Archive for January, 2015

On the road

Friday, January 30th, 2015

What a whirlwind the last ten days have been!

On 20th January I flew with my colleagues from Born Free to Africa (with two lions, Maggie and Sonja in the hold below) on the inaugural flight of Kenya Airways new Dreamliner service from London to Nairobi!  Incredibly exciting.  Although I disembarked in Nairobi with Dr Liz Greengrass, Born Free’s Programmes Manager Field Conservation, the lions continued to South Africa and are now safely at Shamwari.

Liz and I spent a couple of days in Nairobi which were packed with meetings involving our friends at the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) and others before Liz headed to Amboseli with Manoa David, Born Free Kenya’s Programmes Officer to look at our Lion-Proof Boma building programme while I flew north with Tim Oloo, our Country Manager, to Meru to review the deployment of support and equipment donated to the KWS at the end of 2015 and plan for the year ahead with Victor Mutumah, Born Free Kenya’s Programmes Officer.  It was a great pleasure to meet to KWS Assistant Director Simon Gitau, Deputy Senior Warden Arop Sang, and KWS Senior Scientist, Geoffrey Budnotic

Meru is full of conservation challenges and opportunities – the protection of rhino, the repopulation of Grevy’s zebra and, of course, the conservation of lions through our Lion Rover project, supported by Land Rover.  That is why we are putting a full-time Born Free team into Meru to work both with the KWS and with the local communities in support of conflict resolution, anti-poaching and wildlife protection.

Two days on the ground seemed hardly enough time but we were soon heading back to Nairobi where I met up with my old friend, Jake Grieves-Cook who operates a number of small environmentally sensitive camps, including the only one in Nairobi National Park (

On Monday night, Liz and I boarded the Kenya Airways Dreamliner once more and headed back to the UK.

Tuesday evening found me attending a wonderful social event in London hosted by Nicky Summer who has the extraordinary knack of bringing a wide variety of interesting people together to share ideas and find common cause.  From surgeons and interior designers to super-yacht brokers, the heady mix of talent in the private dining room at Mortons was intoxicating (I felt slightly overwhelmed) but it did not prevent me from catching Wednesday’s 05.45 Eurostar to Paris the following morning to attend a presentation by the French government on their national ivory action plan, attended by the Environment Minister, Ségolène Royal. It was so encouraging to hear the French taking resolute measures to stifle the demand for ivory.  Henceforth, it is illegal to export any raw or cut ivory from France and the Minister also announced a funding pool to assist support elephant protection and conservation around the world.

Attending the same meeting were my good friends, Christophe and Capucine from the Brigitte Bardot Foundation with whom I then held a series of meetings (together with their colleague Oumy) about the work of the Species Survival Network ( and the upcoming CITES CoP ( to be held in South Africa in late 2016.

Barely had we finished our coffee then I was on a train to Brussels where, on Thursday, together with Daniel Turner, Programmes Manager, Captive Wild Animals/Policy and Mark Jones, Programmes Manager Wildlife Policy from Born Free, I attended a series of meetings with leading members of the European Parliament looking at how the EU can better focus its efforts on tackling the illegal wildlife trade and the criminal syndicates that exploit it.  I must say it was refreshing to be with a number of MEPs for whom this is such an important issue and who sincerely want to make a difference.

The train back to London should have been restful but there were articles to do and I made a start on them at least …

So, for now, the whirlwind is over but then there is next week…

Blogging off


Dolphin March

Monday, January 19th, 2015

As I mentioned in my previous blog, on Saturday 17th January 2015 I attended a march against the annual slaughter of Dolphins in Taiji. Transcribed below is my speech from the end of the march in Trafalgar Square. I’d like to share it with you.

Good afternoon everyone.

Great to see so many people here in Trafalgar Square.

I am not going to talk about dolphin behaviour or even that much about Taiji. Dominic will be setting out the details of the campaign so I am going to focus on hope.

I won’t detain you for long but I want us to appreciate for a moment the fact that we are here in the UK, we are expressing our views without fear or favour, that we are the beneficiaries of free speech.

So for a moment, join me in a few moments silence in solidarity with the people of France and in support of Free Speech. Je Suis Charlie.

And now I want to ask you to stand in silent respect as we remember together the thousands of dolphins that have been brutalised, injured, killed and murdered in Taiji.

I am not going to talk more specifically about Taiji. We know what goes on. Instead I want to talk of triumph over adversity, of David and Goliath, of how good people, working together, can change the world.

Thirty years ago, together with my mum and Dad, Virginia and Bill, I started Born Free. How hopeful and enthusiastic and NAIVE we were. We believed that the absurdity of locking wild animals away in zoos and circuses would end within a few years. After all, who seriously thinks we are going to address the crisis facing wildlife and biodiversity across the world by breeding a few hundred species in captivity, releasing a handful and claiming that seeing animals locked up for life will educate, inspire and motivate the public.

Well we were right AND wrong. The notion that captive exploitation of wild animals is an effective conservation tool is as preposterous today as it was then… But the prospect of seeing zoos and circuses quickly slide into oblivion has proved to be over-optimistic.

There are still 10,000 zoos worldwide. They are still the final resting place of millions of wild animals. They are still consumers of wildlife sucking in and wasting billions of pounds each and every year.

But there is hope and the story of captive dolphins in the UK is what gives me that hope. There are no dolphinaria in the UK. Not one. I, together with my Born Free colleagues, Care For The Wild, British Divers Marine Life Rescue, and many others, helped three of the last captives return to the wild over 20 years ago. I was privileged enough to travel with them to the Turks & Caicos Island where the Into the Blue project was based and, after six months of rehabilitation, see them swim free.  It was one of the highlights of my life’s work.

The UK is, officially, a captive dolphin free zone.

Again, naively, I thought that the battle was won. I was wrong. Like any business where there are large amounts of money to be made and where, if you lose an asset it can easily be replaced, the dolphin industry moved on. It may have written off the UK as a bad debt but it has gone on to build new empires in Europe, America and in the Far East.

So today there are new challenges to overcome. Increasingly wealthy Chinese customers seduced by the dolphin’s smile, US citizens and international visitors who continue to swallow the captive industry’s spin and pay good money to perpetuate the commercial exploitation of dolphins and whales – commercial exploitation that is fed by and which sustains the current Taiji slaughter.

But the game is changing.

The relentless efforts of anti-captivity champions, of so many people (too many to mention) but including Ric O’Barry, Naomi Rose, the Garrets, Paul Spong and Helena Symmonds, John Crowe, Alan Knight, Ingrid Visser, Sam Berg, Courtnay Vail, Jeffery Ventre and many more. The courageous film-makers who brought us the daring Cove and the incredible Blackfish.

It takes time to bring about lasting change. But be assured of one thing. Change will come. It is inevitable. I believe we will look back on this time as a tipping point, a moment in history when people of compassion delivered a new vision of what our relationship with the natural world should be about. I may not see it in my lifetime but I have no doubt, no doubt at all, that we can make this a better world – for people and for the non-human animals that share our tiny, spinning, used and abused planet.

To conclude: I recall the words of two famous people:

Dr Martin Luther King Junior said: “Never, never be afraid to do what’s right especially when the well-being of a person in an animal is at stake. Society’s punishments are small compared to the wounds we inflict on our soul when we look the other way.” We will not look the other way.

And Audrey Hepburn, in wonderful, simple and brilliant language said: “As you grow older you realise why you have two hands. One for helping yourself and one for helping others” Our hands are outstretched and ready to help the dolphins of Taiji and dolphins and all other abused wildlife around the world.

Finally, there is another reason why you have two hands. To give yourselves a round of applause. You deserve it for making the effort to turn out to show your fundamental opposition to the Taiji slaughter and the captive industry that pays for it.

So put your hands together – well done. Thank you.

Will Travers OBE
President Born Free Foundation

17th January 2015 – London

P.S. here is a video of the day

Taiji Cove Dolphin Slaughter

Wednesday, January 14th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife,

Rarely is there a chance for us to come together to show our disgust and disapproval for some terrible act perpetrated against wildlife and to call for compassion, respect and peace.

Next Saturday – 17th January – is one of those special occasions.

The annual slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan – unimaginable cruelty and exploitation exposed so brilliantly in The Cove by long-term campaigners such as Ric O’Barry – may take place on the other side of the world, but it is relevant to us all.

According to Sea Shepherd, the dolphin meat from Taiji is valued at between US$40,000 – US$60,000.  However, the live dolphins caught and sold into the captive industry from Taiji are valued between US$5.5 and 7.3 million!

So, as we see so many times, if you want to know the truth, follow the money.

Swimming with a captive dolphins used to be Number 1 on many people’s bucket list (don’t ask me why).  It is now Number 7.  Soon, I hope, it will fall out of the Top 10 and then, instead of being something to do, it will become something to avoid.

That’s why Taiji matters to us.  It is the tourists visiting captive dolphin facilities that perpetuates the economic viability of Taiji and that is why I will be there, along with Dominic Dyer of Care for the Wild, Maisie Williams from Game of Thrones and many others, to take part in our peaceful but potent midday March from Cavendish Square to Trafalgar Square in London on 17th January.  I will add my voice to the growing global chorus that will, one day, bring an end to the shame that is Taiji.

If you can, join me at London’s Cavendish Square (W1G 0AJ). I’ll be there from 11 am – nearest tube Oxford Circus. For more information visit the event Facebook page.

Blogging off


Hope for Europe’s captive elephants?

Thursday, January 8th, 2015

Well, Innocent Prisoner and The Elephant in the Room have caused quite a stir!

People are amazed and outraged that across the entire European landscape there is not a single dedicated rescue centre for elephants.  There is no sanctuary for the 40 or so solitary elephants residing in European zoos or circuses.  The US has two.

Of course, in my view, it would be best if some of those solitary elephants could go back to their natural habitats and even be released into the wild but that is unlikely to be a realistic prospect for many.  Years of confinement in tiny cramped, artificial enclosures, often subjected to harsh, bitter climates, will have created a whole raft of psychological and physiological problems that will make it impossible for these animals to be set free.

But that doesn’t mean we should stand idly by.

It will be, pardon the pun, a mammoth undertaking but I am convinced that it is possible to give some of these elephants a life worth living, the space to move around at will, the opportunity to make choices and to benefit from the care they need to mitigate the problems of the past.  It is our responsibility – every single European citizen who cares about elephants – to make this happen.

Born Free have access to top experts, people who have managed rescued elephants and created sanctuaries in other parts of the world.  These visionaries will guide us.  Born Free has the determination to make Europe’s First Elephant Sanctuary a reality and our work is, with your help, already underway.

Born Free started in 1984 under the name of Zoo Check because of the death of Pole Pole, the last African elephant in the London Zoo.  Her death inspired us then and it inspires us now, 20 years later, to do what we can to reduce the suffering, neglect and misery endured by Europe’s solitary elephants as much as we possibly can.

I often refer to the spirit of Elsa and that spirit continues to burn bright.  But now I invoke the spirit of Pole Pole, a beacon of hope for Europe’s innocent prisoners – let’s get the elephants out of the room!

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