Archive for February, 2008

Life in Cold Blood – Sir David speaks to Born Free

Wednesday, February 27th, 2008

Dear Friends

Following the news that the demand for reptiles and snakes has boomed as an unintended result of Sir David Attenborough’s latest series, Life in Cold Blood, I asked Sir David for his reaction to the news.

He pointed out that anyone who thinks that keeping such species is easy, is quite mistaken and went on to say, “I would have hoped that it (Life in Cold Blood) would promote an interest in their welfare and conservation in the wild …… I was concerned to hear that the series has been connected with an increase in the popularity of reptiles and amphibians as pets ……”. He went on to warn of the consequences to species in their natural habitat from the pet trade, “Many animals in the pet trade are collected from the wild and that can lead to population or even species extinction.”

I totally agree with Sir David, and would, perhaps, go even further to say that when animals become the latest fashion accessory, there is almost always widespread and severe suffering involved. So my message is clear: Please do not buy these exotic species as pets. There are tens of thousands of unwanted companion animals at reputable rescue centres – cats and dogs – that do need a good, compassionate and caring home. Show the love but show it to the right animal!

Thank you Sir David.

Blogging off.


South Africa to Cull Elephants

Monday, February 25th, 2008

Dear Friends

Maybe they thought the world would be looking the other way – American elections, trouble in Kenya, Kosovo, global warming ……. but South Africa’s announcement that it will recommence culling did not slip under our radar.

Despite detailed information provided by many leading elephant experts to the South African authorities indicating that not only was culling unethical, unsound and biologically inconsistent but environmentally ill-advised, it would seem that those advocates of killing elephants as a population control measure, have prevailed, at least for the moment. It seems extraordinary that a country with over 1.2 m sq kms seems unable to accommodate just 20,000 elephants when, by contrast, Kenya, a country less than half the size, has just announced – with pride – that they have over 30,000 elephants.

Of course, it does not mean (I hope) culling will start at once. Maybe there is time for the authorities to consider the numerous other options available to deal with local elephant over-population where this can be proved to be the case but another real worry, one which could have an impact on elephants right across Africa and Asia, is that if culling goes ahead, South Africa will be gathering yet more piles of ivory (following the 30 tonne sale approved at the last CITES Conference in June 2007) and that poachers will target some of the world’s most vulnerable wild elephant populations in an expectation that they will, quite literally, make a killing in the not too distant future.

The recommendations will be published on 29th February and a public comment period is in place until 1st May. Please let your voice be heardand write to South Africa’s Environment Minister, Marthinus Van Schalkwyck, expressing your concerns about South Africa’s announcement and intention to cull.

He can be contacted via his advisor here

Blogging off


Circus Abuse?

Thursday, February 21st, 2008

The Great British Circus is back on tour but don’t think that it’s all about jolly entertainment!    

According to a broadcast on BBC Nottingham Radio, the owner of the Great British Circus, Martin Lacey, delivered a tirade of abuse topped off with some physical argy-bargwhen a BBC interview at the circus took a turn for the worse.

It all seemed to be going so well. The interviewer was respectful but, quite rightly, asked questions that represented a range of public opinion. However, it seems Mr Lacey took offence to the reporter’s suggestion that a camel was tethered when it was not. The reporter acknowledged his mistake (it was ‘dark’) but by then Mr Lacey was in full flow, swearing repeatedly and apparently (according to the audio) bundling the reporter out.

Born Free has been campaigning for many years to end the use of wild animals in circuses and we still hope that despite the Government’s lack-lustre performance on this issue over the last year or so, a decision will soon be made to bring to an end the exploitation of wild animals in this way.

In the meantime, Mr Lacey’s ‘colourful’  personality helps keep the issue – and the plight of the animals – in the spotlight.  Good work!

Blogging off.


P.S. Listen to the interview in full, or a shortened ‘bleeped’ version at the Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) website.

Thong Dee – the elephant child at Taronga Zoo

Monday, February 18th, 2008

Sydney Zoo’s Pregnant Elephant – Under-age accident or calf abuse?

A report in The Times newspaper – “Whiff of Scandal as Young Bull Plays the Field” (15th Feb 2008) about Taronga Zoo’s controversially pregnant young female elephant, Thong Dee, takes a new turn. According to the zoo she is ‘8 or 9’ but papers seen by the Born Free Foundation and submitted 2 years ago to the Australian Government in an effort to prevent her recent import along with 8 other animals from Thailand, seem to confirm that she is, in fact, just 6 years and 8 months old.

The zoo reports that she is 5 months pregnant, so her age at conception was actually 6 years and 3 months.

But this isn’t simply a case of ‘oh dear and never mind’.

Research in Africa clearly indicates that female elephants who give birth under the age of 10 run a 50% risk of infant mortality within the first year compared to a 76% success rate for females 10 and over. There are physical as well as psychological concerns. Taronga Zoo has no related, experienced females to ‘allo-mother’ (mid-wife) Thong Dee’s calf and, indeed, Thong Dee herself has not had the education in parenting skills that normal matriarchal elephant society provides.

If successful, her calf will be the first Asian elephant born in Australia ever.

ARAZPA, Australia’s Zoo Association, states that a female should be 9 before breeding and, optimally 12. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, however, the zoo’s spokesman denied the pregnancy was unplanned.

How did this apparent ‘accident’ occur? Do the zoo authorities know what they are doing? Could they not have taken precautions – like keeping Gung, the solitary male, apart from the females to avoid just such an incident? The new elephant enclosure at Taronga Zoo has cost about £20 million, many times the budget of numerous national Wildlife Departments. Its objective is, according to the zoo, to breed elephants to arrest the rapid decline of wild Asian elephants. Having returned from Sri Lanka 2 weeks ago I can confirm that the 3,500 wild elephants in that country are doing well and breeding at the rate of 180-200 calves a year without human intervention. A handful of captive-bred calves in Australia (if that ever happens) are of no consequence to the survival of the species – anyone who thinks otherwise is simply deluded.

Meanwhile a little 6 year old elephant calf – a child – is going through what will almost certainly be a very risky pregnancy. Even the zoo is preparing the public for possible failure by stating that only half under-age pregnancies survive.”

What a mess – and this is supposed to be the best we can do?

Blogging off


We must act now to save the tiger

Friday, February 15th, 2008

Dear Friends,

Tigers have been making the headlines already in 2008, sadly for all the wrong reasons.  New reports out of India, the species’ remaining ‘stronghold’ in the wild, suggest that there may be as few as 1,400 wild tigers in the country.  You are reading that number right: one thousand four hundred tigers. There may be as few as 3,000 left in the wild globally. It seems almost impossible to grasp that we know the species is in crisis; we know the problems tigers face; and yet we are still witnessing a precipitous decline toward extinction.

Insatiable demand for tiger parts and products is a huge part of the problem. A tiger skin recently seized in India was a stark reminder of ongoing pressure being placed on India’s dwindling wild tigers.  Then just a few days later, there was more shocking news – 6 tiger carcasses found slaughtered and sliced in half, being smuggled across the border from Thailand into Laos. Likely victims of the demand for traditional medicine.

I must take a moment to congratulate the authorities responsible for these seizures.  Wildlife law enforcement officers lay their lives on the line every day—in Africa, in Asia, in America, and elsewhere—to stop poachers and profiteers who reduce magnificent wild animals to bones and skin, soups and tonics, potions and powders.

There is little doubt in my mind that tiger populations have reached crisis point.  I do, however, draw reassurance from some significant steps that were made in 2007 by the nations participating in the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) to strengthen the ban on farming of tigers for their parts. We will do all we can to prevent China from overturning its national prohibition on commercialisation of tiger parts. We must also continue our crucial projects on the ground working directly to protect and conserve wild tigers, such as Born Free’s Satpura Tiger Landscape Project.  Indeed, the recent report of a wild collared tiger, discovered to have travelled an impressive 250 km through the Satpura region in just 4 months, proves just how vital a landscape level approach is to wild tiger conservation. 

It is essential that we all make a concerted effort to secure the survival of the tiger.  Will future generations applaud us for rescuing tigers from the brink of extinction, or condemn us for allowing them to creep ever closer to the edge?  With efforts being undertaken by Born Free and others I very much hope it is the former.

Blogging off,


P.s. if you would like to donate to Born Free’s current appeal on tigers and gorillas, please click here

Animals killed at UK zoos – more questions than answers

Tuesday, February 12th, 2008

Yet more sad news of another animal killed at a UK zoo – this time, a Barbary macaque monkey that escaped at Edinburgh Zoo last Tuesday (5th February) and was subsequently shot. Following recent escapes and shootings of chimpanzees at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo (2007) and Flamingo Land (2005), and the euthanasia of a macaque at Newquay Zoo last year for management purposes, more and more questions should be asked about the safety and management of primates and other animals in UK zoos.

The monkey was reportedly a recent arrival from Germany and was in quarantine at Edinburgh Zoo. One might expect that quarantine is the most secure and strictly monitored area of any zoo, and yet, at Edinburgh, a monkey managed to escape – how was this possible?

It is reported that the zoo “tried” to dart the animal on several occasions, but was unsuccessful. Again, this is concerning – tranquilising an escaped animal should form part of a regularly practiced protocol at all zoos – what was the cause of this repeated failure? Did the dart miss, or fail?

Why was the zoo so hasty to use lethal methods to control the animal? Setting aside the highly unlikely possibility of the macaque being infected with rabies or other serious disease, it is interesting to note by way of comparison that visitors can walk unfettered within an enclosure containing 140 individuals of exactly this species at Trentham Monkey Forest in Staffordshire. What risk did the Edinburgh animal pose to the public unless disease were a serious consideration? Are the authorities in Staffordshire overlooking the potential risks to the public at the Trentham facility or was the potential threat of the Edinburgh macaque exaggerated?

We are calling for a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the macaque’s escape and shooting, and a review of security and safety at Edinburgh Zoo. But will the full story ever be known?

Blogging off..


Sad times for Kenya

Friday, February 1st, 2008

Dear Friends,

Last week I was hopeful that initial violence following the disputed elections in Kenya had eased a little. Our Born Free Kenya team were back at work and life, at least for some, had returned to a semblance of normality.  Horrific events this week, however, have been a terrible reminder that the situation remains extremely volatile and uncertain.  I have only today heard heartbreaking reports of whole families being forced to pack up their belongings and move away from homes in which they have lived all their lives.

On a positive note, we can at least be reassured that our friends and colleagues in the Born Free Kenya team are all safe and well. 

These are sad times for the people of Kenya, and we can only guess at the long-term implications for the country.  How long will it be before the hundreds of thousands of displaced people have a home once again?  How long will it be before tourists are confident enough to return, providing a desperately needed boost to the economy? Only time will tell.  The widespread consequences of this dispute and violence are almost too frightening to contemplate.

For now, however, we can only hope for lasting peace and security.  Without this, the future for Kenya’s people and wildlife looks very bleak indeed.

Blogging off,