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…


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 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 Travers | No Comments »

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 Travers | 12 Comments »

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.
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.
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.
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.
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 Travers | 2 Comments »

Barefoot Billion – What a week!

June 30th, 2014

I have just walked 60 miles with Philip Wells – The Fire Poet.  I feel I have connected with this extraordinary man and his mission.

Every journey begins with a single step. How true. But we’re not only talking about the physical. Walking with Philip liberates the mind, allowing inner thoughts and feelings to find their moment.

Is it really too much to ask that in this world we so dominate, we cannot find a way – a path – to justice, tolerance and peace? A future that respects diversity and yet binds us all in our common humanity. A future where we care for each other, for the other creatures that we share this fragile orb with, and for the fabric of our single, precious home.

The glorious, rugged lands along the Welsh Borders provided the perfect canvas for this conversation, a communing of spirits, a collision of thoughts, all the while to the steady beat of Philip’s bare feet.

Every message of support spurs him on, every Tweet and text. Every person we have encountered – from the wide-eyed child, to the rambler, to the conqueror of cancer seeing the world as if for the first time, to the young activist poet finding his voice – has been inspired by the man walking on behalf of the Barefoot Billion. Who could not be so moved?

I am leaving Philip today but a part of me remains on the journey. Part of me continues to explore why we are what we are. Part of me will continue to walk in step for the children and the animals and the wild places of a world worth saving.

And Philip’s extraordinary words are now part of me.


B the gift
B the solution
B the shift
B resolution

B the difference
B the deep
B the small leap
AND the giant leap

B a human
B human KIND
Less fast forward
More unwind

This is your time
Time for the taking
B’lieve in your soul
And its wide-awakening

B bold and barefoot
B meek and mild
B compassion
B that child

B a beacon
B at peace
B like Mandela
After his release

B the justice
B the proof
B the miracle
B the truth

Now is your moment: text STEP to 70111 to donate £3 to and B THE STEP

Will Travers | 7 Comments »

Court calls time on Paved highway across Serengeti – Is it Really good news?

June 27th, 2014

While some environmental and conservation groups rejoice at the decision of the East African Court of Justice to prohibit the construction of a paved road across the Serengeti, I still have my doubts.

I recall that some years ago, the President of Tanzania, trying to defuse what was a matter of growing international concern, pledged that the road would not be paved and would be a dirt or ‘murum’ surface instead. That seems to be exactly the outcome of this recent judgement.

My concerns remain. A main all-weather but NOT paved road (if that is what is now on the table) will still be a major obstacle to wildlife, will still have a significant impact on the ecosystem, will still encourage vehicles to travel at speed through a World Heritage Site and will still potentially stimulate ribbon development along the sides of the road up to the edge of the Serengeti before it enters the protected area.

It also raises questions about the sanctity of World Heritage Sites at a time when the Selous Reserve, once a global stronghold for elephants and also located in Tanzania, has just been declared a World Heritage Site in Danger.

Are World Heritage Sites really worth the paper they are written on when neither the country in which they are located, nor the international community, seem to understand or deliver on their respective obligations?

I guess we will know more when we see the details but, for now, I raise only one cheer in respect of the news that the Serengeti is not to suffer a paved highway. With an unpaved road, this wondrous place may not be destroyed but it seems to me that the unsaved alternative is the start of its death by a thousand cuts.

I hope I am wrong.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Barefoot Billion

June 26th, 2014

Born Free President, Will Travers joins leading performance poet, Philip Wells in undertaking an epic 1,000 mile, 2 million step journey, walking barefoot ‘in the footsteps of the bards’ through Cornwall, South West England and Wales. ‘Barefoot Billion’ is raising money for Born Free’s Global Friends Programme and two other charities. Will is walking alongside Philip for four days on his 68 mile stretch from Tintern Abbey to Gladestry. Here is his account of day one.


He started this morning at 4.30 am trying to make up for some time lost yesterday when a combination of an agonisingly-bruised heel and sheer exhaustion caused him to slip, temporarily, behind schedule.

My friend Philip Wells, The Fire Poet, is a man on a mission.

We joined him at 7.30 and then walked – Philip barefoot as he has been for the last 600 miles – from Tintern to Monmouth.

‘Only 10 miles’. It sounds easy enough but as I watch this extraordinary many gingerly place one agonising foot in front of the other, across surfaces that threaten to cut and slice, I know 10 miles must seem like a marathon.

We cross-crossed the River Wye, snaking our way through glorious countryside. At times I thought the only thing that keeps him going is his great affinity with nature. The beauty of our surroundings, the buzzards, swans, the lazy river, the chance encounters with other walkers, each intrepid in their own way, seemed to revive his spirits.

And then there is the poetry. Last night. Standing under the shadow of Tintern Abbey, the rafter less roof seemed to echo to Philip’s powerful oration, my mother, Virginia, his elegant foil.

Today, the walk ended at Monmouth Comprehensive School, immersed in their week-long Literary Festival. Philip seemed re-born, energized by the 400 children packed into the marquee, each of them, in turn, inspired, as I am, by this man who is truly putting his money where his mouth is, this man who truly believes that words can change the world, this man who is calling on us all the B The Step and is leading by example!

Follow the walk, support the walk, be with Philip every step of the way.

Blogging off


Follow Will and Philip on twitter for updates on their journey.

Please make a donation by visiting: or by texting ‘STEP’ to 70111 to donate £3.

Will Travers | No Comments »

United to assess the future of captive marine mammals

June 6th, 2014

It is not often that individuals and organisations with passionately held and sometimes profoundly disparate opinions get together, talk and then walk out of the room still smiling.  But at what could prove to be a landmark meeting in Miami organised by Virgin Unite, the charitable arm of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin, that’s exactly what happened.  Twenty-five people representing marine parks that display performing cetacea (dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises), representatives from other aspects of the leisure industry, scientists, leaders from the animal protection movement, tourism trade associations and more, focussed their attention for 36 hours, trying to define what the future holds for captive cetacea.

And, of course,  they did not agree. But they did I think, come to the realisation that things are changing. In my opinion it is unlikely that the status quo, the continued presentation of dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises (some of whom originated in the wild) for public entertainment is a model that will persist long into the future.

The meeting explored important concepts – What do we mean by wild?  What is a sanctuary?  Can current captive facilities be environmentally enriched? Can captive bred dolphins be returned to the wild?  What does success look like?

We also discussed over-arching policy frameworks that placed the welfare of the animals at the heart of decision-making, while recognising that facilities that care for animals for the rest of their lives cannot run on fresh air and have to be built around sustainable financial models – not necessarily for profit – in order to  guarantee the highest levels of welfare, whatever the future may hold.

In my view it would be wrong to characterise all those who hold dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises in public display facilities are the bad guys.  It would be equally wrong to characterise all those who campaign against such forms of animal exploitation as animal rights extremists.  We are, each of us, to some extent, a product of our personal life experiences.  We are each on a journey of discovery and it is only perhaps sometimes through meetings, such as the one in Miami on 3rd – 4th June 2014, that we can take steps forward, learn and grow, and make better, more informed and, hopefully, wise decisions reflecting our evolving compact with the natural world.

Don’t get me wrong, Born Free will never abandon its clear principled position that wildlife belongs in the wild.  Nor will we cease to challenge those who continue to keep and exploit dolphins, whales, orca and porpoises for public entertainment and commercial gain – but nor will we shy away from opportunities to hold discussions that may lead to the fundamental change we wish to seek, however hard the journey.

As Winston Churchill said, “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war” – to talk is good.

Blogging Off

P.S. A recent opinion poll revealed that 86% of people surveyed said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.

Will Travers | 2 Comments »

The future of english circuses

May 29th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

It has taken a long time but we are about to win.

In 1996/97 Born Free participated in a Government Committee assessing the use of animals  in circuses.  Despite the work, and a decision to focus only on wild animals (so excluding domestic species such as horses and dogs) it did not result in and end to the use of animals in this way.

In 2004/06, we participated in a second Committee addressing the same issue.

In 2015, the Government has pledged to introduce legislation in The Queen’s Speech ending the use of wild animals in circuses in England.

What are the challenges that we have had to overcome?

The circus industry, staring into the abyss, wanted ‘better regulation’.  Some parliamentarians wanted a ban for certain species of wild animal but not others.  Thank goodness the Government decided to ban the use of all wild animals on ethical grounds.

This outstanding achievement has been as a result of the hard work of representatives from Born Free, the RSPCA, the Captive Animals’ Protection Society, the BVA and many other groups.

It is also a tribute to the determination of many members of the public, wildlife and animal welfare professionals, non-government organisations and parliamentarians who have stood up to be counted on this issue.

2015 marks a new chapter in society’s relationship with captive wild animals and will bring to an end, a form of wildlife exploitation that can no longer count on the support of the public at large.

However, what of the animals?  I suspect that most of these animal acts (and there are only a handful) will depart for Europe where regulations are weak or non-existent.  If any remain, the RSPCA and  Born Free have pledged to assist DEFRA in finding them suitable lifetime care facilities for the rest of their lives.

As to the future, I would like to hear, loud and clear, that the other countries and regions of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) will join together and support the ban.  I also want to see our campaign turn its attention to Europe and further afield so that, perhaps within my lifetime, we shall no longer be able to witness tigers jumping through hoops of fire and elephants standing on their hind-legs for fun’.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 2 Comments »

Animals Don’t Have A Vote – You Do!

May 14th, 2014

You don’t have to be political to care about animals. But what do the hundreds of European Parliamentary hopefuls think about the environment, wildlife, captive animals and more?

As a charity Born Free certainly doesn’t want to (and indeed can’t) get involved with politics with a capital ‘P’ but we can, perhaps, help voters see things a little more clearly!

So, my colleagues have produced a short information paper on what some of the parties are saying concerning an issue we all care deeply about – animals in need.

Of course, May 22nd, Election Day for the European Parliament, is about so many things and there are a million reasons why people vote, or decide not to. But knowing a little more about certain issues could help inform your decision.

So if you have a few minutes, go to the link and read our summary.

Remember, animals don’t have a vote – you do!

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 1 Comment »