- On May 31, 2017
In the wake of the New York Blood Center (NYBC) striking an agreement with The HSUS yesterday to cover a substantial portion of the costs of care for chimpanzees in Liberia once used in invasive experiments, I had a virtual sit down for a Q&A with former Governor Bill Richardson to talk about his work for animal protection. The HSUS enlisted Governor Richardson, as a volunteer, to help convince the NYBC to help these animals. Previously, he had been instrumental in the larger effort in the United States to end all experiments on chimps – which I discussed at length in my book The Humane Economy. When he was governor of New Mexico, Richardson helped lead the fight to outlaw cockfighting, and he’s subsequently been fighting to end all horse slaughter in North America. Of the big figures in American politics, few have demonstrated such a steadfast and diverse commitment to animal protection, and I am immensely grateful to him for applying his extraordinary talents to our cause.
Q. As the son of an international banking executive, you spent your childhood in Mexico City. We’ve opened up an office in Mexico through Humane Society International (HSI) and we’ve secured several victories there in a short time span, including a strong anti-dogfighting law and the end of some cruel spectacles. Do these gains surprise you, or would you have predicted a real step-up in animal protection gains in our neighbor to the south?
A. Thankfully, the humane treatment of animals continues to become more of a global issue every day. But the recent sensitivity in Mexico to the animal issues is due in large part to the work and effective advocacy of Humane Society international (HSI). As a kid, we had dogs—a Mastiff and a Dachshund—but I can tell you that overall, in Mexico, animals weren’t a priority or even on the radar for most people. Hopefully, the next target will be the end of horse slaughtering, especially the iconic American wild horse populations. Mexico and Canada are two countries where this practice still continues.
Q. I may be wrong, but it seems your passion for animal protection picked up dramatically later in your political career? What happened to deepen that interest?
A. When I became Governor in early 2003, New Mexico was still participating in cockfighting. Animal advocates such as Gene and Clare Thaw, actress Ali McGraw, and the leaders of Animal Protection of New Mexico educated me on the importance of ending this heinous sport and alerted me to other issues, such as the plight of wild horses, the humane treatment of cats and dogs, and protecting the ecosystem of Mexican wolves.
New Mexico is an animal-loving state; our animal movement is strong, thanks to our residents and organizations that not only love animals and promote animal rights, but also work hard to stop the needless overpopulation of animals through spay and neuter programs. More importantly we, as a state, are reaching out to educate our next generation—our kids and their kids—about the humane treatment of all creatures, great and small. That’s where it starts. In addition, this level of kind and conscientious behavior has a trickle-down effect in society—at home, in the workplace, in the classroom, even on the highway. That’s something we all need in today’s world.
Q. As Governor of New Mexico, you pushed a ten-point plan to advance animal welfare – a landmark action by a state chief executive, and one that you delivered on. What were some of the key accomplishments of your tenure, and what insights about animal welfare and politics did your efforts produce for you? What kinds of things are you doing via the Foundation to Preserve New Mexico Wildlife now?
A. My main accomplishments were due in large part to the Thaw family and Animal Protection of New Mexico. Besides our ten-point plan, we ended cockfighting in the state, reintroduced the Mexican wolf into the wilderness, and sought to obtain sanctuaries for wild horses. The Foundation, which I started with actor-activist-environmentalist Robert Redford, concentrated on ending horse slaughter in New Mexico, which included an agreement with the Navajo Nation to end this practice, as well as litigating to protect the Mexican wolf.
Q. You’ve observed that animal protection is a sleeper issue in American politics. What do you have to say to people serving in elected office about the importance of taking a stand for animal welfare?
A. Animal protection issues have gained traction in American politics, especially among young people. Pets are very dear to many citizens in many ways. They not only provide companionship and comfort in daily life, but studies show that animals alleviate daily stress in classrooms, workplaces, hospitals, etc., and their presence in our world improves everyone’s mental and physical well-being. That’s why you see more and more animal programs in classrooms, hospitals and senior citizen homes, as well as at prisons and detention centers. I’ve been an avid horseman for much of my life. There’s not a better day under New Mexico’s vast blue sky than when I’m on the trail with my horse, Blanco. Animals enrich our lives.
Q. The Fiscal Year 2017 funding bill includes language to prevent the Bureau of Land Management and its contractors from sending wild horses to be slaughtered for human consumption, and directs BLM to create a plan, within 180 days of enactment, to maintain long-term sustainable populations on the range in a humane manner. The bill includes language that maintains the ban on horse slaughter in the United States. Even so, this battle likely isn’t over. You’ve worked on it a good bit. What are your thoughts on the best way to keep the bans in place and address the status and welfare of wild horses on the range?
A. The key to keeping the horse slaughter ban is to marshal the necessary resources to guarantee effective lobbying of the US Congress. The fight is a yearly battle and it is not over. I would urge more interactions with the Indian tribes on this issue, and the extension of efforts to persuade Mexico and Canada to stop horse slaughter.
You’ve chosen to work on the wildlife poaching issue on the international level. Why did you select this as a focus of work for your non-profit center and what kinds of things are you doing?
A. The Richardson Center for Global Engagement has invested in programs to protect African elephants from the illegal ivory trade through three main activities:
Immediate term: Poacher-to-Protector training. In partnership with Africa Parks, the Center helped pilot a program that encouraged the surrender and registration of local poachers (surrendering their weapons, and intelligence—or asset forfeiture), in return for amnesty, training as a ranger and a job at the parks. The pilot program successfully identified 63 local poachers, and the intelligence gathered helped with the arrest of regional king-pins.
Medium term: Assisting with the research and feasibility studies for purchase and deployment of new technologies for conservation efforts, along with WWF-US. This included a symposium, and a published report about available new technologies, their applications in the field, and their feasibility for conservation efforts.
Long term: Assets Forfeiture. This included a study for the adoption of the Assets Forfeiture tool (previously deployed in international arms and drug wars); a specific study of the legislative and practical environment in five African nations, required to implement such a tool; the creation of a training curriculum for holistic training for audiences from rangers to prosecutors; and a physical training module that took place in Kenya, with participants from six African nations.
Q. Is there any other small or large thought you want to convey to animal advocates?
A. Animals have been with us and our ancestors, and have been respected, cherished and worshiped by their human companions since the beginning of time. The love of animals will not go away. Keep fighting the good fight in your local communities–at the grass-roots level. That’s where it starts and that’s where you can effect real positive change. It all begins with you.