Archive for August, 2014

When is a tank not a tank – when it’s a tank?

Tuesday, August 19th, 2014

SeaWorld’s attempt to reverse its downward fortunes by announcing plans to construct multi-million dollar bigger orca tank may be too little, too late!

Despite a massive decline in their stock price in the last 12 months which some, including Standard & Poor’s, the ratings agency, directly attribute to the “Blackfish Effect”, management of the struggling entertainment company claim that the decline in attendance is “temporary”.

However, the film, Blackfish, appears to have irreversibly tarnished SeaWorld’s “enduring brand”, by exposing the truths behind the captive cetacean industry: the horrors of wild capture,  dubious animal management and, reportedly, one hundred incidents of trainers being attacked. Since orca were first displayed at SeaWorld, San Diego, 15 orcas have died.

I think SeaWorld needs to completely review their entertainment offering, abandon the display of orca and other cetaceans and embrace a new vision based on compassionate conservation and supporting the keeping of wildlife in the wild. In my view, their current proposal is simply throwing good money after bad.

A popular internet meme following the anouncement

SeaWorld San Diego’s ‘bigger tanks’ announcement claims that the new facility is “not just larger but more dynamic”, adding that it will include “a lot more of the kind of mental and physical stimulation that we know is so important for overall health and well-being”. But representatives were quick to clarify that this was not an admission that current housing is too small.

The reality is that no matter the size of a man-made tank, it will still be a fraction of the size of the wild range of orca, for an intelligent, gregarious marine mammal which can swim 150 kilometers a day.

SeaWorld may consider the announced changes as “revolutionary”, but Born Free cannot agree. Monies injected into trying to improve the customer experience does not change the orca’s experience. SeaWorld must realise that the use of animals in circus-style tricks is not conservation, nor does it demonstrate the “relationship between humans and animals” as SeaWorld claims. The practice of keeping wild animals in captivity is outdated and morally wrong. It should be consigned to the history books.

If SeaWorld would like to talk to me about a new future where freedom, respect, compassion, conservation and education are components of a vision we can all be proud of then call me, my door is always open.

Blogging off,


P.S. read about the amazing work Born Free Foundation is doing to end the keeping of cetaceans in captivity

Every Day Should be World Elephant Day

Tuesday, August 12th, 2014

For more than a quarter century Born Free Foundation as a charity – and I personally – have been fighting the massively destructive ivory trade. I doubt as much attention has been paid to the plight of elephants in these past 25 years as there is right now. And World Elephant Day, today, is the perfect time for everyone everywhere to simply declare: No More Bloody Ivory Trade.

Elephant deaths are on the rise as the insatiable appetite for ivory grows. While Parties to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) stopped the commercial ivory trade in 1989, giving this beleaguered species a chance to recover, the erosion of the ban that began in 1997 has fuelled demand for ivory bangles, chopsticks, and other items, leaving a sea of elephant carcasses across the African savannah.

Born Free’s recently published Ivory’s Curse shed light on the militarism and professionalism of the ivory poaching business, and the terrorist outfits in Africa that drive the carnage. A recently published peer-reviewed paper in the scientific journal ‘Conservation Biology’ further highlights the critical role of corruption and organised crime in the illegal ivory trade and the authors make it very clear how unfeasible it would be to have a legal ivory trade that isn’t abused as a laundering mechanism for illegal, poached ivory.

So with all this new knowledge, and with World Elephant Day, how do we turn this information into life-saving action?

In America, the Obama Administration has propelled forward a National Strategy for Combatting Wildlife Trafficking and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has ended elephant trophy imports from Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The state of New Jersey is to be congratulated for recently passing a law prohibiting individuals from importing, selling, bartering, purchasing, or possessing with intent to sell any ivory products. As far as I’m concerned, banning the domestic, and not just international, sale of ivory is key to stopping the illegal ivory trade.  I can only hope that other U.S. states and countries follow suit.

The U.S. and other countries have also destroyed their ivory stockpiles. Now, the North Carolina Zoo has even destroyed it’s store of more than 90kg (200 pounds) of ivory and rhino horn. Destruction of ivory held in private hands and by governments is of course a positive step and is the only sure way of preventing it from finding its way into illegal trade, although I do wonder what the zoo were doing with so much ivory in the first place and why, given security concerns, it wasn’t handed over to government authorities?

Although the French government crushed over 3 tonnes of its ivory stockpile and made clear commitments in the London Declaration on illegal wildlife trade in February this year, these actions were clearly undermined recently, when the government approved the auction of 1 tonne of raw ivory in the south of France. Only last week a seizure of ivory shipped from France took place in Vietnam…

Wildlife belongs in the wild, and elephants belong in Africa – alive and thriving. The leaders and compassionate citizens of the world should unite today and declare this world safe for elephants, now and forever. World Elephant Day must be a call to action; if we don’t pull together to end the scourge of elephant poaching, it will instead become a memorial to a lost treasure.

Blogging off,


The Mega Boma – The biggest Boma we’ve ever built!

Friday, August 8th, 2014

The Born Free Kenya team, working with local communities and partners such as Land Rover, has now built over 160 Lion Proof Bomas (also known as Predator Proof Bomas) in several parts of Kenya and northern Tanzania. Our objective? To reduce the conflict between predators and local communities which arises as a result of predation on livestock.

It is simple really. Lion enters traditional night-time coralle or ‘Boma’ (usually a ring of cut thorn branches), kills goat or cow and escapes with prize. The next day local people seek out a lion, any lion, and kill it in retaliation for their loss.

No one wins. The community may feel a little better but they have still lost their goat or cow. Conservation has lost a lion – and with only about 2,000 in Kenya, every one is precious.

Lion Proof Bomas (LPB) are changing all that. Encircling the traditional ring of cut thorn branches with a simple, 2 meter high wire fence and installing proper ‘doors’ made of old oil drums, beaten flat and attached with ‘flip flop’ hinges, this lo-tech development is proving 100% effective. Livestock losses from LPBs have fallen to zero.

Usually a LPB is made of 8-10 rolls of wire and 40-50 poles. Usually the Boma protects about 200-300 head of livestock and the livelihood of 20-25 people.

But now there is the Mega Boma!

Nearly 30 rolls of wire!

One hundred and twenty poles (and we now exclusively use poles made from recycled plastic which are better for the environment and impervious to termites)!

Night time security for 300 cattle, 500 goats and 15 donkeys!

Home to 60 people – 4 men, 8 women and 48 children and adolescents!

It is an impressive sight and it took just 2 days to build.

And on top of all that, the community not only provided the majority of the labour to create Kapaito Muyantet and his family’s Mega Boma but they contributed 25% of the £2,000 (Ksh 280,000) needed to build it.

We don’t know if we will ever build another Lion Proof Boma as big as this one, located in Eselenkei, not far from Mount Kilimanjaro. But, for sure, we are going to keep on bringing additional security to people, their livestock AND Africa’s lions by building hundreds more Lion Proof Bomas.

You can help build a Boma through our gifts in kind programme

Blogging off!

We Should All Get Out More – He’s a World Record Breaker!

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Philip Wells, aka The Fire Poet, has smashed the world record for walking barefoot. More importantly he has helped shine a spotlight on the plight of the billion children living in poverty.

He has shown that ordinary people can do extraordinary things and make a real difference to the lives of those who are so often forgotten in our mad, egocentric, consumer-obsessed world.

Think about it. In fact, do it. Do it now! Take off your shoes and walk just 100 metres. Feel the grit piercing the sole of your foot. The roughness. Tread gently, I don’t want you to hurt yourself. Now close your eyes…. Imagine doing that same 100 meters, except doing it for nearly four months and doing it 1,600 times. That has been Philip’s world since the middle of April.

I had the privilege of walking (boots on) with Philip along the Welsh Borders for a week – just 65 miles – and I have NOTHING but total respect for this amazing man who walks with his heart on his sleeve, his faith exposed for all to see, and his naked compassion for all those less fortunate than himself.

Often with no one to accompany him but Els Field – his wonderful assistant/camera person/motivator – Philip has truly put his feet where his mouth is. If anyone exemplifies ‘walking the talk’ then that person is Mr Philip Wells.

I will join him in Angelsey on the last day of his walk – the 9th August – and I will have nothing but admiration and respect.

Whoever you are, whatever you do, be inspired by The Fire Poet! Do something – a walk, a swim, a cake sale… a bring and buy, a singathon, a sponsored ‘nothing’. We can all do something and we can all make a life-changing difference.

The Children’s Barefoot Champion I salute you!

Blogging off,


Ebola – Time To Get Strategic

Monday, August 4th, 2014

The terrible news about the ongoing Ebola outbreak in West Africa rolls on and on. Fear, ignorance, lack of medical facilities, together with a degree of superstition, have turned a calamity into a crisis.

I can only feel immense shock and deep sorrow for the people affected and their families, and I worry for my friends in that part of the world.

Now, it seems, we must also worry about Ebola nearer to home. International travel means not only that people can circumnavigate the globe in a couple of days but so can the illnesses they may harbour.

Now factor in the prospect of illegal bushmeat (the meat of wild animals), smuggled out of Africa, potentially bringing this deadly disease to our shores.

What’s to be done?

As Born Free commented to the national press just a few days ago, improved law enforcement at our borders, stricter penalties for smuggling illegal wild animal meat products, better record keeping and a longterm commitment to the the UK’s National Wildlife Crime Unit (currently only funded up to 2016) may all be a part of the solution.

Equally important, however, should be our efforts to assist the countries where the problem originates. Medical support in remote areas and investment in long-term poverty relief, using some of the UK’s £11 billion annual overseas development budget, are vital.

But to be really effective we need to be strategic. The UK Government has already taking a global lead in seeking to tackle the scourge of the illegal wildlife trade. Now we need to raise our game and fund technical training for border and customs officials in developing countries and invest resources to try and prevent bushmeat products leaving their country of origin in the first place.

It’s also essential that we engage more intensively with leaders of communities, whether in Africa or here in the UK – for whom bushmeat may be a traditional or prestige food – to explain the risks and to encourage them to alert their respective communities.

We simply must try and reduce the danger by ending the demand for bushmeat -  potentially saving many innocent human lives and, in the process, sparing the lives of many wild animals as well!

Blogging off.


P.S. Please donate to LAGA to help combat the bush meat trade.