When is a tank not a tank – when it’s a tank?

August 19th, 2014

SeaWorld’s attempt to reverse its downward fortunes by announcing plans to construct multi-million dollar bigger orca tank may be too little, too late!

Despite a massive decline in their stock price in the last 12 months which some, including Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, directly attribute to the “Blackfish Effect”, management of the struggling entertainment company claim that the decline in attendance is “temporary”.

However, the film, Blackfish, appears to have irreversibly tarnished SeaWorld’s “enduring brand”, by exposing the truths behind the captive cetacean industry: the horrors of wild capture,  dubious animal management and, reportedly, one hundred incidents of trainers being attacked. Since orca were first displayed at SeaWorld, San Diego, 15 orcas have died.

I think SeaWorld needs to completely review their entertainment offering, abandon the display of orca and other cetaceans and embrace a new vision based on compassionate conservation and supporting the keeping of wildlife in the wild. In my view, their current proposal is simply throwing good money after bad.

A popular internet meme following the anouncement

SeaWorld San Diego’s ‘bigger tanks’ announcement claims that the new facility is “not just larger but more dynamic”, adding that it will include “a lot more of the kind of mental and physical stimulation that we know is so important for overall health and well-being”. But representatives were quick to clarify that this was not an admission that current housing is too small.

The reality is that no matter the size of a man-made tank, it will still be a fraction of the size of the wild range of orca, for an intelligent, gregarious marine mammal which can swim 150 kilometers a day.

SeaWorld may consider the announced changes as “revolutionary”, but Born Free cannot agree. Monies injected into trying to improve the customer experience does not change the orca’s experience. SeaWorld must realise that the use of animals in circus-style tricks is not conservation, nor does it demonstrate the “relationship between humans and animals” as SeaWorld claims. The practice of keeping wild animals in captivity is outdated and morally wrong. It should be consigned to the history books.

If SeaWorld would like to talk to me about a new future where freedom, respect, compassion, conservation and education are components of a vision we can all be proud of then call me, my door is always open.

Blogging off,

Will

P.S. read about the amazing work Born Free Foundation is doing to end the keeping of cetaceans in captivity

Will Travers | 13 Comments »

Every Day Should be World Elephant Day

August 12th, 2014

For more than a quarter century Born Free Foundation as a charity – and I personally – have been fighting the massively destructive ivory trade. I doubt as much attention has been paid to the plight of elephants in these past 25 years as there is right now. And World Elephant Day, today, is the perfect time for everyone everywhere to simply declare: No More Bloody Ivory Trade.

Elephant deaths are on the rise as the insatiable appetite for ivory grows. While Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) stopped the commercial ivory trade in 1989, giving this beleaguered species a chance to recover, the erosion of the ban that began in 1997 has fuelled demand for ivory bangles, chopsticks, and other items, leaving a sea of elephant carcasses across the African savannah.

Born Free’s recently published Ivory’s Curse shed light on the militarism and professionalism of the ivory poaching business, and the terrorist outfits in Africa that drive the carnage. A recently published peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal ‘Conservation Biology’ further highlights the critical role of corruption and organised crime in the illegal ivory trade and the authors make it very clear how unfeasible it would be to have a legal ivory trade that isn’t abused as a laundering mechanism for illegal, poached ivory.

So with all this new knowledge, and with World Elephant Day, how do we turn this information into life-saving action?

In America, the Obama Administration has propelled forward a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ended elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The state of New Jersey is to be congratulated for recently passing a law prohibiting individuals from importing, selling, bartering, purchasing, or possessing with intent to sell any ivory products. As far as I’m concerned, banning the domestic, and not just international, sale of ivory is key to stopping the illegal ivory trade.  I can only hope that other U.S. states and countries follow suit.

The U.S. and other countries have also destroyed their ivory stockpiles. Now, the North Carolina Zoo has even destroyed it’s store of more than 90kg (200 pounds) of ivory and rhino horn. Destruction of ivory held in private hands and by governments is of course a positive step and is the only sure way of preventing it from finding its way into illegal trade, although I do wonder what the zoo were doing with so much ivory in the first place and why, given security concerns, it wasn’t handed over to government authorities?

Although the French government crushed over 3 tonnes of its ivory stockpile and made clear commitments in the London Declaration on illegal wildlife trade in February this year, these actions were clearly undermined recently, when the government approved the auction of 1 tonne of raw ivory in the south of France. Only last week a seizure of ivory shipped from France took place in Vietnam…

Wildlife belongs in the wild, and elephants belong in Africa – alive and thriving. The leaders and compassionate citizens of the world should unite today and declare this world safe for elephants, now and forever. World Elephant Day must be a call to action; if we don’t pull together to end the scourge of elephant poaching, it will instead become a memorial to a lost treasure.

Blogging off,

Will

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The Mega Boma – The biggest Boma we’ve ever built!

August 8th, 2014

The Born Free Kenya team, working with local communities and partners such as Land Rover, has now built over 160 Lion Proof Bomas (also known as Predator Proof Bomas) in several parts of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Our objective? To reduce the conflict between predators and local communities which arises as a result of predation on livestock.

It is simple really. Lion enters traditional night-time coralle or ‘Boma’ (usually a ring of cut thorn branches), kills goat or cow and escapes with prize. The next day local people seek out a lion, any lion, and kill it in retaliation for their loss.

No one wins. The community may feel a little better but they have still lost their goat or cow. Conservation has lost a lion – and with only about 2,000 in Kenya, every one is precious.

Lion Proof Bomas (LPB) are changing all that. Encircling the traditional ring of cut thorn branches with a simple, 2 meter high wire fence and installing proper ‘doors’ made of old oil drums, beaten flat and attached with ‘flip flop’ hinges, this lo-tech development is proving 100% effective. Livestock losses from LPBs have fallen to zero.

Usually a LPB is made of 8-10 rolls of wire and 40-50 poles. Usually the Boma protects about 200-300 head of livestock and the livelihood of 20-25 people.

But now there is the Mega Boma!

Nearly 30 rolls of wire!

One hundred and twenty poles (and we now exclusively use poles made from recycled plastic which are better for the environment and impervious to termites)!

Night time security for 300 cattle, 500 goats and 15 donkeys!

Home to 60 people – 4 men, 8 women and 48 children and adolescents!

It is an impressive sight and it took just 2 days to build.

And on top of all that, the community not only provided the majority of the labour to create Kapaito Muyantet and his family’s Mega Boma but they contributed 25% of the £2,000 (Ksh 280,000) needed to build it.

We don’t know if we will ever build another Lion Proof Boma as big as this one, located in Eselenkei, not far from Mount Kilimanjaro. But, for sure, we are going to keep on bringing additional security to people, their livestock AND Africa’s lions by building hundreds more Lion Proof Bomas.

You can help build a Boma through our gifts in kind programme

Blogging off!

Will Travers | 2 Comments »

We Should All Get Out More – He’s a World Record Breaker!

August 7th, 2014

Philip Wells, aka The Fire Poet, has smashed the world record for walking barefoot. More importantly he has helped shine a spotlight on the plight of the billion children living in poverty.

He has shown that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and make a real difference to the lives of those who are so often forgotten in our mad, egocentric, consumer-obsessed world.

Think about it. In fact, do it. Do it now! Take off your shoes and walk just 100 metres. Feel the grit piercing the sole of your foot. The roughness. Tread gently, I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Now close your eyes…. Imagine doing that same 100 meters, except doing it for nearly four months and doing it 1,600 times. That has been Philip’s world since the middle of April.

I had the privilege of walking (boots on) with Philip along the Welsh Borders for a week – just 65 miles – and I have NOTHING but total respect for this amazing man who walks with his heart on his sleeve, his faith exposed for all to see, and his naked compassion for all those less fortunate than himself.

Often with no one to accompany him but Els Field – his wonderful assistant/camera person/motivator – Philip has truly put his feet where his mouth is. If anyone exemplifies ‘walking the talk’ then that person is Mr Philip Wells.

I will join him in Angelsey on the last day of his walk – the 9th August – and I will have nothing but admiration and respect.

Whoever you are, whatever you do, be inspired by The Fire Poet! Do something – a walk, a swim, a cake sale… a bring and buy, a singathon, a sponsored ‘nothing’. We can all do something and we can all make a life-changing difference.

The Children’s Barefoot Champion I salute you!

Blogging off,

Will

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Ebola – Time To Get Strategic

August 4th, 2014

The terrible news about the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa rolls on and on. Fear, ignorance, lack of medical facilities, together with a degree of superstition, have turned a calamity into a crisis.

I can only feel immense shock and deep sorrow for the people affected and their families, and I worry for my friends in that part of the world.

Now, it seems, we must also worry about Ebola nearer to home. International travel means not only that people can circumnavigate the globe in a couple of days but so can the illnesses they may harbour.

Now factor in the prospect of illegal bushmeat (the meat of wild animals), smuggled out of Africa, potentially bringing this deadly disease to our shores.

What’s to be done?

As Born Free commented to the national press just a few days ago, improved law enforcement at our borders, stricter penalties for smuggling illegal wild animal meat products, better record keeping and a longterm commitment to the the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (currently only funded up to 2016) may all be a part of the solution.

Equally important, however, should be our efforts to assist the countries where the problem originates. Medical support in remote areas and investment in long-term poverty relief, using some of the UK’s £11 billion annual overseas development budget, are vital.

But to be really effective we need to be strategic. The UK Government has already taking a global lead in seeking to tackle the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade. Now we need to raise our game and fund technical training for border and customs officials in developing countries and invest resources to try and prevent bushmeat products leaving their country of origin in the first place.

It’s also essential that we engage more intensively with leaders of communities, whether in Africa or here in the UK – for whom bushmeat may be a traditional or prestige food – to explain the risks and to encourage them to alert their respective communities.

We simply must try and reduce the danger by ending the demand for bushmeat -  potentially saving many innocent human lives and, in the process, sparing the lives of many wild animals as well!

Blogging off.

Will

P.S. Please donate to LAGA to help combat the bush meat trade.

Will Travers | 7 Comments »

Rangers on the Thin Green Line

July 31st, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

Working for wildlife can be tough but quite honestly sometimes I know I have got the easy life.  Take a moment to reflect on the working day of a wildlife ranger in many parts of the world.  Brutal working environments – extremes of heat and cold – the risk of disease, low wages, few benefits, out-of-date of equipment (compared to the poachers on the other side), the increasing risk of being caught up in a fire-fight – the chance of being killed in the line of duty.

It’s World Ranger Day (31st July 2014) and it’s a time to honour the brave men and women who, on behalf of the rest of us, put their lives on the line trying to protect some of the world’s most iconic species from greed and destruction.

But don’t take it from me.

Thin Green Line and Born Free Foundation

Take a look at what The Thin Green Line Foundation is saying: TGLF on Facebook

Take a look at HRH Prince Williams’ video message: Remember the rangers

Take a look at Born Free Wildlife Consultant’s interview with Sean Willmore, Founder of TGLF

Remember that more than 1,000 rangers have lost their lives in the last ten years, 53 rangers have been killed this year so far and rangers continue to die every single month in the battle to save our global wildlife heritage (two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were killed on Friday 18th July this year).

So, on International Ranger Day, if you would like to show your solidarity then go to TGLF website, as I will be, to make a contribution and to make your voice heard.

Rangers all over the world, we salute you.

Blogging off

Will

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Summer Holidays

July 24th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

It’s that time of year again!

Holiday fever!

You know what I am talking about. You have packed the bags, the sunscreen, the floppy hat and you are heading off for a bit of well-deserved R&R somewhere warm (even warmer than the UK) to soak up the sun and a bit of culture and relax.

And while you are there you may be tempted to visit one or more of the local attractions and it could be a zoo, a circus, a fiesta with animals, a dolphinaria displaying orca or even a place where you can swim with dolphins…

HOLD ON!

Just because you are on holiday doesn’t mean that it is OK to do things that if in the UK you would throw up your hands in horror about!

Honestly, the what happens on holiday stays on holiday mentality is OK in many respects but not in my view when it comes to animal suffering.

But, if you do decide to visit facilities with captive animals please go with an enquiring mind.  Please take photos.  Please let me and the Zoo Check team at Born Free know about your experience.  We are making significant progress in terms of changing attitudes towards the ongoing exploitation of wild animals in captivity for ‘fun’.  But we need your help and we need to know what is going on across Europe.  Knowledge is power and with power we can make a difference.

If you would like to take one further step then before you go, visit the Travellers’ Animal Alert page at www.bornfree.org.uk/TAA so that you are fully prepared and know what to do.

Now, go on, off you go and have a brilliant summer holiday wherever you are (and make sure it is an animal friendly one too).

Blogging off,

Will

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Take the ‘trade’ out of the ivory trade

July 16th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

What are we to make of the recent sale of nearly 1 tonne of African ivory tusks at an auction in Cannes in the South of France, all of which were purchased by Chinese buyers for the Chinese market?

To be clear, this sale was legal in as much as the tusks were all certified as being ‘pre-Convention’.  In other words, they were legally acquired before the African elephant was listed on the Appendices of CITES (1976).

However, just because it is legal doesn’t make it right.  Without question, in my view, any commercial sales of ivory – pre-Convention or antique – continue to stimulate a rapacious demand that cannot be met through legal sales and so is fuelled through illegal poached ivory and the bloody slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants each year across Africa.

We have to grow up.  We have to be more responsible.  Simply offering a donation of 5,000 Euros from the commission on the recent sale to an unspecified anti-poaching organisation (as the auctioneers proudly proclaimed) does nothing for me and, more importantly, will do little for elephants compared to the damage that has been done by having the sale in the first place.

At the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, even the Chinese delegation expressed concern about sales of pre-Convention ivory.  No, they did not go as far as to suggest that such sales should be prohibited but they did acknowledge the rapidly growing volume of pre-Convention ivory reaching China and I think the sub-text is that we are now all aware of the implications such sales have for Africa’s remaining elephants.

We need a four-point action plan:

1. Destroy or put beyond commercial use ivory stocks – legal or illegal.

2. Dramatically increase our support for rangers and wildlife law enforcement officers in elephant range States through the African Elephant Action Plan.

3. Close domestic markets so there is total clarity that all ivory on sale is illegal.

4. If there are carvings that  internationally-recognised art historians agree should be kept for historic or artistic purposes then they should be displayed in museums to act as a warning and help tell the story of the elephant tragedy that has unfolded over the last 50 years on our watch.

Without such a plan we shall simply see an ongoing decline in elephant numbers, extinction in numerous countries and all for what …

Blogging off.

Will

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Final Day of CITES 2014

July 11th, 2014
The final report from the Born Free team, Will Travers and Gabriel Fava, from the Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.

It has been quite a week for wildlife! I have been attending CITES meetings (some might call it a self-inflicted wound) for 25 years and I sense a distinct change of mood at this latest Standing Committee meeting. Here are some of the highlights.
Elephants
While it was relatively encouraging to hear of progress being made by a number of the countries most heavily afflicted by poaching and illegal trade, and while it was also encouraging to hear Party after Party speak of their determination to help deal with the crisis, and although the EU particularly stood out in terms of the provision of new finance and other resources to help in the fight, the bottom line is that CITES remains schizophrenic on the matter of ivory trade. Some Parties (I believe the majority) recognise that there should be no future trade. Others, however, want to keep their options open and continue to support the development of a Decision Making Mechanism for future trade in ivory. This, sadly, keeps the issue of trade alive and will doubtless encourage poachers, criminal networks and speculators to continue to make a killing, laundering their bloody ivory through existing legal markets and planning for future slaughter on the basis of a future relaxation in trade controls.
Rhino
The numbers remain shocking – 558 killed in South Africa to the start of July 2014 and just 157 arrests.  While it was of some comfort that many Parties reported on actions they were taking to improve reporting, sharing of information, measures to enhance the protection of rhinos in the wild or to tackle markets and demand (and Viet Nam was particularly active in this regard), Mozambique’s lack of reporting and action was deeply disappointing and a number of Parties offered to help Mozambique greatly improve its performance. However, one matter was notable by its absence. South Africa failed to mention its continued efforts to promote the idea of legalising trade (it seems they are determined to put forward a Proposal for the Legalising of Rhino Horn trade to the CITES Conference of the Parties meeting they are hosting in October 2016). In our view this would encourage those who own rhino, stockpile rhino horn and poach rhino to believe that trade will be opened up in the future creating, we believe, an even greater enforcement nightmare and resulting in additional poaching pressure, adding to the current crisis.
Live Cheetah Trade
This is an emerging and serious threat to this fragile and rare species, as many Parties recognised. We were shocked by some of the information presented, including the fact that as many as 300 individuals are being illegally shipped out of Africa each year (I can only imagine how many more are killed and die during capture and shipment). The Kingdom of Saudia Arabia reported that in 2014 alone they have intercepted 25 live cheetah cubs, of which 9 died. Born Free highlighted our work with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority at our rescue and care facility – Ensessakotteh – outside of Addis Ababa which provides a home to confiscated cheetah. Importantly, if funds can be found, a Workshop will take place before the end of March 2015 to consider the status of cheetah in range States, transit countries and consumer countries, trade routes, the involvement of criminal networks and corruption issues.
Tigers
As we know, the thousands of captive-bred tigers languishing in facilities in many Asian countries vastly outnumber the number of remaining wild tigers whose fragile populations continue to face numerous and intense threats. The last thing they need is for an expanding source of tiger skins, bones and meat to stimulate demand of wild tigers even further. When tigers were discussed this week, China finally admitted publicly that they had a legal trade in tiger skins, but strongly objected to including consideration of their domestic tiger trade in recommendations for future steps to be taken by the Standing Committee. Along with China, other countries, organisations, including Born Free, had helped to draft these recommendations in the sidelines of the meeting and when they were brought back to the rest of the participants, as expected, China tried to bury their domestic trade again. However, opposition was mounted by enough countries and organisations to push the recommendations through. China must surely now comply and we all have a stronger tool than before to build a future for wild tigers.
Pangolins
Little known but much threatened, the ‘scaly anteaters’ of Africa and Asia are sadly the latest poster boy of the illegal wildlife trade, supplying demand for their scales and meat in Asia. Little is known about these shy, nocturnal animals and the threats they face and the law courts and enforcement agencies seem ill-equipped to deal with the organised criminal syndicates syphoning pangolins out of their forest and desert homes. CITES approved a plan to seek comprehensive information from countries so that pangolin populations can be better protected under the Convention.
Will Travers | 2 Comments »

Much ado about nothing?

July 10th, 2014

It is that time of year again: the weather is warm, the days are long and Edinburgh Zoo is thrusting its pandas into the headlines. In what has become something of a “groundhog day” event, the Zoo has once again announced that there is a strong indication that the female Tian Tian has conceived as a result of artificial insemination.

Panda at Edinburgh Zoo

Let’s not forget the similar headlines this time last year announcing a successful conception – also by artificial insemination – which ultimately resulted in disappointment for the Zoo and the crowds lured  to the zoo as a result of the relentless publicity, when Tian Tian showed no further sign of pregnancy. Nor should we forget the previous (ultimately futile) attempts to encourage the pandas to breed naturally.

As far as Born Free is concerned there is little to be excited about. The birth of a baby panda in captivity does not affect the current state of play in the wild where – despite China’s increasing efforts – human expansion and the destruction of panda habitat remain the most pressing issues. With the chances of release to the wild being little to none, and little evidence that funds raised by keeping pandas at Edinburgh are making a significant contribution to support panda conservation, it is hard to find a reason to celebrate.

Although a birth may be ‘rare’ in captivity (outside China), pandas have no difficulty in reproducing when given the opportunity in their natural environment. Protection of the remaining wild panda population is paramount to the success of this species: the birth of a panda cub at Edinburgh Zoo will not ensure this outcome. I am certain this won’t be the last we hear of the trials and tribulations of panda conception and pregnancy at Edinburgh Zoo, but many experts agree that the real long-term future of the species lies in China and in the wild.

Blogging off,

Will

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