Archive for April, 2014

Sad Day for Morgan the Orca

Thursday, April 24th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

Morgan the young female wild-caught orca could spend the rest of her life in captivity. That’s the reality behind the verdict of the Dutch court presiding over an application for her release, delivered today (Wednesday 23rd April 2014).

The Court determined that even though Morgan had been found in a state of near collapse in the North Sea and had been brought to a facility in Holland to recover and to potentially be released, that her transfer to a commercial display facility in Tenerife was legal.

But that doesn’t make it right.

Morgan should be given the chance to go back to the wild or, at the very least, she should be given the opportunity to be the first resident in a yet-to-be-created orca rescue centre. In my view, she should not be put on display and made to perform. She should not be the helpless target of aggression and bullying, meted out to her by the other captive orca in their tiny artificial world in Tenerife.

Undoubtedly, the captive industry regards Morgan as extremely important to their future. She is ‘new blood’ – a wild orca, a female, young. She is reportedly insured for US$10 million.

Is there hope? There is always hope.

The Free Morgan Foundation, The Born Free Foundation and our supporters everywhere will look and search and investigate to find the compelling arguments that could change Morgan’s life for the better. We will examine the judgement handed down today. We will assess the role that the tourist industry has to play in sustaining these captive display facilities. We will review international regulations governing the movement of wild animals……… but it is not all high-level stuff. Her future may depend on decisions made by individual people – the people who currently buy tickets to see the ‘show’. Each of them has a choice, to buy the ticket and sustain a business built on the exploitation of wild animals or to spend their money somewhere else.

I know what I would choose. Don’t buy that ticket!

Blogging off


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The Rhino Summit

Wednesday, April 16th, 2014

Pretoria South Africa. April 8th and 9th 2014.

Two days, dozens of experts – lawyers, economists, rangers, land owners, conservationists, veterinarians, broadcasters, investigators, policy analysts, campaigners, wildlife trade specialists… An equal number of high quality presentations to an audience of over 130.

There was no stone unturned at the Pretoria Risk Assessment of Rhino Horn Trade Symposium hosted by OSCAP (Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching).

Over 400 years of experience, represented by the Panel, pretty much nailed the ‘pro trade’ argument from every angle.

Despite invitations, the South African government did not turn up and neither did the Professional Hunters Association nor did any of the individual pro-trade advocates.

What were they afraid of? The truth?

Of course, rhino conservation is extremely challenging – the wave of poachers coming in from all sides, especially Mozambique, but undoubtedly supported by South African counterparts. The financial burden on private rhino owners who are desperately trying to find ways to fund the massive additional costs of improved security. The trauma and distress of losing two or more rhino a day and the sheer horror of patching up the bloody faces of the survivors who live, disfigured, to tell the tale.

Everyone agreed that rhino horn was of no medicinal or other value. Unanimity!

Whichever way you look at it, proposals to legalise a trade in rhino horn, as proposed by the South African government, are irrational, ill-conceived and massively risky. They could turn a disaster into a crisis from which the wild rhino may never recover.

But, of course, if legal trade is not the answer, then what is?

I suggested a conservation ‘levy’ on every international citizen arriving into South Africa. A dedicated fund, only available to be spent directly on endangered species such as the rhino, and administered by a trust fund involving key stakeholders. At just $5 a passenger that could generate around US$20 million a year, every year, for endangered species conservation priorities.

Others advocated stronger support for law enforcement; training for the judiciary; better control of powerful tranquillising drugs now being used by poachers to silently immobilise and then kill their victims; more effective outreach to local communities to encourage them to be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the conservation movement; direct appeals to political leaders in consumer States to step up and take a stand; intensification of public awareness efforts in those same consumer States to drive down and, if possible, eliminate demand.

There is much to do – but I believe it can be done.

However, it will all continue to go the hell in a handcart if the South African authorities carry on promoting the idea of a legal trade and those people who stand to make a killing continue to speculate on that prospect.

It seems crystal clear to me. No trade. None at all. Drop the subject. And let’s all get round the table together and find the lasting, effective solutions to rhino conservation that are so urgently needed.

Conservation not consumption – that has to be our aim!

Blogging off


No More Aquatic Prisons

Monday, April 14th, 2014

It’s always something. China has just finished construction on Ocean Kingdom, newly certified as the world’s biggest aquarium. Located on Hengqin Island, its 48.75 million liters of water are now home to ten captive whale sharks (a threatened species we worked so hard to protect at CITES meetings), dolphins, and polar bears – among other rare sea life. It is being touted as an exciting new entertainment destination, but in reality it is a miserable prison for animals that belong in the wild.

The powerful film Blackfish, released in 2013, shined a bright spotlight on the issue of marine mammals in captivity. The orcas in the film were demonstrated to be highly intelligent and social animals who swim up to 100 miles a day in the wild. Forcing orcas – and other dolphins – to spend their lives in “concrete bathtubs” filled with chlorinated water is exploitative and abusive.

Marine mammals establish complex social groups in the wild, and maintain strong relationships with their family group. In sea parks and aquariums, individuals from different social groups are thrown together, which may result in aggression towards individuals, aggression from which there is no means of escape. Evidence suggests that separation from their family, particularly from their children, produces enormous levels of distress and grief.

Marine mammals in the wild also engage in mentally-stimulating activities that use the full extent of their remarkable brainpower. They demonstrate complex problem-solving and abstract concept formation as they hunt, navigate, and play. Isolation and lack of engagement, with nothing to relieve their boredom, can cause high levels of stress, aggression, and mental illness.

Sea parks and aquariums claim that they are in the vanguard of conservation, but real conservation is undermined when animals are ‘stolen’ from their natural homes and imprisoned for human entertainment. These animals will never be released into a viable natural habitat to boost wild populations. All of them will spend the rest of their lives swimming around in small tanks, for little more than public amusement.

While we will assist where we can around the world to put public pressure on sea parks, there is currently an exciting development in the U.S. Legislators in both California and New York have introduced bills to end performances by orcas at entertainment parks. The California bill goes even further: it would ban orca captive breeding programs and require current captive orcas to be retired to sea pens as well, effectively shutting down SeaWorld’s San Diego Park if it passes. My colleagues at Born Free USA are doing what they can to help shepherd these bills through the state legislatures.

Compassion toward marine mammals in captivity is long overdue, and the new Ocean Kingdom is the latest call to action to end this exploitation once and for all.

Blogging off,


Is enough being done to save the rhino?

Wednesday, April 2nd, 2014

So far this year (to 28 March 2014) over 230 rhino have been poached in South Africa and less than 55 poachers have been arrested (arrested, not convicted)…

That means that, on average, 1 poacher is apprehended for every 4 rhino killed.

Success? I don’t think so!

I am heading to South Africa this weekend (5th April) to find out more at a critical meeting of national and international experts hosted by Outraged South African Citizens Against Poaching (

What’s to be done?

In my opinion, the South African government and certain business interests, have simply got to stop speculating on the establishment of a future legal trade in rhino horn. Yes, South Africa plans to ask the 180 delegates to the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) meeting, to be hosted in Cape Town in 2016, to approve a legitimate trade in rhino horn.

There also needs to be a far greater enforcement effort – and if South Africa needs money to train and deploy more rangers then why not add a R50 Conservation Contribution to all arriving international visitors who would surely be willing to pay a few dollars more to help ensure that endangered species like rhino, which many of them have travelled thousands of miles to see, are safe.

But rhinos are not just hitting the headlines in South Africa….

In Australia, just last week, a pair of rhino horn were sold for AU$92,500. Yes, of course, they were antique but their sale, in my view, simply confirmed once more the extraordinary price on every rhino’s head. We simply must stop all commercial sales. The buyer was from the Far East and suspect that’s where they will end up…

Australia also just announced that it was withdrawing an AU$3 million grant to Indonesia to help protect the highly endangered Sumatran rhino (only 200 left in the wild). Australian Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, said that saving the endangered Sumatran rhinoceros should not be a priority of the Australian aid budget. The funding was going towards habitat protection, anti-poaching efforts and monitoring of the rhino horn trade. Now it’s not. Shame!

In January, rhino horns with a street value of more than $6 million were seized by customs officials in Thailand and Singapore, according to Traffic, the wildlife trade monitoring network. Almost 44 kilograms of rhino horn were discovered en route to Vietnam, where one kilogram of horn sells for about $120,000.

In Europe there have been more than 60 break-ins at natural history museums since 2010, with the thieves targeting rhino horns. Sometimes they are just snapped off the mounted heads of the stuffed animals.

Namibia announced that 3 Chinese nationals were arrested on 23rd March as they boarded an aircraft with 14 concealed rhino horns and leopard skins hidden in their luggage. They were about to board a flight to Johannesburg with a connection onto Hong Kong as their final destination.

Mozambique has  – just – avoided international sanctions by filing a report on its plans to tackle rhino poaching – 2 months late. However, critics remain highly sceptical claiming that the authorities simply don’t take the issue as seriously and don’t commit the resources to do anything about it. Anti-poaching laws in Mozambique are weak where rhino poaching is seen more as a misdemeanour.

So rhino are in the news – for all the wrong reasons. I hope that the OSCAP conference will change that and that there will be some good news to report – for a change! Watch this space!

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