Virginia McKenna’s Born Free

October 27th, 2016

I was going to write about the documentary which was shown on Channel 4 on Sunday evening but then I thought, why? Here is everything you need to know if you are in the UK and haven’t seen the film, or wish to see it again.

Letter from Virginia

I was overwhelmed by the response to the documentary shown on Channel 4 on Sunday evening, charting the story of how the film Born Free was made and how it changed my life, and the lives of my late husband Bill and our eldest son Will, forever.

The many emails and messages I have received have been humbling and deeply touching and I wanted to thank everyone who so kindly wrote.

If you did not see the film then I believe you can watch it by following this link.

Many people have asked me what they can do to help, and my son Will has made the following suggestions which I hope you may find useful.

Please don’t stay silent. We are the voices for the wild animals we hold in trust and who cannot speak for themselves. Whether your passion is lions, or elephants, rhinos or pangolins or, indeed, all wild species, we must ensure our elected leaders make the protection of wildlife a top priority. You can write to your MP or, if you wish, to the Prime Minister herself – I always believe in going to the top!

Please tell your friends and family about the work of the Born Free Foundation. For nearly 33 years we have been fighting for wildlife both in captivity and in its fragile natural habitat. I know that millions of people, like you, care deeply about the future of life on earth. We simply must spread the word.

And finally, if you would be willing, then I invite you to become part of my family, the family of Born Free, through adopting one of our rescued or free-living animals or by joining Born Free and helping make our voice, our impact and our influence even stronger.

I was so incredibly lucky, over 50 years ago, to make a film with Bill that opened our eyes and changed the way we looked at the world. We could not have done that without the Adamsons, and especially George who became a lifelong friend.

Thanks to them, the Spirit of Elsa burns brightly and Born Free is the torchbearer for this and future generations.

I do hope you will want to help keep the flame burning.

Thank you so much.

Blogging off,


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Improving The Lives of Animals in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

October 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

There are millions of wild animals in Europe’s 4,000 or so zoos. Many live in grim conditions. Making their lives better, even while we work towards the day when our efforts and resources are directed at ‘keeping wildlife in the wild’, must be a top priority, as my friend and colleague, Daniel Turner, explains.

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Improving The Lives of Animals  in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

This week, Born Free has been exhibiting a series of extraordinary photographs of wild animals taken at zoos across the European Union.

The exhibition, presented at the European Parliament in Brussels, is striking, yet shocking, considering the plight of these animals were captured this year. Our photographers, award-winning Britta Jaschinski and Jo-Anne McArthur, have ensured the debate about the role of zoos focuses, for once, the way in which the animals are kept.

“Great pictures, and a necessary initiative” expressed Josu from Italy, who has visited the exhibition this week, whilst Barbara, from the Czech Republic, commented, “A long way to go. Horrifying!”.That’s Born Free’s biggest concern. There are millions of wild animals in the estimated 4,000 EU zoos and if even half that number are being kept in conditions that fail to meet their basic welfare needs, how can we begin to make a difference to the lives of so many animals?

Politicians, who have rallied behind our efforts this week, can help us make a difference. The South East of England MEP, Keith Taylor, who sponsored our exhibition, also organised a 2-hour round-table discussion on the welfare impact on zoo animals, ensuring that key issues were considered in detail. Politicians can hold the European Commission (the EU civil service), those responsible for the implementation of the EU zoo law (the EU Zoos Directive), to account and highlight the need for significantly improved animal welfare standards.

The governments of each of the 28 EU countries can certainly make a difference too. Ultimately their relevant authorities – State employed zoo inspectors and veterinarians – are responsible for the implementation of the requirements of the EU Zoos Directive and the enforcement of national zoo law.

Born Free’s EU Zoo Inquiry has revealed that many authorities actually lack the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure high standards in wild animal care. Addressing this surprising and deeply worrying revelation is the next priority for the Born Free Foundation team but, only a collaborative approach, with other stakeholders, is likely to address this knowledge deficit.

Last, but by no means least, the public’s ability to influence change must never be under estimated. The welcome announcement by TripAdvisor yesterday, that it would be stopping its promotion of captive animal attractions that exploit animals through direct public interaction, is a result of public pressure.

YOU can influence your politicians, your national government and even the zoos themselves. How? By contributing to an EU-wide public survey evaluating the role of zoos – and specifically whether zoos do or should contribute to biodiversity conservation. Want to take part? Born Free has developed an informative guide which helps you through the process, but it is vitally important, for the sake of the animals, that you find the time to contribute. Then, together, we can truly make a difference!

Born Free’s guide to completing the public consultation survey

Access the public consultation survey here

Will Travers | 3 Comments »

CITES – Why it needs your support!

September 16th, 2016

Dear Friends,

On the 24th September several thousand people will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Another ‘talking shop’ I hear you groan. Why don’t we just get on and save the animals!?  What’s the point of yet another conference when species such as elephant, rhino, pangolin, lion, tiger and many more are in such dire straits? What’s the point of CITES anyway?

HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s just what some of the all-consuming, pro-trade lobby want –  not to mention the illegal criminal networks and poaching syndicates making a killing exploiting wildlife.

Let me explain:

People often say to me that we should get rid of CITES. That it has failed.

For sure, CITES can be improved but, for a moment, imagine that it did not exist.

Then we all said ‘you know what, all these species in trade need some sort of protection. We need an international treaty that is aimed at controlling and, where necessary, preventing trade in species whose future could be in jeopardy because of trade. We’ll need to have a Secretariat to make sure countries stick to the rules and so that, at least in principle, everyone plays by those rules. That Secretariat, with our support, needs to be able to suspend all trade in species of wild fauna and flora from any country that goes too far. We’ll need a body in each country – let’s call it the Scientific Authority – to rigorously assess the viability of any trade in live animals and plants or specimens. We’ll need another body – let’s call it the Management Authority – in each country to ensure that national laws are compliant with the terms of the Treaty and to manage trade at a national level. And we’ll have a meeting of all the contracting countries – the Parties – every 2 or 3 years, where proposals relating to trade will be discussed, where additional protection can be approved and where, if we agree, international trade can be suspended or banned. Oh, and let’s agree that a vote of two thirds or more in favour of any motion will be internationally binding…”

Sounds like a pretty important concept to me. But remember, in this fantasy world I have created, it doesn’t exist. It’s an idea we’ve just dreamed up.

Now ask yourselves: Would we, today, ever be able to turn such an idea into reality? I suspect the answer would be a solid NO. A quick look at the other environmental agreements such as the Convention on Migratory Species or the Convention on Biological Diversity, important in their own right, clearly demonstrates that unlike CITES they simply do not have the ability to hold countries to account, to introduce trade sanctions at a global level, ban international trade in ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, lion and tiger body parts and so much more.

That is why I have attended every CITES meeting since 1989, fighting for the highest levels of protection under international law possible for species threatened by global trade. That is why I will be there in Johannesburg with my Born Free colleagues, Mark, Adam, Gabriel, Tim, Alice, Manori and Marion, as well as delegates from the influential Species Survival Network to challenge those who would trade at any cost, those who would commercialise and commodify wild animals and plants, risking, in my view, their very survival.

We have CITES and we must be thankful for that and we must make the most of it, make it work to its full potential and ensure that, as far as I am concerned, it delivers a precautionary agenda so that we don’t speculate on our wildlife heritage but we conserve and protect and nurture it.

Support our work and follow the events of CITES CoP17 as they unfold here!

Born Free is the voice for the voiceless and your support makes our voice louder still. Thank you.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Japan Dolphin Day Protest

August 31st, 2016

This week, Born Free Policy advisor, Dominic Dyer, discusses an important day for dolphins.

“Born Free Foundation will be joining with the Dolphin Protect and the campaign group London Against the Dolphin Massacre to support the Japan Dolphin Day Protest March in London on Thursday 1st September. Please join us!

Japan Dolphin Day is a global day of protest in cities around the world to focus global attention on the start of the dolphin hunts and captures in Taiji Cove in Japan, which was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary the Cove in 2009. Every year up to 2,000 dolphins are killed at Taiji Cove between September and February. In these hunts large groups of dolphins are rounded up by fast boats and herded into the bay or harbour. Rope is then tied around their tails and they are hauled out of the water into the boats, to suffer a long traumatic death by having a steel lance inserted into their spinal chords.

The Japanese government defends the dolphin hunts on cultural grounds by saying dolphin meat remains an important part of the Japanese diet. In reality, most people in Japan avoid eating dolphin meat in view of health risks due to heavy metal content and most of the dolphins killed at Taiji Cove end up as dog food or fertiliser. But it’s not culture that keeps the dolphin hunts at Taiji Cove going, but greed. A dead dolphin is worth in region of £300 to a fishermen but a live specimen can sell for over £100,000 and are in high demand from aquariums and marine parks around the world.

Every year dolphin trainers from around the world travel to Taiji Cove to select live dolphins from the slaughter to be flown to aquariums and marine parks in places such as China, Philippines, South Korea and Egypt.

London has become the global centre for the Taiji Cove protest movement with thousands of people regularly coming together for protests outside the Japanese Embassy at Green Park. Born Free Foundation is playing a key role in supporting this campaign movement which is increasing the political pressure on the Japanese government and generating more media coverage and public interest in the killing and capture of dolphins for the global marine park business.

I look forward to joining thousands of people on the protest march through central London on Thursday and speaking alongside the wonderful dolphin protection campaigner Ric O’Barry, outside the Japanese Embassy. I will be drawing attention to the Born Free’s #TanksNOthanks campaign in my speech, which is aimed at encouraging people not to buy tickets to dolphinariums or to swim with dolphins.

Please join us:
Japan Dolphin Thursday 1st September
12 noon at Cavendish Square Gardens, London W1
Nearest tube – Oxford Circus
The march to the Japanese Embassy will start at 1pm. This day marks the beginning of another season of the of the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. Join forces for a peaceful protest against Taiji and its cruel barbaric annual hunts. Guest speakers include Ric O’Barry (Dolphin Project) and Dominic Dyer.

Thank you


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George Adamson

August 18th, 2016

We all need inspiration in our lives

George Adamson

‘It is hard to believe that on 20th August it will be the 27th anniversary of George Adamson’s murder.  I have so many memories of him – all ve
ry personal and all shared with my late husband Bill.  George was one of our closest friends; he introduced us to a world that has remained part of our lives ever after. A world in which people and wild animals can live in harmony, providing we respect and understand them.

Today we are overwhelmed by violence, anger, suffering – hard sometimes to be optimistic.  But as long as there are people like George in our hearts and minds, we should never despair.

Bill and I went to George’s funeral in Kora, Kenya.  We all mourned the passing of a kind and modest man – and the next day lions came and sat by his grave.’ Virginia McKenna, Founder Trustee Born Free Foundation.

We all need inspiration in our lives. Motivation to try harder, dig deeper, push further.

The Olympics inspires: whether its gymnastics, diving, rowing, running, sailing, jumping, sprinting, throwing, hitting,  – every four years we are glued to our televisions, radios, tablets and smart phones as we watch the pinnacle of human sporting prowess do things that amaze – and inspire!

This reminds me of other figures who inspire, figures from the world of wildlife and conservation.

On the 20th August 1989, George Adamson was murdered. Driving to the rescue of a guest who had been attacked by bandits near the Kora airstrip in a remote part of northern Kenya, George drew his pistol, revved the engine and, along with two of his assistants, was subsequently shot dead. The bandits fled.

To many, including myself, the life of George Adamson symbolises a journey that we all make. A journey of discovery and revelation. As someone who was once a hunter and traded elephant ivory, George discovered his true inner-self working to give first Elsa (along with his wife Joy) the chance of a wild and free life and then over 20 other lions.

As a very small boy I met him near the ‘set’ of the film Born Free in 1964, when my mother and father, Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, took nearly a year retelling the story of George, Joy and Elsa for the big screen.

Born Free Film

I met him again in the 1970’s when, as a family, we spent an extraordinary Christmas with George, his brother Terence and Tony Fitzjohn at Kora, wearing paper hats, eating mince pies, watched by lions.

I saw him again when Dad and I paid him a visit and watched as this small, seemingly frail but incredibly resilient man threw tasty morsels to six adult lions gathered round the back of his car.

George Adamson and Lions

There was a further opportunity to experience George’s world when, with a friend, I delivered a donated sky-blue Land Rover to his little camp in the immense rocky shadow of the 500 foot high ‘Kora Tit’ and spent an unimaginable week looking for – and finding – George’s pride of wild lions.

Finally, in the mid-1980’s George came to our family home in Surrey, to recuperate from an eye operation and to write (or rather record in conversation with my father) his final book My Pride and Joy. The manuscript was typed by my then wife and I on an old typewriter (no computers or spell-check) but it was George’s arrival at the house that shall always stay with me. Dressed in a brown tweed suit, George came into the living room and Dad offered him a whisky. Realising that George had not seen colour TV before (it was still new and exciting way back then) we turned the television on… and stood transfixed. The Des O’Connor Show… Des on stage with a guest singer…. The singer was Matt Monro… the song was Born Free. It still sends shivers up my spine.

George lived his dream. It was a life of simplicity and modest needs, far from the modern world, harsh yet beautiful, in a wilderness he was determined to protect and with creatures who needed his guiding hand. He inspired and attracted many people who wanted to find out his secret but there was none, unless it be: To be true, and generous, and kind – to treat each living animal with respect and compassion.

What George would have made of the crisis facing lions across Africa, I shudder to think. Just 20,000 lions left when there seemed to be so many. His reaction to the on-going trophy hunting of lions, supported by some of the world’s largest conservation organisations, would have been one of sheer disbelief and horror. And he would have been far too much of a gentleman to put in writing his opinion of those who oppose the listing of lions on CITES Appendix I – his look of utter disgust would have been enough.

Along with my late father, and a handful of extraordinary individuals, sadly gone and deeply missed, George, The Father of Lions, remains my inspiration. We shall not see their like again.

George’s Legacy is one that we hold dear to our hearts at the Born Free Foundation. Caring for individual animals; believing that Compassionate Conservation is the way forward; determined to protect wild nature at all costs; and to end the exploitation of wild animals in captivity. Help us keep the spirit of Elsa burning bright.

Born Free’s Year of the Lion

Blogging off


Will Travers | 18 Comments »

Cecil’s Legacy 12 Months On

June 28th, 2016

cecil the lion

The lives – and deaths – of some wild animals can truly shape the future. Elsa, Pole Pole, Tillikum… and Cecil.  Just over 12 months ago few had heard of Cecil but, as my Born Free colleague, veterinarian Mark Jones, explains in this guest Blog, Cecil The Lion is now known to millions around the world and his death may just be the catalyst for profound change.

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Cecil’s Legacy, 12 Months On

A year ago, a lion called Cecil was killed in Zimbabwe by American dentist and trophy hunter Walter Palmer, who reportedly paid $50,000 for the privilege.

It subsequently came to light that Cecil may have been lured away from the protection of Hwange National Park in which he usually resided, in order to enable Palmer to target him. It also transpired that Cecil had been tracked and studied by Oxford University since 2008 as part of a conservation research project, and was fitted with a radio collar.

Palmer tried to kill the lion using a bow and arrow; in the event, Cecil was wounded by Palmer’s incompetent shot, and reports suggest he wasn’t finally killed for a further 40 hours, following which Palmer and his hunting guide beheaded and skinned him, and tried to hide his radio collar.

Palmer has not been charged with any crime in either Zimbabwe or his native USA. His hunter-guide, Theo Bronkhorst was charged in Zimbabwe with ‘failing to prevent an unlawful hunt’, although as of January 2016 the case remained unresolved after a series of appeals.

Cecil was around 13 years old when he was killed, had led more than one lion pride during his life, and at the time of his death was presiding over several females alongside another male called Jericho. The two lions had recently sired a number of cubs. The manner of his death sparked international outrage, much of which was initially targeted at Palmer. Tourism revenues in Zimbabwe reportedly fell sharply, and senior politicians in a number of countries condemned the killing.

The events also led to increased scrutiny of the trophy hunting industry. Analysis suggests that, on average, as many as 170,000 hunting trophies are shipped across international borders each year, around 20,000 of which are derived from threatened species. The United States is by far the biggest single importer, with Germany and Spain being the main European trophy destinations. The more iconic and endangered an animal is, the higher the hunting fees: in January 2014, American hunter Corey Knowlton paid US$350,000 for a permit to hunt a critically endangered black rhino in Namibia, which he eventually killed in May 2015.

Claims by hunting proponents that trophy hunting benefits wildlife conservation and local communities are being challenged. In 2012, a report by Economists at Large entitled The $200 Million Question cast doubt on the claimed value of the trophy hunting industry, and found that trophy hunting contributed only 1.8% of total tourism income across nine African countries with hunting companies passing just 3% of their income to local African communities. A report by the Democratic staff of the House Natural Resources Committee in the US, published in June 2016, found little evidence that trophy hunting revenues are being used to help threatened species, mostly because of rampant corruption in some countries and poor management of wildlife programmes; the report concluded that trophy hunting may be contributing to the extinction of some species. An academic paper published in the journal Ecological Applications in June 2016 recognised that trophy hunting has had negative effects on lion populations across Africa.

Since Cecil’s death, some significant actions have been taken. France announced a ban on lion trophy imports in November 2015, and the Netherlands introduced a ban on the import of hunting trophies from around 200 species, including lions, the following April. In January 2016, the US Fisheries and Wildlife Service added lions to the Endangered Species Act, making it more difficult for American lion trophy hunters to ship their trophies home. A host of airlines have banned or restricted the carriage of hunting trophies, and the death of Cecil was cited by a number of officials as being influential in the development and adoption of the United Nations’ Resolution on Wildlife Trafficking.

The European Union is proposing much stricter international controls on the setting of trophy quotas and the export of trophies of threatened species, for consideration at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species due to take place in Johannesburg in September 2016.

Born Free is wholly opposed to the killing of animals for sport or pleasure whether they are wild-born or bred in captivity, and we have been working to bring the brutality of this so-called ‘sport’ to the attention of policymakers, enforcement bodies, and the public, for many years. Horrific though Cecil’s killing was, it has focussed attention on the brutality of trophy hunting, and has helped to dispel the myth that the killing of wild animals for fun by a wealthy elite somehow benefits wildlife conservation or local communities. Its continued promotion by a tiny minority undermines our humanity.

Born Free will continue its efforts to bring this cruel, damaging and wholly unacceptable practice to a permanent end, and instead to find humane, effective and sustainable solutions to the threats facing so many wild species.

Cecil’s death must not have been in vain.

Mark Jones
Programmes Manager (Wildlife)
Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | 3 Comments »


June 24th, 2016

Today, the majority of the British people have decided that, after 40 years, the United Kingdom is to leave the European Union.

The consequences of this decision, at least in the short-term, will be uncertainty and doubt. Financial markets are stressed and the political establishment needs to work out the next steps in a process of responsible dis-engagement. It will take us all time to adjust to the new political landscape.

However, one thing is certain: The Born Free Foundation will continue to fight on behalf of wild animal, seek measures to alleviate animal suffering and neglect, and fight for the protection of wildlife and the habitats they rely on.

The voice of Britain’s citizens has been heard, but Born Free must remain the voice of the voiceless, the millions of animals exploited in captivity for so-called entertainment, killed in their hundreds of thousands for trinkets such as ivory or pseudo-medicinal products such as rhino horn, or shot for ‘fun’ by the trophy-hunting elite.

Our conviction that individual animals matter will not change. At a national, regional and global level Born Free and its supporters around the world will to strive for a more compassionate future for life on earth. We must all redouble our efforts to make this dream come true.

Will Travers OBE
CEO and President
The Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Baltimore decides to #emptythetanks

June 20th, 2016

As another dolphin display facility takes a brave step forward, in this guest blog I have asked my good friend and colleague, Samantha Goddard, to reflect on the prospect of a brave new world. Blogging off! Will

“Monday, June 13th 2016, bought fantastic news in global efforts to end the captive exploitation of dolphins. The Baltimore National Aquarium (Maryland, USA) announced that they are to move their eight bottlenose dolphins to a coastal seawater sanctuary by 2020.  The Director of the Aquarium, John Racanelli, eloquently stated that the decision is ‘right for the dolphins, the community and for the aquarium.’

The news follows the recent announcement from SeaWorld Entertainments which introduced an immediate and companywide ban of their orca breeding program in March this year. This means that the generation of orca currently held at SeaWorld parks will be the last.

The move to change their business model in line with both public opinion and concern is massively significant, although they have yet to determine whether their future plans include moving their 23 orcas to a seaside sanctuary. These announcements confirm in my mind that we are witnessing profound and irreversible change which cannot and will not be stopped.

Clearly part of a new vision for the future will include removing captive cetaceans from tiny concrete pools in favour of sectioned-off parts of the ocean, or seaside sanctuaries. NGOs in the US and Europe have mobilised public opinion to call for the establishment of the first sanctuaries, as announced recently in the US (The Whale Sanctuary Project) and in Italy (Dolphin Refuge). These efforts are vitally important and may have had significant influence on the decision of the Baltimore National Aquarium to support the sanctuary model and idea of caring for dolphins in a wild, more natural environment.

We should all applaud such leadership and hope that others will follow suit to promote the establishment of seaside sanctuaries. After all, the responsibility for captive animals lies with those who keep them captive.

The time really is now to move forward with a solution for addressing the future care of cetaceans already in captivity. That this spells the end for the dolphinarium industry! I have not doubt. It is no longer a matter of if – it’s just a question of when.

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Will Harambe’s Death Be The Tipping Point?

June 2nd, 2016

Yes, it is a tragedy.  One of just 765 Western Lowland Gorillas in zoos worldwide has been needlessly killed.

I say needlessly because although, perhaps, the zoo authorities were faced with few options when confronted by the possibility of a child dying in the gorilla enclosure, the child should never have been there in the first place and, some would argue, neither should the gorilla.

Wise after the event, it is always possible to speculate as to whether the gorilla could have been lured away,  as was successfully done in April 2014 when seven chimps escaped from their enclosure at the Kansas City Zoo and keepers using “treats” enticed the animals back.  No-one was hurt.  One could say that the gorilla could have been tranquilised.  Maybe yes, maybe no.  It is impossible to predict exactly what would have happened once the dart struck home.  Would it have enraged a powerful 400 pound animal with fatal consequences?  Or would the gorilla have accidentally collapsed on and injured or drowned the child as the drug took effect?  Who knows.

But some things seem clear:  The whole basis on which zoos are founded, the placing of human visitors in unrealistically close proximity to potentially dangerous animals relies on there being an assumption on the part of the visitors that it is a safe thing to do.  Otherwise all parents would be issued with harnesses to restrict and control their children throughout the visit.  Some people suggest that the fault lies with the parents –  maybe so, in part.  Others say the zoo did not adequately ensure that barriers, specifically designed to keep wild animals in and human beings out, were not fit for purpose.
Now, predictably, there will be reviews of safety procedures and, doubtless, there will be petitions calling for the parents/the zoo/the licensing agency/the American Zoo Association/the City authorities to be held to account, and who am I to say those are not without justification.

However, there is a wider issue that needs debating here.  Gorillas, like many other species are under enormous pressure in the wild. There are approximately 175,000 Western Lowland gorillas left. There may be fewer than 4,000 Eastern Lowland gorillas clinging to survival in war-torn eastern DRC and there are nearly 1,000 Mountain gorillas making a modest come-back from the brink of extinction (none in zoos). Surely captive breeding in the safe and secure (and mind-numbingly unnatural) captive facilities offered by the world’s zoos is the conservation safety net these species need.  Surely after spending hundreds of millions of dollars (Cincinnati Zoo’s plans for a new gorilla enclosure announced in September last year, will cost at least US$12 million) zoos are making a significant contribution to the survival of the species not least through captive breeding programmes that lead to the re-introduction of gorilla families to the wild.

Not the case.

The number of Western Lowland gorillas that have ever been returned to the wild in recent memory numbers approximately 50, almost exclusively from the zoo collections run by Damian Aspinall in Kent, England.

So, are zoos delivering a conservation dividend?  Are they providing the kind of educational resources that will inspire the naturalists of the future?  Are they a realistic hedge against extinction for more than a  handful of iconic species, largely selected on the basis of the oooh and aaaah factor?

The answer is emphatically no.

The global zoo industry, of which Cincinnati and others are leading members, consumes billions of dollars every year while the conservation movement is crying out for a fraction of that kind of funding to address the habitat and species crisis that now confronts tens of thousands of species.  The very fact that in interviews following the Cincinnati incident, the gorillas has been described as being ‘not blood thirsty’ indicates a Victorian misunderstanding of the true nature of gorillas, despite the work of Dian Fossey, Sir David Attenborough, Ian Redmond and others who have painstakingly tried to address the stereotypic image of gorillas as some kind of half-human monster and the personification of King Kong.

The fundamental question is: are zoos fit for purpose or are they past their sell-by date?  I conclude that they are out of time but then that is just my opinion. Quite reasonably, you may ask, will things ever change?  Born Free Foundation and I have been constant and consistent critics of zoos for over 30 years.  We have been called a “nine-day wonder”.  We have been described as a broken record, repeating the same message but I believe that history will prove us to be right. And change can happen if we, the people, want it badly enough.

Five years ago, the captive marine mammal display industry, as represented in many people’s minds by SeaWorld, seemed invincible.  Today, following the making of one film, Blackfish, SeaWorld has changed beyond all recognition.  No more performances with trainers in the pool; a share price in free-fall; attendance down; profits down; a new CEO fighting to restore some semblance of respectability and now, in partnership with The Humane Society of the USA, SeaWorld  has made an announcement of such profundity that many of us never thought we would hear it in our lifetime:  That the current killer whales they hold will be the last.  There will be no more breeding. There will be no more imports from other facilities.  There will be no more orca in captivity.

Is it too great a leap of faith to imagine that, just as the death of Cecil galvanised the world to reconsider the justification and morality of trophy hunting, so the death of Harambe will cause a seismic readjustment of public attitudes to the lifetime incarceration of millions of animals for little more than costly and, indeed, wasteful public entertainment, a form of exploitation that risks the welfare of the animals concerned and the safety of visitors?

Harambe’s death is not an isolated incident.  According to Born Free USA, since 1990, 15 zoo incidents have resulted in loss of human life and at least 110 injuries.  Keepers have died, members of the public have died, numerous animals have escaped and, time after time, customers have gained access to supposedly secure enclosures where they have suffered injury.

A serious debate about our relationship with wild animals and the natural world is long-overdue.  It is predicated on our common desire to protect and conserve life on Earth and to motivate and inspire human kind.  As part of that debate we must determine whether the zoo experiment, the public display of exotic animals to an increasingly urbanised human society, has any further role to play or whether, in a world that by the end of this century will be jammed-packed with 11 billion human beings, we can make space for wildlife in the wild.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 13 Comments »


May 11th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Three moments of inspiration have caught my attention recently.

The massive ivory burn in Kenya, which I was fortunate enough to attend. While some people have trotted out that lame old lament – couldn’t the ivory have been sold, flooded the market, raise funds for conservation (perhaps it would be a good idea if they looked at the history of the ivory trade since 1979, they might change their minds) – the majority, including the thousand or more Kenyans who attended a rain-sodden Nairobi National Park to witness the conflagration, agreed: The only place ivory has any value is on an elephant.

It was a mournful experience but at the same time uplifting. It felt like, for once, the world is moving in the right direction.

I was inspired!

Then there was the 90th Birthday of our greatest living naturalist – the incomparable Sir David Attenborough. No one has done more to bring to our attention the wonders of the natural world in all its diversity and splendour than he. No one has increased our understanding of the complexities of our living planet more than Sir David. And no one has brought to our attention in a more compelling way how the species and habitats we so admire are under threat as never before.

That Sir David is a national treasure is beyond question. That he is a natural treasure is even more fitting.

I am inspired!

And finally, travelling with my mum, Virginia, to make a film encompassing Born Free’s amazing heritage, its present challenges and its ambitious future, has revealed to me what a remarkable adventure she and my late father Bill have taken us on. The time she seems to have – to create, – to speak with everyone, hear their story, sympathise with their predicaments and encourage their efforts, is quite remarkable.

We were thumbing through her copy of My Pride and Joy, George Adamson’s last book which he wrote with my Dad when he stayed with us in England, recuperating from an eye operation. A loose page of blank paper fell out.  Except it wasn’t blank. It was covered in my father’s free-flowing, muscular hand-writing. He had written about George and Joy and their abhorrence of zoos. It was a sign. It was as if he were there with us.

We were inspired!

We live in a world of trials and tribulations, a world beset with problems and injustices, so many of our own making.

We all need inspirational leaders who motivate and encourage, who show us how to be better, more compassionate, more humane human beings.

So, who inspires you – and who, in turn, do you inspire?

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Will Travers | 8 Comments »