Archive for October, 2014

Brown’s Performance Fails to Impress

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

As the Catalan Parliament considers a ban on wild animals in circuses, British animal trainer Rona Brown gives evidence. You can watch her testimony here:

Born Free’s President, Will Travers OBE, offers his verdict on Ms. Brown’s performance:

Ms. Brown’s experience with circus animals is clearly not the same as my parents Bill and Virginia were exposed to while making the film Born Free. The two CIRCUS lions that the production company had brought in to star in Born Free had only one idea in mind: to cause trouble and worse. After they nearly ‘got’ my Dad they were withdrawn from the film.

For Ms Brown to try and justify the continued use of wild animals in circuses on the basis that films using animals would not have been made is patently ridiculous.

She refers to Gorillas in the Mist – a film made more than 20 years ago. Things have changed. The latest Planet of the Apes films do not use wild animals, nor does the new SSE TV advert “featuring” an orangutan. They are all CGI. Life of Pi did have one small sequence with a live tiger but the rest was CGI.

My friend and colleague Ian Redmond OBE, Chairman of the Ape Alliance and former research assistant to Dr Dian Fossey, has this to say about Ms. Brown’s claim that Gorillas in the Mist could not have been made without circus animals:

“A circus chimp was used in filming one small part of Gorillas in the Mist, but it is wrong to say the film could not have been made without it. Furthermore, if Dian Fossey had still been alive she would never have allowed it and would have insisted on using CGI or animatronics”.
She suggests that animals in zoos are being treated more and more like animals in the circus. What nonsense. I am not aware of any serious zoo that puts its big cats through rings of fire, has a trainer in spandex in the enclosure, ‘complements’ the experience with flashing lights and loud music.

Regarding the impossibility of people all going to Africa: that is true. Any more than everyone can go to the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, the Great Pyramids. We cannot do everything but does that mean it is OK for us to bring such wild animals into close (unnatural) proximity with the UK urban population  for the transient ‘entertainment’ of the circus experience with all its distorted values? Absolutely not.

She claims that going to a circus gives kids the chance to smell the animal, see it up close, benefit from a conservation message and the provision of information that tells them all about each animal – where it comes from, how old it is and more. That is supposed to justify the use of wild animals in a circus. I can’t even see the straw she is clutching at!

Circuses deliver “benefits to conservation”? I cannot find the words necessary to debunk such a ridiculous assertion. I find it hard to imagine one serious conservation professional aligning themselves with the so-called conservation credentials of a circus.


An Antiquated Practice

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

So I guess there are millions of people who have one or more pieces of ivory in their house.  Items that may have been handed down through the generations, picked up at boot sales, be part of a collection – who knows.  The question is what to do with them and what to do with antique ivory that has been acquired pre-1947 (the cut-off date whereby ivory is recognised as being antique in the UK)

On the BBC’s Antique Roadshow on 19th October, I debated this with Marjorie Trusted of the V&A Museum and Antique Roadshow’s host, Fiona Bruce.  Marjorie Trusted was concerned about the very notion of destroying antique ivory.  I, on the other hand, am more concerned about perpetuating the monetary value attached to ivory.  On the same show, one of the experts on the team valued an ivory goblet depicting Black Forest scenes with deer and grapes, at around £10,000 or more.  That in itself, in my view, exemplified the problem and the incentive to collect, to trade ivory and the antiques of tomorrow are the potential carvings of today.  So my position is very clear: if an expert from the Museum and antiquity world can verify that a particular item has overwhelming artistic and historical merit such that it represents part of a past culture, then as long as that item is held on behalf of the public in a museum or other facility and is not traded or sold (it can, of course, be moved from museum to museum by way of a loan) then I accept that we cannot airbrush out history but what I cannot agree to is that all carved ivory items are of some real value and that there should be a commercial trade in them.

The world is awash with junk ivory carvings!  Elephants are being eradicated from their remaining strongholds at the rate of between 30,000 – 50,000 a year.  The ivory trade will lead to the extinction of elephants across most of their existing range within a matter of a few years and we must take bold, decisive actions now to prevent that happening.

  1. We must provide, – we, the wealthy affluent West who have largely eradicated most of our large mega-vertebrates –  the resources to support the African Elephant Action Plan, a blue-print for elephant conservation, drawn-up and agreed to by all 36 African elephant range States – the countries where Africa’s elephants still live.

    For £100 million (compare that to the estimated £50 billion cost estimate of the High-Speed 2 rail link between London and Birmingham which will shave 20 minutes off the journey time) we can make a difference in the field where it counts.

  2. We don’t need to suppress demand, we need to eliminate demand and the single most effective measure I can think of is for the Chinese Premier to sign into law measures to close the current legal domestic ivory markets in China and  dramatically hasten the end all trade in ivory.

  3. We have to accept our own responsibilities in this matter and end all sales of ivory internally in our own countries – no more car boot sales with ivory; no more ivory on the internet; and no more so-called antiques.  Only items of genuine historical or antique merit may be retained for public education purposes in non-commercial facilities.

  4. And finally, we need the world, as a whole, to pay attention to what is happening not just to elephants but to all of our precious bio-diversity. A recent report by WWF indicated that 52% of wildlife has disappeared between 1970 and 2010.    At that rate there will be precious little left for my children, your children and future generations to appreciate, respect and to be inspired by.

We have reached a tipping point.  The so-called sustainable use agenda where we potentially use wildlife and wildlife resources in a way that allows us to make commercial gains to conserve the species, has run out of steam.  There are simply too many of us and too few of ‘them’ to allow such a flawed concept to continue.  We need to conserve and protect biodiversity and species because they need us and we need them  and because without those natural eco-systems on which we mutually depend, we jeopardise our own future -  not because we can make money out of them.

I know there will be people who fundamentally disagree with me. That is their right.  But I think we have no choice but to refashion our relationship with the natural world so that there will be wild animals and wild places long into the future.

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