There’s Real Time, Greenwich Mean Time – and then there’s the dreaded ‘Parliamentary Time’!

July 23rd, 2015

Will the long-awaited ban on the use of wild animals circuses in England fall victim, once more, to “lack of Parliamentary time”? In this guest blog, my friend and colleague, Liz Tyson, explains.

Back in 2012, the then Defra Minister announced that the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England would be banned “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. The news was met with delight. Surely this popular measure, with massive, cross-party political support, would breeze through the parliamentary process.

Indeed, some senior parliamentarians predicted that it could pass through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in a matter of days.

It is now July 2015 and wild animals still perform in the big top. Not only has the process stalled but history appears to be repeating itself. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, the current Minister repeats the mantra of his predecessor: that the ban will be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

The current delay is certainly not for lack of trying! Since the intention to ban was announced, there have been at least 29 Parliamentary Questions on the subject; we have been told in our regular meetings with MPs that this issue continues to feature heavily in their mailbag; and we know the ongoing plight of wild animals in circuses remains of grave concern to both the public and MPs alike. Yet the ban still remains elusive and the exploitation endures.

Two years ago, trying to remain positive, Born Free, the RSPCA and our partners accepted the Government’s reassurances that their controversial licensing regime, introduced in January 2013, was ‘temporary’, designed to simply ‘fill the gap’ until it would be replaced by the ban “just as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

However, it all depends what you mean by temporary. Ominously, in a recent answer to a question posed by Louise Haigh MP, the Minister suggested that the temporary licensing regime may still be in place for years to come. He went on to say that: “a full evaluation of the licensing scheme will be carried out, if required, as part of the statutory five year review”. The regime’s five year review will be due in 2018. The government has promised that the ban would be in place long before then, no later than the end of 2015. What is going on?

After 20 years campaigning on this issue, can it really be the case that the last three years have not offered even the smallest parliamentary opportunity to do the right thing for wild animals still being used in travelling circuses?

The government may be slow to act – but our response can be immediate.

Please contact the Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, and ask him to deliver on his personal commitment to ‘get it done’, to honour the the Government’s election manifesto pledge, and to keep faith with the great majority of people across the nation. It is time to finally bring the curtain down.

The time to ban is now.”

I could not have put it better myself!

Blogging off


Will Travers | 40 Comments »

Preserve the Hunting Act intact

July 13th, 2015

***Good news update – Will attended a march in London this morning where the assembled protestors learned the news that the amendment had been withdrawn (for now at least). Many thanks to everyone who contacted their MPs on this issue***

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

When the Hunting Act was passed in 2004, I and many others rejoiced.  It was not perfect but it addressed one fundamental principle, namely that we would no longer tolerate the pursuit of animals with a pack of hounds until their violent death for ‘fun’.

Of course, the Act still permitted the killing of various species for a number of reasons (the dispatch of injured animals, ‘pest control’ and more) but, in my view,  it rightly ended the grotesque concept that we should derive pleasure from so doing.

The proposed Amendments to the Statutory Instruments which govern the implementation of the Hunting Act, due to be debated in the House of Commons on 15th July, represent the start of a fundamental erosion to the principles underpinning the Hunting Act which may well lead, once more, to the pursuit and killing of foxes and other animals by a pack of hounds for ‘sport’.

Proponents of the Amendments claim that they bring legislation in England into line with legislation in Scotland.  I do not believe this to be the case.  Having looked at both, I conclude that the proposals for England will result in even weaker legislative provisions than currently exists in Scotland.

As I write, it is unclear to me whether the short 90 minute debate which will take place this coming Wednesday, the 15th July, will conclude with a ‘free vote’ allowing MPs to vote as their conscience dictates or whether it will be ‘whipped’.  I hope and expect that the Prime Minister’s previous commitment to a free vote will still stand.

MPs of all Parties can then search their consciousness; reflect upon the overwhelming view of the urban and rural public which is fundamentally against the hunting of foxes for sport; take into account the compelling evidence provided by organisations such as the RSPCA, The League Against Cruel Sports, Team Fox ( IFAW and others, which demonstrates that, despite the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2004,  fox populations have stabilized, not exploded out of control, and that hunting with hounds does not provide an effective or acceptable way of managing foxes; and reflect further on our hard-won national reputation as a compassionate nation. Having taken all this into account, I then hope they  do the right thing.

For all these reasons and more, I hope our elected representatives reject the proposed Amendments and preserve the Hunting Act intact.

Blogging off


STOP PRESS: Scottish National Party MPs have announced that they will vote against Wednesday’s motion to amend the Hunting Act. Many thanks to all those who contacted their Scottish MPs asking them to do so; if your MP is an SNP Member you no longer need to contact them on this issue. However if your MP belongs to another Party, do please contact him or her urging them to vote against Wednesday’s motion.

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Big Cat Week

July 8th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

This week it is all about lions!

Lions in a circus in Wales. Yes, as Scotland and England move inexorably towards a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, Mr Chipperfield has decided to test the public mood by setting up for ten days in Powys with tigers and lions.  According to my sources, a grand total of 22 people turned up for the performance in Friday 3rd July at 6.30 pm in Welshpool.

Let’s be clear.  In the public consultation carried out by Defra, 94.5% of people who responded called for an end to this form of animal exploitation.  In a similar exercise just completed in Scotland, 98% called for it to come to an end.  The Welsh Government is inclined to end it as well, once the Westminster Parliament  passes the necessary legislation which we hope will  be by the end of the year, according to Defra Minister, George Eustice.

This really is, in my view, the last roll of the dice but what will happen to the animals?  I know that Born Free and the RSPCA have offered to assist in finding suitable homes where they could be retired with dignity – but will that be what Mr Chipperfield has in mind or will he take his act to Europe where circuses are still, sadly, common place?  Our offer is on the table.

Lions in Bulgaria. Born Free is in the process of preparing to move two former circus lions from Bulgaria to Shamwari in South Africa.  Of course, lots of planning is now underway and there are mountains of paperwork to be done but I hope that later this year two more lions will find sanctuary in Shamwari and live out the rest of their lives under the African sun.

Find out how you can help here.

And some people want to look at lions down the barrel of a gun!

A new film, Blood Lions, is out shortly and you can be amongst the first to get a glimpse of what this extraordinary documentary has uncovered here and .

It seems barely credible that the South African government permits people to shoot a lion that has been raised in captivity and that may have been released into a large enclosure just a few days before on what is, in effect, a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis.  The lion cannot escape.  Its death is guaranteed – where is the sport in that?

I hope that Blood Lions will have the same global impact as Blackfish and cause a change in policy in South Africa and a change in attitude everywhere else.  This is not the 21st Century we wish to see.

My good friend and Born Free supporter, Peter Andre, has just returned from Kenya where he has been witnessing some of our work including building a Predator Proof Boma in Amboseli National Park designed to protect local communities and their livestock from night-time predation and to eliminate the possibility of retaliation killing which are all too often the result of livestock predation.

Here’s a link to Peter’s adventure and a big thank you to the Born Free team, Land Rover, Kenya Airways and Serena Hotels who hosted him.  And a big ‘Thank you’ to Peter who has been a consistent public voice of compassion for many years.

And you have the purrrfect opportunity to help big cats (and all wildlife) by taking part in Born Free’s Big cat Nap [LINK] where you can ‘Do Nothing For Charity’ in aid of wild animals in need! Wow!

There you are – a veritable ‘pride’ of lion issues for you to get your teeth into. Off you go!

Blogging off.


Will Travers | 6 Comments »

The Tide Is Turning

June 26th, 2015

Sad news earlier this week concerning the last wild-caught Orca at Marineland Antibes, France, as my friend and colleague Samantha Goddard reports in this guest blog:

It has been very sad to hear the news that Freya, one of the six orca at Marineland Antibes in France, had died. Freya may not have been the first orca to have died in captivity but, being the only one to have died so far this year, it has caused me to think about not just the death of a captive animal but also the death of a captive life.

Freya was a wild-caught orca, captured from Icelandic waters in 1982 when she was just a year old. On Saturday the 20th June she died at the age of 32yrs having spent the rest of her life in a tank. In order to get an idea of what Freya may have endured during her captive life I asked one of her former trainers, John Hargrove, author of Beneath the Surface, how he felt about the news. He told me he sensed a feeling of relief that her suffering was over.

Freya gave birth to her son, Valentin, in 1996 after every one of her newborns had died. She was then locked in a tiny back pool with her son for two years after she allegedly became disruptive during shows. Freya was once badly burnt by a malfunctioning chlorine treatment system which meant all the orca could not even open their eyes and, John says,  shed ‘sheets’ of their skin.

John says these are just a couple of the countless experiences endured by Freya which is why I think he summarises the captive life of an orca so well – ‘ Regardless of whether these animals are loved by their trainers, they lead depressing lives of confinement. Freya will no longer have to suffer such exploitation. She is now free from those who took her freedom from her.’”

There are no captive orca or dolphins in the UK and the tide is slowly turning all around the world – the result of long-term campaigning by Born Free and many other dedicated groups and individuals, and, without doubt, the power of the Blackfish effect. Freya is no longer here to bear earthly witness to the end of this form of wild animal exploitation but, without doubt, it is coming.

Blogging off,


Will Travers | 11 Comments »

Nowhere to hide

June 23rd, 2015

A new report, published by Professor Sam Wasser from the University of Washington in the USA, reveals that most of the ivory being smuggled out of Africa comes from just two areas! The findings are published in the Journal of Science and are the result of  Sam’s tenacious efforts to examine samples from seized ivory shipments and subject them to DNA analysis.

Originally, Sam (a long-term friend of Born Free) used elephant skin, teeth and hair samples but then he developed a method for extracting the DNA from ivory.  Using ivory pieces about the size of a 50 pence coin, taken from the base of the tusk, his University of Washington group has now analysed ivory from 28 large ivory seizures, each seizure being more than 500 kg (and all made between 1996 and 2014).  This represents 61% of seizures made worldwide between 2012 and 2014.

The results confirm that 27 of the 28 seizures were concentrated in just four areas and since 2006, most ivory came from just two locations.

A staggering 85% of forest elephant ivory came from the African Tridom Protected Eco-system spanning north-eastern Gabon, north-western Republic of Congo and south-eastern Cameroon together with south-western Central African Republic. More than 85% of the savannah ivory seized between 2006 and 2014 was traced to East Africa, namely the Selous Game Reserve in south-eastern Tanzania and Niassa Reserve in adjacent northern Mozambique.

In 2011, as poaching pressure intensified, the slaughter shifted from the Selous Reserve to Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve in the centre of Tanzania, indicating the adaptability of poaching operations.

Born Free has assisted Sam in his work in the past and also facilitated, with our colleagues at Kenya Airways and Kenya Wildlife Service, the shipment of samples for DNA testing.

When you are losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something urgent and nail down where the major killing is happening and stop it at source” Sam said.

Sam’s right.  The work that he and his team have undertaken for so long, now points the finger exactly where anti-poaching efforts should be focussed.  Together with other measures, including demand elimination, the closing of domestic markets and disruption of supply lines, I still believe that it is a battle we can win.

Blogging off.


Will Travers | 2 Comments »

Ivory Crush in Times Square

June 22nd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free USA

I grew up in New York City and can attest to its vibrant and exciting atmosphere. But, never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I imagine being present while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service poured a ton of confiscated elephant ivory into a rock crusher in the middle of Times Square in its second significant public demonstration against the international ivory trade.

Today’s crush follows not long after the recent one in Denver, Colorado, where some 6.5 tons were pulverized in the same manner. Any destruction of seized wildlife contraband—whether here, or in Africa, or Asia, or Europe—should serve as a powerful reminder that only elephants should wear ivory and that there’s no room in the world for commercialization of these wildlife products.

In some respects, today’s crush was awesome. It was awe-inspiring to see so many people come together for this single message of wildlife conservation. But, I was also awestruck at each piece of ivory loaded on the conveyor belt for its final demise. Each of those pieces represented a strong bull elephant roaming alone in the savannah of Africa. It represented mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, and cousins, all living together in their matriarchal society for decade after decade. Each of those pieces represented the loss of one of those animal’s lives, unceremoniously, and for little more than commercial greed: the desire for an ivory bracelet, a piano key, or chopsticks.

While international trade in elephant ivory is undoubtedly despicable and Born Free is supportive of every attempt to raise awareness of these precious animals’ plight, we must remain equally aware of the other wild animals slaughtered where they live to supply this nefarious trade.

Black and white rhinos across Africa number fewer than 25,000. They are killed for their horns, used in folk remedies and false cures in countries like Vietnam.

Lions numbering perhaps 30,000 are slaughtered as trophies for their bones or their skins.

Tigers—fewer than 4,000 left in all of Asia—continue to be slaughtered in the wild in India, poached for their bones, teeth, skins, and internal organs, while wealthy businessmen in China continue to breed these majestic animals in the hopes of the international market for tiger parts opening again.

Today’s message is a sound one: no commercial trade in ivory; destroy all seized ivory and keep it out of the marketplace forever. But, the message must reverberate beyond New York City, beyond the United States, and beyond elephants. We must all come together—no matter what species we fight for or where we do the fighting—to keep wildlife in the wild.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


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Innocent Victims of Tbilisi

June 16th, 2015

Dear Friends,

The latest, according to Associated Press, following the devastating floods in Tbilisi, Georgia, over the weekend of the 13/14 June, reads as follows:

All of the lions and tigers that were missing after severe flooding swamped Tbilisi’s zoo have been found dead. One jaguar remained unaccounted for, but zoo staff said they have little hope that it survived.

The discovery of the last of the missing lions and tigers on Tuesday as the waters receded eased fears in the capital of Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic, that some of the big cats were still wandering the hills of the city.

The human death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday when the body of a missing woman was found in a children’s park, the police said. Seven people are still missing after an intense downpour that began late Saturday turned a stream that runs through the city into a raging torrent that destroyed houses and tore up roads. About 40 families lost their homes.

Zoo spokeswoman Mziya Sharashidze said eight lions, all seven of the zoo’s tigers and at least two of its three jaguars were killed. Only two of the zoo’s 14 bears survived, while nine of its 17 penguins died, she said.”

It seems that at least three of the people who have died were Tbilisi Zoo employees, killed while reportedly trying to save some of the animals at the Zoo where the damage has been catastrophic.

My thoughts and sincere condolences are with all the families affected but my heart also goes out to the poor, unfortunate animals – locked up for life, finding traumatic, momentary freedom but then dying or being killed in significant numbers – innocent victims, like so many of the people of Tbilisi.

Can it be right that we maintain menageries of wild animals for our so-called education and entertainment, not only inflicting on them a lifetime of captivity but exposing them to avoidable and potentially fatal risks associated with their captive incarceration?

Of course, wild animals in the wild are also faced with numerous risks and dangers. But there they take their chances, and that is no more or less than what they deserve – a chance.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 8 Comments »

Our Responsibility to Chimpanzees Everywhere

June 16th, 2015

More than a decade ago I helped craft legislation in the United States Congress to establish a mechanism to provide a federal ‘retirement’ program for chimpanzees no longer needed in biomedical research. We shepherded this bill through the legislative process, it was signed into law, and now, chimpanzees languishing in American research laboratories can have a peaceful home for the remainder of their natural lives.

The path of moving legislation such as this through Congress is torturous, with many considerations to be taken and amendments to be made along the way. One of the most vital decisions we had to take was this: when is an individual chimpanzee retirement-ready? There was no way to succeed if we suggested that a third party would make the determination. We had to leave it up to the individual researcher. When the protocol is complete and the work with that animal concluded, retire the chimpanzee forever. And researchers are doing this.

But not all facilities and the people who run them have this sense of duty. I was shocked to learn recently from Born Free Foundation’s programmes manager for field conservation projects, Dr. Liz Greengrass, that the New York Blood Center (NYBC) has effectively abandoned 66 chimpanzees in Liberia, literally leaving them to starve to death.

Dr. Greengrass told me she first heard about the Marshall Island chimpanzees while working in Liberia in 2009: I visited the abandoned Vilab II facility on the outskirts of Monrovia on the old Firestone rubber plantation. The chimpanzees had by then been retired onto five islands off the mainland and I remember passing the rows of rusted cage doors, eerily empty and overgrown with vegetation through lack of use. I knew that the islands – covered primarily in mangrove forest – were unsuitable chimpanzee habitat and that the animals were completely reliant on daily provisioning for food. Upgrading the islands into a proper sanctuary had been discussed but a dispute between the New York Blood Centre (NYBC) and the government of Liberia over unpaid royalties had to be resolved first and therefore any preliminary efforts had always stalled. My own visit amounted to nothing, although I ended up with a rescued chimpanzee in my own back yard.

Many of these chimpanzees had been caught as infants from the wild – a procedure that invariably leads to the death of many other individuals, as they try to defend their young.  In the 1990s about half of the 165 individuals died in the brutal civil war – either directly at the hands of militia groups or through starvation and dehydration.

Now, for those who have survived, the New York Blood Center appears to simply be walking away.

Born Free has joined a coalition spearheaded by our friends at The Humane Society of the United States urging international pressure on the NYBC to reinstate funding and discuss a long-term solution with animal protection and chimpanzee experts. A public fundraising appeal to help care for these chimpanzees in the long-term has raised nearly $90,000 USD in just one week and an online petition has over 80,000 signatures. Of course raising funds is just part of the solution but it is a start.

While it is clear that negotiations with the government of Liberia have irrevocably broken down, we expect more from a company with hundreds of millions of dollars of assets and major corporate partners and that is why the NYBC cannot be allowed to dump a ‘problem’ such as the long-term care of chimpanzees. It is clear from the outpouring of support that the public agrees.

Dr. Greengrass added: I have been privileged to study chimpanzees in the wild and to work towards protecting their habitat. What I have concluded is that chimpanzees –adept climbers with super-human strength – are superbly adapted to their environment. The lion was never the king of the jungle; the egotistical chimpanzee – often banding together like a gang of marauding thugs – rules, but robbed of their natural world and the contrast couldn’t be more marked. In our world, they are unable to contribute to the health of the forest or to their own society. They become strangely redundant, chained by the neck to that tree. We are easily flattered by the way they emanate us, so we dress them up and make them perform and laugh at the results. And after we’ve tired of laughing and the novelty’s worn off, they evolve into a problem we whimsically wish would go away.

In this case, the problem does not simply go away – there is a human responsibility to fix it. The New York Blood Center has a responsibility to these chimpanzees and we will do all we can to hold them to account.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


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China’s ivory trade: The beginning of the end or the end of the beginning?

June 3rd, 2015

The announcement by the State Forestry Administration of China (29th May 2015) that  “We will strictly control ivory processing and trade until the commercial processing and sale of ivory and its products are eventually halted” has captured international attention and raised public expectations that a major policy shift may be underway.

This potentially dramatic news follows hard on the heels of latest data coming out of various parts of Africa indicating that elephant poaching continues to be prosecuted at crisis levels.  Mozambique has now declared that its elephant population has fallen by 50% (20,000 to 10,000) in the last five years.  Meanwhile, Tanzania has revealed that the Rungwa-Ruaha ecosystem has seen elephant numbers fall from 20,000 in 2013 to just over 8,000 in 2014.  Some say that Tanzania may be losing  1,000 elephants a month!  Clearly the need for China to move from a statement of intent to confirmed and enforced action on the ground has never been greater.

What would the impact be were  China to close its currently legal domestic ivory markets?  Firstly, it would remove any doubt in the minds of enforcement entities such as Customs and Border Agencies that anyone selling ivory would be selling illegal ivory.   Secondly, it would remove the opportunity for poached ivory to be laundered into the legal, parallel market.

It may well have the same impact as when the international ivory trade ban came into force in January 1990, driving down prices, increasing risk of detection, and consequently dramatically decreasing the level of poaching.  It would also mean that the world, as in 1989, would be broadly unified on the ivory issue sending a clear, unequivocal message to criminal syndicates that, in spite of wildlife crime being a high-yield/low risk operation, that the game was up.

So, whether this is the beginning of the end, or the end of the beginning, it is essential that China makes the ultimate move and calls time on the ivory trade.

Blogging off


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Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

May 29th, 2015

Dear All,

I recently returned from South Africa where I took part in a fantastic series of evening debates and presentations at the University of Cape Town under the auspices of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, the Centre of Criminology and in association with the Wildlife Action Trust.

Far, far too much for me to try and put into a blog but, thankfully, each evening presentation and debate was filmed by the brilliant Julian Rademeyer and they are all available here.

Just to help you a bit, the first session on Monday 18th May was entitled ‘People and Wildlife; Status report’.  The second session on 19th May was entitled ‘Towards a Solution’. I am the last speaker, coming on at about 1 hour, 5 minutes into the film.   I would also draw your attention to the excellent presentation from Professor Alejandro Nadal, Professor of Economics, who simply dismembers the pseudo-economics that are currently driving the process by which South Africa may try to legalise rhino horn trade.   The third session on 20th May is entitled ‘Enforcement and Justice’ featuring John Sellar, the former CITES Law Enforcement Chief, Dr Paula Kahumbu from Wildlife Direct and a most interesting series of additional presentations.  It really is an incredibly important series of discussions.

I hope that the decision-makers in South Africa take time to listen to and watch these presentations and to understand that the course they are currently embarked upon – to legalise rhino horn trade – may well turn a disaster into a crisis and increase not decrease levels of rhino poaching.

Anyway, enough from me.  Pour yourself a lemonade, plump up the cushions and see what you think.

Blogging off,


Will Travers | 1 Comment »