Dolphin March

January 19th, 2015

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

Good afternoon everyone.

Great to see so many people here in Trafalgar Square.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the game is changing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Will Travers OBE
President Born Free Foundation

17th January 2015 – London

P.S. here is a video of the day

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Taiji Cove Dolphin Slaughter

January 14th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

Rarely is there a chance for us to come together to show our disgust and disapproval for some terrible act perpetrated against wildlife and to call for compassion, respect and peace.

Next Saturday – 17th January – is one of those special occasions.

The annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan – unimaginable cruelty and exploitation exposed so brilliantly in The Cove by long-term campaigners such as Ric O’Barry – may take place on the other side of the world, but it is relevant to us all.

According to Sea Shepherd, the dolphin meat from Taiji is valued at between US$40,000 – US$60,000.  However, the live dolphins caught and sold into the captive industry from Taiji are valued between US$5.5 and 7.3 million!

So, as we see so many times, if you want to know the truth, follow the money.

Swimming with a captive dolphins used to be Number 1 on many people’s bucket list (don’t ask me why).  It is now Number 7.  Soon, I hope, it will fall out of the Top 10 and then, instead of being something to do, it will become something to avoid.

That’s why Taiji matters to us.  It is the tourists visiting captive dolphin facilities that perpetuates the economic viability of Taiji and that is why I will be there, along with Dominic Dyer of Care for the Wild, Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones and many others, to take part in our peaceful but potent midday March from Cavendish Square to Trafalgar Square in London on 17th January.  I will add my voice to the growing global chorus that will, one day, bring an end to the shame that is Taiji.

If you can, join me at London’s Cavendish Square (W1G 0AJ). I’ll be there from 11 am – nearest tube Oxford Circus. For more information visit the event Facebook page.

Blogging off


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Hope for Europe’s captive elephants?

January 8th, 2015

Well, Innocent Prisoner and The Elephant in the Room have caused quite a stir!

People are amazed and outraged that across the entire European landscape there is not a single dedicated rescue centre for elephants.  There is no sanctuary for the 40 or so solitary elephants residing in European zoos or circuses.  The US has two.

Of course, in my view, it would be best if some of those solitary elephants could go back to their natural habitats and even be released into the wild but that is unlikely to be a realistic prospect for many.  Years of confinement in tiny cramped, artificial enclosures, often subjected to harsh, bitter climates, will have created a whole raft of psychological and physiological problems that will make it impossible for these animals to be set free.

But that doesn’t mean we should stand idly by.

It will be, pardon the pun, a mammoth undertaking but I am convinced that it is possible to give some of these elephants a life worth living, the space to move around at will, the opportunity to make choices and to benefit from the care they need to mitigate the problems of the past.  It is our responsibility – every single European citizen who cares about elephants – to make this happen.

Born Free have access to top experts, people who have managed rescued elephants and created sanctuaries in other parts of the world.  These visionaries will guide us.  Born Free has the determination to make Europe’s First Elephant Sanctuary a reality and our work is, with your help, already underway.

Born Free started in 1984 under the name of Zoo Check because of the death of Pole Pole, the last African elephant in the London Zoo.  Her death inspired us then and it inspires us now, 20 years later, to do what we can to reduce the suffering, neglect and misery endured by Europe’s solitary elephants as much as we possibly can.

I often refer to the spirit of Elsa and that spirit continues to burn bright.  But now I invoke the spirit of Pole Pole, a beacon of hope for Europe’s innocent prisoners – let’s get the elephants out of the room!

Blogging off


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New birth at SeaWorld

December 17th, 2014

Dear All,

My Born Free colleague Samantha has a sorry tale to tell about life and death, rejection and separation.

Here’s what she told me.

SeaWorld’s 2014 Christmas present arrived early with the birth of a new baby orca at its San Diego park on Tuesday 2nd December. The calf was born to 10-year-old orca Kalia but the park has yet to confirm which orca sired the calf. Beneath the video of Kalia’s ultrasound it states that Ulises is the father by artificial insemination. However, former SeaWorld trainer, John Hargrove, not only described the artificial insemination of the then 8 year old Kalia as ‘repulsive’ but stated ‘Until I see a DNA test on the calf, I don’t believe Ulises is the father. My entire career we collected sperm from Ulises and he never got a female pregnant naturally or via A.I – now they expect us to believe his sperm is magically viable.’

Wild orcas generally begin to breed at about 14.9 years of age, however SeaWorld has bred orcas as early as the age of six. One such individual is Kalina, who was separated from her own mother Katina when she was just four years old, and moved to San Antonio where she was allowed to mate with Kotar at the young age of six years. All four calves she went on to have were separated from her. She died at 25 years old from Septicema whilst residing at SeaWorld Orlando.

First time mother Kalia currently lives at San Diego with her own mother Kasatka, although for how long?  Kasatka herself was separated from her first calf, Takara, after 12 years when Takara was taken to SeaWorld Orlando. Takara lived there with her own calf, Kohana who was transported to Orlando in 2004. SeaWorld boasted at the time that both Takara and daughter Kohana had remained together at Orlando. However, at only three years of age, Kohana was separated from her mother and taken to Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain.

At Loro Parque, Kohana has been used for breeding and by the unnaturally young age of eight she had birthed two calves with no mother or matriarchal figure to learn from. She rejected her first calf, Adan, who was hand reared and later re-united with her. She rejected her second calf, Victoria, who died within a year.

It’s a cycle of profound sadness.

As I say, it’s a tragedy on so many levels and it’s a story that will go on while enough people continue to pay good money to witness the incarceration of orca in marine parks around the world.

Has the tide turned? Will the Blackfish effect have the same power and impact as the story of Elsa and Born Free had all those years ago – and still does today? I hope so!

Freedom is not a dream.

Blogging off!


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Elephants never forget: and neither do we

December 12th, 2014

Dear All,

It’s déjà-vu.

A few years ago four little elephants were ripped away from their families and sent to zoos in China.

The elephants came from Zimbabwe.

A Zimbabwe official, part of the Department responsible for issuing the export permits, had been to China to make sure the zoos were an ‘appropriate and acceptable’ destination – the language attached to the international regulations governing live exports of elephants form Zimbabwe.

Apparently they were – not withstanding that the zoos were afflicted by months of sub-zero temperatures (sometime as low as -20c), offered barren environments and lacked companion animals.

Today, only one of those 4 elephants survives. Three are dead, and the one survivor who is in Taiyuan Zoo in northern China, is in a very poor physical and psychological state, according to expert analysis of videos and photographs.

And today, more elephants are in the pipeline, destined to be exported from Zimbabwe, some say to zoos in China, some say to the United Arab Emirates.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that so far over 30 young elephants have been caught, alongside several lion cubs and sable antelope, and are currently being held in a compound in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

Whatever the actual number, one thing seems certain; These little elephants, who have been forcibly separated from their families, are destined for lives of misery and suffering – and probably short lives at that. And their families? Left to grieve and wonder and lament and cry for loved ones they have lost.

Can it still be possible that elephants are being caught from the wild, shipped around the world to be put on show, and be displayed for public entertainment?

It has to stop. We have to come to our senses. We have to stop treating sentient creatures as if they were little more than tins and boxes to be traded and commodified and trashed and disposed of at will – just because we can. We have to stop the suffering and the inhumanity of it all. We have to say, enough is enough!

Blogging off


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Hyenas: Overlooked and Underappreciated

December 10th, 2014

Guest blog from Adam Roberts, Born Free Foundation CEO

When we hear stories about wildlife rescue, the accounts typically tell of species like elephants, or tigers, or macaques, or bears, or other well-loved and well-known species. Rarely do we hear about the plight of hyenas.

I remember the first time I saw wild hyenas. We were on safari in Kenya after the 2000 Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Nairobi, and our Land Rover emerged from a thicket of trees to see four or five hyenas lurking around the base of one very big tree. We gawked, amazed… how big; how powerful; how intriguing. Then, I looked up and saw the leopard in the tree with a fresh kill! The scavengers we watched with such joy were lingering for cast-offs from the leopard’s meal.

As a species, hyenas are greatly misunderstood. People seem to be turned off by the aggression in adult hyenas, or because hyenas are not generally perceived to be as ‘cute’ as other types of animals. But, hyenas are in need, just like any other species. (And, let me tell you… having bottle-fed baby hyenas at Born Free Foundation Ethiopia’s rescue center on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, I can assure you that they are utterly adorable, playful, and rambunctious!)

Adopt Born Free's rescued Hyenas here

To Born Free, not only do entire species matter, but individual animals matter. That’s why we rescue hyenas—an orphaned cub left behind when his mother was killed, a baby who fended for himself after a flood washed him out, a hyena who had been confined to a zoo—and rehabilitate them in a spacious enclosure. Hyenas are highly social, so the interaction that they experience at the rescue center is crucial to their recovery. Once they grow to be self-sufficient, we will release them back into the wild, if possible.

In the wild, hyenas only number in the tens of thousands. And, the hyena’s biggest threat? Humans. Hyenas often prey on livestock, so as prevention—and in retaliation—farmers shoot, trap, snare, or poison hyenas, or even hunt them with dogs. Humans also destroy the hyena’s habitat, and our encroachment goes so far as to reduce the habitat available to the hyena’s prey. Hyenas are also poached for their supposed superstitious and medicinal benefits, such as use in traditional healing and as an aphrodisiac.

With your help, we can ensure that these hyenas have the chance for healthy, happy lives: first at our center, and then, hopefully, in the wild. That’s where they belong, and we will do our absolute best to return them there—safe and strong.

Let’s hear it for the hyena! (You can help care for our rescued Hyenas by adopting them for just £2.50 per month today.)

Keep wildlife in the wild,


Will Travers | 2 Comments »

It’s Giving Tuesday!

December 2nd, 2014

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday at last a day with real meaning!  A day when we do not think about ourselves but when we think about others.

There is no greater reward in life than to give, whoever you are.

From the coins collected by caring kids on a dress-down day at school or a sponsored cake bake, to brave, sponsored individuals who scale mountains or run through the rain to  the generous support of corporate partners such as Land Rover, Kenya Airways, Kuoni, Thomson Airways, Orion Books and many more – it’s amazing and wonderful when we recognise that we actually improve our quality of life when we think of others.

So, I will keep this short and sweet.  To give is, in fact, to receive and I thank each and every single person, company, institution, school, community that steps forward to make Giving Tuesday so special.

And, to be honest, while of course I hope that Born Free will  be the subject of some of that generosity, giving to any cause – human, environmental, animal – it doesn’t matter.  It is the thought and the action that counts.

Blogging off


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The death of a baby elephant at Copenhagen Zoo

December 1st, 2014

Can it be that only a few weeks ago I shivered in the cold and watched the Asian elephants at Copenhagen Zoo wandering rather aimlessly around their grassless enclosure? I could not have imagined then that the two-year old calf that trotted between two of the swaying adults (signs of stereotypic behaviour?) would soon be dead.

Just a few days ago, the Zoo (the same one that killed Marius the young giraffe) decided to euthanize the calf as it had developed acute symptoms of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that strikes in captivity with frightening regularity.

It is highly debatable as to whether EEHV has any kind of significant impact on elephants in the wild and certainly evidence suggests that it does not kill a high proportion of young elephants, as has been the case with captive Asian elephants in North America where, since 1978, 25% of those born in zoos have died of EEHV.

But importantly this raises, once again, the over-riding question as to whether elephants should be in zoos at all.

In my view, the answer is a resounding no. Behavioural problems that I have witnessed time and time again, the dismal birth rate, the reduced longevity and, frankly, the miserable and depressing environments that so many of these animals are forced to endure surely must tell us that this is not part of the solution to the conservation of the species. Yes, there are massive challenges in the wild – habitat fragmentation, persecution, conflict and, of course, poaching, particularly of African elephants for their ivory. But unless we can conserve elephants, living wild and free as nature intended, and meet and overcome these challenges, then the individuals in zoos, the last, lingering representatives of their kind, will be a sorry indictment of our failure to meet our obligation to guarantee a real future for these extraordinary creatures.

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Ignore the Past; Doom the Rhino

November 20th, 2014

Guest blog from Adam Roberts, CEO Born Free USA

“I can’t believe that this is still up for discussion.

We all know that the rhinoceros is in peril, facing the looming threat of extinction due to aggressive and violent poaching for their horns. 25,000 black and white rhinos remain across all of Africa. Experts warn that wild rhinos could go extinct in just 12 short years. With rhino horn worth more by weight than gold or cocaine at the end markets in Vietnam and China, poachers are poised to send rhino populations into a freefall from which they may not recover.

So, for years, governments and conservationists alike have wondered: How can we eliminate poaching to save the rhino?

South Africa is home to almost three quarters (72.5%) of the world’s rhinos, more than 1,000 of whom are being slaughtered annually by poachers. In a desperate and highly dangerous attempt to combat poaching, the South African government continues to make noise about proposals to legalize the trade of rhino horn. South Africa could petition to auction off its stockpile of rhino horn in a one-off sale, authorize its commercial trade, or regulate the trade internationally through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) (when the Parties to CITES meets in 2016… in South Africa).

Trade proponents blithely contend that a legal horn trade would replace existing illegal black markets with legal regulated markets. Legalization is intended to saturate the marketplace, thereby dropping the price of rhino horn, and, in theory, reducing the incentive to poach. But, this is simply not the way it works in the real (natural) world.

Why? Two reasons: money and access.

From a financial standpoint, poaching a rhino in the wild is cheap compared to the cost of running a rhino “farm.” Criminal networks would likely undercut the price of farmed rhino horn, or even poach cheaply in other countries—and poaching would likely remain more profitable for would-be poachers than legal trade could ever be. The profit from killing even a single rhino can change the life of an impoverished poacher. If there’s money to be made, poaching will continue. And, there are professional criminal syndicates poised to make a killing.

From a historical standpoint, we have already found, quite simply, that the legal farming of wild animals does not deter poaching. Governments have attempted the strategy of allowing legal sale of endangered animal products—with disastrous results. China has legalized the sale of tiger skin and tiger bones from captive facilities, but poachers continue to kill wild tigers to the edge of extinction. China “farms” bears for their gallbladders and bile, leading to individual animal suffering for Asiatic black bears and poaching of wild American black bears to supply demand. CITES has allowed two legal sales of stockpiled elephant ivory from four southern African nations to China and Japan, but these sales only increased demand from China and Southeast Asia—spiking the incidence of illegal elephant poaching to its highest known levels, and threatening the very survival of the species.

Philosopher George Santayana famously wrote that “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Legalizing the trade in wild animal parts has not quelled poaching in the past. It will not reduce poaching now. And, if history has taught us anything, we have no reason to believe that it will protect wildlife in the future.

And, how would we expect this new, legal trade to be enforced? Authorities barely enforce the existing bans and legislation, and corruption within authorities is often rife. How would authorities differentiate legally-obtained rhino horns from those obtained illegally? Current technology is incapable of easily identifying the origin of each horn. That leaves us with a glaring gap that criminal networks can exploit in order launder illegal product into the legal market.

A major consideration in the discussion of rhino horn trade—indeed, the singular driving force in the trade itself—is demand. Legal trade stimulates demand by legitimizing the product in the eyes of consumers, and by pumping more product into the marketplace. The increasing demand from East Asia (namely China, Vietnam, and Thailand) stems from long-standing cultural beliefs about the medicinal and social benefits of rhino horn, but also includes new uses like supposed cancer-curing properties, use as a hangover remedy, and as a symbol of status and wealth. (All medicinal uses are pointless, of course, as rhino horn is merely composed of keratin: the same substance that comprises human hair and fingernails.) If we can educate Eastern cultures about reducing consumption of rhino horn, we may be able to save the rhino. In fact, the survival of the species may depend on it. But, by legalizing, and therefore legitimizing, rhino horn, we will simply be reinforcing the beliefs that maintain the demand.

We’ve seen that demand reduction can work. Severe poaching spikes from the late 1970s to the mid-1990s sparked international outrage, which led to government response, awareness campaigns, and trade bans in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Yemen—all of which successfully reduced demand, and, therefore, reduced rhino poaching.

So, legalizing the trade in rhino horn could send mixed messages to Eastern cultures and to the public as a whole. In one breath, we implore an end to this vicious trade: reduce demand, stigmatize consumption of the product, educate those who tout its benefits, and conserve the species. However, in the next breath, we work to legalize it: increase supply, mitigate the stigma, undermine the message we send to Asian nations about the uselessness of the product, and willfully consent to government-sanctioned consumption of the species. These concepts are utterly dichotomous. They’re completely opposite, mutually exclusive goals. Calling for demand reduction… while simultaneously increasing the supply? What a confusing, hypocritical message. And, it’s the rhinos who will ultimately suffer the consequences.

Of course, this is a complex issue for which there is no simple solution. We have established that legalizing trade in animal parts is an ineffective means to stop poaching; anti-poaching legislation and trade bans have not ended poaching, either; and, though we know that we must work tirelessly to reduce demand, the task of reframing thousands of years of Asian tradition, and overturning more modern uses of rhino horn, is easier said than done.

But, one thing is for certain. We must move forward, not backward. We mustn’t ignore what we do know. We must use our data to continue to develop strategies that prioritize the protection of existing rhinos; allow their populations to flourish into the next generations; and maintain the ecological utility and integrity of these wild animals by focusing on policies that keep them in the wild.

That is, after all, where wild animals belong.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Keep Elephants – and Ivory – Safe

November 19th, 2014

Guest Blog from Born Free USA CEO Adam Roberts

“A year ago, I proudly attended the U.S. ivory crush in Colorado: a coordinated demolition of nearly six tons of seized elephant ivory, symbolizing the U.S.’s intolerance for elephant poaching and sending a message to the world that ivory should be permanently removed from any possible commercial use. The ivory crush was an emotional event, evoking sadness for the massacred elephants; frustration with the continuing scourge of violent poaching; and encouragement that our nation is taking concerted action and leadership.

There was much debate surrounding the ivory “crush”: a debate that was echoed in similar destructions in Africa and Asia and Europe, as some felt that the ivory should not be destroyed. They argued that it was pointless; that it was already confiscated; and, in some arenas, that seized, stockpiled ivory should be sold to generate revenue for wildlife conservation efforts.

Today, only one year later, I read a report indicating that over a ton of seized elephant ivory—worth approximately 1.1 million U.S. dollars—has just been stolen from a ‘secure’ government armory in Uganda. Corrupt officials are thought to be the culprits, stealing the confiscated ivory from the Uganda Wildlife Authority and selling the tusks. An investigation is underway to determine the details.

But, regardless of the outcome of the investigation, the damage has been done. This incident demonstrates that stockpiles of ivory are vulnerable to theft; this theft demonstrates that officials who oversee quantities of ivory cannot necessarily be trusted; and this breach of trust demonstrates that confiscated ivory cannot be safely held in stockpiles indefinitely. All this in addition to the simple fact that, as long as stockpiled ivory remains available, there also remains the perception that ivory may once again be sold. This inspires elephant poachers and ivory profiteers to ply their deadly and destructive trade.

Ivory is worth an astounding amount of money: more by weight than gold or cocaine. Where you and I see a regrettable hoard of slaughtered elephants’ body parts, the ivory trafficker sees dollar signs.

Let me make this clear; ivory stockpiles should be destroyed. Remove the ivory, and remove the risk of its re-entrance into the marketplace entirely. Keep the ivory, and keep alive the threat of theft and resale that fuels the vicious ivory trade.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,


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