Archive for January, 2008

Dying for Consumption

Monday, January 21st, 2008

Dear Friends

Sometimes you think that all wildlife problems are ‘over there’ but the latest interception by Customs officials at Manchester airport last September (details only now becoming available) expose the real truth. 350 live corals and clams, stolen from Indonesia’s protected reefs and shipped via Malaysia to the UK, for our ‘must have’ reef aquarium aficionados, show that we are embroiled in the trade up to our necks. The haul was worth £50,000 according to Customs officials. Sadly, the specimens were taken from the wild but have ended up in London Zoo.

And then there were the ice boxes of ‘fresh fish’. These were destined for Vietnam, originally from Thailand but when they were opened up (not in the UK), guess what? A ton of live snakes for the restaurant kitchens of China and Vietnam according to the Telegraph report. Many had died on the journey but the survivors are now being looked after at a wildlife animal rescue centre near Hanoi.

Snakes, fish, corals, birds, the list of wild animal species in trade globally is endless but not inexhaustible. There will come a time when our appetite for animals (literally in some cases) will drive species to extinction.

So please remember, if you are travelling abroad, or even in the UK, do not buy, do not eat, do not encourage the international trade in wild animal species and their parts. It is the kiss of death – visit Born Free’s Travellers’ Animal Alert to find out more.

Blogging off


Too close for comfort

Monday, January 14th, 2008

A recent Sunday Times article (“Wildlife park lets you pet tiger for £160”, 13/01/08 by Daniel Foggo and Holly Watt) exposing the ‘close encounter’ tiger feeding at Paradise Wildlife Park raises many disturbing questions.Following the tragic fatality of a young man following a tiger escape in San Francisco Zoo and the fatal injury to a man in India who had his left arm ripped off through the bars by a captive tiger – both in December 2007 – people are asking: Could such a tragic accident happen here?

Daniel Foggo’s investigation leads me to one conclusion. I think that the answer is yes.

This is not an ‘arms length’ experience. It is very up-close and personal. There is direct contact, fingers and small hands can get through the wire and, it seems from the zoo’s website, so can claws. One slip, one snagged tooth or claw, even a tiger managing to grab the dangling scarf (as worn by one of the people pictured in the Sunday Times report) of a fee-paying guest runs an appalling risk and, as the incident in India shows, even an injury can lead to death.

But apart from the very obvious and wholly unacceptable risk to human safety that I believe this activity represents, Daniel Foggo’s investigation reveals some alarming facts.

Andrew Greenwood, an experienced wildlife vet, Government-appointed Zoo Inspector and member of the Zoos Forum, admits that he was not aware of ‘anywhere in Britain offering such intimate encounters with tigers’. My question is: Why not? The Zoos Forum is supposed to guide the Government on matters to do with zoos. If the Zoos Forum and one of its most senior members doesn’t know about hand-feeding then the Government doesn’t either. As such, both the Government and the Zoos Forum are failing in their responsibilities.

East Hertfordshire Council, which is supposed to inspect the zoo and license it, is, according to the Sunday Times report, “unable to comment on this specific case”. Why not? The zoo is licensed by them and quite clearly they are supposed to ensure that the highest possible levels of public safety are guaranteed. Have they knowingly been permitting these feeding sessions? Who advises them? Who carried out the inspections that have allowed this to continue?

The Zoo Spokesman states that there had never been an incident in the years they have been offering the activity and that some of the money raised from it went towards conservation projects. What comfort are we supposed to draw from that? In my view the zoo has been lucky, incredibly lucky that nothing has gone amiss so far – it only needs to happen once. And that some of the funds go to conservation is irrelevant. It in no way excuses or justifies potentially putting lives on the line.

The assertion that these are hand-reared animals (even if, in the same breath we are told that one of them “does not like people very much”) makes no difference. These are wild animals. The fact that they have been hand-reared may, in reality, cause humans to be less cautious, less risk averse than they should be, believing perhaps that these “tame” cats are not as dangerous. On this Andrew Greenwood is right. Effectively all captive wild animals such as tigers are dangerous.

Born Free has been monitoring the captive conditions for wild animals in UK zoos for over 20 years. We have brought numerous instances of inappropriate human behaviour and unacceptable levels of risk to the attention of Licensing Authorities time and time again. We had hoped that the Zoos Forum established about 10 years ago would have addressed these shortcomings and failings long ago but obviously not.

Born Free Foundation is urgently calling for action before there is a tragedy:

  1. A review of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice (SSSMZP) – the document that is supposed to guide zoo inspectors, zoos and Local Authorities on the application of the Zoo Licensing Act (1981) and the European Zoos Directive. (The minutes of the last Zoos Forum (27 Sept 2007) meeting indicate that, in the opinion of the Forum members, it was safe to put any review of the SSSMZP on hold “for the long term”)
  2. An independent evaluation of the workings of the Zoos Forum, in particular its ability to provide the Government with timely, independent and robust advice on the operation of zoos, in particular in relation to animal welfare and human safety.
  3. A full review of the Guidance Circulars sent by Defra to Local Licensing Authorities relating to zoos. Are these being understood and implemented fully? (According to the minutes of the last Zoos Forum meeting (27 Sept 2007), Defra reported that there had been no progress on amendments to the Circular since 23 Jan 2007).
  4. The establishment of a proper national database of zoos including amongst other matters information relating to: the animal species (and numbers thereof) that are held, license information, improvements required by the licensing system and when they are completed, incidents relating to public safety including animal escapes, human injuries, human fatalities, animal injuries and animal fatalities, instances of disease (in humans and animals), and the conservation and education benefits delivered by zoos. This database should be a matter of public record. No such comprehensive national database exists at the present time.
  5. An immediate halt to all close encounter sessions with any species that are listed on the current Schedule of Dangerous Wild Animals (Dangerous Wild Animals Act 1976), or as Category 1 (Greater Risk) on Appendix 12 of the Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice.

Blogging off..


Update on polar bears at Nuremberg Zoo

Wednesday, January 9th, 2008

Following the media reports over the last few days regarding the polar bear cubs at Nuremberg Zoo, the latest news is that one cub remains alive. Our colleagues at Animal Public e.V, a German NGO, inform us that the mother, Vera, emerged from her den with the cub and was reportedly disturbed by a film crew at the zoo. As a result, the zoo made the decision to remove the cub for hand-rearing. The separation is likely to be a harsh ordeal for the cub, and one can only imagine the anguish and frustration the mother bear must feel.

While Nuremberg Zoo may now see a significant upturn in visitor numbers and profits thanks to the public interest in the successor to “Cute Knut”, there is no sign of a commitment from the zoo that the funds will be used to protect wild polar bears and their habitat or, as we are calling for, the establishment of a longterm rescue centre to PBs in their Arctic habitat so we can end the keeping of them in zoos.

So, after all the media frenzy and confusion, the “good” news is that a single cub has emerged alive (albeit now facing a lifetime of captivity).

Polar bear cubs at Nuremberg Zoo?

Monday, January 7th, 2008

Dear Friends

I am sure that you have read or heard about the unbelievable situation at the EAZA* member Nuremburg Zoo and their polar bears. If you haven’t let me fill you in on the situation.

The latest reports indicate that Nuremburg Zoo has decided that it will not intervene and hand-rear the polar bear cubs that ‘might’ have recently been born to two female bears at the zoo, despite concerns that one of the females shows signs of rejecting her cubs. If this is the case, the cubs will then, if they haven’t already, starve to death. I say ‘might’ have been born, because it appears that information is lacking on the exact situation at the zoo, with some reports indicating that the cubs are already dead or dying, and others that the zoo is reporting cub noises from the den. The whole situation is extremely unclear and very unsatisfactory.

This situation follows the recent media furor over Knut the polar bear at Berlin Zoo, who was hand-reared after rejection by his mother, and led to a global phenomenon of “Knutmania” and considerable financial gain to the zoo.

Apparently, Nuremburg Zoo has bred several polar bears over the years, many of which have been hand-raised. The decision not to intervene is a recent one, but the zoo has stated that hand-rearing must be decided on a case-by-case basis.

The fact remains that breeding polar bears in captivity will have little or no impact on polar bear conservation in the wild. In addition, captive polar bear enclosures are, on average, around one millionth the size of a polar bear’s range in the wild, and it is well known that wide-ranging carnivores such as polar bears show high rates of infant mortality and abnormal behaviour in captivity. Nuremburg Zoo have made the (misguided) decision to breed polar bears, and it is THEIR responsibility to ensure that the welfare and lifetime care of these cubs are safeguarded.

Zoo Check and polar bear pages

Blogging off


*EAZA – european Association of Zoos and Aquaria

Kenya – news from Born Free

Thursday, January 3rd, 2008

Dear Friends

Firstly, let me wish you a Happy and Peaceful New Year.

Sadly, it is not so for our colleagues and friends in Kenya and, of course, the people of Kenya.  I am sure you have been, like me, watching and listening to the news regularly with a growing sense of shock and sadness as the situation escalates.  It is certainly a tragic time for this wonderful country – we are all hoping that somehow this can all be resolved before the repercussions for the whole of Kenya are too great to repair. 

Some good news is we have been in touch with all our staff and they and their families are all safe.  We have also contacted many of the projects we support there and news from them has been all good. This is an enormous relief.

Understandably, the Foreign Office has advised that only essential travel to Kenya should take place and as I write some UK companies have suspended holidays to Kenya until further notice.  Tourism, and in particular wildlife tourism, has established itself as one of the most important economic activities in Kenya contributing nearly $1 billion to the economy in 2006 and providing livelihoods and employment to nearly 200,000 Kenyan. Any significant reduction in visitors will affect the whole country. 

We have learnt today (3rd January) that the planned protest march which was due to take place in the centre of Nairobi has been postponed so we are all praying here that this might give an opportunity for talks to begin and a peaceful solution to be found.

Meanwhile, Born Free will continue to do whatever it can for the projects, wildlife and people that we support.

Blogging off