Animal rights advocates are asking a Los Angeles federal judge to stop a massive feral pig hunt underway at Channel Islands National Park off the Ventura County coast.
The lawsuit claims that piglets on Santa Cruz Island are chased by dogs and "mangled" after the mother has been killed. Pigs that have escaped gunfire from helicopters are subdued by their hind legs by hunters and sliced open or beaten to death, the suit also alleges.
The claims are based on a 13-page affidavit by Tim Setnicka, a former Channel Islands park superintendent who oversaw an earlier eradication of wild pigs on Santa Rosa Island using the same methods. Setnicka detailed how thousands of wild pigs were tracked and killed in brutal fashion and alleged that National Park Service officials made the decision to slaughter the pigs before holding required environmental studies and public hearings.
"The standard park service model is a steamroller model," said Setnicka, who retired in 2003 after more than 30 years with the park service. "It's a model that says 'We know what's best for the park, trust us.' "
Russell Galipeau, the current Channel Islands park superintendent, said he hadn't seen a copy of the lawsuit and could not comment. Park biologists and environmental groups have long maintained, however, that thousands of foraging pigs endanger native plants and threaten the existence of a small fox found only on the Channel Islands.
A spokesman for the U.S. attorney's office in Los Angeles said he could not comment on allegations that environmental laws were skirted. But spokesman Thom Mrozek said that Pro Hunting, the New Zealand company brought in to eradicate the pigs in early April, is top-notch.
"It's a very well-known company that's done numerous eradications around the world, including on the Galapagos Islands," off Ecuador, Mrozek said. "They are following euthanasia guidelines put forward by the American Veterinary Medical Assn."
A team of 10 hunters will spend more than two years killing pigs on Santa Cruz, one of five islands that make up Channel Islands National Park. Park officials have said they considered removing live pigs to the mainland but rejected doing so because of fear of disease.
The lawsuit, filed earlier this week, was brought by In Defense of Animals, a Mill Valley, Calif.-based animal rights group, and two individuals. Richard Feldman, one of the individual plaintiffs, said he got involved because he viewed the park's actions as "senseless."
"They aren't playing by the rules, but they rarely get caught," said Feldman, a Santa Barbara businessman. "That's why we decided to sue."
Plaintiffs want a judge to halt the hunt and order the park service to consider eradication alternatives, such as contraception or live removal. Elliott Katz, a veterinarian and founder of In Defense of Animals, said the pigs could easily be trapped and sterilized.
"Dart them, knock them out and sterilize the males," Katz said. "The population would gradually thin. And it gives a message that there is sensitivity to the lives of animals."