Archive for January, 2009

Bad news for Billy

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

It makes me mad!

Instead of listening to the wisdom of some of the world’s greatest elephant experts, with hundreds of years of combined experience and expertise, 11 of the 15 Los Angeles City Council members decided that they would, instead, cling to the vague promises of the LA Zoo authorities that their controversial and meager Pachyderm Forest (about 4 acres, now to be completed at a cost of a staggering $42 million) would provide a ‘world-class solution’ for Billy, the zoo’s solitary male Asian elephant and others the zoo now hopes to acquire.

Only time will prove whether the Council’s decision and the claims of the Zoo Authorities are correct. However, if they think that the spotlight will now turn elsewhere, they are wrong. If anything, scrutiny will now intensify, and it is entirely justifiable for those who have campaigned with logic, science, experience and compassion to have the elephant enclosure closed down – and Billy sent to the PAWS Elephant Sanctuary in San Andreas – to hold the Zoo personally responsible for Billy’s physical and mental well-being, what happens to future elephants that may be brought in, and what they have decided to do with such a huge, some say obscene, amount of money.

Poor Billy! Instead of the 20 acres he could have enjoyed at PAWS, as well as the ability to associate with other elephants, it looks like his future will remain a ‘gilded cage’ in Los Angeles.

By the way, the Kenya Wildlife Service – with 6,000,000 acres to look after, hundreds if not thousands of species and 33,000 wild elephants – had an annual budget of about $20 million in 2007. Compare, contrast – and weep.

Blogging off!


Icelandic economy collapses – animals pay the price.

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

Dear Friends,

News from Iceland has sent shockwaves through the whale conservation community. I have asked David Jay in our Campaign department to explain….

“There’s nothing like a financial crisis to encourage politicians to make short-term, unpopular and ultimately costly decisions. And this seems to be just what has happened in Iceland this week, with the current (soon to be replaced) government announcing a huge increase in the country’s whaling quota for the next five years. The new annual quotas permit the hunting of 100 minke whales – more than twice the number of the last three years – and even more shockingly the slaughter of 150 endangered fin whales a year compared to 7 last year!

There seem to be several reasons for this outrageous decision, not least the fact that last year there was a ‘successful’ export of fin whale meat (which isn’t eaten in Iceland) to Japan. Seeing this export as a potential boost to the crumbling national economy appears to be the main justification for the Icelandic decision.

More sinisterly, however, some sources say that it is simply a case of the current administration lashing out before being removed from office and replaced, (it is expected), by a Social Democrat / Green coalition. Although the incoming administration has publicly condemned the new quotas, it seems that reversing them may not be top of its agenda when it gains power, so they could remain in place throughout the next whaling season. Such an unsustainable, not to say inhumane, harvest goes against the grain of Iceland’s popular whale-watching tourism industry, and may undermine future income from this growing market.

Let’s hope that the new government takes a strong stance against this aberration born of panic, and reverses it before the country’s eco-tourism, and the vulnerable whales living in its waters, suffer the consequences.”

Blogging off,


A brighter future for us all

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

A nation – a world – listened and watched in expectation. The 44th President of the United States of America, the focus of our undivided attention.

President Barack Obama asked for patience. He asked for understanding. He asked for tolerance and compassion. But above all he asked for help.

Our society has been crippled. Our humanity has been found wanting. Our world and everything we hold dear is under threat – and we are the cause.

And yet, just as we must accept the blame for the ills that befall us, so we must accept the challenge to make things better. Better for people in need, the dispossessed, the weak, the vulnerable, the hopeless. And better for the animals, our voiceless fellow passengers, and the environment we share. The animals have no choice. Their future, their fate is bound up in our own. If we fail, we shall take them down with us. If we succeed then there is a brighter future for us all.

President Obama has made it quite clear. We can stand aside or we can engage. He has asked us to join in the healing process, to play our part, to do more not less. It seems to me that we have no choice but, echoing the President’s words, we should not step forward reluctantly but we should enthusiastically embrace each opportunity to make the world as it should be, not as it is now.

I know the election is over… but he gets my vote.

Blogging off.


Recipe for ‘Giraffe Conserve’ (designed to get rare species of Giraffe out of a pickle)

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Dear Friends,

This weekend I was asked to respond to the irresponsible comments made by TV celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, about cooking and eating wild animal meat, particularly giraffe.  

Below is my own wildlife-friendly recipe, which I hope Hugh will consider a more appropriate alternative:

Recipe for ‘Giraffe Conserve’ (designed to get rare species of Giraffe out of a pickle)
Take a dozen rare Giraffe
Add a suitable area of natural habitat (not too little otherwise it spoils the end result)
Gently fold in a mature conservation organization such as (nothing genetically modified please)
Introduce the local community to the mixture and sweeten with benefits from eco-tourism and eco-system services
Let steep for several years

Et Voila! Twenty-four wild Giraffe, a flourishing natural environment (full of other species) and a materially improved and motivated local community.

Inspiring, refreshing and totally free range. (even Mr H F W should approve)

Serves everyone

Note: Too many chefs could be a recipe for disaster!

Blogging off,


p.s. You can read more about the story and my responses in the Telegraph and Daily Mail:

Elephant Slaughter in Zimbabwe

Monday, January 19th, 2009

Dear Friends,

I am sure many of you will have been as horrified as I was to learn about British citizens hunting elephants in Zimbabwe, as reported in last week’s Sunday Times (‘British Kill Entire Elephant Herds’ 18/1/09).   Sadly, Zimbabwe is one of the handful of African countries where it is still legal to hunt and kill an elephant, with CITES* permitting the export of 1000 elephant ivory tusk trophies every year.  But, the report focussed on culling – the mass eradication of elephant, ostensibly to reduce numbers but in reality almost certainly to provide meat to a stricken human population and a restless army.

I find it simply impossible to understand how any British citizens could think it is acceptable to carry out such irresponsible and gruesome activities, consciously propping up one of the most discredited regimes in the world. It’s like sanction-busting.

Whilst we cannot substantiate the reports, Born Free regularly receives information and news concerning the dire situation Zimbabwe’s once-thriving wildlife populations are facing.  For example, an informant who asked for his identity to remain confidential, told us that the Zimbabwe Government are hugely inflating elephant numbers in order to justify the government-sanctioned culls.

In July last year, I watched with utter dismay as the CITES Standing Committee approved a legal one-off sale of ivory from South Africa, Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe.  Although the UK government made a short statement denouncing the political regime in Zimbabwe, it did not actively vote against the trade.  This is, in my view, completely unacceptable.  Where is our so-called ethical foreign policy? The late Robin Cook would have been horrified.  

Born Free is therefore calling on the UK Government to take a stand and publically condemn the activities featured in the Sunday Times article, as well as immediately introducing measures to deny import licenses for any ivory tusks originating from Zimbabwe.

Let me know what you think.

Blogging off


*Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora

Room to Roam?

Monday, January 12th, 2009

Here is my response to the comments made by “celebrity Zookeeper”, Jack Hannah, in LA Unleashed ( regarding his support for the controversial “Pachyderm Forest” project at the Los Angeles zoo.

“Lame. That’s the only word to describe Mr Hanna’s support for keeping the solitary elephant, Billy, at the LA Zoo.

It was very sad to learn recently that Mr Hanna’s interest in wildife was inspired by Born Free (1966), the film that my parents Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna starred in. My late father would be turning in his grave to think that a film which was all about liberty, justice and ‘letting go’ had so encouraged Mr Hanna that he then seems to have spent most of his life supporting captivity.

I have observed wild elephants in their natural habitat for 25 years. I have helped rescue orphaned elephants, move elephants from places of danger to safety, fought the ivory trade and even had the privilege of successfully returning an elephant to the wild after 20 years in a zoo.

Mr Hanna says Billy will have ‘room to roam’ but, bizarrly, he doesn’t compare the LA Zoo’s proposed Pachyderm exhibit with elephants in the wild (thousands of acres) or even with enclosures in the two Gold Standard Elephant Sanctuaries in the USA (60 acres at PAWS in California and 300 acres at the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary), he compares the LA Zoo proposition with the San Diego Wild Animal Park’s postage stamp elephant exhibit – circa 3 acres. Lame, Mr Hanna, and shameful.

It’s simply not good enough. Second best will not do. Compassionate US citizens should expect better than that.

And, by the way, if the LA City Council does do the right thing and decides to build an Elephant Sanctuary instead of a ‘bigger zoo box’, then, if they want to really help elephants, they can spend the $30 million they’ll save on protecting thousands of elephants in the wild.

C’mon Jack. Let’s do what’s best for Billy, best for the city of Los Angeles, and best for elephants. That’s REAL conservation.”

IMPORTANT: Please vote in the LA Unleashed poll against keeping elephants in zoos (see the above link)

Find out more at or and see this article about two recent reports which indicate that elephants die younger in zoos.

Blogging off


The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Monday, January 5th, 2009

Dear Friends

A special 2009 hello to one and all.

I’m starting the year with the good, the bad and the ugly!

The bad news is that recent reports over the holiday period that 300 or so animals have died due to poor care at the Chiang Mai Night Safari (Bangkok Post 24.12.08), prompted the following response from our Founder, Virginia McKenna.

“So much for this so-called animal paradise. I visited the Chiang Mai Night Safari in 2006. We drove through the “safari” in a clanking train with the animal enclosures on each side illuminated by the driver’s lamp. Also illuminated were the fences and the animals’ indoor quarters. The finale was a line of chained elephants.

For the Zoo’s Director, Mr Preecha, to blame the hundreds of deaths on travel exhaustion and digestive problems is a laugh, if it were not a tragedy. If, as he says, the animals ate too much and eventually died what does that tell us about the expertise of the vets and keepers? And if he believes that the death of birds, flying squirrels and deer is not a big issue, he is not a fit person to be in charge of anything. The future for the 290 newborn animals looks a bleak one. A nightmare safari would perhaps be a better name.”

Now for the ugly:  The dreadfully distasteful shunting of pandas around the world as ‘good-will gifts’ makes me feel physically ill.  Taiwan has just received some and there is every chance that Edinburgh will be getting some as well.  Why?  Is it good for the pandas?  I don’t think so.  Is it good for conservation?  No.  Is it good for our understanding of the natural world?  Not a bit of it.  It is simply business.  (The proposed Edinburgh transaction has been described as primarily commercial by Alex Salmond MSP, First Minister).

And now the good.  It is Born Free’s 25th anniversary year; a time both to look back and recognise the body of work that represents everything this organisation stands for and to look forward to what we hope to achieve in the next 25 years.

Do check out our website where you will find details of events, activities and campaigns special to our Silver Jubilee.

I do hope that you all had a peaceful and joyous Christmas and New Year and hope that amidst all the other things you have to think about you will reserve a little space for Born Free and the animals in the months ahead.

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