June 12, 2010
by John Yantis, The Arizona Republic
Sluggish sales at Scottsdale-based Taser International have the company targeting a new market for its stun guns: wildlife.
Taser and the Alaska Department of Fish and Game are testing the guns on distressed or aggressive wayward animals, including moose, bears and deer. Officials say the devices are successful because animals recover more quickly from an electric shock than the more traditional darts containing narcotics.
But animal-rights activists question the stun guns' safety and say the Tasers cause the animals overwhelming pain. Instead, they argue that loud noises such as horns and whistles can be used to run animals off.
They suggest pepper spray for personal safety and installing fencing or applying pepper-based repellents to keep animals away. Lastly, they say the state should require bear-proof enclosures around restaurant trash bins and make it illegal to feed wildlife.
"In extreme nuisance-wildlife cases, large wild animals (without young) can be live-trapped and relocated," the group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said in an e-mail. "The safest and most humane way to deal with unwanted wild animals is to leave them alone. With a little time, they will move on. With a little thought, these issues can be resolved without resorting to high voltage."
Taser is familiar with controversy. For years, it has used an aggressive strategy for fighting product-liability and wrongful-death lawsuits over the use of its law-enforcement stun guns.
A sour economy has the company experiencing lower sales recently because of slow demand for its guns, particularly overseas. In April, Taser reported it lost $492,605, or 1 cent per share, in the fourth quarter on revenue of $23.8 million. Taser attributed the 3 percent decline in revenue to a slowdown in international sales that offset modest increases in the U.S.
Taser CEO Rick Smith said then that the company continues to work on diversifying through new software products, such as its Protector cellphone-monitoring system, which parents can use to see who their kids call or text. The company also recently began offering its first multishot stun gun and a video-recording device for police officers, as well as stun guns for personal safety.
Taser is hopeful the wildlife research that it began with Alaska four years ago will help drive orders in a new area.
"With four years of hard work, this now establishes some really solid research," said Steve Tuttle, a Taser spokesman. "We've never really had an agency of this size formally accept it after testing like this."
Tasers have a range of 35 feet and cost $800.
Local animal-control agencies in the past used the guns sporadically for aggressive dogs, moose and deer. They usually deploy them so they can subdue the animals, harness them and move them to safety.
"You'd be shocked how many deer will jump through windows of homes up in Michigan and Canada," Tuttle said, adding that moose tangled up in fences also present problems in some areas. "Nobody will go near these animals, but if they can control them, they'll use a Taser."
The guns are proving to be a viable option for wildlife managers when dealing with angry and confused animals, said Larry Lewis, an Alaska Fish and Game wildlife technician.
"We're finding there doesn't appear to be any deleterious long-term effects to the animals that are subjected to an electronic-control device if it's done properly," Lewis said.
Last winter, he and a supervisor received a call about a yearling male moose with a galvanized chicken feeder stuck over its head. The animal had put is nose down through the top of the feeder and couldn't see well. The situation was bad enough that Lewis shot the moose with a Taser to knock it down. His boss ran over, pulled the feeder off and checked for injuries. Seeing none, he came back to Lewis, who turned off the stun gun.
"The animal got up and ran off," Lewis said. "We didn't have to use drugs. There's always an inherent risk anytime we dart animals. Some of these drugs are very dangerous to work with."
Other methods that can be used to subdue animals include rubber bullets, pepper spray, bean-bag rounds and regular firearms.
The American Veterinary Medical Association has a formal policy against using Tasers, saying they can be lethal and should not be used on cats or other small animals.
When using tranquilizing guns, a large dose of medication is shot from a long distance into the animals with a .22-caliber shell, and it has to hit a specific spot, said Andrew Hinz, Taser director of technical services. He said there is a 60 percent to 70 percent mortality rate when using the guns with large doses of medication.
By deploying a Taser, wildlife managers are able to subdue the animals for up to 15 seconds, approach them and hand-inject the sedative into a specific location. The result, he said, is less impact on the animal's physiology. Hinz couldn't provide a comparable Taser mortality rate. But he said a Wake Forest University study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, showed a low rate of serious injury with a Taser device compared with other uses of force.
He said big moose and brown bears pay little attention to rubber bullets.
The company is receiving calls from wildlife officials from several states in the Midwest and West, where the stun guns could be useful against black bears and elk. He also expects a market to develop in Canada.
"Even ranchers in Montana, where they have their steers, they're looking at the safety of actually using this device," he said.
Lewis has taken calls from as far away as Africa, Britain and the Yukon Territory.
He recently presented his research to peers who attended a workshop in Alberta on the conflicts between humans and bears.
"I went in there fully expecting to be accosted and run out on a rail over this use," he said. "I was really pleasantly surprised. Even the people that I thought would be totally opposed to it actually embraced it and said, 'We think this is great. If an animal's life is saved, we're 100 percent for it.' "
Lewis and the Alaska state veterinarian carry Tasers full time. A select group of area biologists and conservation staff was recently trained to use them, Lewis said. He added that they may one day be used in animal-handing facilities, including zoos, stockyards and research facilities.
"We look at the electronic-control devices as another option for people to use in the field," he said. "It's another tool on the tool belt, basically. I still carry firearms and still use rubber baton and bean-bag rounds and all these other tools that we use, but Taser is now part of our arsenal."
WELCOME to TRUTH ... not TASERS
Saturday, June 12, 2010
June 12, 2010