Cause for Hope or Missed Opportunity?

March 27th, 2015

I’ve been to many international wildlife meetings over the years – perhaps too many. You either leave with head low, despairing at the lack of action, or with a sense of optimism that things are actually getting better.

So it was at the Kasane Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade and Elephant Protection that just ended at the Cresta Safari Resort on the banks of the Zambezi. I feel that perhaps there is cause for optimism. Why?

Countries are doing something (at last)!

Ivory stockpiles – a relentless temptation to trade – are being destroyed or will soon be. Ethiopia and Kenya’s Ivory burns, which took place over the last couple of weeks, will be followed by Malawi, Uganda and the UAE.

Enforcement efforts are improving – no doubt helped by significant German financial support, the forensic training of hundreds of rangers in Botswana, sponsored by the Netherlands, and better border security in hotspots like Ethiopia thanks to Born Free and the UK government’s Wildlife Challenge Fund.

Open admission at the meeting that corruption plays a major role in facilitating illegal trade was explicit and countries lined up to pledge additional support for the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). Furthermore, the meeting made clear its intentions to apply anti-money-laundering protocols (wildlife crime now to be designated a ‘predicate offense’) and to include measures which permit the sequestration of assets, so criminals don’t get away with it.

The setting up of the Transport Task Force under the leadership of the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will bring far more attention to the transport links and weaknesses in shipping security which currently make it all too easy for wildlife products, including ivory, to be smuggled with relative impunity.

Vietnam and China, so often painted in a very unfavourable light by the international community and the media alike when it comes to wildlife trade-related issues,  announced improved enforcement effort, increased public education programmes to reduce demand and extensive further reviews of internal trade controls (although falling short of the outright prohibition of domestic ivory trade in China, that so many, including Born Free, are calling for).

But, make no mistake, the situation remains grave, indeed desperate.

Over 1,200 rhino poached in South Africa in 2014 alone.

Nearly 90 wild tigers confirmed poached in that same year.

Real decline in elephant populations which, at best, may be 470,000 across the entire Continent (with 130,000 of those – or 30% – found in Botswana).

Recognition that massive, out of control illegal trade in little-known animals such as pangolins (also known as ‘scaly anteaters’) may be driving the 8 species towards extinction.

However, while there were the positives, of some concern, from my point of view, was the lacklustre contribution made by a number of technical delegates, the organisations and people that countries turn to for the facts. Their contributions were confused, inconsistent and there are still major gaps in the data which, after all this time and all this money, you would have thought they would have nailed. Maybe we make it all too complicated and when it gets too complicated decisions are hard to make.

To me, it is simple.

There are too many of us and too few of them (however you define them – elephants, rhino , lions, tigers, etc.) for us any longer to think we can try to justify our continued terminal exploitation of so many species by dressing it up as ‘sustainable use’. My view is we need to regard these species – maybe they should be called World Heritage Species – as a precious part of our common inheritance and we should, as a matter of obligation, provide the resources for their future protection and conservation (and the wild lands they need in order to flourish) regardless of whether we can ‘make them pay their way’.

Just as when, as nations, we invest in admiring and conserving great works of art for the common good of humanity, and are appalled when they are wantonly destroyed, so we should regard the living treasures of our natural world – and make the resources available to so discharge our responsibility for their long term survival.

Kasane may mark a watershed. Stimulated by the London Conference in February 2014, nations may have discovered that they care a bit more than they thought, can do more than they’d had originally intended – and are willing to be held to account for their actions.

The next meeting will be in Vietnam. That is when we will truly discover whether our new and increasingly global efforts to end wildlife crime, and bring security to threatened wildlife species and the fragile human communities that they live alongside, will have made the difference we – and the wildlife we care about – need to see.

Blogging off

Will Travers

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How long does it take to fix the global poaching epidemic?

March 24th, 2015

Twenty five years ago I joined a throng of young activists, conservationists, investigators and journalists outside La Grande Salle in the Lausanne Conference Centre in Switzerland and waited for the verdict. Would the world ban the international, commercial ivory trade – or blink?

The decision to ban the trade was made and, at the time, we all thought this would lead to a far more secure future for wild elephants.

I thought it might also be the precursor to better times for other species under threat, iconic species such as tigers and rhino.

So why, in February 2014, did the UK Government and Princes Charles and William feel the need to host a crisis meeting on Wildlife Trafficking, seeking the agreement of the international community to a raft of urgent measures to try and halt the bloody slaughter that has been visited on these and other species over the last decade or more?

It could have been because of the now widely-accepted links between international crime and the brutal activities of militia groups and the illegal wildlife trade. It could have been because the numbers were now simply too devastating to ignore (10,000 elephants poached each year in Tanzania alone). It could have been because of the growing anxiety, distress and outrage expressed by people all over the world on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

But whatever the reason, the London Summit, as it has become known, managed to secure the agreement of a number of key countries which signed the London Declaration, committing them, amongst other actions, to:

  1. Eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products
  2. Ensure Effective Legal Frameworks and Deterrents to combat wildlife trafficking
  3. Promote sustainable livelihoods and economic development, as a means of eradicating the illegal trade in wildlife.

Just over a year later, how does the scorecard look?

If we consider the three species highlighted at the London Summit:

The latest intelligence indicates that elephant poaching continues unabated. Zimbabwe’s elephant population is down 10,000 from the 2001 census. Rumours abound that elephant numbers in key Tanzanian Parks and Reserves are massively depleted. Mali may be on the verge of losing all its elephants. Small, fragile populations in Central and West African countries teeter on the brink of annihilation. On the demand side of the equation, in February 2015 China introduced a one-year ban on the import of some categories of ivory products, although the scope of the measure appears to be very limited.

In 2014, South Africa lost 1,215 rhino to poachers (up by over 200 animals from the previous record year). The situation may get even worse if that country continues to pursue its increasingly controversial and discredited plans to legalise rhino horn trade.

Reports from India indicate that wild tiger populations may be starting to recover in some areas, although poaching and illegal trade persist across much of the tiger’s range, in spite of the several hundred million dollars injected into the Global Tiger Recovery Plan in recent years.

Other species such as lions, recently declared ‘threatened’ by the highly-respected United States Fish and Wildlife Service, are under relentless and unsustainable pressure across much of their range (so much so that the EU has suspended lion trophy imports from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon).

Whichever way you slice it, the results are deeply troubling. A follow-up meeting to the London Summit is due to take place in Kasane, Botswana, on March 25th. The key question facing delegates is simple: has the global response since the London Summit turned the tide and, if not, what do we need to do now?

In my view there are five key actions.

Firstly, stop pussy-footing around when it comes to wildlife law enforcement. Train and equip rangers and pay them properly. At the same time invest in innovative detection and infiltration strategies to disrupt and dismember the poaching and smuggling networks.

Secondly, evaluate and, where necessary, overhaul national legislation, in consultation with other countries to ensure deterrent, custodial tariffs for wildlife crime of consistent severity apply across borders so that there is no ‘soft touch’ for convicted criminals.

Thirdly, implement a complementary suite of legal sanctions to ensure that crime doesn’t pay and criminals do. Sequestrate their assets, confiscate their houses, clear out their bank accounts – make sure anyone aiding and abetting wildlife crime runs a high risk of losing everything.

Fourthly, prevail upon countries that are the end-user markets for wildlife products to declare that all trade – including legal trade where it is currently exists – in high value items from threatened or endangered species is banned. Agree that there will be no more exemptions for antiques or articles that were acquired before the species was listed by CITES. Close the loopholes, strangle the trade, choke the demand.

Finally, given the potentially damaging nature of illegal wildlife trade on social stability, public health, economic development and national and regional security in many countries – not to mention its direct impact on vulnerable wildlife populations – we need to link development aid to measures aimed at combatting illegal wildlife trade. In this way we can help deliver greater security to remote communities, increasingly threatened by insurgent militias such as Al Shebab and Boko Haram, a factor recognised by both the British and US Governments and set out in Born Free USA’s recent reports Ivory’s Curse and Out of Africa.

The funds currently committed to tackling illegal wildlife trade represent a tiny fraction of countries’ international development budgets. The UK has given £10 million so far but our overseas aid budget alone stands at £12.2 billion. These substantial resources, if carefully applied, can have a powerful, positive influence and help reduce wildlife trafficking, while bringing life-changing social, economic and conservation benefits to some of the world’s most disenfranchised communities.

The Kasane meeting provides an opportunity for delegates to review the state-of-play, assess the impact of actions taken so far, and identify those actions that still need to be implemented. It also provides an opportunity to encourage key countries, such as South Africa, Thailand and India – that were not signatories to the London Declaration – to ‘step up’ and be counted.

Twenty five years ago I was in Switzerland. On the 25th of March I will be in Kasane and once again the world will be watching.

Blogging off,


Will Travers | 2 Comments »

Whalefest 2015 is over – or is it?

March 19th, 2015

The incredible buzz of the 10,000 – 15,000 people who turned up at the Brighton Centre over the weekend still lingers and may well sustain me through to Whalefest 2016!

It really was something special, from the graveyard of cetacean crosses on the beach to the Whale Tails, to the fabulous presentations by an inspiring cast of passionate conservationists and animal protectionists (Steve Backshall, Ric O’Barry, Adrienne Wandel, Michaela Strachan, Gordon Buchanan, Monty Halls, John Hargrove, Mark Brownlow, Captain Paul Watson, Steve Greenwood, James Brickell, Simon Pickup, Daniel Turner) and hats off to Ian and Dylan who created this extraordinary event.

Then there were all the stallholders representing companies that care and charities that campaign and every one of them fully participating in the biggest event of its kind in the world.

Some of the highlights for me were the Question Time debate hosted by Donal MacIntyre with Norman Baker MP (LibDem), Graham Cox (Con), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Angela Smith MP (Lab).; the panel discussion about the future of captive dolphins and dolphinaria; the stories from the frontline as told by Ric O’Barry and others (what an honour to interview Ric!) and who could forget the pro-captivity banner that suddenly materialised in the main auditorium as John Hargrove was telling his story or the two clearly planted individuals who tried to assassinate his character and good-standing!

No-one ever said this was going to be easy but as I said in my presentation, it is not a question of if the keeping of cetacean in captivity will end, it is simply a question of when.

So, if you went to Whalefest 2015, I hope that you had as brilliant a time as I had and if you did not then I would suggest you book early for next year.

I should end by thanking the Born Free team who put their heart and soul into supporting this extraordinary festival.  So hats off to them as well.

Blogging off


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A letter from Nicky Campbell

March 11th, 2015

Hi All,

This week, rather than words from me, I thought it vitally important to reprint a letter from my good friend, journalist and wildlife champion Nicky Campbell to Deyu Miao, from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, London.

It is a powerful and heartfelt appeal to China to take a bold, principled and compassionate leadership approach to the bloody ivory trade that is steadily wiping elephants from the face of the earth. As a journalist, Nicky asks some searching questions. I hope he gets the answers.

Best and blogging off


From Nicky Campbell:

Your Excellency,

I read your letter to the Guardian (Friday 6th March) about the ivory trade with huge interest. As a journalist, if I were ever to have the privilege of interviewing you, these are some of the questions I would ask.

Do you agree that as long as China insists on permitting such a high value and valuable ‘legal’ trade, there will always be a flourishing illegal trade? To what extent does this lucrative illegal trade contribute to the rapid decline of elephants in the wild? Is limiting and regulating any highly sought after product sustainable in an ever-expanding 10 trillion pound consumer economy? Do you acknowledge that the majority of Africa’s illegal ivory ends up in China?

You say the whole process scale is subject to the toughest regulatory and monitoring measures. If that is the case then why are new carving factories opening all the time?

Do you agree that elephants are self–aware, highly complex social beings with an extraordinarily wide range of emotions? If so, you are in line with every scientist and researcher working in this field. Have you ever seen an elephant mourn its dead?

You talk of China’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of ivory carving. With all we now know about elephants, is this cultural heritage morally justified? How can it be justified, given that whatever its scale, it entails the slaughter of sentient and now endangered animals? Why should it not, like so many other ‘intangible cultural heritages’ the world over, become a relic of history?

If a far away country, had a cultural heritage involved panda skin accessories, would you be happy if that country were to argue for a ‘limited’ legal trade (with the inevitable parallel illegal trade) or would you be prevailing upon them to put an end to the practice? If the Chinese government were to impose a complete ban on ivory, how do you think the world would react?

Lastly Sir, to what I really do feel is the most important question of all. If you answer none of the others please do address this one. Which to your mind is more beautiful – a family of elephants by a watering hole at sunset, safe from the Kalashnikov and chainsaw, or an ivory ornament?

Nicky Campbell

Read about Born Free’s work to fight the Ivory Trade

Find out more about the illegal ivory trade supply chain

Will Travers | 9 Comments »

World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing!

March 4th, 2015

The second World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing! I call it a success.

WWD2 touched millions of people around the world and stimulated some amazing activities – large and small.

In Kenya, the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, torched 15 tonnes of ivory (that’s the remains of around 2,000+ elephants) and promised that the rest of Kenya’s substantial ivory stockpile would be destroyed by the end of the year.  Amazing!

That has sent the most powerful smoke-signal to the rest of the world that it is time to make the ivory trade history – new ivory, old ivory, carved ivory, raw ivory – ALL IVORY.

In the UK, former Minister, Norman Baker MP, along with his band The Reform Club, released an EP entitled Animal Countdown, which is his contribution to raising awareness about the plight of some of the world’s most iconic species. His message: if we don’t do something fast, they could disappear on our watch.

Around the country and, indeed, around the world, Born Free supporters wore their Born Free Wildlife Ribbons with pride.  They took photos, they sent in selfies, they raised their voices and made a difference.  You can still buy a Ribbon.

But here’s the thing.  We should not just focus our attention on the plight of wildlife on one single day a year – World Wildlife Day, good though that is.  We have to make sure that we are doing something to protect and conserve wildlife – and reducing wild animal suffering – EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR! That’s the Born Free Foundation’s Compassionate Conservation agenda.

So, as they say in the movies, ‘Two thumbs-up’ for the UN’s World Wildlife Day but let’s – each and every one of us – start by making wildlife a feature in our busy lives, not a ‘once a year’ exception.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 2 Comments »

China announces 1 year ban on ivory imports – does it stack up?

February 27th, 2015

Every day something new! The Chinese Government has introduced a one year, temporary ivory import ban… Sounds good – but is it?

All imports of new tusks and pieces are banned anyway.

It is unclear what imports this will directly impact. It could be the limited number of small ivory carvings known as ‘ekipas’ which can be legally exported from Namibia. It could be the kilo or so of ivory that Zimbabwe (bizarrely) allows people to export.

However, there is no confirmation that I can find stating that this will prevent the import of what is known as ‘Pre-Convention’ ivory, ivory that can be established to have been sourced prior to African elephants being listed on the CITES Appendices (so about 1976). And I also can’t yet determine whether the ban will apply to antique ivory carvings (usually certified as pre-1949).

So, in the absence of hard facts I can only assume that the impact of this ban will be very, very limited indeed!

However, it does suggest that China is listening, even if the measures needed are far more significant.

And it does make me think that now is the time for all countries to take a brave but vital step and close down their domestic ivory markets. There are huge volumes of ivory sold domestically in the USA, in Europe and in countries such as China and Thailand. The single, most powerful signal that, as a species, we are DONE with ivory, would be to shut down all markets, international and domestic, for all ivory, new, old, carved, raw… ALL IVORY.

Then we can all truly get on with the vital business of protecting elephants and the many other beleaguered species whose fate hangs so precariously in the balance.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 8 Comments »

Stop All Ivory Trade. Who Else Has To Ask Before China Listens?

February 26th, 2015

UPDATE: Follow up blog China announces 1 year ban on ivory imports – does it stack up?

Along with the voices of numerous wildlife conservation experts, campaigners and well-known public figures, perhaps the most authoritative individual in the world when it comes to wildlife conservation and protection, Sir David Attenborough, is calling on the Chinese government to end all trade in ivory.

Here at Born Free, we’ve been saying for ages that strengthening measures to stop the illegal trade which has caused the death of hundreds of thousands of elephants, not to mention has taken the lives of rangers and, yes, poachers as well, and is only one part of the puzzle and will not achieve our ultimate objective while legal domestic ivory markets persist.  Ivory is legally, openly on sale in China.  It is openly on sale in Thailand (where a new report on DNA testing confirms that the majority is of African origin).

These ‘parallel markets’ create an enforcement nightmare. How do Customs’ officials know what is legal, what is illegal?  They create the opportunity for smuggled ivory to be entered into a legitimate commercial environment.  They make crime pay.

So the question is simple: Will the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, recognise the threat to elephants, rangers and human life in Africa that perpetuating his country’s legal domestic market represents; acknowledge the threat to international security caused by the illegal wildlife trade; understand the now widely-recognised links between wildlife crime, organised crime and the subversive activities of militia and other destabilising terrorist organisations in many parts of Africa and the rest of the world? Will he take action?

Closing down the legal ivory markets of China, Thailand and elsewhere, is a small price to pay in order to stop the suffering, save the elephants and give peace a chance.

Blogging off.


Will Travers | 13 Comments »

A Tragic Disconnect

February 20th, 2015

Hello readers, here is a blog from my friend and Born Free Foundation CEO, Adam Roberts

A recent edition of Connect, a publication by the Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) as “a forum for promoting AZA’s mission”, was at pains to highlight their members’ support for tiger conservation programs.

Apparently, in 2013, 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums supported tiger conservation. This figure accounts for approximately 21% of their 228 accredited zoos and aquariums.  Sounds reasonable enough, right?

HOW did they support tiger conservation? WHAT did they actually support? I wonder.

According to the AZA, in 2013 “member facilities” spent $572,908 on tiger conservation.

Firstly, which are these “member facilities”? Are they simply the 47 AZA accredited zoos and aquariums? Or do they include the non-accredited animal keeping member facilities, such as the International Animal Exchange, Inc, an animal transport company, or Natural Encounters, Inc, who provide expertise on animal training and shows?

Moreover, participating in conservation can include a variety of activities. It could include funding of field conservation in the wild (in situ conservation). On the other hand, it might simply be participating in captive breeding programs, or even contributing to the costs of maintaining the animal collection. Does this relatively small sum, equivalent to less than $2000 per AZA accredited zoo, in some cases include the costs of keeping tigers in zoos under the term “conservation” (conserving the species by housing an individual?)? And if so, does that really justify claims about conservation participation by AZA zoos?

Whatever the answers to these questions, what is clear is that there is a financial and human  investment made by zoos in keeping animals in captivity. We are convinced that this investment could be put to better use protecting animal populations in the wild. Tigers have no difficulty reproducing when given the opportunity to in their natural environment; resources spent on captive breeding programs serve only to diminish resources that could be spent on wild populations.

The real questions are: are we ensuring that tigers breed in the wild, not in captivity, so populations can increase; and, are we mitigating the conditions that have caused the precipitous and dramatic decline of wild tiger populations over the past century?

Human-animal conflict, habitat destruction and poaching are key threats currently pushing wild tigers to the brink of extinction. The drive to satisfy Asian demand for tiger parts and products made from them is hastening the species’ demise. The Born Free Foundation is taking positive steps to protect wild tiger populations: engaging with local communities in Central India with the Satpuda Landscape Tiger Programme (SLTP), and working to enforce bans on international trade in tigers and tiger parts. All the while rescuing individual tigers in need with partners like Wildlife S.O.S. and ensuring a humane lifetime of care.

Sure, zoos are quick to talk dollars invested in “tiger conservation” and praise their tenuous involvement in wild tiger population improvements, but the fact remains that the battle for tiger conservation will be won in the wild, not within the concrete confines of American zoos.

Adam Roberts

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

World Wildlife Day – Wear it! Share it!

February 19th, 2015

The 3rd March is a day that will forever more be associated with global efforts to conserve and protect the world’s wildlife.

Yes, it’s official – 3rd March is World Wildlife Day, as designated by the UN.

We are all being encouraged to do our bit and so, at Born Free, we’ve decided to push the boat out with our fabulous and much-admired Born Free Wildlife Ribbon.

Order now (they are only £1.50) and we will rush one to you.

Then it’s as easy as one, two, three!

1/ Wear your ribbon on World Wildlife Day.

2/ Take a photo of yourself, resplendent in your Born Free ribbon.

3/ Send us you picture on Twitter or Facebook

Then our fantastic team here at Born Free HQ will select the best pictures and publish a small gallery of them on our website – it could be you!

It really is that easy.

So get people talking about wildlife on 3rd March and show the love!

I am already thinking about where I will be wearing my ribbon on the Big Day … got to think of being somewhere really special … any suggestions?

Blogging off


Will Travers Born Free Ribbon

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Zimbabwe’s Live Elephant Trade – More Rumbles From The Jungle…

February 13th, 2015

What is happening?

I wish I knew.

But, like a kind of oriental torture, the drip, drip of new information is slowly shedding some (albeit weak) light on the situation..

The latest, as far as I can tell:

  • Some say that as many as 80-100 elephants have been caught by the Zimbabwe authorities for shipment to overseas zoos.
  • It has been suggested that value of each animal is around US$40,000-$60,000
  • Zimbabwe claims that the capture of these animals is part of its elephant population management strategy aimed at reducing numbers (Zimbabwe claims it has 40,000 ‘excess’ elephants)
  • Zimbabwe has (according to the preliminary results of the most recent 2014 survey) about 80,000 elephants – that’s about 10,000 less than the 2001 survey
  • France has confirmed that it will not issue import permits for any wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe
  • Germany and Austria are not expecting any requests for import permits
  • CITES in Switzerland has made it plain that, so far, no rules have been broken and so any trade is down to the two contracting parties
  • Thailand’s name as a potential import destination is now being bandied around
  • China, the most likely destination for most of the elephants, remains silent on the issue.

So, as you can see, it’s all as clear as swimming in an elephant mud-wallow!

However, there is one thing that seems patently obvious to me: that any self-respecting zoo in Europe, the States, South America, Australia or the Far East that tries to import any wild-caught elephants from Zimbabwe or, indeed, anywhere else, will come in for profound, sincere and sustained global criticism in the court of public opinion. Sure only the truly delusional think that the challenges facing elephants in the wild will be resolved in any meaningful way by tearing a few hundred calves from their families, and incarcerating them in cramped, alien, largely sterile and unnatural enclosures in zoos around the world.

The battle to save the world’s elephants will be won or lost on the plains, in the forests and jungles, and in the semi-desert wilderness areas of Africa and Asia.

As for claiming that traumatising elephant families, ‘elephant-napping’ their babies and selling them into a foreshortened and almost certainly miserable life of servitude is part of a credible ‘elephant population reduction strategy’… well (and you know this is rare)… I am almost lost for words.

More news when I get it!

Blogging off!


Will Travers | 13 Comments »