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Dogs Used as Shark Bait on French Island
By Maryann Mott
for National Geographic News
October 19, 2005
Live and dead dogs and cats are being used as shark bait by amateur
fishers on the French-controlled island of Réunion, according to
animal-welfare organizations and local authorities.
The small volcanic island off Africa's east coast is bursting with stray dogs—upward of 150,000, says Reha Hutin, president of the Paris-based Fondation 30 Millions d'Amis (the Thirty Million Friends Foundation).
Hutin sent a film crew to Réunion this summer to obtain proof that live animals were being used as shark bait. The goal was to expose the practice on the animal rights group's weekly television show.
It didn't take long for the film crew to find three separate cases, she said.
A videotape and photographs show the dogs with multiple hooks sunk deep into their paws and snouts.
"From then on everyone started to take the whole story seriously and realized it was true," Hutin said.
A veterinarian successfully treated one of the canines, a six-month-old dog with a large fishhook through its snout (see photo), at an SPA (Société Protectrice des Animaux, or Animal Protective Society) clinic in Réunion's capital, St.-Denis.
Unlike most of the hooked animals, the dog was someone's pet, according to Saliha Hadj-Djilani, a reporter for the Thirty Million Friends Foundation's TV program. The dog had apparently escaped its captors and was taken to the SPA by a concerned citizen. Fully recovered, the animal is now home with its owners.
The other two cases uncovered by Thirty Million Friends were strays. They now live in France with new owners.
The foundation plans to finance a sterilization program on the island to reduce the stray overpopulation. But the job won't be easy.
Hutin said many locals view the strays as vermin. "There's no value to the life of a dog there," she said.
Practice Not Widespread
Stephanie Roche of the Brigitte Bardot Foundation, another animal-welfare group in Paris, confirmed that live animals are used as bait on Réunion. But, she said, it is not a common practice.
The Bardot organization has been fighting the practice for a decade. But this is the first time Réunion politicians have reacted strongly and swiftly to stop it, Roche said
Last month, it became illegal for fishing boats to carry any live or dead dogs or cats.
The French Embassy in Washington, D.C., issued a written statement condemning the use of dogs as shark bait, emphasizing that such acts are illegal and will not be tolerated in the French territory.
The embassy maintains these are "very isolated cases and authorities on the island are closely monitoring the situation."
Earlier this month the first court case was held involving a person charged with using live dogs as bait.
Authorities had found a seven-month-old puppy on John Claude Clain's property in July with three fishing hooks in its paws and snout.
Clain, a 51-year-old bread deliveryperson, was found guilty of animal cruelty and fined 5,000 euros (U.S. $5,982), according to Clicanoo, a Réunion newspaper.
The amateur fisher said he did not use the puppy as bait. Instead, Clain said, the dog had been injured by a trap he had set to protect his hens, the paper reported.
Clain's case isn't an isolated one, said Fabienne Jouve of GRAAL (Groupement de Réflexion et d'Action pour l'Animal, or the Grouping of Reflection and Action for Animals), an animal rights organization based in Charenton-le-Pont, France.
"Lately, almost every week, one dog has been found with hooks on the island, not counting the cats found on the beaches partially eaten by the sharks," Jouve said.
Once fishers capture the animals, she said, the dogs and cats are hooked "the day before, so they can bleed sufficiently."
Some escape before being tossed into the ocean. Others aren't so lucky.
After hooks are plunged into their paws and/or snouts, the animals are attached to inflatable tubes with fishing line and dumped into the ocean, Clicanoo, the newspaper, reports.
To avoid detection fishers place their bait in the middle of the night, according to the newspaper account. In the morning the men return to see if a shark has been caught.
"Barbaric practices have no excuses, whatsoever, in the 21st century," GRAAL's Jouve said.
The Sea Shepherd Conservation Society in Friday Harbor, Washington State, is offering a U.S. $1,000 reward to any Réunion police officer who arrests anyone using live dogs or cats as bait for sharks.
Both the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in the United Kingdom and the Thirty Million Friends Foundation are asking animal lovers to sign a petition urging the French government to step up enforcement of laws against the use of live dogs as bait.
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