Archive for October, 2013

Trade or not to trade? It’s not even a question

Tuesday, October 22nd, 2013

Dear Friends of Wildlife

The one thing we should not be doing is taking unnecessary risks with endangered species!

The world is already a dangerous enough place, dominated by those who would exploit at all costs – and sometimes the cost can be very high indeed.

So it was fascinating to listen to two sides of the ‘trade or not trade’ debate, hosted by Earthwatch at the Royal Geographical Society on Thursday 17th October.

Yes, I am biased.  And now that we have got that out of the way……

Here is my analysis:

On the one hand, a measured, precautionary, risk-adverse presentation by three leading experts, carefully learning from the mistakes of the past (see the disastrous ivory stockpile sale of 2008) and urging us not to make the same mistakes again.

On the other, a loose collection of disconnected thoughts, massively over-washed with ‘perhaps, maybe, if, potentially’ etc. presented by a group of people attempting to make a case for trade in wildlife products such as elephant ivory, rhino horn and tiger body parts that did not withstand more than a moment’s scrutiny.  Challenged by members of the audience, the pro-trade cohort simply had no answer when it came to questions such as:

  • How big is the trade?
  • What is the spending power of consumers?
  • How will a legal trade disinsentivise the illegal trade?
  • How will so-called pricing mechanisms, designed to control demand, not be undercut by discounted illegal products?

I did not hear one plausible answer and I did hear some extraordinary analysis suggesting, for example, that the ban on rhino horn trade had been a 40 year failure.  In 2007 just 13 rhino were poached compared to the 750 or so poached this year to date as a result of bogus medicinal claims and the use of rhino horn to enhance status. It’s not the ban that’s failed, it’s the response to demand!

And so while the US, the Philippines and many African countries, destroy their ivory or call for total international and domestic trade bans to be enforced,  South Africa continues to move towards a legal trade in rhino horn, seemingly oblivious to the potentially catastrophic consequences not only for their own rhino but for those in other rhino range States, African or Asian.

We have to ask ourselves one question:  is blind allegiance to the ‘use or lose it’ mantra, the biggest risk of all?

I know where I stand.

To join the debate on Twitter search #earthwatchdebate

Blogging off,


Death at London Zoo

Tuesday, October 15th, 2013

I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of the Sumatran tiger cub at London Zoo. The cub, the first born at the Zoo for 17 years, had been much-vaunted as a significant landmark for conservation – a position that Born Free profoundly disputed.

The circumstances of the cub’s death are a little unclear at the moment, but it appears that the cub may have drowned. The premature death of any animal is a sad event, and in this case I feel for the tiger keepers at the Zoo and, of course, for the cub’s mother.

Accidents happen in the wild and in captivity, and we should resist the temptation to use this tragedy to score points against London Zoo.

Nevertheless, it just goes to show how the fortunes of programmes to maintain populations of threatened animals in captivity can change in a heartbeat. Pinning our hopes on relatively tiny populations of captive animals while the wild continues to take a hammering is just not conservation.

The massive financial, human and emotional investment made by zoos in individual animals (recall the £5 million Gorilla Kingdom at London Zoo, the exhaustive breeding attempts and then the death of the first and only gorilla ever born at the zoo, killed in a fracas with the male) are high risk strategies.

Maybe this latest tragedy is the signal for a re-evaluation of strategy. Seriously, maybe what we need is to call time on these flagship captive programmes and redirect our time, effort and money to keeping wildlife in the wild, where it belongs.

Tiger feat?

Wednesday, October 2nd, 2013

A Sumatran tiger cub has been born at London Zoo for the first time in 17 years. Good news for the conservation of the subspecies? Hardly.

One can only imagine how many wild tigers have died prematurely in that 17 year period; how much tiger habitat has been lost. Yet, with the Zoo’s “Tiger Territory” reportedly costing £3.6m, staff at London Zoo consider the birth “a real cause for celebration” (London Zoo website). Sadly, I disagree – it is little more than fiddling while Rome burns. London Zoo have succeeded in breeding a tiger that will, in all likelihood, spend its life in captivity, and have spent a relative fortune that could otherwise have made a real difference for wild tigers. I see no cause for celebration.

Born Free’s Senior Programme Officer for Captive Chris Draper recently commented for Deutsche Welle on the realities of captive breeding of Sumatran tigers by zoos  - read the article here: