The dangerous reality of wild animal “actors” laid bare by trainer

November 9th, 2015

Guest blog from Born Free CEO Adam Roberts.

“Penned by a journalist as part of the UK Newspaper, The Guardian’s, “Action and Adventure Film” section, an article published in the last few days highlighted the career of former US-based entrepreneur, Randy Miller, who now makes a living out of using live wild animals in “attack scenes” in major Hollywood productions. Written in such a manner so as Mr Miller is presented as something of a charismatic daredevil, the article highlights how he began collecting wild animals, such as big cats, in the days when his business was flourishing. When he was later declared bankrupt in the mid-nineties, he established a company that hired out the animals for use in films.

Miller recounts the time he “took a bite from a tiger for Russell Crowe” during filming for ‘Gladiator’ and was viciously attacked by a bear during filming for ‘Semi-Pro’ in 2008, when he stood in for actor, Will Ferrell. Miller survived these attacks. The article recounts the tragic story of his cousin, Stevie, who was killed by one of Miller’s bears as he attempted to film a TV commercial with the wild animal. The article suggests, in a somewhat tongue-in-cheek manner “this seems like madness” but goes on to conclude “it’s clear how much he loves his animals and lives for them”.

What is particularly interesting about the piece is that Miller appears to relish the danger of the role and so, unlike many other animal trainers who work with wild animals and insist that the practice is completely safe, Miller lays bare the reality; these remain dangerous wild animals who can injure and kill at will. This begs the question: why on earth is this practice still permitted around the world?

While there were always be people who want the supposed thrill and excitement of “wrangling” a wild animal, when things go wrong, both people and animals pay. Had the tiger who (predictably) attacked Miller during the scene for Gladiator continued to attack, in all likelihood he (and potentially Miller, too) would have lost his life. If the bear had not loosed his grip, he too would have been stopped by potentially lethal force. Miller’s cousin paid with his life for the desire to have a bear in his company’s advert. If the people, both those working with animals and in the companies employing them, refuse to heed the very clear warning signs, then does it not stand to reason that the decision be taken out of their hands and this use of animals be prohibited? No film, television advert or programme is worth losing a life over; animal or human.

And this is in addition to the wider animal welfare concerns surrounding the use of these animals in this way. A lifetime of captivity, separated from their families usually before weaning, transported from place to place and subjected to the chaos of a film set; these animals simply deserve better.

Miller admits in the piece that work is becoming scarce as more companies wisely turn to computer generated imagery (CGI) to create lifelike animals to great effect; just look at the Planet of the Apes films or the recent epic “Noah” for examples of animal-free productions. But can we really stand by and simply wait for this outdated, dangerous and cruel industry to die a natural death? I believe not. It is time that wild animals were recognised and respected for what they are. It is time we got them out of the studios and film sets and it is time that we stop celebrating the people who continue to exploit them. It is not brave to wrestle a wild animal. It is, at best, extremely ill-advised and, at worst, a very dangerous form of animal exploitation.

You can help to bring an end to the use of wild animals in entertainment by contacting Born Free if you see a production that uses live wild animals so that we can reach out to the production companies and urge compassionate change. You can also choose to avoid films and other productions which exploit animals in this way. If you work in the media industry then you can ensure that you only work on productions which commit to a “no wild animals” policy. Together we can help to bring the exploitation of wild animal “actors” to an end.


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Outrageous ‘Pets’

November 4th, 2015

Apparently we are no longer satisfied with ‘conventional pets’. More and more people want something a little out of the ordinary. Whether as a result of a whim, a fashion trend, a desire to stand out from the crowd, as One Click Away makes clear, millions of wild animals are now on the ‘wish list’. And, as this Report also makes clear, the implications are dire both for the individuals and for the species concerned.

As if it was not enough to be given the awesome responsibility of properly caring for a cat, dog or horse (and heaven knows many of us make a pretty miserable job of that, given the number of abandoned animals roaming the streets, the full-to-bursting shelters and rescue centres and the thousands of healthy but unwanted pets destroyed each and every year), we now crave the monkey, the lizard, the snake, the fish, the parrot, the tortoise, the terrapin – even exotic cat species such as ocelot, serval and caracal.

Why? Well it would be all too easy to point the finger of blame at the like of Michael Jackson with his chimpanzee Bubbles, or Justin Bieber with his pet monkey. It would be equally facile to single out films like Finding Nemo and the subsequent surge in ownership (more often short-term ownership) of clown fish. Or the YouTube footage of a slow loris supposedly giggling while being tickled under the forearms which made the species, at least temporarily, the new ‘must have’ pet – they’re SOOO cute

The Born Free Foundation has long-standing concerns about the trade and possession of wild animals as pets. Our global efforts include intercepting and rescuing some of the 2-300 cheetah cubs currently smuggled out of the Horn of Africa into the Middle East as status symbol pets, the perfect accessory for the back of the luxury four wheel drive.

We contend, and the evidence suggests, that this trade is inflicting gross suffering on millions of wild animals and driving species to the brink, facilitated by slack law enforcement, lack of effective legislation, increased disposable income, the ‘well why not’ attitude that increasingly pervades our society – all these combine to make the keeping of exotic pets, many ordered blindly over the internet, all the rage.

And outrage is what we should feel when confronted with this abomination – outrage that we must control and channel and focus to turn into reality the numerous vitally important recommendations set out by Blue Cross and Born Free in One Click Away.

Of course, the trade in and ownership of exotic ‘pets’ may be low down on the political agenda but it is here on our patch, on our doorstep and it is one thing we can do something about. One Click Away means that no longer can inaction be excused as a result of ignorance, the ‘I didn’t know anything about it’ syndrome.

One Click Away should be the catalyst that initiates effective reform to the law, to enforcement, to regulation and to public attitudes. The exploitation of wild animals as ‘pets’ should not be ‘business as usual’.

Blogging off!


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Saving the World’s Wildlife: It’s up to us all

October 21st, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

We are all responsible and we can all do something about it”.  That was the message delivered by HRH Prince William in an address marking the start of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK on 19th October 2015.  That same message will be transmitted (once it has passed the Chinese censorship rules) to an estimated 100 million Chinese television viewers in about a week’s time.   And, as I said on Sky TV immediately after his speech, William is right.

We really do all have a role to play.  Governments in countries where species such as elephants and rhinos are being poached have a responsibility to increase their investment in greater security and wildlife law enforcement.  They also have a responsibility to ensure that the judicial system is both effective and efficient and that it delivers deterrent sentences to those convicted of committing wildlife crimes.  No-one is above the law.  No matter what position they hold.  No matter how high-up the political ladder they may have climbed.

The international community has a responsibility to make sure that the globalisation of international trade is not seen as a soft touch for ‘criminal syndicates’ trafficking in wildlife products.  If ports of export along the East African seaboard need more equipment, better training for officials, sniffer dogs and x-ray machines then we have to step in and help. If intelligence gathering agencies, already working to tackle terrorism, drug cartels, people trafficking and arms smuggling, must include organised wildlife crime as well, then so be it.

“Consumer countries”, the markets for ivory, rhino horn, lion bone, tiger and bear body parts, pangolin scales and more, need to raise their game.  The illegal wildlife trade is now regarded as a ‘serious crime’ as described by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.  That means it should carry a minimum four-year tariff for anyone caught trafficking.  It is also now a predicate agreement which means that wildlife law enforcement authorities can use all measures at their disposal, including the confiscation of the assets of crime, to ensure that criminals are severely punished rather than getting away with a short sentence and a big bank account.  The ‘consumer countries’ also have a responsibility to educate, to explain why for the sake of saving species currently being driven towards extinction, consumption must give way to conservation and traditions (activities rooted in the past and often based on spurious medicinal claims) simply cannot endure.

We, the individual members of the public, can play our part.  We must make sure that we do not buy wildlife products and unwittingly contribute to the growing crisis.  I cannot imagine that anyone reading this blog would ever consider buying ivory or rhino horn but what about seashells, tropical hardwoods (that lovely carving you see near the beach) and coral?  I was in Italy recently and was appalled to see the tidal wave of coral jewellery in just one city.  Shop after shop!  The cumulative impact of the coral trade on the world’s remaining and threatened coral reefs can only be imagined. Wildlife products are neither souvenirs nor status symbols.

And we can put our money where our mouth is.  Born Free is committed to helping the Border Agency in Ethiopia, the Kenya Wildlife Service in Kenya, the authorities in Malawi, Sri Lanka and many other countries, to carry out their duties as effectively as possible and so I make no apology that we do ask for financial support from companies such as our partners, Land Rover and Kenya Airways, and from the British government, from the EU and from our supporters everywhere.

Prince William said that “This is a battle that we can win”.  I agree.  But we can only win if we all become guardians of wildlife and make sure that those who would exploit wildlife, sell its body parts and make a killing, have nowhere to hide.

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Will the Queen of Ivory reveal her hand?

October 15th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

The recent arrest in Tanzania of Chinese national, Yang Feng Glan, the 67 year old Vice-President of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council, could prove to be a tipping-point for conservation in that country.  According to The Elephant Action League (who call her the Queen of Ivory) Glan has been trafficking in ivory since at least 2006 and has confessed to being the mastermind behind the deaths of 30,000 or more elephants and the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of kilos of ivory.

Tanzania has apparently lost 85,000 elephants to poaching between 2009 and 2014.

Is her arrest good news?  Maybe – maybe not.

It would appear that Glan has confessed and intends to offer no defense during her prosecution. She takes sole responsibility for the elephant slaughter that has swept Tanzania for so many years.  That means that the names of all those who have either assisted her, supported her or protected her may never come to light. She will take the rap for everything and the corrupt individuals, institutions and officials that are complicit in one of the world’s biggest wildlife crimes may never be brought to justice.

Aristotle said, “One swallow does not a summer make.”  By the same token, Glan’s arrest and possible conviction will not necessarily get to the root-cause of the malignant criminality that has pervaded the wildlife sector in Tanzania for so long, nor mark a new and more positive future for conservation.

Can anything be done about this?  I recommend an international committee of enquiry (a sort of International Court for Wildlife Crime, modeled on the ICC) be established to follow every single lead wherever it takes, however high, in this and all serious wildlife crimes.

If Tanzania is to regain credibility with the global community in terms of its wildlife conservation agenda, all those who have helped make Yang Feng Glan (she faces 20-30 years in prison if convicted) the ‘Queen of Ivory’ are brought to book, her ‘court’ is dismantled and her ‘courtiers’ imprisoned.

Oh and, by the way, let’s mysteriously lose the key!

Blogging off


See for more information on the ivory trade

Will Travers | 3 Comments »

Not Again! Are More Swazi Elephants Heading for US Zoos?

October 8th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

It is like a nightmare repeating itself!

Back in 2003, and despite strenuous efforts by Born Free and others to prevent it, the Kingdom of Swaziland sold eleven of its elephant herd to two zoos in the USA.  The declared reason? Over-population.  At the time, Swaziland had a population of less than 40 elephants, many of whom had originated as orphans from South Africa , following a culling programme in Kruger National Park.

I remember well, as we argued in court for the importation to be denied, hearing the authorities in Swaziland declare that if the animals were not taken by the two US zoos “refrigerator space had been reserved for their bodies”.

The judge folded under such intense emotional pressure.

So, you would have thought that, subsequently, the Swazi authorities would have carefully worked out just how many elephants could be supported in the tiny country and its National Parks and then carefully managed their population through birth control to ensure that numbers were stable.

However, now Swaziland is preparing to ship a further 18 elephants (from its national herd which still stands at less than 40 animals) to the Dallas Zoo in Texas, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, and Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, for an undisclosed sum and a promise of a million dollars for black rhino conservation in Swaziland.

First the proposed shipment must be approved by the US Fish & Wildlife Service but I understand that zoo officials anticipate that the agency will approve the application within the next month or so.

The Parks Authorities in Swaziland claim that the elephants are degrading their environment and that supplementary feed, in the form of hay, has had to be brought in from South Africa. The situation is exacerbated by a severe drought.

Apparently they also claim that there is no option but to ship the animals out and that there are no suitable places for them to be relocated to in Africa.  Can that possibly be true?  Can it be that there are no private reserves in the whole of Southern Africa that could take these animals and thereby allow them to live as wild a life as possible in their natural habitat?

The zoos must be praying the import is approved since the captive African elephant population held in US zoos is currently in terminal decline due to low breeding rates and compromised longevity – basically more elephants are dying than are being born.  Without an injection of ‘new blood’ with breeding potential, experts predict that the US captive elephant population will cease to exist within the next few decades.

The zoos are seeking to represent this import as a ‘rescue’ and are critical of those who are opposed.  According to Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, “Some people would rather see these elephants die than live in an accredited zoo”.  I strongly disagree. I would rather see these elephants live in the wild – where they belong!

With my sceptical hat on, I suspect that another reason for the zoos’ desire to import elephants is not only to bolster their dysfunctional captive breeding programmes but to populate new, expensive and yet meagre facilities.  The new $75m African Grassland Project at the Henry Doorly Zoo features a 4.5 acre elephant facility costing about US$15m; the Dallas Zoo’s Wilds of Africa confines its elephants to about 4.2 acres; while Zambezi River Valley at the Sedgwick County Zoo covers 5 acres at a cost of $10.6m (and features a boat ride…). These costly facilities don’t even begin to compare to the range of a wild elephant family which can extend to hundreds of thousands of acres.

This is wrong on so many levels.  The decision of Swaziland to have elephants in the first place; their decision to export elephants again; the involvement of American zoos in this transaction; the compromised lives that these animals will now endure, thousands of miles away from their natural habitat; the ostentatious levels of zoo expenditure on tiny postage-stamp sized “habitats” (with grandiose names) which consume tens of millions of dollars, money that elephant conservation in the wild is crying out for……..

You can probably tell I am outraged by this news and I can only hope that the US authorities see the bigger picture and recognise that this really is not good for elephants.  Quite the opposite.

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 6 Comments »


September 29th, 2015

The announcement of London Zoo’s latest project has got us thinking!

Here, my friend and colleague, Anna Wade, reviews the zoo’s plans to take visitors ‘on safari’. See what you think!

Blogging off!


“The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) has recently announced plans to build a “safari camp” next to the new Asiatic lion enclosure at London Zoo. The zoo has received planning permission to build nine cabins for visitors to stay overnight, on the perimeter of the new enclosure, which is set to open to the public in 2016. Let’s take a closer look at these new plans:

ZSL has stated that the cost of building the enclosure will be £5,200,000. I’ll repeat that: £5,200,000. Surely this sum would be better spent on efforts to save wild lion populations in India? According to the ZSL annual report, the Society’s entire annual spend on conservation programmes in 2014 was £6,030,000. In other words, the equivalent of 86% of ZSL’s annual spend on conservation programmes has been spent on an enclosure currently set to house three female Asiatic lions.

At that cost, the enclosure must surely be a reasonable size, right? Well, at 2,500sqm (0.6 acres), maybe not. Plans for the nine cabins indicate that each will be 167sqm, covering a total of 1503sqm (0.4 acres) with further space allocated for a communal garden. It is a sad irony that the visitors, who get to stay a night or two at the zoo, may end up having more space than the animals who will spend their entire lives there.

This is not the first time London Zoo has offered visitors the opportunity to stay after hours.  Last year, “Zoo Lates” (now re-branded as “Sunset Safaris”) received significant criticism after reports surfaced of inappropriate behaviour from visitors, which led to questions over the zoo’s ability to safeguard animal welfare.

London Zoo correctly states that the wild population of Asiatic lions is in peril. However, with the chances of release to the wild for these animals or their progeny being virtually zero, protection of the remaining wild Asiatic lion population is paramount to the continued survival of this species in its natural habitat: in my view, keeping lions at London Zoo will not ensure this outcome. Furthermore, some might regard the construction of visitor accommodation in the zoo is little more than a gimmick at the expense of much needed larger enclosures for the animals and the application of resources towards keeping Asiatic lions in the wild – where they belong.

ZSL trustee report can be found at:

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Speaking up for Animals

September 14th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

I am often sent letters and emails and Tweets from people asking why animals are treated the way they are.  And today I echo those many letters by asking the same simple question: WHY?

Why are hundreds of elephants killed each year as trophies?

Why were 442 hippo trophies imported into the US between 2012 and 2013, as well as 758 leopard trophies?

Why were a third of the wild wolves of Montana shot (230) in 2013?

Why were 180 wolves trapped in Wisconsin?

Why would anybody want to pay US$1,000 to shoot a giraffe or US$4,000 to kill a crocodile?

Why are there only 20,000 rhino left on the planet?

Why are there as few as 20,000 wild lions in Africa?

Why in the UK is it permissible to cull thousands of badgers in a deeply misguided effort to control bovine tuberculosis, when the killers have missed every target; the methodology is fundamentally flawed; the process fails to meet declared standards of humaneness; when it costs £7,000 to kill each badger; when genuine alternatives, such as vaccination, exist; and when the deaths of these badgers will not achieve the outcome we want to see – a consistent, long-term and significant reduction in bovine TB.

I simply don’t know the answer to all these whys…… but I do know why, together, we will continue, with Born Free and other groups around the world, to champion the cause of wildlife and seek an end to cruelty, suffering, persecution and exploitation. Because if we don’t, who will.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 3 Comments »


September 4th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

So the Taiji dolphin slaughter has been ‘postponed’ due to bad weather. May the bad weather continue forever if that is the case!

Just how long can the Japanese authorities tolerate this sickening event which draws such widespread international condemnation from around the world?

Marches, rallies, petitions, documentaries, news articles…. The sheer volume of material expressing the outrage and frustration of tens of millions from almost every country – including Japan itself – must surely prevail one day.

But how can we bring about an end the Taiji as quickly as possible? Well stop going to captive dolphin shows would be one way. Evidence seems to make it clear that it is the live sale of dolphins for exploitation in dolphinaria, both in Japan and further afield, that generates the big money which pays for the annual scenes of brutality and bloody carnage.

The UK has no captive dolphins shows. The last one closed in the early 1990s and three of the last dolphins were released into the wild as part of the Into The Blue project which Born Free helped fund and coordinate.  But dolphin shows with their loud music, inane acts, concrete pools, chlorinated water and lifetime confinement are still a feature in Europe, North America, the Middle East, China and the Far East. These facilities survive simply because ill-informed people pay good money to watch these intelligent, social animals ‘perform’.

So, as I say, please don’t go. Don’t sustain a form of exploitation that has totally lost all credibility, perpetuates suffering and may rely on the Taiji bloodbath for its victims.

And if the powers that be can arrange to deliver stormy weather for the next two years or more, then the hunting will stop and maybe, just maybe, the Taiji dolphins can live wild and free – as nature intended.

Blogging off!


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A Message from Kenya

August 27th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

I was 38,000 feet above the earth on a Kenya Airways Dreamliner, on the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder, 26 years ago.  I was flying to Kenya and it seemed incredibly appropriate.  I was to join the Born Free team and our colleagues at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Meru National Park, to the north-east of Mount Kenya, the very area where George and his wife Joy, returned Elsa to the wild.  It truly is the home of Born Free. Elsa is buried there, under a tree near the river.  I was flying out to help the Born Free and KWS teams with a Land Rover sponsored effort to count lions.  I think George and Joy would have approved.

Lion numbers across Africa have tumbled by more than 50% in the last 30 years. Some suggest that as few as 20,000 now survive across the entire Continent. However, in Kenya, there may be 2,000 or so individuals and there is still a very strong possibility that with effective conservation measures, wild lions will still roam Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves long into the future.  But in order for us to understand the pressures on lions and to mitigate conflict with local communities and livestock, for example, we need to know how many lions there are and measure our success (or failure) based on real numbers.

I won’t go into all the details of what we saw or what we did because this will be revealed, I hope, later in the year in a short film that Chris Scott and I made on this trip.  However, I can tell you that on Night 1 we saw three lions; on Night 2, we saw a solitary lioness and, in the glorious, golden evening light on Night 3, we saw four adult females resting on an ant-hill as the sun dipped below the horizon.  Could they have been the descendants of some of the lions that featured in the film Born Free - Girl, Boy and Ugas?  Impossible to say, but I would like to think so.  Again, I think George and Joy would have approved.

Mum summed it up very well when she wrote on our website recently I wish everyone who cares about animals could have met him (George) as he was someone who opened his arms to all individuals, people and animals and – from my knowledge of him – was without prejudice and, in spite of his strongly held views, was a man of great tolerance, humility, understanding.  And humour.

My memory of sitting in camp with George and Bill at the end of the day – sometimes talking, sometimes just sharing the silence, sometimes watching a lion or two contentedly lying outside the camp fence – is one I shall never forget.

We must always remember him, cherish his memory, try and follow his example and follow our hearts as he did, keep alive his deep respect for the individual.

I know I will.”

We will never be able to live-up to his example in full, but if we try then, together, we can help ensure that lions, the symbol of Africa in so many ways, remain wild and free.

That is George’s legacy.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

SeaWorld’s Profits Flop like the Drooping Dorsal Fins of Captive Orca

August 13th, 2015

Some predicted that the impact of the ‘Blackfish Effect’ would soon pass, but it seems that public disaffection with SeaWorld continues and is beginning to really bite where it hurts – the bottom line.

The company’s latest Financial Report, released on the 6th August, reveals that net income in the second quarter dropped from $37.4m in 2014 to $5.8m in 2015, a staggering decline of 84%.

It seems the troubled captive animal entertainment company just can’t shake off the bad news:

  • Attendance is down by more than 100,000 compared to last year.
  • SeaWorld shares have lost more than half of their market value on Wall Street since the 2013 release of the film Blackfish.

Announcing dismal half year results, SeaWorld CEO, Joel Manby, was forced to admit that the company is still struggling to convince the public that it treats its whales well. He did, however, sketch out SeaWorld’s vision of the future, with further details to be announced at an event on 6 November 2015.

Known future SeaWorld projects include plans for a new captive shark exhibition in SeaWorld Orlando, a “naturalistic”, captive swim-with-dolphin experience at SeaWorld San Antonio and, of course, the Blue World project, which seeks to increase the size of the orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego.

Despite these plans, The Born Free Foundation is adamant that orca, as well as all dolphin and whale species, do not fare well in captivity and, no matter the size of the tank, captive public display facilities are not appropriate environments for these animals.

SeaWorld may continue to try and persuade the public that they can successfully keep orca in captivity but you only need to compare the vast difference in the space and complexity of the natural marine environment with existing or proposed captive facilities to conclude that SeaWorld have not fully understood the reason millions of people increasingly object to the continued exploitation of sentient, socially complex, highly intelligent species for entertainment and commercial gain. Bigger tanks are not the answer!

I believe that SeaWorld must either take this opportunity to fundamentally rethink its priorities and align its vision with the public’s desire to support the protection and conservation of wild, free-living marine species – or it will continue to sink like a stone.

Either way, the Blackfish Effect will triumph.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 7 Comments »