The EU Zoo Inquiry 2016

December 2nd, 2016

Dear Friends

In 1987, prompted by distressing images of captive wild animals in European zoos, and at the request of the European Commission, a fledgling organisation then called Zoo Check (now Born Free), embarked on an investigation to try and find out just what was going on in EU zoos. At that time, the best list of zoological facilities indicated that there were in the order of 300 institutions. By the time we had finished our work which took more than a year, we had 1007.

Of course, we were, even then, way off the mark because today more robust data indicates that there are nearly 4000 zoos across the European Union.

How do we know this? Because our original research led ultimately to the establishment of the European Zoos Directive (1999/22) which required, amongst other things, that all zoos be licenced.

So now we know roughly how many zoos there are, but do we know what goes on in them?

In 2009, Born Free launched a six year project, called The EU Zoo Inquiry, which actually visited hundreds of zoos and recorded millions of images to try to answer questions such as; whether the minimum requirements of the Zoos Directive had been implemented; whether the zoo community was delivering on its obligations to conserve bio-diversity; whether zoos were truly educating the millions of visitors who still come through the door.

The results of our investigations were shocking. A handful of countries and a handful of zoos have stepped up and were trying. The majority, not so much.

But our effort has resulted in two unexpected and positive outcomes. It has encouraged the European Union to pay for the creation of a ‘Good Practices’ zoos guide, published in 2015, aimed at building-capacity within the government authorities and the zoo industry. It has also prompted the commissioning of REFIT, An Evaluation of the Zoos Directive, which is now, as we speak, assessing the impact of the Zoos Directive.

Participating in the evaluation is open to everyone. It is not necessarily easy and it can be a little complex but, if you have the time to take part and complete the online questionnaire, which will help inform the European Union (whether you are a fan of the EU or not!), then here is the link.

Remember, there are millions of captive wild animals in thousands of EU zoos, including dolphins in dolphinaria, elephants, lions, primates, the mega-vertebrates.  But also there are so many species that so easily get forgotten – that fly under the radar.

If the Directive were rigorously applied and if the standards set by national governments were improved and enforced then the kind of neglect and suffering we still witness day in, day out in European zoos, would diminish significantly.

So you have time to spare (is it something for the weekend?) here is that link again and here is a link to a document that will help you complete the Questionnaire. The consultation process closes on the 8th December.

Good luck and thanks for helping.

Blogging off
Will

PS. The deprivation and suffering of captive wild animals is never out of my thoughts for long. So watch out in 2017 for the launch of some exciting initiatives that could make a real difference – you can be part of the change!

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Hanoi Conference 2016

November 18th, 2016

Dear Friends,

As the delegates to the Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade fly home, we need to reflect on the outcomes.

Ahead of the meeting, hopes for real progress had been high and citizens around the world waited eagerly for news.

The result appears to be distinctly lacking both in lustre and ambition.

While attendees re-affirmed their intention to crack down on the illegal trade in products such as ivory, to pursue demand-reduction strategies and to tackle domestic ivory markets, concrete evidence of progress were sorely lacking.

As Prince William said in his keynote address, “We aren’t moving fast enough to keep up with the crisis”, admitting that “we’re still falling behind.”

Indicators of that lack of progress include:

• the ongoing and devastating impact that it has on wildlife populations of iconic species such as elephants and rhino;

• the murderous way that it is carried out which causes the death not only of hundreds of thousands of wild animals each year but many people including rangers, wardens, community members and, of course, poachers;

• its links to terrorism and organised crime;

• the fact that few people of significance have been arrested and convicted,

• the rate of poaching and illegal trade which seems undiminished;

• evidence of high level corruption which protects those involved.

The Hanoi Conference did indicate a greater willingness on behalf of wealthy countries (notably Germany, the United States, France and the UK) to make higher levels of investment in a suite of measures aimed at tackling wildlife crime from improved enforcement in the field, the training of prosecutors and judiciary; the upgrading of national laws; increased tariffs and penalties, including deterrent sentencing and the sequestration of assets; the disruption of trade supply routes; and additional education-led demand reduction strategies in consumer countries.

Nevertheless any sense that the measures taken so far are having the desired impact is hard to find.

Notwithstanding its welcome step up in terms of financial commitment, the United Kingdom did not announce, as some had hoped, a timetable for the closure of its domestic market but, again, paraded its interim measure – a ban on the sale of all modern, ‘post-1947’ ivory – a move that has been widely criticised as being wholly inadequate.

Already over 63,500 people have signed a Petition calling for immediate and conclusive action to honour a now long-in-the-tooth Manifesto pledge, made in both 2010 and 2014, to “press for a total ban on ivory sales.”

Despite the urgency of the situation (some estimate that one elephant is poached every 15 minutes) and despite evidence broadcast in the BBC documentary ‘Saving Africa’s Elephants – Hugh and the Ivory War’ (BBC1 October 2016) that clearly showed the link between sales of UK ivory declared as ‘antique’ and the laundering of modern ivory to markets in the Far East, the Government plans to ‘consult on the ban in early next year (2017) as a first step to meeting the manifesto commitment.

It is simply not enough.

On a more positive note, the United Kingdom has agreed to host the 4th Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference in 2018 but what sort of picture will we be looking at by then?  Thousands fewer elephants, rhino, pangolins, lions? And what will we read in our newspapers – that another meeting has come and good, fine words have been spoken, more pledges have been made, more hands wrung?

Or will we see the results of concerted international action, based on a proper, published plan, with measurable outcomes that reduce poaching, increase protection, secure convictions, dismantle supply-routes, improve security, champion anti-corruption and depress demand?

I hope so because the world’s threatened wildlife cannot wait, and my friends in ranger forces and wildlife law-enforcement agencies cannot hold back the tide forever.

As things stand, and as Prince William said in Hanoi, “A betting man would still bet on extinction.”

Blogging off
Will

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Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade

November 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

This week, delegates from 54 countries, governments, wildlife professionals, conservationists, wildlife trade experts, charities such as Born Free and our friends in the press and media, will gather in Hanoi, Vietnam, to drive forward efforts to end the illegal wildlife trade, especially the trade in ivory and rhino horn.

Vietnam, our hosts, is regarded as one of the destination countries for illegal wildlife trade but things may be changing.

On November 12th, in an indication of its growing commitment to change and to the protection of threatened wildlife, Vietnam will destroy 2,000 kg of seized ivory, together with 70kg of seized rhino horn. The following is a copy of the text of my video message to the meeting which has been requested by the United Kingdoms’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office and which will be broadcast in the run-up to the meeting.

I have been working on this issue for nearly 33 years. Battles have been won and lost but I believe that we can still win for the animals and that the tide is, at last, turning.

Blogging off

Will

“The upcoming Hanoi Conference on Illegal Wildlife Trade is the third in a series of global multi-stakeholder gatherings, initiated in 2014 in London by the United Kingdom Government and United for Wildlife, and followed by the Kasane meeting, hosted by the Government of the Republic of Botswana in 2015. They are all intended to help address the negative impacts of wildlife trafficking on iconic wild species, notably elephants, rhino and lions.

This vitally important meeting, hosted by the Government of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, provides an opportunity to evaluate the progress made so far towards achieving the objectives set out in The London Declaration and enhanced in The Kasane Statement, and to set further goals which will enhance protection, reduce demand and disrupt criminal activities.

Critical to this are six key objectives:

1/ Support and improve intelligence-led enforcement designed to infiltrate and dismantle the activities of organised criminal networks which currently see the illegal exploitation of wildlife as a low risk, high reward, activity.

2/ In line with United Nation’s recommendations, harmonise international penalties and legal sanctions associated with wildlife crime, including deterrent levels of sentencing and the sequestration of assets to increase the risk that those involved in organised wildlife crime are exposed to and to make it clear that, when it comes to wildlife crime, there is nowhere to run.

3/ Support and further encourage those involved in wildlife law enforcement in the field, those involved in applying evidence-based demand reduction strategies and those in the shipping and transport sector to help ensure there is no hiding place for those who would trade in the body parts of some of our planet’s most iconic species.

4/ As endorsed at CITES CoP17, close domestic ivory markets thereby removing the opportunity for illegal wildlife products such as ivory to be laundered through a legal trade.

5/ Destroy or dispose of ivory stockpiles in line with the measures also agreed at CITES CoP17

6/ Harness the talents, energy and commitment of all stakeholders, including civil society, in uniting to defeat wildlife trafficking and secure a future for wild species.  In that regard, I urge UK citizens to sign petition 165905, details of which can be found on the Born Free website (www.bornfree.org.uk)

On behalf of The Born Free Foundation, a member of the Species Survival Network, and our supporters worldwide, we urge the delegates to this Conference to:

Redouble their efforts;

To build on progress to date;

To set targets and timelines for agreed objectives;

To support the implementation of those objectives; and

To respond fully to the deep concerns expressed by people around the world who fear for the survival of wild elephants, rhino, lions and many other species.

Finally, and specifically, we would respectfully ask the Government of Vietnam to further demonstrate its leadership on these issues and its commitment to conservation by introducing measures – including working with partners to resolve human-elephant conflict – that would result in a doubling of the number of wild elephants in the country within the next 10 years

I am grateful for all your hard work and I wish this vitally important meeting great success.

Thank you.”

Will Travers OBE
President and CEO The Born Free Foundation

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Zoo Check team member, Katie Richards, blogs on her recent trip to Edinburgh Zoo

November 11th, 2016

Dear Friends,

As part of Born Free’s long term agenda, I have been visiting zoos for over 30 years. Whilst I have seen some improvements along the way, the vast majority are still significantly substandard. My colleague, Katie Richards has recently been to Edinburgh Zoo and explains all about her visit in her guest blog below.

Blogging off
Will

The newest member of our Zoo Check team, Katie Richards, blogs on her recent trip to Edinburgh Zoo

Since taking up my role within the Zoo Check team 8 months ago, I have visited several zoos across the UK to monitor conditions first hand and to keep an eye on the welfare of the animals. It has been a surprising and sometimes shocking few months, as I have seen many cases of woefully inadequate environments, often lacking in the most basic care, in some of the UK’s most popular zoos.

A recent visit to Edinburgh Zoo stands out in particular. Zoos in the UK have a legal obligation to educate their visitors about biodiversity conservation and to accommodate their animals in appropriate conditions. Yet, on the day of my visit, a capuchin in the indoor primate area was repetitively pacing back and forth in its indoor enclosure, and twisting its neck in exactly the same spot each time. I returned 3 hours later to find, sadly, that the monkey was following exactly the same sequence. Having previously worked at a primate sanctuary, I am familiar with the behaviour of capuchin monkeys in captivity, and it was evident that this monkey was displaying stereotypic behaviour: repetitive, functionless behaviour that develops in some animals in captivity as a result of impoverished or frustrating environments that it may be experiencing or may have experienced in the past.

Capuchins are intelligent primates and it was distressing for me to see this particular individual displaying stereotypic behaviour. It is of course possible that this monkey developed this behaviour elsewhere before arriving at the zoo, but nevertheless it was still on display to the public without any explanation. How can this ever be justified as educational?

Unfortunately, the abnormal behaviour was not limited to the capuchin. I witnessed stereotypic behaviour in the giant anteater, a red-fronted macaw and several other animals.

What was particularly troubling was how visitors appeared to interpret the abnormal behaviours of the animals. For example, at the Asiatic lion enclosure, barriers had been put up with a note to explain that the lions needed privacy. Despite this, several people stood watching as the lions walked back and forth, continuously pacing; again, indicative of stereotypic behaviour. While I stood videoing the lions a young child of around 6 or 7 stood beside me and innocently asked her parent “why is the lion doing that?”. Desperately wanting to answer, I continued to film waiting to hear the response, hoping that the parent would explain that the animal is in fact showing a behaviour that is abnormal. Sadly, the child’s question went unanswered and I can only assume she went home none the wiser.

That one moment really brought home to me just how easy it is for zoos to avoid being truly educational. By presenting visitors with a fleeting encounter with animals in an unnatural environment, how easy it is to overlook the problems of life in captivity. And what little hope there is of inspiring future generations to actively contribute to wildlife conservation, if we must rely on education in zoos. I can honestly say that I have learnt so much more from wildlife documentaries than I ever will at a zoo. While it is so tragic to know that the child never got the correct answer for why the lion was pacing, it is even more tragic to think that a single visit may be the only time that child comes close to seeing an Asiatic lion. It begs the question as to why the animal is there in the first place. Is it a true representation of how lions live naturally in India’s Gir Forest? Not by a long shot, in my opinion. Will the lions currently at Edinburgh Zoo ever be reintroduced back in to the wild where they belong? I am very doubtful.

After my visit, I shared some of the footage on my personal social media account. As usual, the videos received quite a lot of attention with many people commenting on how they have witnessed similar behaviour during their trips to zoos and how it has put them off visiting again. However, I was surprised to receive a comment from someone who works as a zookeeper, saying that the video was a “misrepresentation” of how the lions live at the zoo.
Now, if my video, simply recording what the animals at the zoo were doing on the day of my visit, was a “misrepresentation”, surely the biggest misrepresentation of all is keeping these animals in captivity in a zoo in Scotland, in enclosures that bear little resemblance in terms of space and complexity to their natural habitat – in the name of education?

It is all too easy to forget that we are looking at living, sentient animals in zoos, and it is not good enough to simply accept claims that zoos are educational and necessary for conservation, especially when there are questions about the welfare of these animals.

The downside, it seems to me, far outweigh the meagre ‘benefits’ on offer to either animals or people.

Katie Richards
Zoo Check Officer
Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Virginia McKenna’s Born Free

October 27th, 2016

I was going to write about the documentary which was shown on Channel 4 on Sunday evening but then I thought, why? Here is everything you need to know if you are in the UK and haven’t seen the film, or wish to see it again.

Letter from Virginia

I was overwhelmed by the response to the documentary shown on Channel 4 on Sunday evening, charting the story of how the film Born Free was made and how it changed my life, and the lives of my late husband Bill and our eldest son Will, forever.

The many emails and messages I have received have been humbling and deeply touching and I wanted to thank everyone who so kindly wrote.

If you did not see the film then I believe you can watch it by following this link.

Many people have asked me what they can do to help, and my son Will has made the following suggestions which I hope you may find useful.

Please don’t stay silent. We are the voices for the wild animals we hold in trust and who cannot speak for themselves. Whether your passion is lions, or elephants, rhinos or pangolins or, indeed, all wild species, we must ensure our elected leaders make the protection of wildlife a top priority. You can write to your MP or, if you wish, to the Prime Minister herself – I always believe in going to the top!

Please tell your friends and family about the work of the Born Free Foundation. For nearly 33 years we have been fighting for wildlife both in captivity and in its fragile natural habitat. I know that millions of people, like you, care deeply about the future of life on earth. We simply must spread the word.

And finally, if you would be willing, then I invite you to become part of my family, the family of Born Free, through adopting one of our rescued or free-living animals or by joining Born Free and helping make our voice, our impact and our influence even stronger.

I was so incredibly lucky, over 50 years ago, to make a film with Bill that opened our eyes and changed the way we looked at the world. We could not have done that without the Adamsons, and especially George who became a lifelong friend.

Thanks to them, the Spirit of Elsa burns brightly and Born Free is the torchbearer for this and future generations.

I do hope you will want to help keep the flame burning.

Thank you so much.

Blogging off,

Will

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Improving The Lives of Animals in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

October 14th, 2016

Dear Friends,

There are millions of wild animals in Europe’s 4,000 or so zoos. Many live in grim conditions. Making their lives better, even while we work towards the day when our efforts and resources are directed at ‘keeping wildlife in the wild’, must be a top priority, as my friend and colleague, Daniel Turner, explains.

Blogging off
Will

Improving The Lives of Animals  in Europe’s Zoos Can Only be Achieved by Working Together

This week, Born Free has been exhibiting a series of extraordinary photographs of wild animals taken at zoos across the European Union.

The exhibition, presented at the European Parliament in Brussels, is striking, yet shocking, considering the plight of these animals were captured this year. Our photographers, award-winning Britta Jaschinski and Jo-Anne McArthur, have ensured the debate about the role of zoos focuses, for once, the way in which the animals are kept.

“Great pictures, and a necessary initiative” expressed Josu from Italy, who has visited the exhibition this week, whilst Barbara, from the Czech Republic, commented, “A long way to go. Horrifying!”.That’s Born Free’s biggest concern. There are millions of wild animals in the estimated 4,000 EU zoos and if even half that number are being kept in conditions that fail to meet their basic welfare needs, how can we begin to make a difference to the lives of so many animals?

Politicians, who have rallied behind our efforts this week, can help us make a difference. The South East of England MEP, Keith Taylor, who sponsored our exhibition, also organised a 2-hour round-table discussion on the welfare impact on zoo animals, ensuring that key issues were considered in detail. Politicians can hold the European Commission (the EU civil service), those responsible for the implementation of the EU zoo law (the EU Zoos Directive), to account and highlight the need for significantly improved animal welfare standards.

The governments of each of the 28 EU countries can certainly make a difference too. Ultimately their relevant authorities – State employed zoo inspectors and veterinarians – are responsible for the implementation of the requirements of the EU Zoos Directive and the enforcement of national zoo law.

Born Free’s EU Zoo Inquiry has revealed that many authorities actually lack the knowledge and expertise needed to ensure high standards in wild animal care. Addressing this surprising and deeply worrying revelation is the next priority for the Born Free Foundation team but, only a collaborative approach, with other stakeholders, is likely to address this knowledge deficit.

Last, but by no means least, the public’s ability to influence change must never be under estimated. The welcome announcement by TripAdvisor yesterday, that it would be stopping its promotion of captive animal attractions that exploit animals through direct public interaction, is a result of public pressure.

YOU can influence your politicians, your national government and even the zoos themselves. How? By contributing to an EU-wide public survey evaluating the role of zoos – and specifically whether zoos do or should contribute to biodiversity conservation. Want to take part? Born Free has developed an informative guide which helps you through the process, but it is vitally important, for the sake of the animals, that you find the time to contribute. Then, together, we can truly make a difference!

Born Free’s guide to completing the public consultation survey

Access the public consultation survey here

Will Travers | 3 Comments »

CITES – Why it needs your support!

September 16th, 2016

Dear Friends,

On the 24th September several thousand people will gather in Johannesburg, South Africa, at the 17th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES, The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

Another ‘talking shop’ I hear you groan. Why don’t we just get on and save the animals!?  What’s the point of yet another conference when species such as elephant, rhino, pangolin, lion, tiger and many more are in such dire straits? What’s the point of CITES anyway?

HOLD ON A MINUTE. That’s just what some of the all-consuming, pro-trade lobby want –  not to mention the illegal criminal networks and poaching syndicates making a killing exploiting wildlife.

Let me explain:

People often say to me that we should get rid of CITES. That it has failed.

For sure, CITES can be improved but, for a moment, imagine that it did not exist.

Then we all said ‘you know what, all these species in trade need some sort of protection. We need an international treaty that is aimed at controlling and, where necessary, preventing trade in species whose future could be in jeopardy because of trade. We’ll need to have a Secretariat to make sure countries stick to the rules and so that, at least in principle, everyone plays by those rules. That Secretariat, with our support, needs to be able to suspend all trade in species of wild fauna and flora from any country that goes too far. We’ll need a body in each country – let’s call it the Scientific Authority – to rigorously assess the viability of any trade in live animals and plants or specimens. We’ll need another body – let’s call it the Management Authority – in each country to ensure that national laws are compliant with the terms of the Treaty and to manage trade at a national level. And we’ll have a meeting of all the contracting countries – the Parties – every 2 or 3 years, where proposals relating to trade will be discussed, where additional protection can be approved and where, if we agree, international trade can be suspended or banned. Oh, and let’s agree that a vote of two thirds or more in favour of any motion will be internationally binding…”

Sounds like a pretty important concept to me. But remember, in this fantasy world I have created, it doesn’t exist. It’s an idea we’ve just dreamed up.

Now ask yourselves: Would we, today, ever be able to turn such an idea into reality? I suspect the answer would be a solid NO. A quick look at the other environmental agreements such as the Convention on Migratory Species or the Convention on Biological Diversity, important in their own right, clearly demonstrates that unlike CITES they simply do not have the ability to hold countries to account, to introduce trade sanctions at a global level, ban international trade in ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, lion and tiger body parts and so much more.

That is why I have attended every CITES meeting since 1989, fighting for the highest levels of protection under international law possible for species threatened by global trade. That is why I will be there in Johannesburg with my Born Free colleagues, Mark, Adam, Gabriel, Tim, Alice, Manori and Marion, as well as delegates from the influential Species Survival Network to challenge those who would trade at any cost, those who would commercialise and commodify wild animals and plants, risking, in my view, their very survival.

We have CITES and we must be thankful for that and we must make the most of it, make it work to its full potential and ensure that, as far as I am concerned, it delivers a precautionary agenda so that we don’t speculate on our wildlife heritage but we conserve and protect and nurture it.

Support our work and follow the events of CITES CoP17 as they unfold here!

Born Free is the voice for the voiceless and your support makes our voice louder still. Thank you.

Blogging off

Will

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Japan Dolphin Day Protest

August 31st, 2016

This week, Born Free Policy advisor, Dominic Dyer, discusses an important day for dolphins.

“Born Free Foundation will be joining with the Dolphin Protect and the campaign group London Against the Dolphin Massacre to support the Japan Dolphin Day Protest March in London on Thursday 1st September. Please join us!

Japan Dolphin Day is a global day of protest in cities around the world to focus global attention on the start of the dolphin hunts and captures in Taiji Cove in Japan, which was the subject of the Oscar-winning documentary the Cove in 2009. Every year up to 2,000 dolphins are killed at Taiji Cove between September and February. In these hunts large groups of dolphins are rounded up by fast boats and herded into the bay or harbour. Rope is then tied around their tails and they are hauled out of the water into the boats, to suffer a long traumatic death by having a steel lance inserted into their spinal chords.

The Japanese government defends the dolphin hunts on cultural grounds by saying dolphin meat remains an important part of the Japanese diet. In reality, most people in Japan avoid eating dolphin meat in view of health risks due to heavy metal content and most of the dolphins killed at Taiji Cove end up as dog food or fertiliser. But it’s not culture that keeps the dolphin hunts at Taiji Cove going, but greed. A dead dolphin is worth in region of £300 to a fishermen but a live specimen can sell for over £100,000 and are in high demand from aquariums and marine parks around the world.

Every year dolphin trainers from around the world travel to Taiji Cove to select live dolphins from the slaughter to be flown to aquariums and marine parks in places such as China, Philippines, South Korea and Egypt.

London has become the global centre for the Taiji Cove protest movement with thousands of people regularly coming together for protests outside the Japanese Embassy at Green Park. Born Free Foundation is playing a key role in supporting this campaign movement which is increasing the political pressure on the Japanese government and generating more media coverage and public interest in the killing and capture of dolphins for the global marine park business.

I look forward to joining thousands of people on the protest march through central London on Thursday and speaking alongside the wonderful dolphin protection campaigner Ric O’Barry, outside the Japanese Embassy. I will be drawing attention to the Born Free’s #TanksNOthanks campaign in my speech, which is aimed at encouraging people not to buy tickets to dolphinariums or to swim with dolphins.

Please join us:
Japan Dolphin Thursday 1st September
12 noon at Cavendish Square Gardens, London W1
Nearest tube – Oxford Circus
The march to the Japanese Embassy will start at 1pm. This day marks the beginning of another season of the of the dolphin drive hunts in Taiji, Japan. Join forces for a peaceful protest against Taiji and its cruel barbaric annual hunts. Guest speakers include Ric O’Barry (Dolphin Project) and Dominic Dyer.

Thank you

Dominic”

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George Adamson

August 18th, 2016

We all need inspiration in our lives

George Adamson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born Free Film

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

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

George Adamson and Lions

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

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

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

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

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

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

Born Free’s Year of the Lion

Blogging off

Will

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Cecil’s Legacy 12 Months On

June 28th, 2016

cecil the lion

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

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Will

Cecil’s Legacy, 12 Months On

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cecil’s death must not have been in vain.

Mark Jones
Programmes Manager (Wildlife)
Born Free Foundation

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