A Message from Kenya

August 27th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

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

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

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

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

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

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

I know I will.”

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

That is George’s legacy.

Blogging off

Will

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

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

August 13th, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either way, the Blackfish Effect will triumph.

Blogging off

Will

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On Cecil: The African Lion is Endangered. What is the Government Waiting For?

August 3rd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free

The very symbol of wild Africa is under threat. Lions are in the firing line. This week’s powerful Guest Blog is from my friend and colleague, Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free. This really nails it!

Blogging off, Will

2nd August 2015

‘I don’t recall the last time I saw/read/heard such global outrage at the killing of one animal. I’ll take it. We need all the help we can get calling attention to the plight of wildlife across the globe.

The killing of Cecil, a proud lion of Zimbabwe, is a tragedy. A pathetic, selfish killer stalked him (with paid help), allegedly lured him from a protected area (as though geography would have stopped the slaughter), and shot him with the arrow of a crossbow (shot, not killed, because this hunter, while called a crack shot, couldn’t even kill a lion who neither feared nor threatened humans)—and Cecil suffered for 40 hours before a rifle bullet took him from this world. Massive anger at this atrocity is well-founded.

But, let’s please all be very clear; there is a scenario in which no one is talking about the killing of Cecil. In March 2011, Born Free USA and others petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If approved, lion “trophies” could only be imported into America with a special permit that would be granted if the applicant could prove that killing that lion would enhance the survival of the species. (It happens, but it is not standard.)

For four years, we’ve waited. Well, what is the government waiting for?

The African lion is estimated to live on a fragmented 8% of its historic habitat across Africa. The African lion is estimated to have suffered population decline of more than 50% since 1980, falling from some 75,000 animals to somewhere around 30,000. Is this not an animal in danger? The African lion could go extinct in my lifetime.

The African lion is endangered. What is the government waiting for?

The African lion has not only lost its habitat, but as it loses habitat, it loses access to prey and is forced to feed on livestock. This results in retaliatory killing by livestock owners by the spear and by horrific poisoning. The African lion succumbs to disease. The African lion is killed in countries like Nigeria for its organs, fat, tissue, blood, and its body parts to be used in traditional medicines. And, hundreds of African lions are killed every single year by trophy hunters—more than half of whom, I’m ashamed to say, come from America.

The African lion is under perpetual assault throughout its range. What is the government waiting for?

What makes me angriest is that we know this happens. We said it. We shouted it from the rooftops. Lions are endangered; they need help!

So, what’s the problem? Do loss of habitat, serious population declines, and massive threats not support providing this incredibly beleaguered species protection?

Ah, there are other stakeholders’ opinions to consider… The Safari Club, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the “wise users,” all of whom think wild animals should pay their way; who think they are the true conservationists; who have all the answers; who once called me a Banana Republic conservationist because I go on humane, non-consumptive wildlife safaris, devoid of their wasteful thrill-killing.

I have written this line so many times… We, in the animal protection movement, are so often called “chicken little”: running around, crying that the sky is falling, every time we want to protect animals from cruelty, suffering, abuse, threats, and extinction.

Well, the time for change is now: in the name of Cecil and every other animal subject to cruel, unjustifiable exploitation.

Give animals and their advocates the benefit of the doubt. Stop waiting. Stop this insane allegiance and deference to the hunters of the world. Stop calling us emotional and unscientific.

Had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the African lion as “endangered” three, even two, years ago, perhaps Cecil wouldn’t have suffered and died. Perhaps the lion would have been protected from the American wealthy hunting elite and they would have had to spend their money and satisfy their blood lust in some other way.

It’s time for change. It’s time to stop making us wait. When we scream from the rooftops that lions are endangered, that the ivory trade is out of control, that rhinos are being poached to extinction, that pangolins are being traded to death, that furbearers are suffering miserably in steel jaw traps, that elephants don’t belong in zoos and orcas don’t belong in cement tanks, that primates don’t make good pets, and that people shouldn’t have the opportunity to pet a tiger for a photo… Maybe, just maybe, U.S. government decision-makers should listen to our voices over the self-interested, self-justifying wildlife traders, or the hunting and captivity and pet and trapping industry apologists.

More than 500 Cecils are inexplicably slaughtered every year… for fun.

This isn’t an “I told you so” blog. I don’t want to be right; I want to get it right. And, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts to protect the lion… Well, they’ve got it wrong.

Cecil didn’t have to die. Will we act before it happens again?

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Adam’

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There’s Real Time, Greenwich Mean Time – and then there’s the dreaded ‘Parliamentary Time’!

July 23rd, 2015

Will the long-awaited ban on the use of wild animals circuses in England fall victim, once more, to “lack of Parliamentary time”? In this guest blog, my friend and colleague, Liz Tyson, explains.

Back in 2012, the then Defra Minister announced that the use of wild animals in travelling circuses in England would be banned “as soon as parliamentary time allows”. The news was met with delight. Surely this popular measure, with massive, cross-party political support, would breeze through the parliamentary process.

Indeed, some senior parliamentarians predicted that it could pass through both the House of Commons and the House of Lords in a matter of days.

It is now July 2015 and wild animals still perform in the big top. Not only has the process stalled but history appears to be repeating itself. Like a scene from Groundhog Day, the current Minister repeats the mantra of his predecessor: that the ban will be introduced “as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

The current delay is certainly not for lack of trying! Since the intention to ban was announced, there have been at least 29 Parliamentary Questions on the subject; we have been told in our regular meetings with MPs that this issue continues to feature heavily in their mailbag; and we know the ongoing plight of wild animals in circuses remains of grave concern to both the public and MPs alike. Yet the ban still remains elusive and the exploitation endures.

Two years ago, trying to remain positive, Born Free, the RSPCA and our partners accepted the Government’s reassurances that their controversial licensing regime, introduced in January 2013, was ‘temporary’, designed to simply ‘fill the gap’ until it would be replaced by the ban “just as soon as parliamentary time allows”.

However, it all depends what you mean by temporary. Ominously, in a recent answer to a question posed by Louise Haigh MP, the Minister suggested that the temporary licensing regime may still be in place for years to come. He went on to say that: “a full evaluation of the licensing scheme will be carried out, if required, as part of the statutory five year review”. The regime’s five year review will be due in 2018. The government has promised that the ban would be in place long before then, no later than the end of 2015. What is going on?

After 20 years campaigning on this issue, can it really be the case that the last three years have not offered even the smallest parliamentary opportunity to do the right thing for wild animals still being used in travelling circuses?

The government may be slow to act – but our response can be immediate.

Please contact the Prime Minister, David Cameron MP, and ask him to deliver on his personal commitment to ‘get it done’, to honour the the Government’s election manifesto pledge, and to keep faith with the great majority of people across the nation. It is time to finally bring the curtain down.

The time to ban is now.”

I could not have put it better myself!

Blogging off

Will

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Preserve the Hunting Act intact

July 13th, 2015

***Good news update – Will attended a march in London this morning where the assembled protestors learned the news that the amendment had been withdrawn (for now at least). Many thanks to everyone who contacted their MPs on this issue***

Mahatma Gandhi once said that “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

When the Hunting Act was passed in 2004, I and many others rejoiced.  It was not perfect but it addressed one fundamental principle, namely that we would no longer tolerate the pursuit of animals with a pack of hounds until their violent death for ‘fun’.

Of course, the Act still permitted the killing of various species for a number of reasons (the dispatch of injured animals, ‘pest control’ and more) but, in my view,  it rightly ended the grotesque concept that we should derive pleasure from so doing.

The proposed Amendments to the Statutory Instruments which govern the implementation of the Hunting Act, due to be debated in the House of Commons on 15th July, represent the start of a fundamental erosion to the principles underpinning the Hunting Act which may well lead, once more, to the pursuit and killing of foxes and other animals by a pack of hounds for ‘sport’.

Proponents of the Amendments claim that they bring legislation in England into line with legislation in Scotland.  I do not believe this to be the case.  Having looked at both, I conclude that the proposals for England will result in even weaker legislative provisions than currently exists in Scotland.

As I write, it is unclear to me whether the short 90 minute debate which will take place this coming Wednesday, the 15th July, will conclude with a ‘free vote’ allowing MPs to vote as their conscience dictates or whether it will be ‘whipped’.  I hope and expect that the Prime Minister’s previous commitment to a free vote will still stand.

MPs of all Parties can then search their consciousness; reflect upon the overwhelming view of the urban and rural public which is fundamentally against the hunting of foxes for sport; take into account the compelling evidence provided by organisations such as the RSPCA, The League Against Cruel Sports, Team Fox (www.save-me.org.uk) IFAW and others, which demonstrates that, despite the introduction of the Hunting Act in 2004,  fox populations have stabilized, not exploded out of control, and that hunting with hounds does not provide an effective or acceptable way of managing foxes; and reflect further on our hard-won national reputation as a compassionate nation. Having taken all this into account, I then hope they  do the right thing.

For all these reasons and more, I hope our elected representatives reject the proposed Amendments and preserve the Hunting Act intact.

Blogging off

Will

STOP PRESS: Scottish National Party MPs have announced that they will vote against Wednesday’s motion to amend the Hunting Act. Many thanks to all those who contacted their Scottish MPs asking them to do so; if your MP is an SNP Member you no longer need to contact them on this issue. However if your MP belongs to another Party, do please contact him or her urging them to vote against Wednesday’s motion.

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Big Cat Week

July 8th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

This week it is all about lions!

Lions in a circus in Wales. Yes, as Scotland and England move inexorably towards a ban on the use of wild animals in circuses, Mr Chipperfield has decided to test the public mood by setting up for ten days in Powys with tigers and lions.  According to my sources, a grand total of 22 people turned up for the performance in Friday 3rd July at 6.30 pm in Welshpool.

Let’s be clear.  In the public consultation carried out by Defra, 94.5% of people who responded called for an end to this form of animal exploitation.  In a similar exercise just completed in Scotland, 98% called for it to come to an end.  The Welsh Government is inclined to end it as well, once the Westminster Parliament  passes the necessary legislation which we hope will  be by the end of the year, according to Defra Minister, George Eustice.

This really is, in my view, the last roll of the dice but what will happen to the animals?  I know that Born Free and the RSPCA have offered to assist in finding suitable homes where they could be retired with dignity – but will that be what Mr Chipperfield has in mind or will he take his act to Europe where circuses are still, sadly, common place?  Our offer is on the table.

Lions in Bulgaria. Born Free is in the process of preparing to move two former circus lions from Bulgaria to Shamwari in South Africa.  Of course, lots of planning is now underway and there are mountains of paperwork to be done but I hope that later this year two more lions will find sanctuary in Shamwari and live out the rest of their lives under the African sun.

Find out how you can help here.

And some people want to look at lions down the barrel of a gun!

A new film, Blood Lions, is out shortly and you can be amongst the first to get a glimpse of what this extraordinary documentary has uncovered here www.bloodlions.org and www.facebook.com/BloodLionsOfficial .

It seems barely credible that the South African government permits people to shoot a lion that has been raised in captivity and that may have been released into a large enclosure just a few days before on what is, in effect, a ‘no kill, no fee’ basis.  The lion cannot escape.  Its death is guaranteed – where is the sport in that?

I hope that Blood Lions will have the same global impact as Blackfish and cause a change in policy in South Africa and a change in attitude everywhere else.  This is not the 21st Century we wish to see.

My good friend and Born Free supporter, Peter Andre, has just returned from Kenya where he has been witnessing some of our work including building a Predator Proof Boma in Amboseli National Park designed to protect local communities and their livestock from night-time predation and to eliminate the possibility of retaliation killing which are all too often the result of livestock predation.

Here’s a link to Peter’s adventure and a big thank you to the Born Free team, Land Rover, Kenya Airways and Serena Hotels who hosted him.  And a big ‘Thank you’ to Peter who has been a consistent public voice of compassion for many years.

And you have the purrrfect opportunity to help big cats (and all wildlife) by taking part in Born Free’s Big cat Nap [LINK] where you can ‘Do Nothing For Charity’ in aid of wild animals in need! Wow!

There you are – a veritable ‘pride’ of lion issues for you to get your teeth into. Off you go!

Blogging off.

Will

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The Tide Is Turning

June 26th, 2015

Sad news earlier this week concerning the last wild-caught Orca at Marineland Antibes, France, as my friend and colleague Samantha Goddard reports in this guest blog:

It has been very sad to hear the news that Freya, one of the six orca at Marineland Antibes in France, had died. Freya may not have been the first orca to have died in captivity but, being the only one to have died so far this year, it has caused me to think about not just the death of a captive animal but also the death of a captive life.

Freya was a wild-caught orca, captured from Icelandic waters in 1982 when she was just a year old. On Saturday the 20th June she died at the age of 32yrs having spent the rest of her life in a tank. In order to get an idea of what Freya may have endured during her captive life I asked one of her former trainers, John Hargrove, author of Beneath the Surface, how he felt about the news. He told me he sensed a feeling of relief that her suffering was over.

Freya gave birth to her son, Valentin, in 1996 after every one of her newborns had died. She was then locked in a tiny back pool with her son for two years after she allegedly became disruptive during shows. Freya was once badly burnt by a malfunctioning chlorine treatment system which meant all the orca could not even open their eyes and, John says,  shed ‘sheets’ of their skin.

John says these are just a couple of the countless experiences endured by Freya which is why I think he summarises the captive life of an orca so well – ‘ Regardless of whether these animals are loved by their trainers, they lead depressing lives of confinement. Freya will no longer have to suffer such exploitation. She is now free from those who took her freedom from her.’”

There are no captive orca or dolphins in the UK and the tide is slowly turning all around the world – the result of long-term campaigning by Born Free and many other dedicated groups and individuals, and, without doubt, the power of the Blackfish effect. Freya is no longer here to bear earthly witness to the end of this form of wild animal exploitation but, without doubt, it is coming.

Blogging off,

Will

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Nowhere to hide

June 23rd, 2015

A new report, published by Professor Sam Wasser from the University of Washington in the USA, reveals that most of the ivory being smuggled out of Africa comes from just two areas! The findings are published in the Journal of Science and are the result of  Sam’s tenacious efforts to examine samples from seized ivory shipments and subject them to DNA analysis.

Originally, Sam (a long-term friend of Born Free) used elephant skin, teeth and hair samples but then he developed a method for extracting the DNA from ivory.  Using ivory pieces about the size of a 50 pence coin, taken from the base of the tusk, his University of Washington group has now analysed ivory from 28 large ivory seizures, each seizure being more than 500 kg (and all made between 1996 and 2014).  This represents 61% of seizures made worldwide between 2012 and 2014.

The results confirm that 27 of the 28 seizures were concentrated in just four areas and since 2006, most ivory came from just two locations.

A staggering 85% of forest elephant ivory came from the African Tridom Protected Eco-system spanning north-eastern Gabon, north-western Republic of Congo and south-eastern Cameroon together with south-western Central African Republic. More than 85% of the savannah ivory seized between 2006 and 2014 was traced to East Africa, namely the Selous Game Reserve in south-eastern Tanzania and Niassa Reserve in adjacent northern Mozambique.

In 2011, as poaching pressure intensified, the slaughter shifted from the Selous Reserve to Ruaha National Park and Rungwa Game Reserve in the centre of Tanzania, indicating the adaptability of poaching operations.

Born Free has assisted Sam in his work in the past and also facilitated, with our colleagues at Kenya Airways and Kenya Wildlife Service, the shipment of samples for DNA testing.

When you are losing a tenth of the population a year, you have to do something urgent and nail down where the major killing is happening and stop it at source” Sam said.

Sam’s right.  The work that he and his team have undertaken for so long, now points the finger exactly where anti-poaching efforts should be focussed.  Together with other measures, including demand elimination, the closing of domestic markets and disruption of supply lines, I still believe that it is a battle we can win.

Blogging off.

Will

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Ivory Crush in Times Square

June 22nd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free USA

I grew up in New York City and can attest to its vibrant and exciting atmosphere. But, never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I imagine being present while the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service poured a ton of confiscated elephant ivory into a rock crusher in the middle of Times Square in its second significant public demonstration against the international ivory trade.

Today’s crush follows not long after the recent one in Denver, Colorado, where some 6.5 tons were pulverized in the same manner. Any destruction of seized wildlife contraband—whether here, or in Africa, or Asia, or Europe—should serve as a powerful reminder that only elephants should wear ivory and that there’s no room in the world for commercialization of these wildlife products.

In some respects, today’s crush was awesome. It was awe-inspiring to see so many people come together for this single message of wildlife conservation. But, I was also awestruck at each piece of ivory loaded on the conveyor belt for its final demise. Each of those pieces represented a strong bull elephant roaming alone in the savannah of Africa. It represented mothers, grandmothers, daughters, granddaughters, aunts, and cousins, all living together in their matriarchal society for decade after decade. Each of those pieces represented the loss of one of those animal’s lives, unceremoniously, and for little more than commercial greed: the desire for an ivory bracelet, a piano key, or chopsticks.

While international trade in elephant ivory is undoubtedly despicable and Born Free is supportive of every attempt to raise awareness of these precious animals’ plight, we must remain equally aware of the other wild animals slaughtered where they live to supply this nefarious trade.

Black and white rhinos across Africa number fewer than 25,000. They are killed for their horns, used in folk remedies and false cures in countries like Vietnam.

Lions numbering perhaps 30,000 are slaughtered as trophies for their bones or their skins.

Tigers—fewer than 4,000 left in all of Asia—continue to be slaughtered in the wild in India, poached for their bones, teeth, skins, and internal organs, while wealthy businessmen in China continue to breed these majestic animals in the hopes of the international market for tiger parts opening again.

Today’s message is a sound one: no commercial trade in ivory; destroy all seized ivory and keep it out of the marketplace forever. But, the message must reverberate beyond New York City, beyond the United States, and beyond elephants. We must all come together—no matter what species we fight for or where we do the fighting—to keep wildlife in the wild.

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,

Adam

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Innocent Victims of Tbilisi

June 16th, 2015

Dear Friends,

The latest, according to Associated Press, following the devastating floods in Tbilisi, Georgia, over the weekend of the 13/14 June, reads as follows:

All of the lions and tigers that were missing after severe flooding swamped Tbilisi’s zoo have been found dead. One jaguar remained unaccounted for, but zoo staff said they have little hope that it survived.

The discovery of the last of the missing lions and tigers on Tuesday as the waters receded eased fears in the capital of Georgia, an ex-Soviet republic, that some of the big cats were still wandering the hills of the city.

The human death toll rose to 16 on Tuesday when the body of a missing woman was found in a children’s park, the police said. Seven people are still missing after an intense downpour that began late Saturday turned a stream that runs through the city into a raging torrent that destroyed houses and tore up roads. About 40 families lost their homes.

Zoo spokeswoman Mziya Sharashidze said eight lions, all seven of the zoo’s tigers and at least two of its three jaguars were killed. Only two of the zoo’s 14 bears survived, while nine of its 17 penguins died, she said.”

It seems that at least three of the people who have died were Tbilisi Zoo employees, killed while reportedly trying to save some of the animals at the Zoo where the damage has been catastrophic.

My thoughts and sincere condolences are with all the families affected but my heart also goes out to the poor, unfortunate animals – locked up for life, finding traumatic, momentary freedom but then dying or being killed in significant numbers – innocent victims, like so many of the people of Tbilisi.

Can it be right that we maintain menageries of wild animals for our so-called education and entertainment, not only inflicting on them a lifetime of captivity but exposing them to avoidable and potentially fatal risks associated with their captive incarceration?

Of course, wild animals in the wild are also faced with numerous risks and dangers. But there they take their chances, and that is no more or less than what they deserve – a chance.

Blogging off

Will

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