Archive for November, 2007

Monkey killing casts doubt over captive breeding strategy

Friday, November 30th, 2007

Dear Friends

The news that Newquay Zoo destroyed two healthy young male Sulawesi black-crested macaques because they were behaving “aggressively”, has shocked the public, animal charities and conservationists alike.  David Bellamy is quoted as saying “They must be mad”. 


It seems the height of irony that members of this endangered species (one of the most threatened in the world) should be so summarily despatched but, sadly, I am not that surprised.  Captive breeding for so-called conservation is largely a myth.  There are 16,000 endangered species of animals according to the IUCN Red List.  At the very best estimate, zoos can breed about 3% of that number (500) in co-ordinated programmes.  They don’t achieve anything like that number but that’s the best guess of what they could do.  However, that is only half the story because is such breeding for conservation or preservation?  Are these animals or their progeny ever going back to the wild?  Are zoos putting the resources and energy necessary into habitat protection in order to ensure that in that rose-tinted future there is a natural world for these species to go to?  Sadly, in almost all cases, the answer is no. 

So, zoos set up breeding programmes, breed animals in their small, captive, alien environments and then, should they be successful, wonder what to do with the surplus, with the over-represented males in the population and with the animals that ‘fight’ because there is nowhere for them to run.  Euthanasia, as a management tool to deal summarily with the results of misplaced breeding initiatives, is abhorrent to most reasonable people but it is the direct result of what is, in my view, a failed, bankrupt so-called conservation strategy.

The zoo industry needs to think again.

It is too late for Venus and Ia.  Depressingly, I predict the same solution may well be applied to more animals in the not-too-distant future.

Please visit our website and go to to find out more about Born Free’s Zoo Check work.

 Blogging off


No Sanctuary for whales as Japanese whaling boats head to the Antarctic

Wednesday, November 28th, 2007

Dear Friends

You would have thought that one of the safest places for whales would be the Antarctic Sanctuary – untrue!

The Japanese “scientific” whaling fleet is on its way and it is predicted that up to 1,000 whales will be killed this year, supposedly to gather scientific data but actually to keep the fleet in business and to provide the commercial market in Japan with whale meat products.

Protests pour in but seemingly to no avail.

The new Australian Government is vocal on this issue but who knows, maybe the music-mad Japanese will listen to the voice of Bryan Adams. I met him last night at a function in London and he told me that his website is carrying his views about the impending slaughter. Check out and add your voice by writing to the Japanese Ambassador in London whose contact details are:

Mr Yoshijji Nogami
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Embassy of Japan
101 – 104 Piccadilly

It really makes me sick when virtually an entire global community can agree about a wildlife conservation and protection measure and yet be undermined by one or two rogue nations determined to perpetuate the unspeakable.

With the growth of whale watching around the world, it has simply got to be true that the great whales are far more valuable alive than dead.

Blogging off


Flight to Freedom

Tuesday, November 27th, 2007

Dear Friends

Sometimes you think you are never going to win but one of our partner organisations, working in Cameroon, has consistently proved us wrong.

Ofir Drori and LAGA (Last Great Ape Organisation), working in partnership with the Cameroon Government, is making an impact on a daily basis, protecting wildlife from unscrupulous traders and fighting corruption. Yesterday, was no exception and Ofir managed to prevent 500 African grey parrots, with an international value of over US$400,000, being shipped out of the country. More than that, he has persuaded the authorities to demonstrate their commitment to ending such illegalities by convincing the Minister that all the parrots should be released back into the wild!

As Ofir says, “It’s a great victory”.

I was there in Kenya in 1989 when they burnt the ivory stockpile, a gesture that caught the imagination of the world. The thought of those 500 parrots flying free rather than destined for solitary confinement in a cage in the USA or elsewhere, makes my spirits soar as well.

Blogging off


See more about Ofir’s work here >

Ban Wild Animals in UK Circuses

Thursday, November 22nd, 2007

In 2005 during deliberations over the new Animal Welfare Act, the government set up the Circus Working Group (CWG), including a select academic panel, to consider the highly charged issue of wild animals in circuses. The panel’s job was to review whether or not the welfare of wild animals was compromised in a travelling circus and they were instructed to base their findings solely on available scientific evidence. It was, however, acknowledged very early on by everyone that little peer-reviewed research exists that directly involved animals in circuses.

The Born Free Foundation’s participation in the CWG, along with others, was subject to some bizarre constraints. We were instructed to ignore the training and performance element of circus life, to exclude anecdotal evidence, and to disregard the wider social context of this debate.

Notwithstanding these unjustifiable restrictions, the concerns we put forward included:
The fact that while licensed zoos operate under both legal and industry minimum welfare standards, it is clear that circuses cannot deliver the same minimum standards afforded to zoo animals. It is illogical to propose creating a situation whereby the same species, the same animal, can be kept under two captive regimes but cannot be guaranteed the same bare minimum welfare provisions.

Transport is an acknowledged stressor for animals. Research shows transport stress affects the physiology of some wild animals, and it is entirely possible that repeated transportation may have long-term negative consequences, as has been proven with domesticated animals habituated to transport.

The substantial deliberations, undertaken since early 2006, resulted in submissions to the chair of the Circus Working Group, Professor Mike Radford, in mid-summer 2007. The chair’s report, published November 20, concludes that he is unable to determine whether wild animals in circuses suffer or not, or whether the circus lifestyle (even excluding performance and training) is appropriate or inappropriate for the species currently involved. Ultimately, he says, the decision will be purely political.

What is clear is that the situation cannot be left unresolved. The government must decide about whether wild animals can continue to be used in circuses or not.

And surely they must listen to the people.

Overwhelming public opinion is in favour of a ban. A poll by MORI in 2005 found that 80% thought that the use of wild animals was not acceptable. This consistent position was given form by the reaction of the British public to the sight of an elderly circus elephant with arthritis being kept without others of her kind in a tent, and big cats being housed in beastwagons and transported repeatedly from venue to venue.

Two other key factors must be taken into account. The Animal Welfare Act – the first to comprehensively address animal welfare laws in nearly 100 years – has raised considerable expectation that animal welfare will be substantially improved because it seeks to prevent cruelty before it happens, as opposed to acting after the event. Surely if the report says there is not sufficient evidence either way, we should apply the precautionary principle and err on the side of caution?

There are just 47 wild animals in circuses in the UK. Ending this practice is possible, practical, relatively painless (compared with the thousands of wild animals used in Continental circuses), and is a proportionate measure to deal with this issue.
The Secretary of State for the Environment, Hilary Benn, has already acknowledged that there is a strong body of opinion, in favour of a ban.

It is time to bring the curtain down on the use of wild animal in circuses. It is time for the British government to listen to the British people. It is a matter of leadership. Nothing less than a ban will do.

Blogging off,


(This article first appeared in The Guardian Online)

Equatorial Guinea protects primates

Monday, November 12th, 2007

Dear Friends

It is good to report something positive for once.  The following, courtesy of, reports on positive conservation action by the authorities in Equatorial Guinea.

“Hunting, eating or keeping monkeys in Equatorial Guinea are forbidden as the government is taking pains to prevent the primates from becoming extinct, official media reported Wednesday.

This enforcement measure will also “protect families” and guarantee human health, as “monkeys and other primates carry viruses and dangerous” diseases, according to a decree signed by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema that was broadcast on national radio and television.

Lawbreakers will be subject to fines between 100,000 and 500,000 FCFA (150 and 750 euros, 220 and 1,000 dollars).

In Equatorial Guinea, like in the rest of Africa, primates are threatened with extinction by hunters because their meat is prized and also used to cure people.”

Of course, having a law is one thing, enforcing a law is another.  Let’s hope that the citizens of Equatorial Guinea follow the new rules, thereby protecting apes and their own health!

Blogging off


For more information on the bushmeat crisis please visit

Brutal and barbaric – it is not cricket!

Thursday, November 8th, 2007

Dear Friends

The shocking news from Spain (although nothing shocks me nowadays) is that three Spanish hunters from Madrid now face up to 12 years in prison alongside the hunt organiser for shooting ex-circus and zoo lions, and tigers.  They were caught red-handed in December 2005 as, according to the Olive Press Newspaper in Andalucia, they posed with a tiger they had riddled with bullets.  They were about to shoot another tiger and a one-eyed lion.  The hunt organiser’s company apparently had dozens of clients including some from Britain and the estate where the shootings takes place was also used for photographs of hunters standing next to their trophies.

The whole thing makes my blood run cold.

One of the wildlife investigators, Francisco, told the Olive Press that “It is one of the most barbaric examples of hunting abuses seen in Europe for decades.  These animals could hardly move having been cooped up in cages for days and would be easy to kill.  Having been kept in captivity for most of their lives, they would have no idea what to do, less to hide, particularly in an area completely unknown to them.  This was a cold, callous example of cruelty and I hope those responsible are heavily punished”. 

Francisco is right.  These people deserve to serve the maximum that the law allows.  Of course, then they will have their freedom back unlike the animals they wasted away.

Blogging off


For more information on “canned hunting” please visit 

Conservation Funding: Pounds, Shillings and Sense?

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Dear Friends

See if you can make sense of this? 

London Zoo’s new ‘Gorilla Kingdom’ cost just over £5 million to create.  In my view it’s a rather depressing spectacle – the patch of grass surrounded by hot wires (electrical barrier), the moat with some naked and truncated trees and a small waterfall (not available to the gorillas).  Inside, the gorilla area is enclosed on two sides by glass walls so the public can get (very) up close and personal.  London Zoo’s slogan is ‘Living Conservation’ and, as part of the exhibit, you are able to make a donation of £1 (receive a badge) and you can then nominate where the net proceeds of your donation (90 pence) will go.  For example, to a gorilla project director in the wild, a student in the wild, a gorilla researcher in the wild – you get the idea.  According to the sign, since the enclosure was opened in March 2007, a total of £5,300 has been donated.  Now, given that over the same period, approximately 600,000 people have visited the Zoo, and that this, according to the Zoo’s own publicity, is largely stimulated by the new Gorilla Kingdom, and that this exhibit is obviously there to generate funds for conservation, see what you make of the following:

To recover the £5 million capital development cost of the enclosure at a rate of £681 (net average) a month, will take approximately 611 years.  Or to put it another way, if circa 600,000 people have been into the Zoo since March, the average donation per visitor to gorillas is just 0.9 of 1 pence……  and, of course, this does not begin to address the maintenance costs, keeper costs, feeding costs … the list goes on. 

Now, it may just be me. I may have missed something fundamentally important here and, of course, the Zoo will claim that they are not only raising funds but educating.  But in terms of sheer hard cash being generated for conservation, the new Gorilla Kingdom is like the Emperor’s new clothes – lacking substance.

Blogging off


For more information on Born Free’s Zoocheck campaign please visit