Remembering Rhinos on World Rhino Day

September 22nd, 2017

September 22nd is World Rhino Day. It’s a day to celebrate these ancient, magnificent animals that are thought to have roamed the earth in one form or another for 50 million years, and once dominated whole continents.

It’s a day to remember the thousands of rhinos who have tragically lost their lives in recent years, and to reflect on how we can secure a future for the five remaining species.

And it’s a day when we remember the many brave men and women, the Rangers, Wardens and Scouts, who are injured or even lose their lives on the conservation front line, protecting these iconic wild animals.

Fewer than 30,000 rhinos currently roam the plains and forests of Africa and Asia. Africa’s 20,000 southern white rhinos are by far the most numerous, with South Africa home to more than 90%. Black rhinos are spread across 10 sub-Saharan African countries, and with a total population of just over 5,000 are critically endangered.

The other three extant rhino species all live in Asia. Some 3,200 greater one-horned rhinos survive in National Parks across Nepal and north-eastern India. Indonesia is home to both the Javan and Sumatran rhino. Smaller than their African and South Asian cousins, they are also the rarest with less than 100 individuals of each species clinging on.

There are many reasons why rhinos, once so numerous and widespread, have declined so precipitously. Over millennia, they have gradually been outcompeted across many parts of their historic range by other species. In more recent times, their remaining habitats have shrunk as people have moved into wild areas and converted land for pastoral and agricultural use.

Hunting has also had a huge impact. Rhinos have been hunted by people for centuries, but uncontrolled sport hunting during the colonial era nearly wiped rhinos off the planet altogether. Only concerted conservation efforts during the latter half of the 20th century prevented their extinction.

In recent years, while sport hunting continues to be a problem for some populations, poaching to supply rhino horn into lucrative illegal Asian markets has taken over as the largest threat. Rhino horn has been prized by a tiny elite as an ingredient in traditional Asian medicine for centuries, but increased wealth among the rapidly-emerging middle classes, particularly in Vietnam and China, has led to a huge rise in demand for horn, not just for traditional medicinal use but increasingly as a symbol of wealth and social standing.

As a result, rhino horns change hands for the equivalent of tens of thousands of dollars per kg, and organised criminal networks have turned rhino poaching into an industry, defying local and international laws and trade bans. Some 7,000 rhinos have been killed by poachers in South Africa alone over the past decade, and poaching incidents are on the rise in other rhino range States including Namibia and Zimbabwe.

Around a third of South Africa’s rhinos are owned by private ranchers, some of whom want to be able to profit from the sale of horn. Two of these rhino owners recently successfully overturned South Africa’s domestic moratorium on rhino horn trade which had been in place since 2009, and John Hume, the owner of some 1500 rhinos who has a reported stockpile of over 6 tonnes of horn, auctioned off a part of his stockpile in August, unashamedly targeting Asian bidders.

The ultimate stated intention of Mr Hume and other rhino owners is to legalise international trade in rhino horn, to enable them to access key Asian markets directly and maximise their profits. They argue that opening up legal trade will enable them to satisfy the demand and control international markets – rhino horn can, after all, be ‘harvested’ periodically without unduly harming the animal. This, they say, will render poaching uneconomic, and generate money to help them protect their rhinos.

But quite how South Africa’s authorities will prevent the domestic trade in legally purchased horn from fueling  illegal international trade, let alone manage to control markets in Asia, is a mystery. After all, South Africa is already the source of most of the illegal rhino horn entering markets in Vietnam, China and elsewhere. Criminal syndicates, the very people who have the biggest interest in hoovering up rhino horns from legal sales and using them as a means of laundering horn from poached rhinos, are already way ahead of the authorities.

Legitimising the sale of rhino horn within South Africa also sends a confusing message to potential Asian consumers, and undermines the considerable ongoing public education efforts aimed at reducing demand. As a result, demand could increase dramatically, new markets could emerge, dormant markets could be re-energised, and the incentives to poach wild rhino for their horns will most likely rise dramatically.

So while a handful private rhino owners in South Africa stand to profit handsomely from legal sales, wild rhinos are set to suffer not just in South Africa, Namibia and Zimbabwe, where poaching is already a big problem, but also in Kenya, India, Nepal, and other countries that have thus far managed to largely contain this heinous activity.

Previous attempts to deal with wildlife poaching crises by opening up legal trade have failed miserably. The most recent one-off sales of elephant ivory sanctioned by the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) were followed by some of the worst declines in elephant populations ever seen, with more than 150,000 (30%) of African elephants killed by poachers since 2012. There is no reason to think that rhinos will fare any better if trade is legalised.

Rhinos are in crisis, but it’s a crisis that we cannot trade our way out of.

So while we celebrate rhinos on World Rhino Day, we must remember that the future for rhinos, along with that of elephants, tigers, pangolins and other species affected by poaching and trade, depends on our ability to protect these wonderful animals in their wild homes, and persuade global consumers not to buy rhino horns and other wildlife products.

Born Free works tirelessly to protect rhinos. To help with this work, the book ‘Remembering Rhinos’ will be launched by Born Free’s co-founder and President Will Travers OBE and Margot Raggett, its creator, on 1st November at the Royal Geographical  Society in London. The follow up to the enormously popular ‘Remembering Elephants’ book and exhibition, ‘Remembering Rhinos’ features images donated by many of the world’s top wildlife photographers. An exhibition will also be held at La Galleria, Pall Mall, London, which will run from 30th October to 11th November 2017, at which copies of the book and images can be purchased. 100% of the proceeds will go towards helping the ‘Remembering Rhinosteam, Born Free and its partners protect rhinos in the wild.

By purchasing Remembering Rhinos, you’re not just remembering those who have gone before, but also helping to secure a lasting future for these amazing and ancient animals.

You can find out more about ‘Remembering Rhinos’ here

Written by Dr Mark Jones, Vet and Associate Director of Born Free

Will Travers | No Comments »

The rarest (and prettiest) wild relative of man’s best friend!

August 26th, 2017

Addis Ababa, 26 August 2017

In contrast to other canids, Ethiopian wolves are highly specialised to life on the roof of Africa. Only a handful of mountain enclaves now harbour the right conditions to support viable populations of Ethiopian wolves. They are Africa’s rarest, and most threatened carnivore, and most of their populations are tiny. A mere 450 wolves, to nearly one billion dogs worldwide!

Ethiopia is the cradle of humanity, and farming has been modifying its surface for millennia. The need for arable land brings about an incessant pressure on natural habitats. Barley crops and potato fields are slowly encroaching the last relicts of Afroalpine diversity, and the wolves and other endemics wildlife such as the walia ibex, the mountain nyala, the wattle crane, down to the giant molerat, are seeing their habitat shrink and bringing local extinction a step closer.

By and large people in the Ethiopian highlands are relatively tolerant of wildlife, but their priority is one of survival. Unless their livelihoods can be brought into line with sustainable practices, the meadows and moors they need to graze their stock, gather firewood and tend their crops will soon be all degraded to bare rock. And while many highland wildlife can coexist with shepherds and their livestock, free-ranging dogs bring in an additional challenge, posing the most real and immediate threat to the wolves. Coming from many surrounding villages and towns dogs not only compete for food and chase wolves. They are inexorably drawn to each other and interact, inevitably transmitting rabies and distemper to their wild cousins, and even hybridising.

Disease ultimately determines the dynamics of the last remaining wolf havens, with three out of four wolves typically dying in populations hit by outbreaks, their numbers a rollercoaster. The Bale Mountains plateaux harbour the largest number of wolves; in the last three years they have endured back-to-back rabies and distemper outbreaks. Smaller populations are at even greater risk; last year disease decimated the smallest wolf population.

In a way these wolves are victims of their own success as Afroalpine specialists. But because of the warming continent, and the pressure of humans, livestock and dogs, now they are restricted to tiny mountain pockets and pushed ever up the slopes. There are reasons to be optimistic about their future though.

In 1995 Born Free Foundation helped me to establish the Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme. With their help we have since vaccinated in excess of 80,000 dogs to prevent rabies getting across to wolves. And when the deadly virus strikes, swift wolf vaccinations have taken place. In a shift from reactive vaccination to a preventive approach an oral vaccine has been trialled that will offer protection from future rabies epizootics. These vaccination campaigns not only protect the wolves, but also the dogs and their owners, saving lives and preventing financial loss.

There are signs that the wolves in the Bale Mountains are bouncing back. By the end of January, nearly all packs monitored (and recently vaccinated) had bred successfully and some of the larger packs had split, increasing the number of breeding families. With as many as seven pups born to a dominant female, the potential for numeric recovery is high, with over 80 pups located in the Bale Mountains alone.

Rare, ecological specialists such as these wolves will continue to be threatened and require intervention to secure their survival. Climate shifts in mountain ranges tend to impact on specialists, and there are few mitigation approaches available to protect small populations that get caught in this habitat vortex. So we can expect local extinctions for several montane specialists, although for the wolves a metapopulation management paradigm will become part of the solution, with conservation translocations enabling recovery and genetic flux. We expect to see more of these interventions in the next decade.

The Ethiopian Wolf Conservation Programme, and its Ethiopian partners, with the amazing support of the Born Free Foundation, continue to put all their strength to fight the threats through awareness, education, and science-led approaches to managing disease.  It is a long-term game, and only through committed efforts and dedication the necessary trust and common ground between the needs of people and wildlife can be found.

If you are a dog lover help us protect their rarest wild cousin from disease and habitat loss, by making a donation to the Born Free Foundation. Thank you!

Prof Claudio Sillero

Born Free’s Head of Conservation and EWCP Founder & Director

(Images © Eric Bedin)

Will Travers | Comments Off

Tribute to George Adamson

August 20th, 2017

It is the 28th Anniversary of the murder of George Adamson, a man who was an inspiration to my husband Bill Travers, and myself: to Bill until his life’s end and, to me, until the end of mine.  It is perhaps unusual for a husband and wife to share such admiration, loyalty and love for the same person, but this was the case for us.  From the moment we first met him in June 1964.

I am not suggesting that others didn’t share these feelings as the opposite is true.  He was loved and admired by thousands of people all over the world; people who met him, stayed in his simple little camp in Kora, Kenya, and people who had never met him but had heard of him or read his books.  Or, possibly, seen him in the documentary films Bill made including ‘The Lions are Free’, and ‘Christian, the Lion at World’s End’.

I think it would be true to say that the lions that George knew, cared for and often returned to the wild, were the real loves of his life.  His camps were  first in Meru, with three of the lions we managed to save, after filming ‘Born Free’, from being sent to zoos and safari parks, and then in Kora with many others who came from various backgrounds – including the famous Christian.  He was here for 20 years – sharing it for the last years of his life with his brother Terence, who died in 1986.

Who, one asks, would want to kill a man who was one of the most kind and loyal people one could ever meet?  Obviously it had to be someone that didn’t know him.  And so it was.  People who resented the presence of George and his lions in Kora, which they coveted for grazing their cattle and access to the river.

But, as often happens, a person can die but their life, beliefs and humanity towards all forms of life will never be destroyed.

I have several pictures of George in my home, but I don’t need to look at them to see him.  His philosophy, modesty, kindness and love for animals are present in my mind each day.  I know that without him the film ‘Born Free’ could never have been made in the same way.  In his truly humble and self-effacing way he will always be ‘Lord of the Lions’.


Will Travers | 4 Comments »

Elephants need protecting. Lifting the ivory ban is no solution

August 19th, 2017

We’re told we are in the ‘anthropocene’ era, the era of human domination. One of the features of this era is the so-called ‘sixth extinction’.

In plain language, many of the world’s species are disappearing as a result of human activities. The current rate of species extinction may be 1,000 times higher than what might be expected without human influence.

Our demand for wildlife products is a significant factor in the decline of many species. Yet in spite of overwhelming evidence of its damaging impacts, some countries continue to promote trade in products from endangered species as some kind of solution to the crisis. They are wrong to do so.

African elephants feature among the species in serious decline, and have been held up by many as a ‘poster species’ to highlight our increasingly destructive impact on the planet. Our largest surviving terrestrial mammals are highly intelligent and intensely social, immensely strong yet capable of great sensitivity. They have a reputation for having long memories, and they mourn their deceased relatives and sometimes even people who have been kind to them. They are the gardeners of the forests and savannahs in which they live, creating and renewing the landscape to the benefit of multitudes of other species.

Yet Africa’s elephants are disappearing fast.

The statistics are devastating. Less than half a million African elephants remain compared with perhaps five million just a century ago. The loss of habitat and migratory routes through encroachment of expanding human populations into wildlife areas, has had a big impact, as has the human-elephant conflict that inevitably results. But the major driver of recent decline has been the industrial-scale massacre of elephants to supply ivory into trade.

In excess of 150,000 African elephants have been slaughtered by poachers since 2012. At least 20,000 continue brutally killed each year. Every one of these was a family member. Every one played its part in elephant society and the wider ecology. The loss of every one is irreplaceable.

International trade in ‘new’ ivory was effectively banned in 1989 when African elephants were listed on Appendix I of the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). However, trade in ivory within many countries remains legal, and international trade in raw and worked ivory items, both legal and illegal, has continued to flourish, stimulating demand and incentivising the poachers and traffickers.

In response, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) passed a Resolution in 2016 urging countries to close their domestic ivory markets, and CITES followed suit. The USA, formerly a major market for ivory, implemented a ‘near total ban’ last year. China announced it would do the same and has already begun closing ivory carving factories and retail outlets, a process that should be completed by the end of 2017. Many African countries already operate domestic bans. These combined actions, alongside demand reduction efforts in key markets, appear to be having some impact, with prices for raw ivory reported to be falling fast.

Yet some still seem to think that we can trade our way out of this crisis, and continue to call for the international ban on ivory to be overturned.

In August 2017, Zimbabwe’s Environment Minister Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri was quoted as saying that Zimbabwe would be putting up a “strong fight” to lift the international ivory trade ban, with the claimed support of several other African countries including South Africa, Namibia, Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Zimbabwe  and other southern African countries have long been advocates of treating wild animals and products obtained from them as commercial commodities, only seeing their value in monetary terms. Reports suggest that Zimbabwe is sitting on perhaps 100 tonnes of stockpiled ivory, which it is desperate to monetise with seemingly little consideration for the potential consequences. The timing of this latest effort is far from coincidental, with a 9-year ‘moratorium’ on efforts to get CITES to allow international ivory trade coming to an end, and an important CITES meeting coming up in November 2017.

However, any effort to reverse the international trade ban would be disastrous. It would send a mixed message to governments, consumers and traders at a time when the international community is coming together to shut the trade down. It would undermine years of field conservation initiatives by countless individuals working across elephants’ range, and education efforts aimed at informing the public of the horrific nature of the ivory trade and reducing consumer demand for ivory. It would provide a mechanism by which poachers and traffickers could launder their illegally-obtained blood-ivory into markets.

The last ‘one-off’ ivory sale agreed by CITES took place in 2008, and included ivory from Zimbabwe. Counter to claims made at the time, elephants did not benefit from these auctions; rather the sales resulted in parallel legal and illegal ivory markets which have proved impossible to control. Unprecedented levels of elephant poaching followed. The consequences for elephants across much of Africa have been disastrous.

And Zimbabwe is hardly in a position to claim that it could effectively control and manage a legal trade mechanism, given its poor rating on crime and corruption indices. The chances of any proceeds from future ivory sales resulting in a significant net benefit to  Zimbabwe’s conservation programmes or local communities in Zimbabwe are dismally slim.

The global community is finally waking up to the value of elephants, the devastating impact of ivory trade, and the need to shut down demand for and trade in ivory from all sources in all markets, if the scourge of poaching is to be addressed. We may already be seeing the benefits of these actions.

Now is a time for the international community to hold firm, not to bow to those whose interest is merely financial.

Dr Mark Jones, Associate Director MEAs and UK Wildlife

Will Travers | 1 Comment »

World Elephant Day

August 12th, 2017

So often in life an individual can highlight a cause, be a positive or negative symbol of an issue affecting thousands of others.  Through that one person or, in this particular case, one animal, we can learn about and identify with their joy or suffering.  It is a powerful and unforgettable experience.

Today is the 34th anniversary of the death of Pole Pole, an elephant my husband Bill and I knew well.  Some people know the story but, for those who don’t, I will just tell you a little about her life which led to her premature death.  It was 1968, and Bill and I were making a film in Kenya – ‘An Elephant Called Slowly’.  We filmed in Tsavo National Park in Kenya where David Sheldrick was Senior Warden, and where his wife Daphne had begun her renowned work with orphaned elephants.

At that time she had two teenage elephants, but we needed a little one for our story and David mentioned he knew of one in a trapper’s yard in Nairobi.  She was a terrified and traumatised little two year old, having been taken from her family in the wild. But within two days David had calmed her.  Without doubt she was the ‘star’ of the film and we loved her beyond words.

Filming over, we asked if we could buy her and give her to Daphne.  This was agreed – but.   The ‘but’ was horrifying.  It was possible only if the authorities caught another elephant in her place – as the Government of that time had promised to give a little one to London Zoo.  Another family distraught, another little elephant doomed for a life in captivity, in a strange land amongst strangers?  It was impossible.

Pole Pole was in London Zoo until her untimely end.  It was tragic to see her there.  The moment Bill and I visited her in 1982 – following a letter from Daphne that alerted us to a potential problem – is engraved on my memory forever.

She was a poor-looking thing, dry skin, only one partially broken tusk – and alone.  We couldn’t believe it was the same animal.  She was slowly pacing up and down the compound, a few visitors looked on.  Then we called her, ‘Pole Pole’.  She stopped, came towards us and put out her trunk to touch our hands.  Even now I can hardly bear to think of it.

We tried to help her, and found a Reserve in South Africa who would give her a home and an experienced ‘elephant person’ to go with her.  To no avail.  However, the zoo said they would move her to Whipsnade, where there were other elephants.

The day for the move arrived.  A travelling crate had been in place for several days and, apparently, she went calmly into it.  Unfortunately she was kept standing in it for so long she collapsed and later, having had a damaged leg which was examined under anaesthetic, she was ‘put down’. I was told that she had lost the will to live.

Pole Pole’s story tells us everything that’s wrong with keeping elephants in zoos.  They are social, family animals and should never be alone.  Unfortunately we know that, just in Europe, there are at least 40 elephants who exist in this way.  Elephants can walk up to 80 km in a day choosing their food, exploring different paths, planting the forests of the future with the seeds in their dung.  They are creatures with a purpose.

And, of course, in mentioning the way we control and dominate these wise and wonderful animals, I must not forget what they experience when they are in the circus.  Not only is their confinement even more severe, but they are made to perform inane tricks under the lights of ‘The Big Top’, on command.  It would drive any creature mad.

My plea to all those who still keep elephants in zoos and circuses is to show some respect and humanity towards them.  Help end the horrific ‘trade’ in elephants, whereby they are captured from the wild and sent to zoos – often in the Far East.  Not all survive.

End the fearful ivory trade.

End the breeding of elephants in captivity – show some compassion and respect for this most sensitive and wisest of creatures.

What a legacy Pole Pole will have left, if all I hope for comes true. World Elephant Day will have a new meaning.


Will Travers | 1 Comment »

Shocking Trophy Hunting Channel Launched

August 1st, 2017

Just a week or so after the shocking news story about Xanda, (a male lion with dependent cubs)and one of Cecil the lion’s adult sons, being shot as a trophy in Zimbabwe, it seems the whole issue of trophy hunting is firmly back on the international radar with news of the launch of a new Sport Hunting Channel.

Here’s my reaction:

“It won’t only be Arsenal supporters (like me) who will be outraged by My Outdoor TV (MOTV), launched recently in the UK by billionaire Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke.

Anyone who has a beating heart will be sickened by images of grown men and women celebrating the killing of wild lions and other iconic species for ‘fun’.

Let’s be clear:

Trophy hunting isn’t poaching – the illegal killing of animals, such as elephants for their ivory.

Trophy hunting isn’t subsistence hunting by people surviving from day to day on the animals they hunt to food.

Trophy hunting isn’t even the hunting of animals to control their populations, such as deer in many European countries, where natural predators have long been eradicated.

Whatever trophy hunters may say – that it’s about being in the great outdoors; that these are problem animals that need controlling; that it’s all about the hunt, not the actual killing – trophy hunters do exactly what it says on the tin. They hunt for trophies so they can put the head of their victim on the wall and brag about their bravery to their buddies – as if killing a wild animal with a high-powered rifle or bow from a hundred feet away or more was some kind of badge of courage!

‘All dangerous game safaris are exciting and challenging hunts and yes, a thrill of a lifetime!’ That’s what it is really all about for trophy hunters.

Football is called ‘the beautiful game’ but, Mr Kroenke, one of its wealthiest supporters, may be contributing to the end of our beautiful ‘game’ – the wild animals that still cling to existence across an increasingly human-dominated world.

And now, Mr Kroenke’s trophy hunting channel will  permit some people to share the ‘thrill of a lifetime’ by watching others kill for ‘fun’.  It is the equivalent of a legal ‘snuff movie’. I say enough is enough. We can and must protect wildlife and wild places without killing and it’s time for the majority to speak out. Born Free has been, and always will be, against trophy hunting, and for Compassionate Conservation. Join us.”

Will Travers OBE

President The Born Free Foundation

Please note: this blog has been superseded by the latest news on Friday, 4th August here.

Will Travers | 5 Comments »

Tiger Questions

July 29th, 2017

How many tigers are left in the wild? And what about in 5 years’ time? Or when my 6 year-old child has grandchildren? Fundamentally, these questions are unanswerable. Tigers are solitary creatures, disliking disturbance of any kind and moving silently through their forests, often coming close to people without our knowledge. We can gather and assess information about their presence in a given area, and estimate numbers, but these figures will never be a comprehensive assessment of all tiger populations, and may not be comparable from one country to another or even from one year to another.

Estimating tiger numbers is a worthy pursuit, but it can give us a false impression, resulting in a sense of complacency if numbers appear to be increasing. Just as importantly, it can distract us from the more important questions we should be asking.

A couple of years ago, I attended a meeting in India which brought together high-level government officials from tiger range countries, as well as organisations and individuals focussed on saving tigers. A figure which appeared to indicate an increase in the global tiger population had been bandied about to much fanfare in a press release issued just a day before the meeting began. On the morning of the first day, the delegates got busy working their way through the agenda, and at one point I found myself in a room with some eminent scientists and tiger conservationists discussing tiger reintroductions. But there was an elephant in the room and, at one point between presentations, one of those in the audience decided to address it, making the following powerful observation: that it mattered less how many tigers we counted at any given point, and much more how many of them we could actually protect from unchecked development, habitat degradation, conflict with people and of course poaching gangs which feed the demand for parts and products many miles away from where tigers live.

There is nothing inconclusive or vague about the reality of these threats, nor of their impact on tiger populations across Asia. So, if we want a future with tigers, we have to ask ourselves some critically important questions which have a direct bearing on protecting what tigers we have, and securing a future for ourselves which includes these iconic animals.

First of all, how many tigers do we want, and linked to that, how far down the road to achieving that objective are we as a global community?

How can we drastically reduce the threats tigers face, and what are the key practical and proven solutions which can be rolled out in a coordinated way in and around tiger habitat?

What are the main roadblocks which are preventing tiger populations from growing, and how should we overcome or work around them?

Are there enough wild places which are undisturbed, adequately protected and contain all a tiger needs to not only survive but thrive? Has our approach to date worked? Are there other or better ways?

How far are we prepared to go to ensure a world with more tigers? What value are we prepared to place on them? Is everyone, including donors, local communities, and politicians, prepared for the implications of having more tigers?

Is the global community going to rally together and demand an end to captive tiger breeding in East and Southeast Asia (tiger “farming”), which stimulates demand for tiger skin, claws, teeth and tiger bone wine from both captive-bred and wild tigers?

These and more are the questions we need to pose and answer, now and every day in the future – not just when Global Tiger Day rolls around.

Gabriel Fava, Born Free’s Associate Director, Asia and Oceana

Will Travers | Comments Off

Virginia McKenna Guest Blog

June 1st, 2017

23rd May 2017 is a date that will remain engraved on our hearts always.  Some dates are like that, often for the happiest of reasons – others for the darkest.  The city of Manchester was yet another victim of the world’s perpetrators of violence and intolerance.  The cruel and arbitrary killing of innocent people, including children, seems to sweep across the world in relentless waves.  No one knows when or if it will end.  No one knows how to end it.

Overwhelmed as everyone is by this tragedy, ‘life’ goes on.  And that includes the election of a new government in a weeks’ time.  Promises of good things are made by all the Parties.  I won’t list them here but included, of course, are housing, the health service, education, defence…. But some issues are conspicuous by their absence.

I cannot specifically name political parties; as a charity we have to be a-political.  But while, in some respects, the promises made are encouraging, others are quite the opposite.  Building on ‘Green Belt’, a free vote to bring back fox-hunting, to name a couple.

There is one personal example I can give. The approval of proposals to ‘explore’ for oil in the area near where I live – which is both Green Belt and a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.  Money turns all to dust.  ‘Oh, we will put it all back when we’ve finished’ they cry.  Do they mean replant all the trees; entice the wild creatures to return to a barren land?

Nature has never been more vulnerable, and I am not only writing about the land around us, here on this small island.  As a direct result of human activities and our ever-growing population, there is less and less room for wildlife. We are in a state of total imbalance.  On the whole, wild animals, if left alone, just get on with their lives – but that’s an ever-increasing challenge.  We like to use them – make money out of them for food, for ‘sport’, take their land, destroy their habitats.  Only occasionally do we reflect on their aesthetic contribution to the planet.

It is many years since Joanna Lumley and I wrote to the then Prime Minister, asking for there to be a ban on wild animals in circuses.  Basically we were told it would be delivered ‘when Parliamentary time allows’.  We know, for a fact, that a huge cross-party majority of MPs would like a ban.  Yet, so far, nothing has been done.  A handful of animals continue to languish in their trailers or in ‘winter quarters’, performing in the ring to command when the season begins.  We lag, shamefully, behind 19 other countries.

We permit the sale of wild animals on the internet – who knows where they have come from or where they are going?  Birds in small cages unable to fly, puppy ‘farms’, intensive poultry rearing, the badger cull, calves removed from their mothers for the veal industry, the lifetime confinement of wild animals in zoos.  And the elephant ivory trade, the poaching of rhino for their horn, the ‘trophy hunting’ of big cats – so shockingly forced into our consciousness by the meaningless and illegal death of Cecil the beautiful lion, cruelly killed in Zimbabwe by an American dentist.

I don’t want words – I’ve used far too many here.  I want action.  I implore our leaders, whoever they are, to set an example of kindness, sensitivity, compassion towards animals as well as humans.  They seem to forget, or perhaps are just indifferent to the fact, that animals also feel pain, joy, loneliness, fear, jealousy, friendship.

Here at Born Free we know, from the experience of our work over the past 33 years, that the perils faced by the natural world I have described above are not an exaggeration.

I think living creatures deserve better than that.  I think we need to ‘Keep Wildlife in the Wild’, where it belongs.

Virginia McKenna

Will Travers | 9 Comments »

Virginia McKenna remembers her friend Roger Moore

May 24th, 2017

Roger Moore and Virginia in "I Capture the Castle"

“I have been thinking about the date, May 23rd 2017. The news of the Manchester bomb attack and the death of a loved and famous actor revealed to us on the same day.

As a parent, I can only imagine the horror being endured by those who have lost loved ones or whose beautiful children have been brutally injured by the disgusting and cowardly attack at the Ariana Grande concert. We all weep as one and we all share a determination to resist those who seek to force us to be other than the caring, compassionate, inclusive society we cherish.

The death of Roger Moore has been a shock and is another great sadness. I knew he was ill, but – nevertheless. I understand well what his family are going through and, of course, I feel for them very much.

My personal memories are perhaps different from what we are reading and seeing on television. They go back to 1954. Bill and I together with Roger were in a theatre production of “I Capture the Castle” in London (pictured). Roger played the part of Stephen Colly and we all thought he was gorgeous and charming. So did Hollywood, as he was whisked off there, before the play ended, and signed a contract with MGM.

But, in spite of fame and fortune, Roger had a deep current of compassion flowing through his veins. Compassion for humans, expressed through his long-term work as a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador (since 1991) – he was awarded the UNICEF Audrey Hepburn Award in 2004. And compassion for animals, where he held some very strong and critical views on animal exploitation and cruelty. Trophy hunting, the use of wild animals in circuses, the relentlessly cruelty involved in the production of foie gras (his work significantly contributed to Selfridges ending foie gras sales in November 2009).

For many years we exchanged emails on these issues. He was deeply shocked that anyone could hurt or hunt a wild creature for “fun”, sport, or a trophy.

When it came to wild animals in circuses, I know he had reserved a very special bottle of champagne to take to Downing Street to present to Teresa May if – no, WHEN – she (or whoever the Prime Minister of the day was at the time) finally ended this archaic and cruel relic of the past. We agreed to knock on her door together.

As a tribute to his memory, I once more ask Mrs May to do just that. I am aware that many issues are on her desk at the moment, but the job is done, the legislation is written, the support is overwhelmingly there. It shouldn’t take much precious Parliamentary time Prime Minister.

Surely the animals deserve that and dear much-missed Roger can rest in peace.”

Virginia McKenna OBE
Founder and Trustee, Born Free Foundation

Will Travers | Comments Off

General Election – Animals don’t have a vote but they need a strong voice

May 16th, 2017

Dear Friends of Wildlife

It hardly seems five minutes since the last time, but once again we find ourselves in the midst of UK General Election fever.

However, things are substantially different this time round. The referendum result almost a year ago changed everything. Brexit is dominating the headlines, threatening to drown out discussion of the NHS, social care, education, jobs, security and the domestic economy.

Wildlife protection hardly seems to be getting a look-in. But the election could profoundly impact the UK’s future policies on nature conservation, environmental management and animal welfare, in no small part because many of our current rules relating to nature and wildlife come from Brussels.

Prospective parliamentary candidates mustn’t be allowed to forget how important wildlife protection is to the vast majority of their prospective constituents. Our next government will be negotiating our exit from the European Union and deciding which European Directives and Regulations we should keep, and which we should throw out. The Common Agricultural and Fisheries Policies, Europe’s nature directives, wildlife trade regulations, and many other pieces of European legislation, will no longer directly apply to the UK, and the consequences for our wildlife could be profound.

But Brexit also offers the UK an opportunity.

We like to pride ourselves as being a nation of animal lovers, and a country that leads the world on nature protection and environmental issues.

Now is the time for prospective parliamentary candidates from across the political spectrum to pledge their support for a Britain that not only accepts the need to maintain European safeguards for wildlife, but will set an example to the world by going above and beyond our current protections and put in place progressive policies aimed at halting and reversing wildlife declines and improving animal welfare.

To this end, my colleagues at Born Free and I have put together a set of election priorities for wildlife, which we are calling on all candidates and Parties to endorse. These include maintaining and improving on current EU regulations concerning nature and animal protection as we prepare to leave the EU; adopting a leading role in international efforts to tackle wildlife trafficking starting, with a UK ivory trade ban; improving protections for both native and captive wildlife against all forms of exploitation and abuse; and introducing nature education into the National Curriculum for all children.

It’s not for us as a charity to advocate or support any particular political party. But we are asking people who care about wild animals, captive or free-living, to demand that their prospective parliamentary candidates prioritise the protection of wildlife in their campaigns, and ensure these issues are given the highest priority if they are elected to Parliament.

Whatever the colour of the new Government on June 9th, we will continue to push for the highest level of protection for our wildlife, and the highest standards of welfare for all animals.

As Mahatma Ghandi rightly said “The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

Never was this statement more relevant.

Blogging off


Will Travers | 1 Comment »