WSPA and ending animal circuses in Rio

From ANIMAL PEOPLE, December 2001:

RIO DE JANEIRO–“We did it! No more circuses with animals in Rio de Janeiro! Governor Anthony Garotinho signed our bill into law! This is our second victory this year, as we also got rid of the decompression chamber for good in Sao Paulo,” enthused Alianca International do Animal founder Ila Franco in a November 26 e-mail to ANIMAL PEOPLE.

The Sao Paulo decompression chamber was believed to be one of the few still used to kill animals anywhere in the world. Most U.S. shelters quit using decompression between 1976, when the San Francisco SPCA was reputedly first, and 1985, when the Dallas and Houston animal control shelters were reputedly among the last.

Franco had updated ANIMAL PEOPLE from time to time about her pursuit of both campaigns–and also about the work of Alianca in sterilizing 6,000 dogs and cats and filing 36 cruelty cases during 2001. Franco credited many other people and organizations with helping. She thanked World Society for the Protection of Animals veterinarian Lloyd Tait, for example, for helping with sterilizations.

Franco was quite upset with WSPA, however, when she next contacted ANIMAL PEOPLE, on December 18, after seeing the WSPA web site. Said the site, making no mention of Alianca, “The state of Rio de Janeiro in Brazil has passed a law banning the use of animals in circuses. The move follows a series of reports and campaigns by WSPA’s Latin American offices.” Elaborated WSPA Brazilian representative Elizabeth MacGregor in an e-mail announcement, “Public support for this bill was partly inspired by a terrible incident in Brazil last year where an improperly caged circus lion killed a child. The parents of that child have appeared at WSPA-sponsored demonstrations in support of the bill.”

Countered Franco, “Support for this bill was immensely inspired by this terrible accident because Alianca kept the facts of the incident vividly in view.” The campaign began “In 1999, when the circus elephant Madu killed her keeper in Caraquatatuba and then ran away to Sao Sebastiano,” Franco remembered. “I was called by a man who took his
son to the show and saw the circus people beating Madu.” Rushing to the scene, Franco spent four days at the circus,
she said, monitoring the treatment of Madu, and learning that the dead trainer had allegedly beaten her on the trunk to make her drink. Franco also watered a thirsty bear, she recalled, “who drank for 20 minutes without stopping.”

Franco “photographed what I had seen, to prove what was going on,” she continued. “Then I rented a big screen, sound system, and microphones, and a few feet away from this circus I showed videos to inform the public about how circus animals are trained.” Franco also formally incorporated Alianca, after years of activity, to bring a court case against the circus, seeking to confiscate the allegedly abused animals. She won the case, and arranged for the animals to be sent to a Rio de Janeiro zoo where she hoped they would receive better care–but the circus left the city
rather than give the animals up.

Franco then arranged to follow the circus and lead a rally against it, but “Three days before the scheduled protest,” she
remembered, “the six-year-old child was killed by a lion in Recife, Pernambuco.” Meeting the father of the child at a TV talk show appearance, Franco invited the family to join the Alianca rally. “I sponsored their air fares out of my pocket, and the father, mother, and baby sister all stayed for three days at my home, where we planned our approach to the state legislature,” Franco told ANIMAL PEOPLE.

For the next two years Alianca volunteer Andrea Lambert lobbied the Rio de Janeiro legislature, while Franco roused public opinion. “I edited videos, made 20,000 pamphlets, made t-shirts, passed out information at a science fair for 60 public schools, and hired a theatrical troupe” to take the message to the poor communities of Rio de Janeiro and Sao Paolo, Franco recounted. “Meanwhile, we removed seven lions from another circus. As the only place available for them was at the zoo in Sta. Catarina, where I saw that the people would treat them well, but the quarters were unfinished due to lack of funding, I helped to fund proper quarters,” Franco said.

The seven lions became an effective exhibit in the Alianca campaign.Then, Franco recalled, “We found out that the same lion who killed the six-year-old had injured another child three years earlier, and killed two four-year-old girls 12 years before that. Their families were also invited” to join Alianca on TV talk shows. Along the way, Franco said, she was often threatened by circus people, and was once beaten by the wife of a circus owner. Only on the day of the voting on the bill to ban animals from circuses, Franco said, did she introduce the father of the dead six-year-old to MacGregor.

“At not one moment before that,” Franco stated, “did Je’ Miguel [the father] ever hear of or know of WSPA or MacGregor, and neither he nor I had any help from them.” Franco made an issue of the omission of Alianca from the
account because while WSPA is a $9-million-a-year group in the U.S. and a $7-million-a-year group in Britain, Alianca is a hand-to-mouth group in Brazil, with no paid administrative staff. A victory of global note could be a rare chance to attract U.S. and British donors.

[Contact Alianca International Do Animal c/o 2535 La Serena St., Escondido, CA 92025, USA; <>.]

Other cases

Earlier in 2001, ANIMAL PEOPLE received similar allegations of discrepancies between WSPA claims and actuality from India, Korea, Pakistan, Romania, and Costa Rica, reported in “Seeking the bear truth about World Society work in India” (April 2001), and “Questions for WSPA and the RSPCA” (June 2001). ANIMAL PEOPLE then received a series of anonymous letters detailing alleged parallel episodes involving WSPA in other nations during the past decade. Many allegations were supported by photographs.

Much of the material could not be published without on-the-record sources, but ANIMAL PEOPLE was able to ask WSPA chief executive Andrew Dickson on October 1 why the WSPA wildlife rehabilitation center in Colombia stands dilapidated and vacant.  Built in 1984 with funds from the estate of Marcelle Delpu, it closed in 1998.

Wrote WSPA publicist Jonathan Owen, on October 10, “The buildings are now the property of Colombia. WSPA ownership ceased when the centre was subject of a compulsory purchase order from the authorities due to a major road building scheme. The site is now adajcent to a busy major highway.” The source expressed skepticism. The photos show facilities which–with repair–appear still suitable for use as a rehabilitation center, shelter, or clinic.

“We have also received photographs documenting the condition of the former Clinica Veterinaria Sozed animal shelter and hospital in Rio de Janeiro, another short-lived WSPA venture. Why was this project not sustained?” ANIMAL PEOPLE asked Dickson. Replied Owen, “We are unable to comment as we have no direct involvement in or knowledge of this facility.”

“Let us give you further detail,” said ANIMAL PEOPLE, “and perhaps you can come up with WSPA’s side of the story. According to our source, ‘Dr. Claudie Dunin, a longtime supporter of WSPA, offered to donate nearly $50,000 U.S. to WSPA to buy an office in Sao Paolo. The building was purchased in 1994, and Anna Maria Pineiro, who lived nearby, was made president of WSPA in Brazil. However, within 18 months, Andrew Dickson made a unilateral decision to close the office and sell the property. He irreparably harmed relations with animal protection organizations in Brazil. Mrs. Pinheiro will no longer have anything to do with anyone in animal protection. When Dunin threatened legal action, WSPA gave her back $22,000, with which to buy a shelter and veterinary clinic in Rio Comprido, in the slums of Rio de Janeiro, in which WSPA would have a rent-free office. WSPA never paid a cent toward helping the animals who were
assisted by the shelter. In early 2001 it closed due to lack of funding.'”

Twelve weeks later, WSPA has said nothing further. ANIMAL PEOPLE can say with certainty only that the mere fact the account was leaked to us–true or false– appears indicative of management problems.

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