China announces 1 year ban on ivory imports – does it stack up?

February 27th, 2015

Every day something new! The Chinese Government has introduced a one year, temporary ivory import ban… Sounds good – but is it?

All imports of new tusks and pieces are banned anyway.

It is unclear what imports this will directly impact. It could be the limited number of small ivory carvings known as ‘ekipas’ which can be legally exported from Namibia. It could be the kilo or so of ivory that Zimbabwe (bizarrely) allows people to export.

However, there is no confirmation that I can find stating that this will prevent the import of what is known as ‘Pre-Convention’ ivory, ivory that can be established to have been sourced prior to African elephants being listed on the CITES Appendices (so about 1976). And I also can’t yet determine whether the ban will apply to antique ivory carvings (usually certified as pre-1949).

So, in the absence of hard facts I can only assume that the impact of this ban will be very, very limited indeed!

However, it does suggest that China is listening, even if the measures needed are far more significant.

And it does make me think that now is the time for all countries to take a brave but vital step and close down their domestic ivory markets. There are huge volumes of ivory sold domestically in the USA, in Europe and in countries such as China and Thailand. The single, most powerful signal that, as a species, we are DONE with ivory, would be to shut down all markets, international and domestic, for all ivory, new, old, carved, raw… ALL IVORY.

Then we can all truly get on with the vital business of protecting elephants and the many other beleaguered species whose fate hangs so precariously in the balance.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Stop All Ivory Trade. Who Else Has To Ask Before China Listens?

February 26th, 2015

UPDATE: Follow up blog China announces 1 year ban on ivory imports – does it stack up?

Along with the voices of numerous wildlife conservation experts, campaigners and well-known public figures, perhaps the most authoritative individual in the world when it comes to wildlife conservation and protection, Sir David Attenborough, is calling on the Chinese government to end all trade in ivory.

Here at Born Free, we’ve been saying for ages that strengthening measures to stop the illegal trade which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of elephants, not to mention has taken the lives of rangers and, yes, poachers as well, and is only one part of the puzzle and will not achieve our ultimate objective while legal domestic ivory markets persist.  Ivory is legally, openly on sale in China.  It is openly on sale in Thailand (where a new report on DNA testing confirms that the majority is of African origin).

These ‘parallel markets’ create an enforcement nightmare. How do Customs’ officials know what is legal, what is illegal?  They create the opportunity for smuggled ivory to be entered into a legitimate commercial environment.  They make crime pay.

So the question is simple: Will the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, recognise the threat to elephants, rangers and human life in Africa that perpetuating his country’s legal domestic market represents; acknowledge the threat to international security caused by the illegal wildlife trade; understand the now widely-recognised links between wildlife crime, organised crime and the subversive activities of militia and other destabilising terrorist organisations in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world? Will he take action?

Closing down the legal ivory markets of China, Thailand and elsewhere, is a small price to pay in order to stop the suffering, save the elephants and give peace a chance.

Blogging off.


Will Travers | 11 Comments »

A Tragic Disconnect

February 20th, 2015

Hello readers, here is a blog from my friend and Born Free Foundation CEO, Adam Roberts

A recent edition of Connect, a publication by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as “a forum for promoting AZA’s mission”, was at pains to highlight their members’ support for tiger conservation programs.

Apparently, in 2013, 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums supported tiger conservation. This figure accounts for approximately 21% of their 228 accredited zoos and aquariums.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

HOW did they support tiger conservation? WHAT did they actually support? I wonder.

According to the AZA, in 2013 “member facilities” spent $572,908 on tiger conservation.

Firstly, which are these “member facilities”? Are they simply the 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums? Or do they include the non-accredited animal keeping member facilities, such as the International Animal Exchange, Inc, an animal transport company, or Natural Encounters, Inc, who provide expertise on animal training and shows?

Moreover, participating in conservation can include a variety of activities. It could include funding of field conservation in the wild (in situ conservation). On the other hand, it might simply be participating in captive breeding programs, or even contributing to the costs of maintaining the animal collection. Does this relatively small sum, equivalent to less than $2000 per AZA accredited zoo, in some cases include the costs of keeping tigers in zoos under the term “conservation” (conserving the species by housing an individual?)? And if so, does that really justify claims about conservation participation by AZA zoos?

Whatever the answers to these questions, what is clear is that there is a financial and human  investment made by zoos in keeping animals in captivity. We are convinced that this investment could be put to better use protecting animal populations in the wild. Tigers have no difficulty reproducing when given the opportunity to in their natural environment; resources spent on captive breeding programs serve only to diminish resources that could be spent on wild populations.

The real questions are: are we ensuring that tigers breed in the wild, not in captivity, so populations can increase; and, are we mitigating the conditions that have caused the precipitous and dramatic decline of wild tiger populations over the past century?

Human-animal conflict, habitat destruction and poaching are key threats currently pushing wild tigers to the brink of extinction. The drive to satisfy Asian demand for tiger parts and products made from them is hastening the species’ demise. The Born Free Foundation is taking positive steps to protect wild tiger populations: engaging with local communities in Central India with the Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP), and working to enforce bans on international trade in tigers and tiger parts. All the while rescuing individual tigers in need with partners like Wildlife S.O.S. and ensuring a humane lifetime of care.

Sure, zoos are quick to talk dollars invested in “tiger conservation” and praise their tenuous involvement in wild tiger population improvements, but the fact remains that the battle for tiger conservation will be won in the wild, not within the concrete confines of American zoos.

Adam Roberts

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

World Wildlife Day – Wear it! Share it!

February 19th, 2015

The 3rd March is a day that will forever more be associated with global efforts to conserve and protect the world’s wildlife.

Yes, it’s official – 3rd March is World Wildlife Day, as designated by the UN.

We are all being encouraged to do our bit and so, at Born Free, we’ve decided to push the boat out with our fabulous and much-admired Born Free Wildlife Ribbon.

Order now (they are only £1.50) and we will rush one to you.

Then it’s as easy as one, two, three!

1/ Wear your ribbon on World Wildlife Day.

2/ Take a photo of yourself, resplendent in your Born Free ribbon.

3/ Send us you picture on Twitter or Facebook

Then our fantastic team here at Born Free HQ will select the best pictures and publish a small gallery of them on our website – it could be you!

It really is that easy.

So get people talking about wildlife on 3rd March and show the love!

I am already thinking about where I will be wearing my ribbon on the Big Day … got to think of being somewhere really special … any suggestions?

Blogging off


Will Travers Born Free Ribbon

Will Travers | 2 Comments »

Zimbabwe’s Live Elephant Trade – More Rumbles From The Jungle…

February 13th, 2015

What is happening?

I wish I knew.

But, like a kind of oriental torture, the drip, drip of new information is slowly shedding some (albeit weak) light on the situation..

The latest, as far as I can tell:

  • Some say that as many as 80-100 elephants have been caught by the Zimbabwe authorities for shipment to overseas zoos.
  • It has been suggested that value of each animal is around US$40,000-$60,000
  • Zimbabwe claims that the capture of these animals is part of its elephant population management strategy aimed at reducing numbers (Zimbabwe claims it has 40,000 ‘excess’ elephants)
  • Zimbabwe has (according to the preliminary results of the most recent 2014 survey) about 80,000 elephants – that’s about 10,000 less than the 2001 survey
  • France has confirmed that it will not issue import permits for any wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe
  • Germany and Austria are not expecting any requests for import permits
  • CITES in Switzerland has made it plain that, so far, no rules have been broken and so any trade is down to the two contracting parties
  • Thailand’s name as a potential import destination is now being bandied around
  • China, the most likely destination for most of the elephants, remains silent on the issue.

So, as you can see, it’s all as clear as swimming in an elephant mud-wallow!

However, there is one thing that seems patently obvious to me: that any self-respecting zoo in Europe, the States, South America, Australia or the Far East that tries to import any wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe or, indeed, anywhere else, will come in for profound, sincere and sustained global criticism in the court of public opinion. Sure only the truly delusional think that the challenges facing elephants in the wild will be resolved in any meaningful way by tearing a few hundred calves from their families, and incarcerating them in cramped, alien, largely sterile and unnatural enclosures in zoos around the world.

The battle to save the world’s elephants will be won or lost on the plains, in the forests and jungles, and in the semi-desert wilderness areas of Africa and Asia.

As for claiming that traumatising elephant families, ‘elephant-napping’ their babies and selling them into a foreshortened and almost certainly miserable life of servitude is part of a credible ‘elephant population reduction strategy’… well (and you know this is rare)… I am almost lost for words.

More news when I get it!

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 13 Comments »

Safe in their hands?

February 10th, 2015

I guess you would expect animals in zoos to be safe.  Safe and free from disease, predation, extremes of weather, drought and famine.  After all, their every need is taken care of and should they become ill most reputable zoos either have a vet on staff or access to veterinary care.

So, the death of a litter of extremely rare warty pigs last week at Bristol Zoo (the male and father ate them) followed by the euthanasia of the piglets’ mother (the male attacked her by eating her rear-end, injuring her badly), struck a dismal and bizarre chord.   As I commented in the Daily Mail ‘Wherever wild animals are kept in captivity, accidents can happen.  However, tragedies can sometimes be prevented and the behaviour of the male Visayan warty pig in this case was hardly impossible to predict. Males of many species are widely known to be a threat to infants, especially in captivity. It would appear that better understanding of animals’ needs and behaviour may have prevented such a tragedy. The general public have an expectation that zoos know what they are doing, and that they have in place measures to protect their animals and to avoid such incidents occurring. The tragedy at Bristol Zoo is almost certainly not isolated.  Predictable and preventable ‘accidents’ regularly occur and the zoo industry, and the Government which oversees the standards, licensing and inspection of zoos, must do more to protect the captive animals for which they are responsible.”

And apart from the specific circumstances of these poor pigs, for sure, stories like this are  happening  all around the world and they only become a cause for concern when they are made public.

Would it not be refreshing and brave were the zoo community to publish the details of deaths that occur in their zoos from old age, illness, through euthanasia  and, of course, as a result of an accident as appears to be the case at Bristol Zoo so that the public and understand fully the nature and scope of the impact that zoos have on individual animals and at least, pick and choose the zoos with the best performance – a sort of honesty table.

I doubt it will happen but I can always dream.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 4 Comments »

Is the tide turning for captive whales and dolphins?

February 6th, 2015

My good friend and colleague Samantha Goddard has just sent me this exciting news!

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ruled on the 4th February that Lolita, a wild-caught orca originally belonging to the Southern Resident population off the coast of Washington State, will be classified as “endangered” under the Endangered Species Act.

A statement released by NOAA reads: “As presented in the proposed rule we find that Lolita’s captive status, in and of itself, does not preclude her listing under the ESA. Accordingly, we are removing the exclusion for captive whales in the regulatory language describing the Southern Resident killer whale DPS [distinct population segment]. The best available genetic information and sighting history of killer whales supports recognizing Lolita as a member of the Southern Resident killer whale population and, as such, is not excluded from the listed Southern Resident killer whale DPS.”

Wow! Is this another, important step towards ending the captive exploitation of these amazing creatures?

For decades activists have worked for Lolita’s release, and a rehabilitation plan for her has already been proposed by Howard Garrett of The Orca Network who said: “This ruling is a huge step toward interjecting some mandated concern for Lolita’s health and welfare that can override the strictly monetary considerations that got her there in the first place. Our society doesn’t like animal abuse, and the more we learn about orcas the less we can tolerate seeing them locked up as circus acts.

He goes on to say that “things that seemed impossible a year ago seem doable today”. That is how we all felt more than 30 or more years ago when there were numerous captive dolphin shows in the UK (and even, for a while, a captive orca on Clacton Pier). How things have changed! There have been no captive dolphins or whales in the UK since the early 1990’s and I don’t believe the British public would tolerate their return should any money-mad entrepreneur be crazy enough to try.

At least here we have become a ‘Dolphin Free Zone’ and maybe, just maybe. the news about Lolita, coming, as it does, on the back of The Cove and Blackfish marks another tidal change in then human/cetacean relationship.

By rejecting captive exploitation, we embrace a more compassionate agenda based on keeping wildlife in the wild. That is the Born Free way and so hats off to all engaged in the struggle for Lolita, Corky, the Taiji dolphins and so many more around the world!

Blogging off!


P.S. Have you heard about Springer?

Springer lost her mother when just a baby. She was found disorientated, swimming near Seattle, USA, too small to survive alone. Thankfully she was identified by her unique calls and reunited with her family pod near Vancouver Island, Canada.  The entertainment industry wanted to keep her in captivity, but she was rescued and reunited with her wild family pod.

She now swims free and recently gave birth to a calf of her own. Springer and her calf Spirit are monitored and kept safe by Dr Paul Spong and his colleagues at Orcalab.  Born Free has supported this work since 1994. You can adopt her today from just £2.50 per month

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

French do the ivory Can Can!

February 4th, 2015

Ha!  Yes indeed.

Thanks for letting me have my little joke but seriously, the news that came out of Paris last week as far as the ivory trade is concerned, is most encouraging.

French Environment Minister, Segolene Royal, announced a number of important measures relating to France’s efforts to tackle the ivory trade including:

  1. A suspension of the exportation of all raw and cut ivory from France from 28th January 2015.  This does not apply to carved ivory but is a significant step in the right direction. Minister Royal has written to the European Commission encouraging all member States to take the same measure.
  2. Internal trade in raw and cut ivory (in other words, within France) although still possible, will be further restricted by a stronger protocol relating to the issue of certificates.
  3. Additional destruction of illegal ivory will take place in 2015 (following on from the destruction of 3 tonnes in Paris  in February 2014).
  4. Minister Royal will convene follow-up meetings every three months or so to share progress and to hear further the views of non-government organisations and experts.

I attended this meeting and was so very pleased with these measures but I also raised the point with the delegates that the decision to suspend all exports of raw and cut ivory from France should be expanded to include all carved ivory as well since, in my  view, ivory trade, in all its forms, creates a commercial environment which supports and stimulates elephant poaching and ivory smuggling.

The Minister also announced, in answer to speculation that France might be the destination for live juvenile elephants caught from the wild in Zimbabwe, that no import permits would be issued were a request for their importation to be made.

So now the question is what is next?

The European Union should, at the very least, uniformly follow the measures announced by France which, in themselves, reflect similar measures taken in the UK.  However, there needs to be international continuity and we are all looking to see whether China, in particular, will take additional steps.  I have been, I think, rightly critical of the recent meeting that has just taken place in China where, together with the CITES Secretariat, the focus has been on clamping down on illegal ivory trade.  My reaction to that can be found here.

So, if France can do the Can Can on ivory, will others do do the Quick Step and bring this brutal slaughter to an end?

Blogging off


Will Travers | 4 Comments »

On the road

January 30th, 2015

What a whirlwind the last ten days have been!

On 20th January I flew with my colleagues from Born Free to Africa (with two lions, Maggie and Sonja in the hold below) on the inaugural flight of Kenya Airways new Dreamliner service from London to Nairobi!  Incredibly exciting.  Although I disembarked in Nairobi with Dr Liz Greengrass, Born Free’s Programmes Manager Field Conservation, the lions continued to South Africa and are now safely at Shamwari.

Liz and I spent a couple of days in Nairobi which were packed with meetings involving our friends at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and others before Liz headed to Amboseli with Manoa David, Born Free Kenya’s Programmes Officer to look at our Lion-Proof Boma building programme while I flew north with Tim Oloo, our Country Manager, to Meru to review the deployment of support and equipment donated to the KWS at the end of 2015 and plan for the year ahead with Victor Mutumah, Born Free Kenya’s Programmes Officer.  It was a great pleasure to meet to KWS Assistant Director Simon Gitau, Deputy Senior Warden Arop Sang, and KWS Senior Scientist, Geoffrey Budnotic

Meru is full of conservation challenges and opportunities – the protection of rhino, the repopulation of Grevy’s zebra and, of course, the conservation of lions through our Lion Rover project, supported by Land Rover.  That is why we are putting a full-time Born Free team into Meru to work both with the KWS and with the local communities in support of conflict resolution, anti-poaching and wildlife protection.

Two days on the ground seemed hardly enough time but we were soon heading back to Nairobi where I met up with my old friend, Jake Grieves-Cook who operates a number of small environmentally sensitive camps, including the only one in Nairobi National Park (

On Monday night, Liz and I boarded the Kenya Airways Dreamliner once more and headed back to the UK.

Tuesday evening found me attending a wonderful social event in London hosted by Nicky Summer who has the extraordinary knack of bringing a wide variety of interesting people together to share ideas and find common cause.  From surgeons and interior designers to super-yacht brokers, the heady mix of talent in the private dining room at Mortons was intoxicating (I felt slightly overwhelmed) but it did not prevent me from catching Wednesday’s 05.45 Eurostar to Paris the following morning to attend a presentation by the French government on their national ivory action plan, attended by the Environment Minister, Ségolène Royal. It was so encouraging to hear the French taking resolute measures to stifle the demand for ivory.  Henceforth, it is illegal to export any raw or cut ivory from France and the Minister also announced a funding pool to assist support elephant protection and conservation around the world.

Attending the same meeting were my good friends, Christophe and Capucine from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation with whom I then held a series of meetings (together with their colleague Oumy) about the work of the Species Survival Network ( and the upcoming CITES CoP ( to be held in South Africa in late 2016.

Barely had we finished our coffee then I was on a train to Brussels where, on Thursday, together with Daniel Turner, Programmes Manager, Captive Wild Animals/Policy and Mark Jones, Programmes Manager Wildlife Policy from Born Free, I attended a series of meetings with leading members of the European Parliament looking at how the EU can better focus its efforts on tackling the illegal wildlife trade and the criminal syndicates that exploit it.  I must say it was refreshing to be with a number of MEPs for whom this is such an important issue and who sincerely want to make a difference.

The train back to London should have been restful but there were articles to do and I made a start on them at least …

So, for now, the whirlwind is over but then there is next week…

Blogging off


Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Dolphin March

January 19th, 2015

As I mentioned in my previous blog, on Saturday 17th January 2015 I attended a march against the annual slaughter of Dolphins in Taiji. Transcribed below is my speech from the end of the march in Trafalgar Square. I’d like to share it with you.

Good afternoon everyone.

Great to see so many people here in Trafalgar Square.

I am not going to talk about dolphin behaviour or even that much about Taiji. Dominic will be setting out the details of the campaign so I am going to focus on hope.

I won’t detain you for long but I want us to appreciate for a moment the fact that we are here in the UK, we are expressing our views without fear or favour, that we are the beneficiaries of free speech.

So for a moment, join me in a few moments silence in solidarity with the people of France and in support of Free Speech. Je Suis Charlie.

And now I want to ask you to stand in silent respect as we remember together the thousands of dolphins that have been brutalised, injured, killed and murdered in Taiji.

I am not going to talk more specifically about Taiji. We know what goes on. Instead I want to talk of triumph over adversity, of David and Goliath, of how good people, working together, can change the world.

Thirty years ago, together with my mum and Dad, Virginia and Bill, I started Born Free. How hopeful and enthusiastic and NAIVE we were. We believed that the absurdity of locking wild animals away in zoos and circuses would end within a few years. After all, who seriously thinks we are going to address the crisis facing wildlife and biodiversity across the world by breeding a few hundred species in captivity, releasing a handful and claiming that seeing animals locked up for life will educate, inspire and motivate the public.

Well we were right AND wrong. The notion that captive exploitation of wild animals is an effective conservation tool is as preposterous today as it was then… But the prospect of seeing zoos and circuses quickly slide into oblivion has proved to be over-optimistic.

There are still 10,000 zoos worldwide. They are still the final resting place of millions of wild animals. They are still consumers of wildlife sucking in and wasting billions of pounds each and every year.

But there is hope and the story of captive dolphins in the UK is what gives me that hope. There are no dolphinaria in the UK. Not one. I, together with my Born Free colleagues, Care For The Wild, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, and many others, helped three of the last captives return to the wild over 20 years ago. I was privileged enough to travel with them to the Turks & Caicos Island where the Into the Blue project was based and, after six months of rehabilitation, see them swim free.  It was one of the highlights of my life’s work.

The UK is, officially, a captive dolphin free zone.

Again, naively, I thought that the battle was won. I was wrong. Like any business where there are large amounts of money to be made and where, if you lose an asset it can easily be replaced, the dolphin industry moved on. It may have written off the UK as a bad debt but it has gone on to build new empires in Europe, America and in the Far East.

So today there are new challenges to overcome. Increasingly wealthy Chinese customers seduced by the dolphin’s smile, US citizens and international visitors who continue to swallow the captive industry’s spin and pay good money to perpetuate the commercial exploitation of dolphins and whales – commercial exploitation that is fed by and which sustains the current Taiji slaughter.

But the game is changing.

The relentless efforts of anti-captivity champions, of so many people (too many to mention) but including Ric O’Barry, Naomi Rose, the Garrets, Paul Spong and Helena Symmonds, John Crowe, Alan Knight, Ingrid Visser, Sam Berg, Courtnay Vail, Jeffery Ventre and many more. The courageous film-makers who brought us the daring Cove and the incredible Blackfish.

It takes time to bring about lasting change. But be assured of one thing. Change will come. It is inevitable. I believe we will look back on this time as a tipping point, a moment in history when people of compassion delivered a new vision of what our relationship with the natural world should be about. I may not see it in my lifetime but I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we can make this a better world – for people and for the non-human animals that share our tiny, spinning, used and abused planet.

To conclude: I recall the words of two famous people:

Dr Martin Luther King Junior said: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right especially when the well-being of a person in an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” We will not look the other way.

And Audrey Hepburn, in wonderful, simple and brilliant language said: “As you grow older you realise why you have two hands. One for helping yourself and one for helping others” Our hands are outstretched and ready to help the dolphins of Taiji and dolphins and all other abused wildlife around the world.

Finally, there is another reason why you have two hands. To give yourselves a round of applause. You deserve it for making the effort to turn out to show your fundamental opposition to the Taiji slaughter and the captive industry that pays for it.

So put your hands together – well done. Thank you.

Will Travers OBE
President Born Free Foundation

17th January 2015 – London

P.S. here is a video of the day

Will Travers | 2 Comments »