THE CAMPAIGN to compel the French government to stop fishermen on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion using live puppies and kittens as shark bait has attracted thousands of signatures nationwide and worldwide writes Nick Mays
As reported in OUR DOGS last week, the petition, organised by the RSPCA, began after the French actress turned animal rights campaigner Brigitte Bardot brought the outrage to the world’s attention following a report in Cicanoo, a leading newspaper on the island, that a six-month-old puppy was found with hooks in its nose and one of its legs.
"It is imperative that the government does something to end this practice," Bardot said in a letter to Francois Baroin, the minister for French overseas territories. "Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents."
It is understood that stray animals are rounded up by native fishermen for the purpose of dangling the live animal in the water in order to attract sharks. A graphic photograph of a young dog with a large, thick fishing hook in its mouth was released by the Foundation, although some doubt has been cast on the photograph’s authenticity. It is believed that in the absence of a photograph of an actual dog used as bait that a photograph of a stray that had accidentally hooked its mouth whilst foraging for fishing bait was used instead. It has been observed that a large hook in a dog’s lips would soon tear free, especially if the dog’s weight was pulling on the hook in the sea or if grabbed by a shark.
The RSPCA was said to be "shocked and appalled" at the use of live animals as bait in shark fishing on Réunion and called on the French Government to outlaw the practice, after launching its petition.
After the story was carried by a national newspaper and OUR DOGS last week, close on 65,000 people signed the petition online, a response the RSPCA said was "unprecedented".
Head of press for the charity, Henry Macaulay, said: "We would like to thank the public for their unprecedented response to the shark bait story. This has been to date the biggest reaction to any petition on our website and we would like to thank OUR DOGS and The Sun for raising this issue and alerting the public to this terrible practice.
"We will be presenting the petition to the French embassy at a later date and hope that this will help add pressure on the French government to take immediate steps to enforce its animal protection legislation and end this horrific practice."
Animal welfare group Sea Shepherd has said that it will pay £680 to any Réunion police officer that catches a fisherman baiting a dog.
Thus far, however, only one fisherman has been prosecuted for using live dogs as shark bait. Jean-Claude Clain, 51 walked free from court in Réunion last week after being given a three-month suspended prison sentence after being convicted of cruelty.
Katy Geary of the RSPCA told OUR DOGS: "Obviously we are disappointed at the sentence and would have hoped for a stronger deterrent - especially when you consider what he was found guilty of.
"The better news is that, to date nearly 65,000 have signed our petition - by far the most signed of all our previous petitions and we will hope to present it shortly to the French Embassy - we will hopefully alert the media nearer the time. "
The RSPCA’s petition can be accessed by logging onto www.rspca.org.uk/sharkbait.
For more information, please also see Brigitte Bardot’s website: www.fondationbrigittebardot.fr.
French Government responds to complaints
OUR DOGS is pleased to reproduce a letter about the Reunion shark bait horror to a concerned American animal lover from the French Embassy in Washington DC:
Thank you for writing to us with your concerns. We too denounce the barbaric practices you refer to. Such acts are obviously illegal and will not be tolerated on French territory. But while we share your revulsion, we would like to emphasise that the practice of using live dogs or cats as shark bait is in fact exceptional and isolated. It was never widespread nor traditional, but introduced by ruthless individuals, and has been strictly banned for decades now.
TV reports that raised initial indignation when they were aired in France and abroad in 2005 were filmed locally in 2003 following the discovery of a mutilated dog. The last few months have seen two identical events which received heavy media coverage (one of these events was soon determined to be a false alarm). But can these vile occurrences lead us to conclude that there is an ongoing tradition of barbarism on Reunion Island?
Reunion Island, a French territory and a European region, obeys the laws and regulations of the French Republic and the European Union. It respects the rule of law and does not practice inhumane ancestral practices. The facts that elicited your complaint are the act of a few isolated, irresponsible parties who are being sought by the police and will be brought to justice. The authorities on the island are closely monitoring the situation; one person is in custody and appeared in court on Friday September 30, 2005. All suspicions of such acts will be investigated, and animal protection organisations that have any specific information on these matters are strongly encouraged to inform French police authorities.
The French minister for agriculture and fisheries, Dominique Bussereau, is fully aware of the media and public outcry regarding this issue, and has written to the French National Assembly to emphasise that several measures have been taken to strengthen already existing laws.
Veterinarians have been directed to immediately report any suspicious wounds to authorities, and the police will increase their inspections of fishing and pleasure vessels. Meanwhile, a sterilisation campaign, launched in 2001 to reduce the number of stray dogs and cats on the island, continues.
Animal rights are an important issue in France: over half of French households have at least one pet, and France has some of the world's most stringent animal rights legislation. French law provides for the prosecution of those who are cruel to animals. Voluntary cruelty to animals is punishable by a sentence of two years in prison and a 30,000 euro fine.
Cordialement/Regards, Service de Presse et d'Information / Press & Information Service, Ambassade de France / Embassy of France, Washington, D.C.