SUMMER rolls on, come rain or shine, at least in the UK where both seem to be equally present on the same day. The temperatures have not been bad of late, so for those of you with tortoises, I hope you are giving them the maximum exposure to sunlight that is possible in these islands. By contrast, anyone with newts and salamanders is hopefully keeping outdoor enclosures shaded and making sure that those species kept indoors are not being overheated by room temperature. Herpetology is not just a matter of piling on the heat!
Following on from our discussion of the RSPCA's mysterious policy document - now exposed as a complete animal rights charter - is the very disturbing news that the charity is to be given Special Prosecutor powers. This is a bad development for democracy, let alone exotic animal keepers. The biggest problem is that essentially this makes the RSPCA both a quasi-police and a quasi-judiciary. The power to actually prosecute was taken away from the police and given to the Crown Prosecution Service, for fear that the police might be overzealous in pursuing their own prosecutions. No such safeguards seem to have been even considered for the RSPCA, who already have an unhappy history of controversial prosecutions. It should be remembered that RSPCA prosecutions are private prosecutions, ie not referred to the CPS but brought by the RSPCA themselves, with all the resources of a large charity behind them. Their record in calling "expert witnesses" has also been tainted by the use of witnesses who have quite evidently benefited from receiving animals that were seized in the same cases that they were employed for. Furthermore, apart from the Charities Commission (who have to deal with all the other charitable groups in the UK, from the tiny to the corporate), there is no independent body for anyone with a legitimate grievance against the charity to turn to. The police, who have a much more high-profile job in the fight against crime, are by contrast investigated by the Police Complaints Commission almost as a matter of course in any controversial case, such as the shooting of a suspect. Finally, these powers seem to have been handed quietly over to the RSPCA before the debate on the Animal Welfare Bill, with little debate or opportunity to contest the move. One can't help wondering whether this is New Labour's political payback for the £1million donated by the Political Fund for Animal Welfare some years ago.
This move regretfully must be seen against the bigger backdrop of the alarming increase in animal rights extremism and even terrorism (euphemistically named "direct action"). While it is true that most ARs do not condone violence against human beings, many do seem to wish to inflict property damage which itself is an attempt to enforce the will of a passionate minority when persuasion has failed. And there is an extreme fringe which does not shy off from intimidation and assault. At the same time, any proposed legislation to deal with criminal acts by the violent AR minority is decried by the spokesmen for these radical groups as "knee-jerk" or an attempt to suppress debate (how a person targeted by the violent few can debate with a baseball bat is never mentioned).
The website itself has not been as active as usual since the last update here. Our biggest systematic change was in the Herpetological Magazine Index, where we have moved from listing species by their common names to listing them by their species name - a sensible move, given that often common names are variable or can describe more than one species. We have also listed Reptile and Amphibian Sanctuaries on the Herpetology page, and we hope that anyone who runs such a sanctuary that is not yet listed here will let us know.
May 2000 (II)
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