George Adamson

August 18th, 2016

We all need inspiration in our lives

George Adamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born Free Film

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

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

George Adamson and Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born Free’s Year of the Lion

Blogging off


Will Travers | 17 Comments »

Cecil’s Legacy 12 Months On

June 28th, 2016

cecil the lion

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

Blogging off

Cecil’s Legacy, 12 Months On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cecil’s death must not have been in vain.

Mark Jones
Programmes Manager (Wildlife)
Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | 3 Comments »


June 24th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Will Travers OBE
CEO and President
The Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Baltimore decides to #emptythetanks

June 20th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Will Harambe’s Death Be The Tipping Point?

June 2nd, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Not the case.

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

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

The answer is emphatically no.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blogging off


Will Travers | 13 Comments »


May 11th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Three moments of inspiration have caught my attention recently.

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

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

I was inspired!

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

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

I am inspired!

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

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

We were inspired!

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

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

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

Blogging off


Will Travers | 8 Comments »

The Spirit of Elsa Marches to Downing Street and Roars for Lions!

April 27th, 2016

30th APRIL 2016,

Dear Friends,

The Born Free team, here, in the USA , in Kenya and around the world, has been campaigning for lions for many, many years.

Some people think we should be doing more and, of course, we can always do more but in this, 2016 Born Free’s Year of the Lion, we are going all out.

Supporting the excellent work of the Kenya Wildlife Service who are monitoring and protecting lions in Meru National Park, Elsa’s heartland.

Building more than 220 Predator Proof Bomas in the Amboseli ecosystem (southern Kenya and northern Tanzania) which reduces the incidence of night-time predation on livestock to zero – and consequently dramatically reduces the likelihood of retaliatory attacks by local people for livestock losses.

Working with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority to seek to record and quantify the remote the wild lion population of Alatash and Zakouma (western Ethiopia and South Sudan).

In partnership with the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit of Oxford University and Dr Hans Bauer, assisting in the development of National Lion Conservation Strategies in a number of West African countries.

Thanks to support from the UK Government’s Wildlife Challenge initiative, building wildlife law enforcement capacity in the Horn of Africa where massive and porous land borders represent an opportunity for the illegal wildlife trade to flourish.

Assisting with the promotion of Blood Lions, the extraordinary documentary that recently blew the lid off South Africa’s ‘canned hunting’ industry.

Successfully advocating, through Born Free USA, for the inclusion of lions on the United States’ Endangered Species Act.

Campaigning to persuade the 182 Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to afford African lions the highest level of protection against commercial exploitation.

With the help of our incredibly generous supporters around the world, paying for the rescue and care of desperately needy captive lions, relocated from appealing captive conditions to our wonderful Sanctuaries in South Africa, Ethiopia and Malawi.

And now, on Saturday the 30th April, speaking out against the ongoing and brutal trophy hunting of lions.

Our Founder, Virginia McKenna (my mum), will add her voice to many others, including Britain’s most well-known scientist Stephen Hawking who has agreed to sign the letter that will be delivered to the Prime Minister in Downing Street, calling for an end to lion trophy hunting and import of lion trophies into the UK.

Details of the march here

I think it is wonderful that such an extraordinary mind is focussed both on the outer reaches of space and the possibility of extra terrestrial life, AND on helping compassionately conserve life here on earth.

But that is what profound thinkers do!

I have no doubt that, between us, we can find a way of ending such cruelty and bloody exploitation, protecting wild lions and the wild places they rely on – and securing a future for lions and the rest of life on Earth.

Yes, we can always do more. But, through Born Free, and hand in hand with like-minded individuals and our world-wide partners, the spirit of Elsa burns bright. We shall never give up!

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 3 Comments »

‘Should We Close Our Zoos?’ – Our Verdict

April 20th, 2016

Dear Friends,

This is possibly one of the most important (and longest) blogs I have ever posted but please persevere. I think you might agree.

In March 1984 when, originally called Zoo Check, a small group of individuals (including my mother, father and myself) dipped our toes in the murky waters of the the zoo world, we were dismissed by the then Director of the London Zoo as a ‘nine day wonder’.

The bare-faced arrogance and cheek of it. A bunch of ‘actors’ and ‘luvvies’ questioning the purpose and existence of zoos. Preposterous!

And not just practical matters like animal welfare; the quality of the captive environment; the prevalence of abnormal ‘stereotypic’ behaviours; the apparent lack of real education; the validity of captive-breeding programmes and the so-called ‘conservation dividend’ – but the ethical and moral justifications for locking wild animals up for life on the basis that they are ‘ambassadors for their species’ and that their sacrifice would be the species’ gain.

My late father Bill spent most of the last three years of his life travelling round numerous European zoos, filming, recording and exposing the physical and mental suffering of the numerous animals he saw. The strange, repetitive, seemingly pointless behaviours he saw he called ‘zoochotic’. And, as had been the case so many times in the past, he was years ahead of his time. He proved that the zoo industry, a multi-billion-dollar global business based on the incarceration of millions of wild animals, was out of time.

On Sunday the 17th April 2016, BBC Two broadcast a Horizon documentary entitled ‘Should We Close Our Zoos?’. Modern broadcasting. Contemporary, insightful, probing, fair but tough. Liz Bonnin asked the same questions we were asking over 30 years ago and she seemed to draw the same conclusion.

We said it then, and we have been saying it ever since. Based on the evidence, in our view, the ‘zoo experiment’ has failed.

For this very special blog, I have asked my mother, the co-founder of the Born Free Foundation and the constant moral compass of this organisation for more than 30 years, to offer her thoughts, not only about the past and the present, but of the future.

Here are her thoughts:

At last. A programme that scientifically analyses and questions the relevance of zoos, the future of zoos, and the significance of zoos. I am grateful to Liz Bonnin for courageously challenging the zoo establishment. I must give credit to some individuals, some from the zoo world, for being more than usually frank about the true reality of ‘saving species’. I wish to especially acknowledge the contribution by David Hancocks, Professor Georgia Mason and Dr. Sarah Bexell.

Can conservation in zoos have any relevance whatsoever? Education is obviously a non-starter. I recall, according to Horizon, that just 3% of larger zoos’ massive global income is applied to conservation in the field.

The first and most urgent need is to ensure that wild areas and the wild species they are home to must be effectively protected. Zoos, with their massive resources have, so far, spectacularly failed to make the kind of investment needed to secure wild places and biodiversity. Cherry-picking a handful of the world’s most charismatic species (as David Hancocks so accurately points out) is not really conservation, as does Sarah Bexell who, having invested 20 or more years in the idea that captive breeding can make a measurable and significant contribution to conservation, comes to the painful conclusion that the experiment has largely ‘failed’. My goodness how I feel for her and admire her honesty.

Keeping millions of wild animals alive as living museum exhibits is no solution and puts us, their ‘keepers’ to shame.

While, I must admit, I was a little disappointed that there was no spokesperson from Born Free – considering that it was many years ago (32 to be exact), that we first publicly set out our views on the relevance (and humanity) of ‘conservation’ of species in captivity, I am enormously gratified that the concerns we have expressed for so very long are now, perhaps, the mainstream and are no longer the preoccupations of a few ‘misguided actors’.

Years before Zoo Check, many years before The Born Free Foundation, Bill wrote: ‘We can learn as much about lions by studying them in their cages as we can about men by studying them in their prison cells’.

The evidence has been staring us in the face since then. How many more years must pass before we admit our mistakes, not out of a sense of guilt but in a desire to do the right thing, to make things better, to learn?

It would be more humane and wise for zoos to recognise that the experiment is over, that we must make amends now before the future of wildlife on earth is over and all we have to remind us of our misguided past – are zoos.

My mum is 85 this year. They say that with age comes wisdom. Will we have the wisdom to listen to her and act?

I would ask you to please share this blog. Thank you.

Blogging off.


PS You can watch the programme here:

(Available to viewers in the UK; if you are outside the UK, you may not be able to view the programme).

And visit our Zoo Check pages here

Will Travers | 7 Comments »

Lions Matter

April 14th, 2016

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

As the relatively good news about tiger numbers filters through – the population in the wild is now hovering near 4,000 – the situation facing lions continues to worsen.

It is hard to imagine that a species which can still be found in two dozen countries in Africa could be in such a terrible state but with perhaps only 20,000 lions across the whole Continent, it couldn’t get much worse – or could it?

Pressures on the species include:  fragmentation and loss of their habitat; the depletion of their natural prey (antelope, gazelle, etc); the increased risk of conflict with human communities and subsequent persecution (poisoning, spearing, shooting, etc.); and the threat of trophy hunting still hangs over the heads (quite literally) of up to 600 lions a year!

While many organisations, including Born Free, are doing what they can in the field, international attention is beginning to turn towards trophy hunting and some serious questions are being asked:

• Does it really deliver conservation dividends?
• Does it help conserve lions and their wild habitat?
• Is it ethical to kill animals for ‘fun’?

On top of all that, the ‘canned hunting’ industry in South Africa, where 6,000 – 8,000 lions are bred and held in captivity for the sole purpose of being shot to end up as trophies, may be stimulating an ‘out of control’ demand for wild lion products.

Currently, the South African government authorises the legal export of lion bones and skeletons from the canned hunting industry to south-east Asia where they are used as a surrogate for tiger bones (which are illegal).  In my view, this legal trade is dramatically stimulating demand and the latest figures concerning the export of lion bones from South Africa indicates that a tonne or more of bones were shipped out in 2013.  It also indicates that the number of lion skeletons shipped out in 2013 from South Africa to China, Lao PDR, Vietnam and Thailand was (wait for it) just under 4,000.

I can barely imagine the horror of these ‘lion breeding factories’ in South Africa and the welfare implications for the individual animals involved.

But I can imagine the poaching community looking at this growing and lucrative legal trade and seeing an opportunity.  An opportunity to poach and launder wild lion bones, body parts and skeletons under cover of the legal trade, and literally make a ‘killing’.

If we are not to witness the ongoing decline of wild lions and if we are to prevent them becoming, like the tiger, critically endangered, then the time for action is now.  South Africa must close down the legal export trade of lion body parts, skeletons and bones; the international community must curtail or, preferably, end lion trophy hunting; we must all step up our work with local communities to reduce conflict;  we must increase investment in lion conservation across their range; and, as Born Free is already doing, we must work with national authorities in lion Range States to develop national lion conservation strategies throughout Africa so that people who care about lions, know what the detailed plan is and know where they can invest their support.

The African lion is a symbol of all that is wild and free in Africa.  The future of the species must be secured.  They must not disappear – not on our watch.

Blogging off

Recommended links:

Adopt a lion with Born Free
BBC Wildlife – Spring 2016
Blood Lions
Born Free’s Meru Lion Project
Born Free’s Lion-Proof Bomas
Hans Bauer and the New Lion Population in Alatash

Will Travers | Comments Off

Sometimes it is all about going the extra mile!

April 6th, 2016

Dear Friends,

Sometimes it is all about going the extra mile!

And sometimes it is about recognising the extraordinary effort that many caring people make to achieve a real difference for wild animals in need and conservation.

So these two little words – ‘thank you’ – represent my heartfelt appreciation on behalf of everyone at Born Free to the following individuals who are not going the extra mile but the extra 26 miles for the cause!

Brighton Marathon (16/04/16): Mark Jones (Born Free’s Wildlife Programmes Manager); Margaret Winniak; James Dunne; and Stephen Payne (from Kuoni, one of our corporate sponsors, in Brighton)

London Marathon (24/04/16): Jon Green; Susan Slater; Alison Woodier; Jonathan Aves; John Heywood (who is 80 years old!); Marianne Mitchel; Eric Web; Anne French; David Sheldon …..  And the team from Land Rover who are also running the London Marathon for Born Free: Richard Parker; Stephen Easy; Richard Williams; Ketan Sharma; Orla Murphy; Dimitri Stoliopoulos; Natalia Youhno; William Hannis; Marshall O’Donnell; and Anthony Towers.

If you would like to show your support for these Born Free heroes who have spent months pounding the streets in preparation for the Big One, then please sponsor them here

Running the Marathon is just one example of how we often need to take the long way round to achieve success.

We started campaigning for a European Zoos Directive to secure minimum standards for all zoos in the EU in 1987. The Directive was passed in 2002.

We started calling for an end to the use of wild animals in UK circuses in 1994 – maybe this year the Prime Minister will deliver on his promise by finding the Parliamentary time to bring in a ban in England.

We started fighting the bloody international ivory trade and poaching in 1989 and we are still fighting it today, as we are the use of live animals in performances and the keeping of wild animals as ‘pets’.

It’s all about making progress one step and a time or, in the case of our Marathon women and men, at least 30,000 steps!

Good luck each and every one of you! And thanks again!

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