Archive for September, 2007

A passion for nature

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007

Dear Friends

Amazing and wonderful.  Dr George Schaller, possibly the most revered naturalist in the world today, a man who has done perhaps more to highlight the plight of numerous big cat species from tigers to snow leopards, speaking last night (Monday 17th September) at the Oxford Natural History Museum where he was the recipient of an award presented to him by Dr Thomas Kaplan, Founder of the Panthera Foundation, described the reasoning behind his commitment to these species and many others as being driven by “passion” and “love”.

How often have we been told that we should not let emotion get in the way of a practical agenda?  How we should not be ruled by our heart but only by our head.  And yet, it seems to me that Dr Schaller has it right.  It is our intense personal passion and commitment and, to use his word, love, for the amazing wild species of this planet that inspires us to save them.  Not because of the economic benefits they bring to people – although many of them do – not because their skins look good on hunter’s wall, not because they provide medicinal products of dubious efficacy to our ailing human societies, but because they are simply wonderful creatures that touch our souls.  There can be no better reason and it was good to hear it loud and clear from such a deeply respected individual.

The 300 Felid conservationists and scientists gathered under the auspices of the Wildlife Conservation and Research Unit (WildCru) at Oxford University, will spend the next three days considering what can be done to reduce human/animal conflict, to stem the destructive tide of humanity that is destroying the remaining, viable wildlife habitat, to protect the prey species that so many cat species depend on for their survival. I hope that they will heed Dr Schaller’s words.  I hope we all will.

Blogging off


Out of Alaska

Friday, September 14th, 2007

Alaska; famous as one of the world’s last great wilderness areas. Home of wild bears, the salmon run and wide open skies….. and an elephant. Yes, there’s a solitary elephant at Alaska’s Anchorage Zoo.

Her name is Maggie and she’s been the subject of a long debate between the zoo authorities and the animal protection movement. The fundamental question has been: is Anchorage in Alaska an acceptable place to keep a solitary female elephant? The pendulum of that debate has swung back and forth – the zoo even tried to get Maggie to take more exercise in the long (and I mean LONG) winter months by installing a giant treadmill (Maggie was not impressed).

Originally an orphan from a South African elephant cull, Maggie arrived in Alaska in 1983 and has been on her own since 1997 when her companion died at the age of 33. Maggie herself has been experiencing poor health, twice collapsing in the last few months.

However, that is all about to change. The Zoo Directors have agreed that Maggie can leave. She will forsake Alaska for the more temperate climate of Northern California and the PAWS Elephant Sanctuary, run by Born Free’s long-standing friends, Pat Derby and Ed Stewart. There she will have the chance to be integrated into the small group of rescued elephants that roam the Sanctuary’s 60 acre plus African elephant enclosure (that’s nearly twice the size of the entire London Zoo).

And she could be there for Christmas, according to latest news reports.

I’ve been to PAWS many times. In fact I was there when it opened at its new site near San Andreas. Pat and Ed and their team do an amazing job, not just for their elephants but for over 30 rescued tigers as well. It’s a huge (some would say mammoth) task and I know they’d appreciate any help – so if you would like to support them (and Maggie) just drop me a line (

Maggie’s story represents a small but important step in ending the unacceptable confinement of wild animals in inappropriate environments. The Anchorage Zoo have seen the light and made the right decision – for that we should be thankful. But while it may be a small step in terms of changing the zoo industry, it’s a giant step for Maggie.


Blogging off.



Thursday, September 13th, 2007

Around August 20th a barge tipped its load of logging equipment into the waters of the Robson Bight (Michael Bigg) Ecological Reserve in British Columbia, Canada. The Reserve was created in 1982 to protect vital orca habitat.  The equipment, which carried 19,000 litres of diesel and other oils, remains on the bottom in an unknown state.  It needs to be inspected as a matter of urgency, before winter storms arrive, to assess the remaining danger.  Canada’s Coastguard, the responsible agency, have apparently decided not to carry out this essential work and so NGOs, led by the Living Oceans Society and Greenpeace – and now supported by Born Free – are going to carry out the work instead. We’ve pledged $1,000 to assist but they need more so if anyone can help write to me (
Meanwhile the IUCN (The World Conservation Union) has declared that over 16,000 species of animal and plant are threatened with extinction, many of them as a result of human activity. What? I just don’t get it.  Sixteen thousand species including gorillas, dolphins and more. Maybe it is too late. Maybe we have passed the ‘tipping point’ when the future of the world will focus solely on the needs and aspirations of people and all other creatures are eradicated unless they serve a utilitarian purpose in the service of humankind.  I hope not, but I’m beginning to wonder. You know when a zoo can spend tens of millions of pounds on a single exhibit, confining a few animals on a patch of ground thousands of miles away from their natural habitat, or when electrifying the West Coast railway here in the UK will cost billions of pounds and will result in cutting a miserable 20 minutes or so off the journey time between London and Manchester I have to say we do seem to have got our priorities so very wrong.

Whether it’s an oil-spill, war, unregulated forestry, the bushmeat trade, lack of funding, pollution, the march of agriculture, the expansion of agriculture growing for bio-diesel, collecting for the exotic pet trade or zoos,  human indifference or simply the view that humans matter and nothing else does, our planet and its non-human inhabitants are under attack from all sides.

It’s a mad, mad, world….

Blogging off.


The truth behind zoos?

Friday, September 7th, 2007

Dear Friends 

Why would you want to bring exotic animals into a wildlife park well-known for keeping indigenous species?  Why would you bring in tigers, Japanese snow monkeys, camels, red panda, bears …… 

Well, according to Mr Gary Wilson, Head of Property and Estates of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland, quoted in the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald on 5th September, “Scottish conservation is still very important to us, but to improve the visitor numbers to make the Park sustainable, we felt we had to sex it up a bit”.   

So there you have it.  They felt they “…had to sex it up a bit”.   


This, apparently, is all part of a £7 million master-plan for the Highland Wildlife
Park, the rural arm of the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland.  They have not yet decided, however, whether to make a commitment to bring Mercedes, the solitary female polar bear from Edinburgh Zoo’s inadequate facilities, to a new enclosure at the Highland Wildlife Park which would cost an estimated £1-1.5 million. 

So, Mercedes must wait to learn her fate and the Highland Wildlife Park look set to spend the sort of money that would really deliver conservation benefits in the wild on its sexy new image. 

You have to laugh or else you’d cry. 

Blogging off 


Shame on the Methodist Church

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Dear Friends

Ten days ago, Born Free was informed that the meat of endangered sea turtles was to be served up at the Annual Conference of the Methodist Church in Fiji and that the Church had specifically applied to the authorities for permission to kill 3 marine turtles for this purpose.  I wrote to the World Church Organisation in the UK urging them not to carry through this action which would set an appalling example at a time when sea turtle populations are under threat globally, and specifically when the marine sea turtle populations around Fiji have reportedly fallen by 60% in the last 50 years.

Today, I received news that not 3 but up to 40 sea turtles were killed in relation to this Annual Conference.  It is illegal to catch turtles and offenders can face up to five years imprisonment or a US $20,000 fine.  I understand the authorities are investigating but the truth is the Church knew what they were doing and they should be deeply ashamed of the example they have set in Fiji and throughout the world. 

I have today written again to the World Church Organisation (who did not reply to my previous plea) asking them to clarify the situation and asking them to explain what action they would be taking in future. 

Eating turtle meat may be a tradition in Fiji but as Sri Sri Ravi Shankar said when I met him earlier in the year “Sometimes a tradition has to give way, particularly when it threatens the survival of species”.  It is a pity such words of wisdom have yet to reach the ears of the World Church Organisation.

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