If we had the choice, many of us would tear the year 2016 out of our history books, but on reflection, it wasn't all bad. In fact, huge strides have been made for animals around the world during the last 12 months. Here are some of the highlights:
Armani goes fur-free
Compassion was clearly in fashion this year. In March, the esteemed Italian design house declared it was going fur-free, saying, "Technological progress made over the years allows us to have valid alternatives at our disposition that render the use of cruel practices unnecessary". Armani joins Stella McCartney, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Hugo Boss, Vivienne Westwood and other trendsetters who know that the only fashionable fur is faux.
TripAdvisor bans ticket sales to cruel animal attractions
In October, TripAdvisor – the world's largest travel site – announced it would no longer sell tickets for activities in whichwild animals are forced into contact with humans, including elephant rides, tiger encounters, and "swim with dolphins"excursions. This decision reflects a sea change in public opinion, as today's consumers are more aware than ever of the suffering wild animals endure when they're held captive and forced to perform on command for our amusement.
Argentina bans greyhound racing
Argentina has upped the ante against cruelty to animals by instituting a nationwide ban on greyhound racing. The industryis notorious for its misdeeds, including discarding animals like used betting slips once they're no longer considered useful for racing. Closer to home, London's last greyhound-racing stadium got the chop this year when the local council approved a planning application to transform Wimbledon Greyhound Stadium into a sports ground for willing, human participants.
The Dutch government announces a plan to phase out all animal tests
In a ground-breaking decision, the Dutch government announced its intention to end the use of animals in safety tests for chemicals, food ingredients, pesticides, veterinary medicines, and vaccines by 2025 – making the Netherlands the first country in the world to end all animal tests. Achieving this precedent-setting goal will save countless animals from a life spent in barren cages, undergoing painful tests such as being made to inhale toxic fumes or force-fed pesticides. The country's commitment to moving away from archaic animal experiments and towards humane, cutting-edge, human-relevant methods – such as organs-on-chips and computational models – sets an example for other nations to follow.
Major high-street shops go down-free
Following PETA's exposé of the cruel down industry, in which birds are often plucked alive for their feathers – even for so-called "responsible down" – Topshop, Burton, Whistles, Warehouse, Primark, White Stuff, Oasis, and other high-street retailers committed to banning the material from their collections. This list will only grow in 2017, now that innovative, high-tech vegan fillers – which are also hypoallergenic, warm, eco-friendly, and kind to birds – are widely available.
Notorious Korean dog-meat market shuts down
Some very welcome news for our canine friends came from Korea earlier this month – as it was announced that the country's largest dog-meat market is closing. An estimated 80,000 dogs were massacred annually at this hell on Earth. As a sign of the times, Korea hosted its first vegan festival this year – complete with tofu banchan and veggie bibimbap.
SeaWorld announces an end to its orca-breeding programme
When it comes to protecting animals, persistence pays – and after years of campaigning by PETA and our international affiliates, SeaWorld finally announced it was ending its captive orca–breeding programme, meaning future generations of orcas won't have to face a lifetime of confinement to a tiny concrete tank deprived of everything that's natural and important to them. This decision preceded the news that a new SeaWorld park set to open in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, will be orca-free and instead showcase state-of-the-art virtual reality technology and three-dimensional imagery. While these hard-fought battles are cause for celebration, we won't stop campaigning until SeaWorld stops abusing all marine life and releases the orcas still incarcerated in its chlorinated prisons to sea sanctuaries, where they could have some semblance of a natural life.
First wool shearers charged for abusing sheep in Australia
In a landmark case, a shearer pleaded guilty to cruelty to animals for the first time in Australian history. The charges followed a PETA exposé which documented Australian wool workers beating scared sheep in the face with electric clippers and punching and stamping on their heads and necks. As a result of the footage, six shearers have been charged and five others are scheduled to face court next year.
Council scraps plans to build a rabbit factory farm in Staffordshire
Thousands of rabbits were spared the misery, pain, and terror of being kept in cramped cages before finally being slaughtered for their flesh and skin when Stafford Borough Council rejected a planning application for an intensive rabbit farm. Plans for an intensive chicken farm in North Yorkshire were also scrapped this year.
Gruesome Toro de la Vega "festival" banned
Following years of campaigning, 2016 also saw an end to the bloody and barbaric Toro de la Vega "festival", a horrific annual event in the Castile and León region of Spain in which men on foot and horseback pursued and stabbed a terrified young bull to death. And additional respite for Spanish bulls is on the way, as more than 100 towns and cities in the country have now banned bullfighting events. Even the mayor of Pamplona voiced his concern about the cruelty inherent in these events – after a "bloody" protest in the city organised by PETA and the Spanish group AnimaNaturalis ahead of the Running of the Bulls, he said, "[T]he suffering of a living being, in the 21st century, is something that … we have to rethink".
Now that we've had a moment to reflect on 2016's victories, it's time to roll up our sleeves and get to it in 2017. There's a great deal more that needs to be done for the billions of animals who are still suffering at human hands. We all have the power to help or harm them with the choices we make every day – so let's make 2017 the best year yet for animals.
Mimi Bekhachi is the Director of International Programmes at PETA
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