state protected
list. All are threatened by the releases.”
Added New York Department of
Environmental Conservation reptile specialist
Alvin Breisch, “They could be messing up the
gene pool.” Imports from other regions,
Breisch contends, could bring traits detrimental
to survival in the New York environment.
On May 20, San Francisco police,
animal control officers, and California game
wardens arrested 14 people in the act of
attempting to release 60 squabs, 40 Chinese
quail, 53 turtles, and 140 pounds of frogs––
all purchased at the Chinatown live food markets,
for a total of $1,558.
That there even is an Asian humane
tradition is often news to American activists,
informed almost daily by organizational mailings
of the Japanese role in whaling, driftnetting,
and reviving the elephant ivory trade;
the dog-eating practices of Korea, China, and
the Philippines; the near extinction of Asian
tigers, elephants, and rhinos; the reluctance
of Vietnamese immigrant shrimpers to exclude
endangered sea turtles from their nets; the role
of Hong Kong in producing fur coats; and the
revival of the Atlantic Canadian seal hunt to
serve the Asian appetite for seal penises.
The litany of atrocities gained another
line in January when a 25-year-old bull elephant
kept chained to a tree for 20 years at a
Buddhist temple in Pathum Thani, Thailand,
broke free, a year after activists failed to buy
his freedom, and was shot down by police.
He was honored with a three-day funeral.
Paradoxically, the elephant was held
as a quasi-roadside zoo attraction to symbolize
the role of the temple as a refuge.
Conflict between ritual tradition and
other faith-based teachings about animals are
at issue in other faiths as well, from uproar in
Israel over the birth 10 months ago of a purported
red heifer, for the first time in 2,000
years, to friction within the Navajo Nation
over Hopi eagle sacrifice.
Judaism hasn’t practiced animal sacrifice,
as distinguished from kosher slaughter,
since the Romans destroyed the Second
Temple in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., but ancient
Judaic law, ancestral to the kosher law, still
holds that red heifers are to be burned at age
three, their ashes to be used in purifying those
who have ever handled dead people before
they may enter the High Temple.
As there hasn’t been a High Temple
in 1,927 years, the lack of certified red heifer
ashes hasn’t previously been an issue––but it
has been an obstacle to fundamentalists, both
Jewish and Christian, who believe the Islamic
sanctuary Haram al-Sharif, the third most
holy shrine within Islam, should be razed
from the site of the Second Temple to make
way for a Third Temple. The Christian fundamentalist
belief is that this is a prerequisite for
the Second Coming of Jesus.
The present red heifer, named
Melody, was the accidental offspring of artificial
insemination of an ordinary black-andwhite
Holstein milk cow with semen from a
European bull. Her caretaker, the rabbi
Shmaria Shore, eagerly points out white hairs
around her tail, udder, and muzzle, which
could disqualify her from sacrifice.
However, in a bizarre variant of the
Heifer Project and Pig Project, in which U.S.
congregations donate to export American cattle
to the underdeveloped world as breeding
stock, Mississippi cattle rancher and
Pentecostal preacher Clyde Lodt and the
Jerusalem rabbi Chaim Richman of the Temple
Institute have been trying to breed a perfect red
heifer since 1990, and claim now to have a
contender, Harvey, a recent state fair grand
champion. That this could perhaps provoke
apocalyptic war is quite the idea.
Under duress of a February court
order issued by U.S. District Judge Earl
Carroll, Navajo Nation president Albert Hale
in May reluctantly gave Hopi tribal chair
Ferrell Secaku permission for his tribe to capture
up to 14 raptors from their cliffside nests,
including up to 12 golden eagles. Last year the
Navajo arrested 11 Hopi for trespassing while
attempting to catch eagles.
“Our position has always been that
we don’t need permission from the Navajo,”
said Hopi spokesperson Kim Sekaku.
The Navajo, related to the Shoshone,
were historically nomadic raiders of
Hopi villages. Their talismans were raptors.
The Hopi, descended from the cliff-dwelling
Anasazi, were the northernmost of the Aztec
linguistic family. At some point, probably in
a ritual intended to prevent Navajo attack,
young Hopi men at coming-of-age began
climbing into raptors’ nests, capturing eaglets
and young redtailed hawks, mocking them
through an early summer series of k a c h i n a
dances, and finally sacrificing them to
become messengers to the gods––a severe
offense to Navajo sensibilities. The Navajo
form the majority on shared tribal lands.
Native Americans who seek eagle
feathers won an important case on January 31
in Albuquerque when U.S. District Judge
James Parker dismissed charges against Robert
Gonzales, a Hopi, who shot a bald eagle for a
religious rite on February 7, 1995, without
getting a permit first. Parker ruled that the permit
requirement violated Gonzales’ freedom of
religion by asking him to reveal secret rituals.
The ruling was a major setback to U.S. Fish
and Wildlife Service efforts to restrict Native
American feather acquisitions to those available
from the National Eagle Repository,
which keeps and parcels out the remains of
eagles found dead of natural causes or accident,
and/or taken from poachers. The wait
for repository feathers is reportedly from 24 to
30 months, however, with an unfilled backlog
of 4,000 applications. The problem, repository
supervisor Bernadette Hilbourn says, is that
most of the applicants request whole eagles,
and there are not enough eagles alive to produce
4,000 carcasses per year.
But Native American satisfaction
with the Parker decision was shortlived, as on
March 18 the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of
Appeals upheld the conviction for eagle-killing
of two Montana members of the Crow tribe.
William and Frank Hugs drew 18 and 15
months in prison, respectively, for capturing
eagles in leghold traps, then shooting them.
The Navajo have evolved a belief
that taking feathers from dead birds is bad
luck. Feathers used by Navajos come mainly
from the 10-acre Navajo Zoo, founded in
1977. Essentially a wildlife rehabilitation center,
the zoo reportedly avoids caging animals
who can be safely released because imprisoning
animals would offend Creation.
The Navajo reprise animal rights
philosophy in other respects. Navajo shaman
Richard Anderson led an antivivisection
protest in February, after Navajo Veterinary
Services killed 15 crows in trying to trace a
disease that had killed 12 horses and might
have been botulism. In mid-March, after
Scots researcher Ian Wilmut announced he had
cloned a lamb from the DNA of an adult
sheep, the Navajo Tribal Council considered a
resolution of opposition to such experiments.
Attacking use and abuse of either
animals or humans that may be rationalized by
association with either religion or culture tends
to bring accusations that the critic is bigoted––
but political correctness never stopped former
film star Brigitte Bardot, 62, who for the past
30 years has devoted her life to animal protection.
On January 22 Bardot won a key verdict
for freedom of speech in France, when a Paris
court held that she had not been “inciting
racism” in a 1996 letter published by the newspaper
Le Figaro, decrying the admission to
France of Moslem immigrants who practice
do-it-yourself ceremonial slaughter. The prosecution
appealed, however, obliging Bardot
to return to court on September 11. Standard
legal advice would have urged her to silence
meanwhile. Instead, in mid-March, Bardot
backed British protest against the export of
sheep for slaughter at the end of Ramadan, the
Islamic version of Lent. Then, in April,
Bardot linked ritual slaughter, immigration,
and mayhem by Algerian Islamic rebels in a
statement likely to bring further charges.
“They’ve slit the throats of women
and children, of our monks, our officials, our
tourists, and our sheep,” Bardot said.
“They’ll slit our throats one day and we’ll
She faces a year in prison and a fine
of $55,000 if convicted of the first charges;
more if convicted again.
Similar controversy surrounds the
practice of Santeria in the U.S.––and seems to
be emerging in Mexico, where the Animal
Pro-Life Association of Vera Cruz enjoyed
much sympathy if not success in appealing to
the courts and politicians, trying to prevent
animal sacrifices at a two-week AfroCaribbean
On April 4, meanwhile, four years
after winning a Supreme Court ruling that a
city may regulate animal sacrifice under
humane and sanitation laws, but not forbid it,
the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye opened
a training center for aspiring Santerian priests
in Hialeah, Florida.
Opponents of Santeria got grim satisfaction
from the jailing of self-proclaimed
Santerian priest Rigoberto Zamora, 60, who
pleaded “no contest” on April 11 to beating his
girlfriend/secretary, Vivian Rivera, 47.
Zamora had already begun serving a 60-day
suspended sentence for cruelty to animals in
the public killing of 14 goats, chickens, and
pigeons with a dull knife, to celebrate the
1993 Supreme Court verdict. Zamora’s credentials
as a Santerian priest are disputed by
Ernesto Pichado, head priest of the Church of
the Lukumi Babalu Aye.
Santeria is a hybrid of Catholicism
with voodoo, imported from Africa. On June
4, Inigo Gilmore of the London Times
revealed the extent to which voodoo, or animism,
governed the actions of the recently
deposed Zairean dictator Joseph Mobutu and
his top advisors. Born and raised Catholic,
Mobutu apparently reinvented Santeria during
his 32 years in power.