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!


Will Travers | No Comments »

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


Will Travers | 38 Comments »

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 | 1 Comment »

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,


Will Travers | Comments Off

Brown’s Performance Fails to Impress

October 23rd, 2014

As the Catalan Parliament considers a ban on wild animals in circuses, British animal trainer Rona Brown gives evidence. You can watch her testimony here:

Born Free’s President, Will Travers OBE, offers his verdict on Ms. Brown’s performance:

Ms. Brown’s experience with circus animals is clearly not the same as my parents Bill and Virginia were exposed to while making the film Born Free. The two CIRCUS lions that the production company had brought in to star in Born Free had only one idea in mind: to cause trouble and worse. After they nearly ‘got’ my Dad they were withdrawn from the film.

For Ms Brown to try and justify the continued use of wild animals in circuses on the basis that films using animals would not have been made is patently ridiculous.

She refers to Gorillas in the Mist – a film made more than 20 years ago. Things have changed. The latest Planet of the Apes films do not use wild animals, nor does the new SSE TV advert “featuring” an orangutan. They are all CGI. Life of Pi did have one small sequence with a live tiger but the rest was CGI.

My friend and colleague Ian Redmond OBE, Chairman of the Ape Alliance and former research assistant to Dr Dian Fossey, has this to say about Ms. Brown’s claim that Gorillas in the Mist could not have been made without circus animals:

“A circus chimp was used in filming one small part of Gorillas in the Mist, but it is wrong to say the film could not have been made without it. Furthermore, if Dian Fossey had still been alive she would never have allowed it and would have insisted on using CGI or animatronics”.
She suggests that animals in zoos are being treated more and more like animals in the circus. What nonsense. I am not aware of any serious zoo that puts its big cats through rings of fire, has a trainer in spandex in the enclosure, ‘complements’ the experience with flashing lights and loud music.

Regarding the impossibility of people all going to Africa: that is true. Any more than everyone can go to the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids. We cannot do everything but does that mean it is OK for us to bring such wild animals into close (unnatural) proximity with the UK urban population  for the transient ‘entertainment’ of the circus experience with all its distorted values? Absolutely not.

She claims that going to a circus gives kids the chance to smell the animal, see it up close, benefit from a conservation message and the provision of information that tells them all about each animal – where it comes from, how old it is and more. That is supposed to justify the use of wild animals in a circus. I can’t even see the straw she is clutching at!

Circuses deliver “benefits to conservation”? I cannot find the words necessary to debunk such a ridiculous assertion. I find it hard to imagine one serious conservation professional aligning themselves with the so-called conservation credentials of a circus.


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

An Antiquated Practice

October 21st, 2014

So I guess there are millions of people who have one or more pieces of ivory in their house.  Items that may have been handed down through the generations, picked up at boot sales, be part of a collection – who knows.  The question is what to do with them and what to do with antique ivory that has been acquired pre-1947 (the cut-off date whereby ivory is recognised as being antique in the UK)

On the BBC’s Antique Roadshow on 19th October, I debated this with Marjorie Trusted of the V&A Museum and Antique Roadshow’s host, Fiona Bruce.  Marjorie Trusted was concerned about the very notion of destroying antique ivory.  I, on the other hand, am more concerned about perpetuating the monetary value attached to ivory.  On the same show, one of the experts on the team valued an ivory goblet depicting Black Forest scenes with deer and grapes, at around £10,000 or more.  That in itself, in my view, exemplified the problem and the incentive to collect, to trade ivory and the antiques of tomorrow are the potential carvings of today.  So my position is very clear: if an expert from the Museum and antiquity world can verify that a particular item has overwhelming artistic and historical merit such that it represents part of a past culture, then as long as that item is held on behalf of the public in a museum or other facility and is not traded or sold (it can, of course, be moved from museum to museum by way of a loan) then I accept that we cannot airbrush out history but what I cannot agree to is that all carved ivory items are of some real value and that there should be a commercial trade in them.

The world is awash with junk ivory carvings!  Elephants are being eradicated from their remaining strongholds at the rate of between 30,000 – 50,000 a year.  The ivory trade will lead to the extinction of elephants across most of their existing range within a matter of a few years and we must take bold, decisive actions now to prevent that happening.

  1. We must provide, – we, the wealthy affluent West who have largely eradicated most of our large mega-vertebrates –  the resources to support the African Elephant Action Plan, a blue-print for elephant conservation, drawn-up and agreed to by all 36 African elephant range States – the countries where Africa’s elephants still live.

    For £100 million (compare that to the estimated £50 billion cost estimate of the High-Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham which will shave 20 minutes off the journey time) we can make a difference in the field where it counts.

  2. We don’t need to suppress demand, we need to eliminate demand and the single most effective measure I can think of is for the Chinese Premier to sign into law measures to close the current legal domestic ivory markets in China and  dramatically hasten the end all trade in ivory.

  3. We have to accept our own responsibilities in this matter and end all sales of ivory internally in our own countries – no more car boot sales with ivory; no more ivory on the internet; and no more so-called antiques.  Only items of genuine historical or antique merit may be retained for public education purposes in non-commercial facilities.

  4. And finally, we need the world, as a whole, to pay attention to what is happening not just to elephants but to all of our precious bio-diversity. A recent report by WWF indicated that 52% of wildlife has disappeared between 1970 and 2010.    At that rate there will be precious little left for my children, your children and future generations to appreciate, respect and to be inspired by.

We have reached a tipping point.  The so-called sustainable use agenda where we potentially use wildlife and wildlife resources in a way that allows us to make commercial gains to conserve the species, has run out of steam.  There are simply too many of us and too few of ‘them’ to allow such a flawed concept to continue.  We need to conserve and protect biodiversity and species because they need us and we need them  and because without those natural eco-systems on which we mutually depend, we jeopardise our own future -  not because we can make money out of them.

I know there will be people who fundamentally disagree with me. That is their right.  But I think we have no choice but to refashion our relationship with the natural world so that there will be wild animals and wild places long into the future.

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Will Travers | 3 Comments »

A small step for Virgin – no giant leap for dolphin-kind

September 30th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

First, the good news.  Richard Branson and Virgin will no longer do business with captive marine facilities that “…take receipt of cetecea including whales and dolphins that were taken from the wild after 14th February 2014”.  Good.  This is, without doubt, a positive step.

Here’s the not so good news.

Despite spending two days with senior representatives from Virgin in Miami, the Company has not taken the bold, courageous and necessary step of actively ending its association with the exploitation of whales and dolphins in captivity.

Despite the best efforts of representatives from Born Free, the World Cetacean Alliance, the Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Orca Research Trust, we were unable to persuade Virgin to fully recognise the welfare crisis that captive cetacea, particularly orca, endure in marine aquariums.

What will be the result of Virgin’s statement today?

It will, for sure, get people talking.  But will it cause the captive marine display industry to change its business model; to commit itself to the conservation of wild and free-living dolphins and whales; to end its captive-breeding programmes (aimed at perpetuating the keeping of these animals in captivity, not for release to the wild)……?  I doubt it.

I recognise that Virgin and Richard Branson himself are associated in the public mind with leadership.  Whether it is space travel, being an Ocean Elder, or transforming working practices (Sir Richard announced only a few days ago that his Head Office staff could take as much as holiday as they wished), Virgin positions itself as a thought-leader in the entrepreneurial business world.

The pledge announced today is a indeed small step forward for Virgin but it not the giant leap for dolphin-kind that I had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the door is always open, the opportunity is still there and, together with colleagues from the animal protection movement, I am ready,  anytime, anywhere, to meet, to talk, and to take this to the next level.

Freedom is not a dream.

Blogging off


Read a joint statement from concerned NGOs here

Will Travers | 7 Comments »