Archive for May, 2013

The Big Question (x2)

Monday, May 20th, 2013

***Update*** Read Will’s report on the meeting here

Dear Friends of Wildlife

Big Question 1:

What happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? The irresistible force of millions of people who are deeply concerned about the future of wildlife and the impact of poaching and illegal trade including HRH Prince of Wales, HRH Duke of Cambridge, our UK Government Ministers, the Former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, current Secretary of State John Kerry, Virginia McKenna, Brian May, Nicky Campbell, Zac Goldsmith, Born Free supporters (and me!), meets the immovable object of demand for ivory, rhino horn, lion and tiger body parts, bear gall bladders, shark fins …….

The answer is can we prove that the object is no longer immovable; we can persuade the Chinese Polit Bureau to demonstrate global leadership and set aside tradition in favour of conservation; we can work with governments in Africa and the rangers, wardens and forest guards to deliver on-the-ground protection wherever it is needed; we can train and support customs officers to effectively intercept wildlife crime (along with drugs and guns and people and more); we can support the judiciary in the application of deterrent sentences to make sure that crime doesn’t pay; we can educate consumers so that they understand that elephant teeth do not just ‘fall out’; that rhino are dying in their hundreds for bogus cancer cures; that tigers face extinction so the wealthy can ‘show off’ and buy tiger bone wine; that wild lion numbers have halved in 30 years and exports of lion skeletons from South Africa to Lao PDR are up 10,000% since 2009; that thousands of bears endure a lifetime of deranged suffering so that some people can drink their putrid bile; that one hundred million sharks a year die for soup.

Tomorrow (21st May 2013) Prince Charles, Prince William, UK Government Ministers, including Owen Paterson and Richard Benyon, will set aside a day to put illegal wildlife crime at the top of the political agenda so that it becomes an irresistible force for good.

I will be there with Virginia and I will report back.  Is it a tipping point?  I hope so. If it isn’t it may be too late for some.

Blogging off


PS Ooops! Nearly forgot Big Question 2. I am down to appear on The Big Questions next Sunday (2nd June) at 10.oo am on BBC1 talking about the plight of wild animals.  Tune in or set the recorder if you get a chance.

Does Rhino Horn Work? No One Moved a Muscle!

Tuesday, May 14th, 2013

News reports out of South Africa with respect to the rhino crisis are alarming, with more than 290 animals already poached so far in 2013 – annualized that will be over 800 by year end – and even dehorned rhinos are being slaughtered.

As CEO of the Born Free Foundation I attended the recent CITES Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. In front of more than 100 people I personally asked the South African Minister responsible for wildlife, the President of the Private Rhino Owners Association, the President of the Professional Hunters Association, an eminent South African economist and the South African Ambassador to Thailand, all of whom were there promoting the idea of legalising rhino horn trade, to raise their hands if they believed that rhino horn was effective in medicinal use. Not one of them moved a muscle.

Yet they would be willing to sell rhino horn to folks in the Far East, knowing full-well it doesn’t work, exploiting the ignorance of people who mistakenly believe it will cure their mother/father/sister/brother of cancer.

Unethical? Unacceptable? Downright disgraceful? Too right!

In my view, legalising rhino horn trade will legitimise the use of a substance which absolutely does not work, make a handful of private rhino owners very rich, provide a legal cover for illegal trade, further jeopardise the security of all Africa’s rhino, and allow the poachers, and the organised criminal gangs who back them, to – quite literally – carry on making a killing.

What do you think?

Blogging off!


Pinioning: As Free as a Bird?

Friday, May 3rd, 2013

The ‘P’ word – what does it mean?

Pinioning involves cutting a bird’s wing at the carpal joint, permanently removing the part of the wing from which the primary feathers grow. It is a surgical procedure, classed as a “mutilation” under the Animal Welfare Act 2006 in England and Wales and the Animal Health and Welfare (Scotland) Act 2006 in Scotland. A bird that has had its wing pinioned can never fly nor be released back to the wild as the amputated part – equivalent to a human “hand” – will not grow back. Whilst this sounds like a practice from a forgotten era that should have been consigned to the history books long ago, it is in fact still legal in zoos and being practised by many captive facilities in Britain today.

The Born Free Foundation’s colleagues at The Captive Animals’ Protection Society (CAPS) recently published the results of an investigation into the pinioning of birds in British zoos, with a particular focus on the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust centres []. Over the years, Born Free has heard many justifications from zoos in defence of pinioning: it’s necessary to improve the welfare of the birds as it allows them to have access to larger, roofless enclosures; aviaries are much more costly to build than open air enclosures, and pinioning can be carried out at little to no expense to the zoo; pinioning allows the public to get close to birds; pinioning can be justified in the name of conservation, making sure rarer, breeding birds don’t fly away and get separated; and so on. These so-called justifications are, at best, flimsy and none outweigh the impact of this invasive surgery on the individual animals.

What is apparent is a worrying lack of transparency between zoos and their visitors. According to CAPS, the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust currently has 5,663 “resident” (captive) birds, all of which have been pinioned, yet until the CAPS investigation was launched, there was little or no information on their website about this practice. We are convinced that members of the public should, at the very least, be provided with open and accurate information regarding pinioning and similar invasive measures taken by zoos (such as de-barbing rays in aquaria) so they can decide for themselves whether they still wish to visit.

Virginia McKenna OBE, founder of the Born Free Foundation, recently commented: “Why does a bird have wings”? It is scandalous that zoos appear to consider mutilation an acceptable “tool” in the name of conservation and education. The message is, at best, confusing. Seeing birds walk around or swim in a pond may look delightful – and is better than seeing them in a cage – but they have paid a huge price to live this half-life. And we are being misled, to put it politely.”

Countries such as Estonia, Italy, Kazakhstan, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, have all outlawed pinioning, and yet it is still a perfectly legal practice in zoos in this country. Born Free is proud to support the “Fight for Flight”, and commends CAPS for bringing this important issue into the public arena. We need to ask ourselves what is more important: the few seconds spent admiring individual, mutilated captive geese or ducks, or the bird’s ability to use its most definitive adaptation – its wings – and fly?

Farewell Desmond Hamill

Thursday, May 2nd, 2013

He was there when one of the biggest wildlife stories of the 20th century broke – and he was part of that extraordinary narrative. Desmond Hamill, the award-winning ITN reporter, died on the 9th of April 2013. Apart from courageously covering numerous wars, civil unrests, high profile national issues – not be mention being kidnapped with his film crew in Beirut – Hamill reported on the mass slaughter of Africa’s elephants and the extent of the illegal ivory trade, leading to the international ivory trade ban in 1989.

The Born Free Foundation (then Zoo Check), together with the EIA (the Environmental Investigation Agency) were at the forefront of the campaign (the EIA’s damning footage and our 600,000 name petition proving critically important) that secured the ban and brought at least temporary respite to Africa’s beleaguered elephants.

Although elephants and the bloody ivory trade are still making headlines ( we want to salute Desmond for making this cause a part of his life’s work and making sure we never forget.