Archive for December, 2014

New birth at SeaWorld

Wednesday, December 17th, 2014

Dear All,

My Born Free colleague Samantha has a sorry tale to tell about life and death, rejection and separation.

Here’s what she told me.

SeaWorld’s 2014 Christmas present arrived early with the birth of a new baby orca at its San Diego park on Tuesday 2nd December. The calf was born to 10-year-old orca Kalia but the park has yet to confirm which orca sired the calf. Beneath the video of Kalia’s ultrasound it states that Ulises is the father by artificial insemination. However, former SeaWorld trainer, John Hargrove, not only described the artificial insemination of the then 8 year old Kalia as ‘repulsive’ but stated ‘Until I see a DNA test on the calf, I don’t believe Ulises is the father. My entire career we collected sperm from Ulises and he never got a female pregnant naturally or via A.I – now they expect us to believe his sperm is magically viable.’

Wild orcas generally begin to breed at about 14.9 years of age, however SeaWorld has bred orcas as early as the age of six. One such individual is Kalina, who was separated from her own mother Katina when she was just four years old, and moved to San Antonio where she was allowed to mate with Kotar at the young age of six years. All four calves she went on to have were separated from her. She died at 25 years old from Septicema whilst residing at SeaWorld Orlando.

First time mother Kalia currently lives at San Diego with her own mother Kasatka, although for how long?  Kasatka herself was separated from her first calf, Takara, after 12 years when Takara was taken to SeaWorld Orlando. Takara lived there with her own calf, Kohana who was transported to Orlando in 2004. SeaWorld boasted at the time that both Takara and daughter Kohana had remained together at Orlando. However, at only three years of age, Kohana was separated from her mother and taken to Loro Parque in Tenerife, Spain.

At Loro Parque, Kohana has been used for breeding and by the unnaturally young age of eight she had birthed two calves with no mother or matriarchal figure to learn from. She rejected her first calf, Adan, who was hand reared and later re-united with her. She rejected her second calf, Victoria, who died within a year.

It’s a cycle of profound sadness.

As I say, it’s a tragedy on so many levels and it’s a story that will go on while enough people continue to pay good money to witness the incarceration of orca in marine parks around the world.

Has the tide turned? Will the Blackfish effect have the same power and impact as the story of Elsa and Born Free had all those years ago – and still does today? I hope so!

Freedom is not a dream.

Blogging off!


Elephants never forget: and neither do we

Friday, December 12th, 2014

Dear All,

It’s déjà-vu.

A few years ago four little elephants were ripped away from their families and sent to zoos in China.

The elephants came from Zimbabwe.

A Zimbabwe official, part of the Department responsible for issuing the export permits, had been to China to make sure the zoos were an ‘appropriate and acceptable’ destination – the language attached to the international regulations governing live exports of elephants form Zimbabwe.

Apparently they were – not withstanding that the zoos were afflicted by months of sub-zero temperatures (sometime as low as -20c), offered barren environments and lacked companion animals.

Today, only one of those 4 elephants survives. Three are dead, and the one survivor who is in Taiyuan Zoo in northern China, is in a very poor physical and psychological state, according to expert analysis of videos and photographs.

And today, more elephants are in the pipeline, destined to be exported from Zimbabwe, some say to zoos in China, some say to the United Arab Emirates.

Unconfirmed reports suggest that so far over 30 young elephants have been caught, alongside several lion cubs and sable antelope, and are currently being held in a compound in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park.

Whatever the actual number, one thing seems certain; These little elephants, who have been forcibly separated from their families, are destined for lives of misery and suffering – and probably short lives at that. And their families? Left to grieve and wonder and lament and cry for loved ones they have lost.

Can it still be possible that elephants are being caught from the wild, shipped around the world to be put on show, and be displayed for public entertainment?

It has to stop. We have to come to our senses. We have to stop treating sentient creatures as if they were little more than tins and boxes to be traded and commodified and trashed and disposed of at will – just because we can. We have to stop the suffering and the inhumanity of it all. We have to say, enough is enough!

Blogging off


Hyenas: Overlooked and Underappreciated

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Guest blog from Adam Roberts, Born Free Foundation CEO

When we hear stories about wildlife rescue, the accounts typically tell of species like elephants, or tigers, or macaques, or bears, or other well-loved and well-known species. Rarely do we hear about the plight of hyenas.

I remember the first time I saw wild hyenas. We were on safari in Kenya after the 2000 Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to CITES held in Nairobi, and our Land Rover emerged from a thicket of trees to see four or five hyenas lurking around the base of one very big tree. We gawked, amazed… how big; how powerful; how intriguing. Then, I looked up and saw the leopard in the tree with a fresh kill! The scavengers we watched with such joy were lingering for cast-offs from the leopard’s meal.

As a species, hyenas are greatly misunderstood. People seem to be turned off by the aggression in adult hyenas, or because hyenas are not generally perceived to be as ‘cute’ as other types of animals. But, hyenas are in need, just like any other species. (And, let me tell you… having bottle-fed baby hyenas at Born Free Foundation Ethiopia’s rescue center on the outskirts of Addis Ababa, I can assure you that they are utterly adorable, playful, and rambunctious!)

Adopt Born Free's rescued Hyenas here

To Born Free, not only do entire species matter, but individual animals matter. That’s why we rescue hyenas—an orphaned cub left behind when his mother was killed, a baby who fended for himself after a flood washed him out, a hyena who had been confined to a zoo—and rehabilitate them in a spacious enclosure. Hyenas are highly social, so the interaction that they experience at the rescue center is crucial to their recovery. Once they grow to be self-sufficient, we will release them back into the wild, if possible.

In the wild, hyenas only number in the tens of thousands. And, the hyena’s biggest threat? Humans. Hyenas often prey on livestock, so as prevention—and in retaliation—farmers shoot, trap, snare, or poison hyenas, or even hunt them with dogs. Humans also destroy the hyena’s habitat, and our encroachment goes so far as to reduce the habitat available to the hyena’s prey. Hyenas are also poached for their supposed superstitious and medicinal benefits, such as use in traditional healing and as an aphrodisiac.

With your help, we can ensure that these hyenas have the chance for healthy, happy lives: first at our center, and then, hopefully, in the wild. That’s where they belong, and we will do our absolute best to return them there—safe and strong.

Let’s hear it for the hyena! (You can help care for our rescued Hyenas by adopting them for just £2.50 per month today.)

Keep wildlife in the wild,


It’s Giving Tuesday!

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday at last a day with real meaning!  A day when we do not think about ourselves but when we think about others.

There is no greater reward in life than to give, whoever you are.

From the coins collected by caring kids on a dress-down day at school or a sponsored cake bake, to brave, sponsored individuals who scale mountains or run through the rain to  the generous support of corporate partners such as Land Rover, Kenya Airways, Kuoni, Thomson Airways, Orion Books and many more – it’s amazing and wonderful when we recognise that we actually improve our quality of life when we think of others.

So, I will keep this short and sweet.  To give is, in fact, to receive and I thank each and every single person, company, institution, school, community that steps forward to make Giving Tuesday so special.

And, to be honest, while of course I hope that Born Free will  be the subject of some of that generosity, giving to any cause – human, environmental, animal – it doesn’t matter.  It is the thought and the action that counts.

Blogging off


The death of a baby elephant at Copenhagen Zoo

Monday, December 1st, 2014

Can it be that only a few weeks ago I shivered in the cold and watched the Asian elephants at Copenhagen Zoo wandering rather aimlessly around their grassless enclosure? I could not have imagined then that the two-year old calf that trotted between two of the swaying adults (signs of stereotypic behaviour?) would soon be dead.

Just a few days ago, the Zoo (the same one that killed Marius the young giraffe) decided to euthanize the calf as it had developed acute symptoms of Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus (EEHV), a disease that strikes in captivity with frightening regularity.

It is highly debatable as to whether EEHV has any kind of significant impact on elephants in the wild and certainly evidence suggests that it does not kill a high proportion of young elephants, as has been the case with captive Asian elephants in North America where, since 1978, 25% of those born in zoos have died of EEHV.

But importantly this raises, once again, the over-riding question as to whether elephants should be in zoos at all.

In my view, the answer is a resounding no. Behavioural problems that I have witnessed time and time again, the dismal birth rate, the reduced longevity and, frankly, the miserable and depressing environments that so many of these animals are forced to endure surely must tell us that this is not part of the solution to the conservation of the species. Yes, there are massive challenges in the wild – habitat fragmentation, persecution, conflict and, of course, poaching, particularly of African elephants for their ivory. But unless we can conserve elephants, living wild and free as nature intended, and meet and overcome these challenges, then the individuals in zoos, the last, lingering representatives of their kind, will be a sorry indictment of our failure to meet our obligation to guarantee a real future for these extraordinary creatures.

Blogging off


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