2020 Ann Cottrell Free National Press Club Animal Reporting Award Winners
Winner: The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism: People who love animals can unknowingly fuel their suffering, Natasha Daly, The National Geographic
Natasha Daly’s cover story in the June 2019 issue of the National Geographic, with photographs by Kristen Luce, peeled back layers of hidden and shocking suffering within the global wildlife industry.
Daly’s reporting across four continents illustrates how the wildlife-encounter industry takes advantage of people’s love of animals even as it exploits those very animals. She shows how social media has fueled the problem with tourists wanting photos of themselves on elephant rides, swimming with dolphins and posing with tigers.
Daly went behind the scenes to expose the reality --- elephants kept on spiked chains and beaten with bull hooks, bears chained to the wall in an unnatural standing position, tiger cubs taken from their mothers at birth and kept in small cages, dolphins and other marine animals dying soon after being put in captivity, only to be replaced by new ones who are illegally given the same microchips as their dead predecessors.
Since the story was published, thousands of readers from all over the world have contacted the National Geographic with a similar message of thanks, “I didn’t know, but now I do.”
Honorable Mention: Series of stories on the government’s failure to protect animals, Karin Brulliard, The Washington Post
Karin Brulliard’s hard hitting series of stories in 2019 had one common theme --- the failure of US government agencies, primarily the U.S. Department of Agriculture, to protect animals.
Brulliard’s stories uncovered the heartbreaking suffering of raccoons, tigers, pigs, rabbits, monkeys and a variety of other domestic and wild animals who are covered under the Animal Welfare Act which is enforced by the USDA. Brulliard found instance after instance of enforcement failure and even decisions to deny aid to animals that went all the way up to the Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Brulliard’s reporting took her to Oklahoma where she visited the roadside zoo owned by Joe Passage, aka Joe Exotic, months before Netflix made him famous as the star of “Tiger King”. She revealed how gaps in oversight by the USDA, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services and states enabled a thriving market for endangered big cats.
Brulliard’s exposes have been credited as creating a pressure point for change. One of her sources, former USDA supervisor William Stokes, said Brulliard’s reporting “will undoubtedly help bring about desperately needed changes to reduce animal suffering.”
Winner: “Dying for Diplomacy” - Scott MacFarlane, Katie Leslie, Steve Jones, Jeff Piper - WRC-TV, Washington, D.C.
A year-long investigation by WRC-TV revealed that the U.S. Department of State was failing to protect many of the specially trained dogs it deployed in the war on terror. Through inside sources, a whistleblower’s account and federal records requests, WRC showed a series of incidents in which the canines deployed through the Antiterrorism Assistance Program were mistreated by foreign handlers and governments, some to the point of serious neglect and death.
WRC’s findings were later confirmed by congressional investigators, as well as by the State Department’s Office of Inspector General. In late 2019, the State Department announced it was indefinitely suspending deployment of additional dogs to two countries, including one that was prominently featured in the story.
Honorable Mention: Nestle Drops Dairy Farm After 7 on Your Side Investigation - Scott Taylor, WJLA-TV, ABC 7 News, Washington D.C.
After obtaining undercover footage of horrific abuse of cows at a dairy that supplied milk to Nestle USA, Scott Taylor and his team at WJLA launched an investigation that resulted in the suspension of the contract, termination of the employees responsible, industry disciplinary action, on-site reforms and a criminal investigation.
The hidden footage of Martin Farms in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, provided by animal advocacy group Compassion Over Killing, showed cows being punched, kicked, stomped and prodded in sensitive areas, medical procedures using hot irons and tools without any visible sedation, as well as cows that were unable to walk hoisted by their hips or feet and then dragged.
Taylor’s investigation included interviews with an independent veterinary expert, Martin Farms, state and national lawmakers, drone footage and reaction from Nestle.