Archive for March, 2008

Cruel treatment of children (1890) Cruel treatment of animals 2008

Wednesday, March 26th, 2008

Dear Friends

This was published in The Lancet in 1890 about children.  However, I have substituted the word “children” throughout the article with the word “animals”.  This shows how we have a long and honourable tradition of watering down effective measures to end cruelty and suffering by creating a licencing framework with large discretionary powers.  As a friend of mind once said, if you torture words hard enough they will confess to anything.


There is, unfortunately, too good ground for the belief that the training of circus animals is not only an arduous but often a really cruel process. The question as to how far it is at present legally preventable is not an altogether simple one. It was discussed a few days ago, at a private conference of members of Parliament, in one of the committee-rooms of the House of Commons. On this occasion no precise resolution was arrived at, but it was agreed that some form of State control was called for, and that it might be exercised with some effect, provided that regular apprenticeship and registration of the animals thus employed were insisted on. These conditions would doubtless tend to improve the prospects of the animal performers. It is to be hoped, however, that in any case of this kind large discretionary powers will also be allowed to judges in deciding what is implied in the term ”cruelty” when it is disguised under the name of professional utility.

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Wild sea lions destined for captivity

Thursday, March 20th, 2008

Dear Friends,
Frustrating news from the US today.  I’ve just heard that at least 60 wild sea lions from the Colombia River area have sadly been targeted for capture.  Accused of eating too many fish, they have been labelled as problem animals, and trapping will begin in April. 
With zoos always on the look-out for wild caught animals to provide a genetic boost to their captive populations (a practice which makes a mockery of zoos claiming to be centres of conservation), it is unsurprising that zoos across the US have leaped at the chance to take in these ill-fated individuals. In fact, I am sure they will claim to be providing ‘refuge’ to animals which would otherwise be killed.  Considering the amount of money it must surely cost to provide facilities and lifetime care for these animals, however, why are the zoos not instead offering to transport the sea lions to a safer wild environment?  Has this even been explored as an option?
Sadly, it seems that these ‘problem’ sea lions, who have done little more than catch enough fish to survive, are going to be treated like human criminals – locked up for life!  Colleagues in America are exploring legal options to save the sea lions.  I hope they succeed.
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Elephant cull – Not a solution

Tuesday, March 18th, 2008

Dear Friends

Monday 17th March is the day that the famous paleontologist, Dr Richard Leakey, has cautiously accepted that elephant culling in South Africa may be a necessary evil.

While over the last nearly 20 years I have agreed with Richard on many, many things, this is one I cannot agree with.  I have seen no conclusive evidence that culling is a viable and acceptable solution to the perceived over-population of elephants in South Africa.  Nor have I seen evidence to prove that there is indeed an elephant over-population in the first place. 

There are numerous alternative strategies which have yet to be applied, most particularly, the opening up of the trans-border protected area between the Kruger National Park and western Mozambique. 

It is also interesting to compare two countries in Africa with elephant populations but with very different approaches.  South Africa is 1.2 m sq kms, that’s the twice the size of Kenya and four times the size of Great Britain.  South Africa has more National Park area than Kenya.  South Africa has 48 million human inhabitants while Kenya has 37 million and, most importantly, South Africa has 18,000 elephants and Kenya has 31,000. 

Kenya wants more elephants. South Africa says it has too many.  The figures don’t seem to add up. 

The one positive note in the whole sorry South African elephant mismanagement saga is that the Government has now confirmed that it will not allow the live export of elephants to captive situations such as circuses and zoos.  That is certainly to be applauded.  But the notion that thousands of elephants will be killed to reduce their numbers to some arbitrary figure to maintain the landscape in a way that is aesthetically pleasing to people but may be entirely the result of past animal management manipulation, is unjustifiable and wrong.

Dr Richard Leakey is a man of great experience and an influential voice in conservation but the Government of South Africa has agreed that it will consider everyone’s voice over the next six weeks before it makes a final decision on 1st May.  I hope that they will listen to what we have to say and will fully implement all the alternative strategies which we believe offer long-term sustainable and humane hope to South Africa’s wild elephants for generations to come. 

I was invited by CBBC Newsround to give my opinion on the culling situation in South Africa on their programme today.

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Saving money, protecting the planet and helping animals

Wednesday, March 12th, 2008

Dear Friends

How can a circus do all three things?

Well, Martin Lacey, Director of the Great British Circus, is claming that the high cost of fuel is threatening to harm his business.  Apparently it costs between £1,500 and £1,600 a week to heat the Big Top and at least £100 to move the Circus 10 miles. 

Well it’s nice, for a change, to see Mr Lacey concerned about something other than the consistent and profound critics who are calling for an end to the use of wild animals in circuses – like Born Free.  But there is a way of getting our agendas to happily collide.  By bringing the curtain down on the circus, it will save all that hot air, all that money and conclude a sorry chapter in Britain’s history – the animals will perform no more.

Just a thought ……..

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