Archive for July, 2014

Rangers on the Thin Green Line

Thursday, July 31st, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

Working for wildlife can be tough but quite honestly sometimes I know I have got the easy life.  Take a moment to reflect on the working day of a wildlife ranger in many parts of the world.  Brutal working environments – extremes of heat and cold – the risk of disease, low wages, few benefits, out-of-date of equipment (compared to the poachers on the other side), the increasing risk of being caught up in a fire-fight – the chance of being killed in the line of duty.

It’s World Ranger Day (31st July 2014) and it’s a time to honour the brave men and women who, on behalf of the rest of us, put their lives on the line trying to protect some of the world’s most iconic species from greed and destruction.

But don’t take it from me.

Thin Green Line and Born Free Foundation

Take a look at what The Thin Green Line Foundation is saying: TGLF on Facebook

Take a look at HRH Prince Williams’ video message: Remember the rangers

Take a look at Born Free Wildlife Consultant’s interview with Sean Willmore, Founder of TGLF

Remember that more than 1,000 rangers have lost their lives in the last ten years, 53 rangers have been killed this year so far and rangers continue to die every single month in the battle to save our global wildlife heritage (two Kenya Wildlife Service rangers were killed on Friday 18th July this year).

So, on International Ranger Day, if you would like to show your solidarity then go to TGLF website, as I will be, to make a contribution and to make your voice heard.

Rangers all over the world, we salute you.

Blogging off


Summer Holidays

Thursday, July 24th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

It’s that time of year again!

Holiday fever!

You know what I am talking about. You have packed the bags, the sunscreen, the floppy hat and you are heading off for a bit of well-deserved R&R somewhere warm (even warmer than the UK) to soak up the sun and a bit of culture and relax.

And while you are there you may be tempted to visit one or more of the local attractions and it could be a zoo, a circus, a fiesta with animals, a dolphinaria displaying orca or even a place where you can swim with dolphins…


Just because you are on holiday doesn’t mean that it is OK to do things that if in the UK you would throw up your hands in horror about!

Honestly, the what happens on holiday stays on holiday mentality is OK in many respects but not in my view when it comes to animal suffering.

But, if you do decide to visit facilities with captive animals please go with an enquiring mind.  Please take photos.  Please let me and the Zoo Check team at Born Free know about your experience.  We are making significant progress in terms of changing attitudes towards the ongoing exploitation of wild animals in captivity for ‘fun’.  But we need your help and we need to know what is going on across Europe.  Knowledge is power and with power we can make a difference.

If you would like to take one further step then before you go, visit the Travellers’ Animal Alert page at so that you are fully prepared and know what to do.

Now, go on, off you go and have a brilliant summer holiday wherever you are (and make sure it is an animal friendly one too).

Blogging off,


Take the ‘trade’ out of the ivory trade

Wednesday, July 16th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

What are we to make of the recent sale of nearly 1 tonne of African ivory tusks at an auction in Cannes in the South of France, all of which were purchased by Chinese buyers for the Chinese market?

To be clear, this sale was legal in as much as the tusks were all certified as being ‘pre-Convention’.  In other words, they were legally acquired before the African elephant was listed on the Appendices of CITES (1976).

However, just because it is legal doesn’t make it right.  Without question, in my view, any commercial sales of ivory – pre-Convention or antique – continue to stimulate a rapacious demand that cannot be met through legal sales and so is fuelled through illegal poached ivory and the bloody slaughter of tens of thousands of elephants each year across Africa.

We have to grow up.  We have to be more responsible.  Simply offering a donation of 5,000 Euros from the commission on the recent sale to an unspecified anti-poaching organisation (as the auctioneers proudly proclaimed) does nothing for me and, more importantly, will do little for elephants compared to the damage that has been done by having the sale in the first place.

At the recent CITES Standing Committee meeting in Geneva, even the Chinese delegation expressed concern about sales of pre-Convention ivory.  No, they did not go as far as to suggest that such sales should be prohibited but they did acknowledge the rapidly growing volume of pre-Convention ivory reaching China and I think the sub-text is that we are now all aware of the implications such sales have for Africa’s remaining elephants.

We need a four-point action plan:

1. Destroy or put beyond commercial use ivory stocks – legal or illegal.

2. Dramatically increase our support for rangers and wildlife law enforcement officers in elephant range States through the African Elephant Action Plan.

3. Close domestic markets so there is total clarity that all ivory on sale is illegal.

4. If there are carvings that  internationally-recognised art historians agree should be kept for historic or artistic purposes then they should be displayed in museums to act as a warning and help tell the story of the elephant tragedy that has unfolded over the last 50 years on our watch.

Without such a plan we shall simply see an ongoing decline in elephant numbers, extinction in numerous countries and all for what …

Blogging off.


Final Day of CITES 2014

Friday, July 11th, 2014
The final report from the Born Free team, Will Travers and Gabriel Fava, from the Standing Committee meeting in Geneva.

It has been quite a week for wildlife! I have been attending CITES meetings (some might call it a self-inflicted wound) for 25 years and I sense a distinct change of mood at this latest Standing Committee meeting. Here are some of the highlights.
While it was relatively encouraging to hear of progress being made by a number of the countries most heavily afflicted by poaching and illegal trade, and while it was also encouraging to hear Party after Party speak of their determination to help deal with the crisis, and although the EU particularly stood out in terms of the provision of new finance and other resources to help in the fight, the bottom line is that CITES remains schizophrenic on the matter of ivory trade. Some Parties (I believe the majority) recognise that there should be no future trade. Others, however, want to keep their options open and continue to support the development of a Decision Making Mechanism for future trade in ivory. This, sadly, keeps the issue of trade alive and will doubtless encourage poachers, criminal networks and speculators to continue to make a killing, laundering their bloody ivory through existing legal markets and planning for future slaughter on the basis of a future relaxation in trade controls.
The numbers remain shocking – 558 killed in South Africa to the start of July 2014 and just 157 arrests.  While it was of some comfort that many Parties reported on actions they were taking to improve reporting, sharing of information, measures to enhance the protection of rhinos in the wild or to tackle markets and demand (and Viet Nam was particularly active in this regard), Mozambique’s lack of reporting and action was deeply disappointing and a number of Parties offered to help Mozambique greatly improve its performance. However, one matter was notable by its absence. South Africa failed to mention its continued efforts to promote the idea of legalising trade (it seems they are determined to put forward a Proposal for the Legalising of Rhino Horn trade to the CITES Conference of the Parties meeting they are hosting in October 2016). In our view this would encourage those who own rhino, stockpile rhino horn and poach rhino to believe that trade will be opened up in the future creating, we believe, an even greater enforcement nightmare and resulting in additional poaching pressure, adding to the current crisis.
Live Cheetah Trade
This is an emerging and serious threat to this fragile and rare species, as many Parties recognised. We were shocked by some of the information presented, including the fact that as many as 300 individuals are being illegally shipped out of Africa each year (I can only imagine how many more are killed and die during capture and shipment). The Kingdom of Saudia Arabia reported that in 2014 alone they have intercepted 25 live cheetah cubs, of which 9 died. Born Free highlighted our work with the Ethiopian Wildlife Conservation Authority at our rescue and care facility – Ensessakotteh – outside of Addis Ababa which provides a home to confiscated cheetah. Importantly, if funds can be found, a Workshop will take place before the end of March 2015 to consider the status of cheetah in range States, transit countries and consumer countries, trade routes, the involvement of criminal networks and corruption issues.
As we know, the thousands of captive-bred tigers languishing in facilities in many Asian countries vastly outnumber the number of remaining wild tigers whose fragile populations continue to face numerous and intense threats. The last thing they need is for an expanding source of tiger skins, bones and meat to stimulate demand of wild tigers even further. When tigers were discussed this week, China finally admitted publicly that they had a legal trade in tiger skins, but strongly objected to including consideration of their domestic tiger trade in recommendations for future steps to be taken by the Standing Committee. Along with China, other countries, organisations, including Born Free, had helped to draft these recommendations in the sidelines of the meeting and when they were brought back to the rest of the participants, as expected, China tried to bury their domestic trade again. However, opposition was mounted by enough countries and organisations to push the recommendations through. China must surely now comply and we all have a stronger tool than before to build a future for wild tigers.
Little known but much threatened, the ‘scaly anteaters’ of Africa and Asia are sadly the latest poster boy of the illegal wildlife trade, supplying demand for their scales and meat in Asia. Little is known about these shy, nocturnal animals and the threats they face and the law courts and enforcement agencies seem ill-equipped to deal with the organised criminal syndicates syphoning pangolins out of their forest and desert homes. CITES approved a plan to seek comprehensive information from countries so that pangolin populations can be better protected under the Convention.

Much ado about nothing?

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

It is that time of year again: the weather is warm, the days are long and Edinburgh Zoo is thrusting its pandas into the headlines. In what has become something of a “groundhog day” event, the Zoo has once again announced that there is a strong indication that the female Tian Tian has conceived as a result of artificial insemination.

Panda at Edinburgh Zoo

Let’s not forget the similar headlines this time last year announcing a successful conception – also by artificial insemination – which ultimately resulted in disappointment for the Zoo and the crowds lured  to the zoo as a result of the relentless publicity, when Tian Tian showed no further sign of pregnancy. Nor should we forget the previous (ultimately futile) attempts to encourage the pandas to breed naturally.

As far as Born Free is concerned there is little to be excited about. The birth of a baby panda in captivity does not affect the current state of play in the wild where – despite China’s increasing efforts – human expansion and the destruction of panda habitat remain the most pressing issues. With the chances of release to the wild being little to none, and little evidence that funds raised by keeping pandas at Edinburgh are making a significant contribution to support panda conservation, it is hard to find a reason to celebrate.

Although a birth may be ‘rare’ in captivity (outside China), pandas have no difficulty in reproducing when given the opportunity in their natural environment. Protection of the remaining wild panda population is paramount to the success of this species: the birth of a panda cub at Edinburgh Zoo will not ensure this outcome. I am certain this won’t be the last we hear of the trials and tribulations of panda conception and pregnancy at Edinburgh Zoo, but many experts agree that the real long-term future of the species lies in China and in the wild.

Blogging off,