Archive for February, 2013

Reading between the lines of breeding pandas in zoos: it’s not black and white

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

As Edinburgh Zoo announces its latest plan to encourage the giant pandas Yang Guang and Tian Tian to reproduce,some quarters of the press have responed with predictable excitement . What could be better than the UK’s first giant panda cub?

Well, as far as Born Free is concerned, quite a lot. What is needed is a lot more panda cubs in the wild, not in zoos.

If captive breeding is to have any part to play in saving the giant panda, it is abundantly clear that it should take place in China, close to or preferably in natural panda habitat and on a scale far greater than Edinburgh Zoo or the other metropolitan zoos around the world could ever achieve. Furthermore, captive breeding on its own is useless without extensive efforts to retain and re-establish natural panda habitat. Pandas without their natural habitat would be condemned to a sort of conservation limbo.

What is astonishing is the lengths that zoos will go to in order to try to get ‘their’ pandas to breed (they are never ‘their’ pandas – they always belong to China). Indeed, Iain Valentine of Edinburgh Zoo is quoted as saying “Time and again you get people saying that they [the pandas] are in an evolutionary cul-de-sac and don’t know how to breed – yes they do. They have been doing it very successfully for millions of years”. This contrasts starkly with the Zoo’s plan to use artificial insemination should natural methods fail, and to place any cubs in incubators.

Similarly, the pandas are apparently being trained for ultrasound scans, to urinate on command, to present for blood samples, etc.. The male is even being trained to “cope” with mounting the female. All of this is a long, long way from what wild pandas do.

Other aspects of life in captivity are beginning to have their effect: Yang Gang has apparently been “unsettled” by fireworks, high winds and passing planes. The Born Free Foundation has long been concerned about the effect of fireworks and noisy events at or near zoos on animals .

It all just goes to show that money and publicity cannot compensate for the fact that the pandas are in a zoo; not where they belong

Blogging off


In Memoriam Pat Derby, June 7, 1943 – February 15, 2013

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

It is with the deepest sadness that I write to report that the wonderful Pat Derby, one of the world’s elephant champions, died on Friday the 15th February 2013.

I’ve known Pat, her partner Ed Stewart and their work for many, many years. I’ve visited them frequently, firstly at their Performing Animals Welfare Society animal rescue facility in Galt, California, and subsequently at ARK 2000, their ‘gold standard’ Sanctuary near San Andreas, also in California.

Pat was internationally recognised for her extraordinary work on behalf wild animals but not only in terms of rescue. She and Ed promoted and achieved the passing of humane legislation; they worked with communities overseas, including in India, to reduce human/elephant conflict; they spoke out against the futility and cruelty of wild animal circuses; they brought together like-minded individuals to form powerful coalitions that could reach out to change hearts and minds at every level of society.

But it’s the physical experience of being with Pat and Ed and their team of animal care professionals that stays with me. The beautiful landscape of the ARK 2000 Sanctuary. The sheer size of the natural enclosures they offered their animals; the clear love and dedication they lavished on all the animals lucky enough to be in their care.

The African elephant enclosure at ARK 2000 is over 60 acres – space for elephants to roam, to be together, to be apart, to make choices about their daily lives. Compare that to the fragment of land set aside for elephants at the new elephant enclosure at the LA Zoo – just over 2 acres at a cost of $42 million!

And the elephant barns! Massive yet compassionate. I remember the first time I saw Ed gently coax an elephant into the ‘walk-in’ jacuzzi – big enough for her to immerse her whole body in warm water, taking the weight off joints that had spent too many years standing on concrete. It was a joy to watch.

The other joy was Pat herself. Passionate, determined, opinionated and so often right! Nothing was too much trouble.  I recall watching her treat an elephant’s foot (another victim of cold concrete). Gently talking, always encouraging with ‘treats’ and soothing words, she gently scrubbed away, softening the skin, treating the cracks, making the elephant as comfortable as possible.

I was lucky enough to be an informal advisor to Pat and Ed although I didn’t need to offer much advice! Pat and Ed were on top of their game, leading the way.

Pat’s spirit touched all who knew her.  She has inspired  and continues to inspire colleagues, friends and future generations. She has shown that there is a better way and that we can make amends for the suffering, neglect and cruelty we inflict on other creatures in the name of ‘entertainment’.

She has left ARK 2000 in safe hands and under the constant guidance of Ed.

She will be deeply missed but she is not gone. Her legacy is there for all to see.

Will Travers OBE

Lion farming in the Yemen

Monday, February 4th, 2013

Unlike salmon fishing in the Yemen, lion farming is very real, as reported by The Guardian (4th February 2013). Pictured are two of six pregnant African lionesses waiting in a concrete cage for their soon-to-be-born cubs to be snatched away and shipped off to the Middle-East, destined for lives as ‘trophy pets’ in private collections.

The shipping of big cats – captive-bred or wild – out of the horn of Africa into the Middle East and potentially further afield is unacceptable. Firstly, it’s a trade that threatens species that are already struggling for survival. Secondly, it’s a creating a welfare nightmare. Thirdly, it puts money into regions where lawlessness, banditry and security issues are a global concern.  For these reasons alone, the international community should investigate and, if necessary, suspend all wildlife trade permits out of Somalia and into Yemen.  Furthermore, the Saudi authorities should demonstrate leadership and publicly condemn the private ownership of exotic wild animals as pets or status symbols.  Without resolute action, species are threatened, animals will die and people’s lives will be put at risk”.

It is thought that the lions ordinate in Ethiopia, via Somaliland. Stephen Brend, director of Born Free wild animals rescue projects in Ethiopia said ‘”The Trade is extensive, lucrative and with a low risk of prosecution. That’s probably why the trade is flourishing. This is having a devastating effect on wildlife populations in the region and also impacts civil society.”

Our wildlife rescue centre in Ethiopia is home to a number of big cats who have been rescued from the wildlife trade. But of course, as with all things at Born Free it is in need of funds. If you would like to donate to our project in Ethiopia you can do so here