Archive for July, 2013

Blogging from Sri Lanka!

Tuesday, July 30th, 2013

SRI LANKA! An Indian Ocean island of about 65,000 square kilometres (about half the size of England), nearly 22 million people and, believe it or not between 5-6,000 wild Asian elephants!

An amazingly tolerant culture has allowed the species to survive where, in many places around the world it would have been eradicated.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, there are. From conflict in agricultural areas and competition for land with development to collisions with trains or trucks and revenge attacks involving firearms, home made explosives and intentional electrocutions.

More than 200 elephants a year die as a result. And this has led Born Free to support two main areas of activity in the country: assisting the Department of Wildlife Conservation care for orphaned baby elephants at the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe (from where, aged about 4 they are returned to the wild); and working with local farmers to try and reduce conflict.

Tomorrow Born Free staff, Gabriel Fava, Dr Deepani Jayantha and I are going to the ETH to listen to the needs of this unique centre and assess how best, with limited resources, we can assist their mission. Recently we have supported improvements to the night time care infrastructure and we hope to build on that work to help make this very special place even better.

Today we went to visit the local Rathambalagama School (where we have helped with the library, the small computer training course, water, electricity and hygiene facilities, as well as establishing an Environment Club) to determine further areas for support and development.

We also visited a number of farmers involved in our Human-Elephant Conflict/Elephant Resistant Crop Programme which helps small landowners plant crops that are unpalatable to elephants as an alternative source of income, should more tasty staples such as rice, bananas and palms be eaten by marauding elephants.

The Programme is still in a pilot phase but is showing positive results with pepper, turmeric and betel beginning to produce meaningful harvests.

It isn’t the whole answer by any means but Born Free’s work, together with government measures, and the efforts of local elephant conservationists, communities and NGOs, means there is hope that Sri Lanka will have a vibrant, substantial and appreciated wild elephant population for many, many years to come!

Blogging off


P.S. you can adopt Jubilee, an elephant rescued by the ETH here, or simply visit for more info

Orcas in Captivity? It’s a Black and White Issue!

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

There hasn’t been a captive orca (also known by those who exploit them as killer whales) in captivity in the UK for many years. In fact there hasn’t been a captive dolphin on display in the UK since the early 1990s when Born Free, as part of the Into The Blue project, led the campaign to release 3 former inmates (one from Flamingoland and two from Brighton Aquarium) into the crystal clear waters of the Turks and Caicos Islands.

We‘ve said for years and maintain now that captivity is no place for a dolphin – and that includes orca, the biggest members of the dolphin family.

And that is the overwhelming conclusion of a new film that is set to shake the captive cetacean industry to the core.

They say there are stories you have to tell and stories that tell themselves. Blackfish is the latter. Once you start asking the questions you cannot stop the answers!

Blackfish is a damning indictment of the commercial exploitation of magnificent wild creatures and I challenge any reasonable person who sees this film, listens to the testimony of former trainers and hears the evidence for themselves not to come to the same conclusion. It’s over.

I was privileged enough to see the film at a private viewing in London a few weeks ago and to hear the film’s Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite speak of her own epiphany.

She did not set out to make a film that would potentially change our relationship with this species forever. But she has. The more she looked into the deaths and injuries to trainers, the history of wild orca capture, the movement of orca from one facility to another, the training regimes – the more she talked to former employees – many former employees – the more the evidence stacked up.

I believe Blackfish will create such momentum for change that it will prove unstoppable. I believe that people on vacation and travel companies will turn their backs on this form of deprivation and visitors will seek more wholesome holiday experiences, experiences that are not based on the lifetime incarceration of wild animals in postage-stamp-sized, chemically controlled pools (many thousands of times smaller than their wild home ranges) in artificially constructed ‘pods’, where some individuals, according to former trainer after former trainer, become resentful and unpredictable.

Already there have been changes. Trainers at Sea World, the name most widely associated with the exploitation of these marine giants, are prohibited from being in the water with the orca, where injuries and fatalities have become an all-too-familiar part of the story. No longer will the public see trainers riding orca, or rising into the air on the nose of these massive marine giants. Without that, will people be willing to turn up and pay up to $82 (that’s £54) for an adult ticket and $74 (nearly £50) for a child (aged 3-9)? I doubt it!

Films of this quality, this integrity and this compassion are rare. But, like Born Free, The Cove, Christian The Lion, Blackfish is a must-see. It will change part of your world-view forever.

See it. Be informed. You decide!

Freedom is not a dream!

Blogging off!


PS. More Orca News. Check out  for news of Springer, Born Free’s 13-year old adopted orca, who has just been sighted with her first calf swimming next to her, in the waters off Vancouver Island, Canada. Springer’s story is particularly poignant. Discovered in 2002 as a 2-year-old, swimming alone by our friends at Orcalab (whom we have supported for 20 years), she had become lost when her mother died. She was thin, in poor health, and lonely. The captive industry was keen to take Springer into ‘safety’, but Orcalab was able to identify her by her unique calls and after four weeks recovering in a sea pen she was taken 250 miles, by boat, back to her wild family. Now she is a wild mother.

South Africa to propose rhino horn trade

Tuesday, July 16th, 2013

South Africa has announced that it will officially push for rhino horn trade at the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES (2016), using horn from rhinos that have died of natural causes. Here’s my take!

Even taken at its most optimistic… 3% natural mortality (whatever that is), from circa 20,000 rhino, equalling 600 horns with an average weight on 5kg per horn (3,000kg in total) and using the dosage weight proposed by Michael ‘t Sas-Rolfes of 1.5 grammes per dose (meaning 3,000kg would equate to 2,000,000 doses), such a plan would, in all likelihood, barely touch the surface of demand (which, recall, is currently being serviced – unsuccessfully – by 668 poached rhino in 2012 and possibly as many as 900+ rhino in 2013). Therefore, in my view, poaching will continue and possibly increase since poachers will undercut whatever the legal price is set at (which is likely to be high to generate income and, supposedly, drive down demand – which it won’t).

Furthermore, creating a legal market has one other devastating impact. It will confirm in the minds of many purchasers that using rhino horn has medicinal validity – even when we know it does not. Minister Molewa, the Chair of the Private Rhino Owners Association of SA, the Chair of the Professional Hunters Association of SA, the Secretary General of CITES, the SA Ambassador to Thailand and Johnny de Lange MP (amongst others on the panel) were asked – by me in person, directly at a South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March – (quoting The Mail and Guardian, 22nd March 2013) ‘to raise their hands if they believed rhino horn had medicinal benefits or could cure cancer. None of them did.’

So what are they saying by legalising rhino-horn trade? Here is a product that every sensible scientist says has no significant impact and they are going to sell it at huge cost to a public that is ill-informed. I wouldn’t go to sleep at night if I thought I was selling something like that to a Vietnamese family who have scrimped and saved every cent to buy rhino horn for their dying grandmother, who then goes and dies.

SA seems determined to push for legal trade at CITES CoP17 in 2016. But they will need to get the support of 66% or more of the 178 CITES Parties. I can only hope and pray that common-sense and a degree of morality prevail, and that the proposal is soundly defeated. They need as many as 117 Parties to agree with their misguided proposal and we need to persuade those Parties to say NO!

There is nothing sensible, logical, ethical or acceptable about legalising rhino horn trade – from natural mortality or anywhere else.

Read a full account of my intervention at the South Africa-hosted CITES side event on the 7th of March here .

Blogging off


Obama Takes on Wildlife Trafficking

Wednesday, July 3rd, 2013

What’s worse than the alarming escalation of the global illegal wildlife trade is its ever-expanding link to organized crime and terrorist organizations. Add to that the potential spread of infectious diseases and the precipitous decline of vulnerable wildlife populations, especially in developing countries, and it’s clear that the new Executive Order from the White House may have come just in time.

The Obama Administration has condemned wildlife poaching and trafficking of animals and animal parts, and has established an Advisory Council, a Presidential Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking, and a review of the previous National Strategy for Combating Wildlife Trafficking. And there is a much-needed injection of funds in the form of “regional and bilateral training and technical assistance” to African nations.

Animals worldwide are devastated by poaching and commercial trade: elephants (for their ivory), rhinos, tigers and bears (for their body parts), and reptiles, primates, and exotic birds (captured and sold to zoos and into the pet trade around the world). The animal trade is a multi-billion dollar industry second only to the drug trade in global profitability (surpassing human and gun trafficking). Elephant populations, such as in Tanzania and Burkina Faso, are being devastated by poachers; this warrants serious and effective international intervention.

The President’s order is an appropriate and timely response to the crisis of international wildlife crime and trafficking. However, its merit will soon be tested. The order will prove hollow should funds not be appropriately distributed and monitored, should measurable actions not be taken by both the Task Force on Wildlife Trafficking and its corresponding Advisory Council.

Born Free is working in Africa and around the world to protect wild, imperiled species. It is encouraging to have President Obama and the highest levels of the United States government recognize and prioritize this threat to biodiversity, local economies, and human health. Let’s continue this tough stance on a particularly brutal and unnecessary illegal trade.

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