Archive for September, 2014

A small step for Virgin – no giant leap for dolphin-kind

Tuesday, September 30th, 2014

Dear Friends of Wildlife

First, the good news.  Richard Branson and Virgin will no longer do business with captive marine facilities that “…take receipt of cetecea including whales and dolphins that were taken from the wild after 14th February 2014”.  Good.  This is, without doubt, a positive step.

Here’s the not so good news.

Despite spending two days with senior representatives from Virgin in Miami, the Company has not taken the bold, courageous and necessary step of actively ending its association with the exploitation of whales and dolphins in captivity.

Despite the best efforts of representatives from Born Free, the World Cetacean Alliance, the Animal Welfare Institute, Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the Orca Research Trust, we were unable to persuade Virgin to fully recognise the welfare crisis that captive cetacea, particularly orca, endure in marine aquariums.

What will be the result of Virgin’s statement today?

It will, for sure, get people talking.  But will it cause the captive marine display industry to change its business model; to commit itself to the conservation of wild and free-living dolphins and whales; to end its captive-breeding programmes (aimed at perpetuating the keeping of these animals in captivity, not for release to the wild)……?  I doubt it.

I recognise that Virgin and Richard Branson himself are associated in the public mind with leadership.  Whether it is space travel, being an Ocean Elder, or transforming working practices (Sir Richard announced only a few days ago that his Head Office staff could take as much as holiday as they wished), Virgin positions itself as a thought-leader in the entrepreneurial business world.

The pledge announced today is a indeed small step forward for Virgin but it not the giant leap for dolphin-kind that I had hoped for.

Nevertheless, the door is always open, the opportunity is still there and, together with colleagues from the animal protection movement, I am ready,  anytime, anywhere, to meet, to talk, and to take this to the next level.

Freedom is not a dream.

Blogging off


Read a joint statement from concerned NGOs here

When is it going to be about whales and not about us?

Tuesday, September 23rd, 2014

65th International Whaling Commission Meeting: Portoroz, Slovenia.

I wonder how they have survived. Not just the whales but the campaigners and members of the non-governmental movement who, year after year, have trudged off to meetings of the IWC to largely sit on the side-lines and watch nation States play political football with the lives and possibly the future of the largest mammals to have even inhabited the planet.

The 65th meeting seems to have followed that pattern, and its highlights make for rather gloomy reading.

Despite breaking the rules last time round (the Panama Meeting) Greenland (supported by Denmark and, bizarrely, the EU) got the votes necessary (more the 75%) to carry out extensive whaling – 164 Minke, 212 Fin, 2 Bowhead and 10 Humpback – every year for the next 4 years. Did the IWC hold them to account for breaking the rules last time? Simply, no.

The South Atlantic Whales Sanctuary, a conservation dream promoted by many South American countries, once more failed to get the three quarters majority needed to become reality – despite 20 years of effort.

The discussion on the Future of the IWC was a non-event. How can it be credible for this meeting to take place every single year? Imagine the cost, the effort, the lack of transparency, the politicking. Even CITES (Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora), my old stomping ground, has the good sense to meet once every 3 years.

Welfare discussions were once again characterised as being a ‘tool for the bunny-huggers to end whaling’ by the pro-whaling community, instead of a deeply serious issue that is a high priority for the public at large and which deserves ongoing and detailed deliberation – after all, even England’s controversial and widely-condemned 2013 badger cull was judged by government inspectors to have been a failure on welfare grounds. Welfare matters.

Politics at the IWC seems as naked as ever. The reported remarks by the delegate from Antigua and Barbuda that the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary would never happen unless concessions were made to whaling because he and his colleagues ‘had a blocking minority’ clearly told the world that those who support – and are supported by – Japan and other pro-whaling nations do not vote with their conscience or consider each case on its merits. It’s politics as usual.

So when is there going to be some common sense at the IWC? Maybe soon! On a motion from Chile, (well done Chile) it seems as if, in future, the role of NGOs will be enhanced, allowing far greater participation by civil society at meetings, in line with other international conventions.

That is a big step forward as, in my experience, all too often NGO delegates, people who dedicate their lives to very specific issues such as whaling, the ivory trade, the trade in tiger, rhino, lion and other wildlife body parts, often know more than the governments. Through the work of NGOs, a spotlight can be focussed on the future survival of some of the world’s most iconic species and their habitats, habitats that are home to millions of other, less glamorous, species that rarely if ever secure the limelight of media and public attention.

My hat is off to all those, like the redoubtable Dr Paul Spong (on whose excellent reports this blog is based), who year after year have followed the well-worn path to the IWC to bear witness to what our leaders do, in our name, to whales around the world. Maybe, just maybe, at the next IWC he and his comrades will have to the opportunity to help government delegates understand just how we, the people who vote for them and who pay their salaries, all feel about their performance on our behalf.

Maybe that will bring about the change we wish to see.

Blogging off.


P.S. If you wish to support Dr Paul Spong and Orcalab you can adopt Springer the Orca here.

Yes, We Want to Change the Zoo World

Thursday, September 11th, 2014

OK.  There are upwards of 10,000 zoos worldwide. In them live millions of wild animals.

The zoos’ stated purpose? To conserve and educate.

The reality? Millions of wasted lives. Zoos are, all too often, about little more than entertainment and exploitation.

Should we bring the zoo industry to an end? In my view, yes, but slowly, humanely, with compassion and on a tide of changing public opinion that rejects the very concept of the zoo.

But what about the short-term? Won’t animal suffering increase if zoos are forced to close?

Let’s be clear. Some zoos should be shut as quickly as possible – the sort of zoos we at Born Free witness every day, every week, every month. We don’t have the power to close them down but the authorities often do and it is our mission to ensure that the authorities apply all relevant and available laws to end and prevent gross suffering and neglect- and of course, that they safeguard the welfare of the individual animals.

The application of the law is vital. But so is the provision of resources to deal with the fallout of zoo closure in a compassionate way. It is to Europe’s everlasting shame that there are, for example, more than 40 solitary elephants held in zoos and circuses across the region and yet we do not have a single, purpose-built elephant sanctuary where they could find refuge.

Necessarily, Born Free sometimes works with zoos but only when we are sure that our collaboration will not perpetuate suffering, make space for new animals and throw a lifeline to a zoo.

Zoos that commit to closure and to the humane relocation of the animals will find us a willing partner. Zoos that think we are a ‘soft touch’ when the welfare or life of an animal is at stake, are very mistaken.

Sometimes captivity is the only option. The lions, leopards, tigers, elephants, great apes, primates, cheetah and the many other species that have been relocated to the Sanctuaries we operate or support would, I am sure, agree. But we know it is second best. Animals that have been kept in zoos or circuses are rarely candidates for release to the wild so it is our responsibility to provide them with a life worth living.

But we should never confuse the concept of ‘sanctuary’ – where the welfare of the animals is given the highest priority – with the concept of zoo where animals are exhibits and the needs of visitors take precedence.

Yes, I want to change the world. To end the zoo experiment. To refocus our efforts and keep wildlife in the wild. I believe that vision is one that is shared by millions and now we must turn that dream into reality.

Blogging off


The Elephant in the Room

Wednesday, September 10th, 2014

The elephant in the room

Elephants are amazing. The largest land mammal, gregarious, highly social, intelligent, family animals that bond for life.

So how is it possible that there are over 40 living solitary, lonely, miserable lives in zoos and circuses across Europe?

A new short film The Elephant in the Room, based on Born Free’s recent report,  Innocent Prisoner, shines a spotlight on the betrayal of these forgotten animals who, according to the film’s narrator, Virginia McKenna, endure a living death.

Made on location in the UK, the US, Norway, Romania and Serbia; Tariq, Amanda, Matthew and Emma – the team from the University of Hertfordshire that wrote, directed, produced and filmed The Elephant in the Room – indelibly captured the miserable lives that solitary captive elephants endure, distilling it into a 13 minute film of power and passion.

The experts they interviewed, Dr Joyce Poole, Dr Rob Atkinson, Chris Draper, Adam Roberts, Ed Stewart and Virginia herself, were unanimous in their condemnation the treatment of these elephants. ‘It would be like being forced to live your entire life in your bathroom’ said Dr Poole.

I sat and saw the film last night – twice. Each time I was close to tears. I have seen a lot in the last 30 years fighting for wildlife, but this situation is bad, really bad.

And the audience at Warner Brothers De Lane Lea cinema in London seemed equally stunned. Each one, in their own way, asked one over-riding question: “What can be done?”

The answer is at once complex and remarkably simple.  There is no place for solitary elephants to go. Nowhere that puts their welfare above the dictates of animal ‘exhibition’. Nowhere that will allow them to be elephants again.

We need your help to expose bad practices, stop captive suffering, end the keeping of elephants on their own (where feasible), end the import of elephants from the wild, and perhaps even begin the process of constructing a compassionate sanctuary for elephants in Europe.

We must end the capture of elephants from the wild for public display.

And we must end the largely futile zoo-based captive breeding programmes which will simply perpetuate the keeping of elephants in public display facilities – a discredited concept that is way past its sell-by date.

I firmly believe that no one who sees this unique film can fail to be deeply moved. But don’t take my word for it. See for yourself.

And if you agree with me, then spread the word, tell everyone you know.

These elephants will never go back to the wild. The very least we can do is to try and give them a life worth living!

Blogging off!


Sever the arteries of the illegal ivory trade

Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014

Ivory Shipping Routes

It all seems so simple.

Poachers are out there killing elephants. That is very, very bad.

Wildlife Rangers are out there to catch poachers. Good news.

All we need to do is make sure that the Rangers have the equipment and manpower to do their job and elephants will be safe.


A new report, Out of Africa, commissioned by Born Free USA and authored by top security analysts at C4ADS, has peeled back the lid on the murky world of international crime syndicates, racketeering, smuggling routes and the powerful people who provide cover for illegality on a massive scale.

Recent figures indicate that up to 100,000 elephants have been poached across Africa in the last 3 years. I reckon it could be more – a lot more!

How on earth is that possible?

As Out of Africa and its prequel Ivory’s Curse (highlighting the militarisation of the ivory trade) show, the reach and influence of corruption spreads far and wide.

Politicians, business leaders, entrepreneurs, haulage companies, airlines, shipping lines, customs officials, law enforcement agents and more are in up to their necks, tempted by massive profits, weak enforcement and low penalties if caught.

In addition, Out of Africa provides a detailed examination of the illicit ivory supply chain, including:

- Illegal ivory flows primarily in containers through the international shipping system. At least 100 containers may be moving annually, the majority through a small number of chokepoints.

- A large majority of all of the illegal ivory is accounted for within a small number of transactions; through a small number of ports and airports; and to a small number of criminal networks.

- Just the three ports of Mombasa, in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar in Tanzania act as exit points for the majority of shipments, pointing to the need for more carefully-targeted enforcement efforts.

- The top three airports in the chain are in Nairobi, Addis Ababa, in Ethiopia, and Johannesburg.

- Traffickers able to operate from the forest to the market can earn more than 2,500% in profit margins.

Born Free USA’s CEO Adam Roberts, interviewed by National Geographic, put his finger on the key issue highlighted by Out of Africa:

“The report says that too much attention is paid to the beginning and end of the ivory supply chain—on poaching and demand—and that more should be paid to how ivory is transported.

The priority has been focused historically on that which is readily accessible. Images of elephant carcasses littering the African savannah show the poaching problem. Ivory for sale in China and other East Asian markets shows the demand problem. But the intervening supply is hidden from sight.

Born Free has seen a strong focus on poaching and also on demand, but the third aspect of the trade—the movement of ivory from the dead elephant to the consumers’ hands—is a vital focus and provides a further pressure point to stop the trade and save elephants.”

Too right! The ivory trade has to be choked off at the supply end, the demand end but, crucially, right along every component of the supply route. We must not let them get away with it!

For more on the fight against the ivory trade, visit

Blogging off!