Archive for March, 2015

Cause for Hope or Missed Opportunity?

Friday, March 27th, 2015

I’ve been to many international wildlife meetings over the years – perhaps too many. You either leave with head low, despairing at the lack of action, or with a sense of optimism that things are actually getting better.

So it was at the Kasane Meeting on Illegal Wildlife Trade and Elephant Protection that just ended at the Cresta Safari Resort on the banks of the Zambezi. I feel that perhaps there is cause for optimism. Why?

Countries are doing something (at last)!

Ivory stockpiles – a relentless temptation to trade – are being destroyed or will soon be. Ethiopia and Kenya’s Ivory burns, which took place over the last couple of weeks, will be followed by Malawi, Uganda and the UAE.

Enforcement efforts are improving – no doubt helped by significant German financial support, the forensic training of hundreds of rangers in Botswana, sponsored by the Netherlands, and better border security in hotspots like Ethiopia thanks to Born Free and the UK government’s Wildlife Challenge Fund.

Open admission at the meeting that corruption plays a major role in facilitating illegal trade was explicit and countries lined up to pledge additional support for the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). Furthermore, the meeting made clear its intentions to apply anti-money-laundering protocols (wildlife crime now to be designated a ‘predicate offense’) and to include measures which permit the sequestration of assets, so criminals don’t get away with it.

The setting up of the Transport Task Force under the leadership of the UK’s former Foreign Secretary, William Hague, will bring far more attention to the transport links and weaknesses in shipping security which currently make it all too easy for wildlife products, including ivory, to be smuggled with relative impunity.

Vietnam and China, so often painted in a very unfavourable light by the international community and the media alike when it comes to wildlife trade-related issues,  announced improved enforcement effort, increased public education programmes to reduce demand and extensive further reviews of internal trade controls (although falling short of the outright prohibition of domestic ivory trade in China, that so many, including Born Free, are calling for).

But, make no mistake, the situation remains grave, indeed desperate.

Over 1,200 rhino poached in South Africa in 2014 alone.

Nearly 90 wild tigers confirmed poached in that same year.

Real decline in elephant populations which, at best, may be 470,000 across the entire Continent (with 130,000 of those – or 30% – found in Botswana).

Recognition that massive, out of control illegal trade in little-known animals such as pangolins (also known as ‘scaly anteaters’) may be driving the 8 species towards extinction.

However, while there were the positives, of some concern, from my point of view, was the lacklustre contribution made by a number of technical delegates, the organisations and people that countries turn to for the facts. Their contributions were confused, inconsistent and there are still major gaps in the data which, after all this time and all this money, you would have thought they would have nailed. Maybe we make it all too complicated and when it gets too complicated decisions are hard to make.

To me, it is simple.

There are too many of us and too few of them (however you define them – elephants, rhino , lions, tigers, etc.) for us any longer to think we can try to justify our continued terminal exploitation of so many species by dressing it up as ‘sustainable use’. My view is we need to regard these species – maybe they should be called World Heritage Species – as a precious part of our common inheritance and we should, as a matter of obligation, provide the resources for their future protection and conservation (and the wild lands they need in order to flourish) regardless of whether we can ‘make them pay their way’.

Just as when, as nations, we invest in admiring and conserving great works of art for the common good of humanity, and are appalled when they are wantonly destroyed, so we should regard the living treasures of our natural world – and make the resources available to so discharge our responsibility for their long term survival.

Kasane may mark a watershed. Stimulated by the London Conference in February 2014, nations may have discovered that they care a bit more than they thought, can do more than they’d had originally intended – and are willing to be held to account for their actions.

The next meeting will be in Vietnam. That is when we will truly discover whether our new and increasingly global efforts to end wildlife crime, and bring security to threatened wildlife species and the fragile human communities that they live alongside, will have made the difference we – and the wildlife we care about – need to see.

Blogging off

Will Travers

How long does it take to fix the global poaching epidemic?

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015

Twenty five years ago I joined a throng of young activists, conservationists, investigators and journalists outside La Grande Salle in the Lausanne Conference Centre in Switzerland and waited for the verdict. Would the world ban the international, commercial ivory trade – or blink?

The decision to ban the trade was made and, at the time, we all thought this would lead to a far more secure future for wild elephants.

I thought it might also be the precursor to better times for other species under threat, iconic species such as tigers and rhino.

So why, in February 2014, did the UK Government and Princes Charles and William feel the need to host a crisis meeting on Wildlife Trafficking, seeking the agreement of the international community to a raft of urgent measures to try and halt the bloody slaughter that has been visited on these and other species over the last decade or more?

It could have been because of the now widely-accepted links between international crime and the brutal activities of militia groups and the illegal wildlife trade. It could have been because the numbers were now simply too devastating to ignore (10,000 elephants poached each year in Tanzania alone). It could have been because of the growing anxiety, distress and outrage expressed by people all over the world on social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter.

But whatever the reason, the London Summit, as it has become known, managed to secure the agreement of a number of key countries which signed the London Declaration, committing them, amongst other actions, to:

  1. Eradicate the market for illegal wildlife products
  2. Ensure Effective Legal Frameworks and Deterrents to combat wildlife trafficking
  3. Promote sustainable livelihoods and economic development, as a means of eradicating the illegal trade in wildlife.

Just over a year later, how does the scorecard look?

If we consider the three species highlighted at the London Summit:

The latest intelligence indicates that elephant poaching continues unabated. Zimbabwe’s elephant population is down 10,000 from the 2001 census. Rumours abound that elephant numbers in key Tanzanian Parks and Reserves are massively depleted. Mali may be on the verge of losing all its elephants. Small, fragile populations in Central and West African countries teeter on the brink of annihilation. On the demand side of the equation, in February 2015 China introduced a one-year ban on the import of some categories of ivory products, although the scope of the measure appears to be very limited.

In 2014, South Africa lost 1,215 rhino to poachers (up by over 200 animals from the previous record year). The situation may get even worse if that country continues to pursue its increasingly controversial and discredited plans to legalise rhino horn trade.

Reports from India indicate that wild tiger populations may be starting to recover in some areas, although poaching and illegal trade persist across much of the tiger’s range, in spite of the several hundred million dollars injected into the Global Tiger Recovery Plan in recent years.

Other species such as lions, recently declared ‘threatened’ by the highly-respected United States Fish and Wildlife Service, are under relentless and unsustainable pressure across much of their range (so much so that the EU has suspended lion trophy imports from Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and Cameroon).

Whichever way you slice it, the results are deeply troubling. A follow-up meeting to the London Summit is due to take place in Kasane, Botswana, on March 25th. The key question facing delegates is simple: has the global response since the London Summit turned the tide and, if not, what do we need to do now?

In my view there are five key actions.

Firstly, stop pussy-footing around when it comes to wildlife law enforcement. Train and equip rangers and pay them properly. At the same time invest in innovative detection and infiltration strategies to disrupt and dismember the poaching and smuggling networks.

Secondly, evaluate and, where necessary, overhaul national legislation, in consultation with other countries to ensure deterrent, custodial tariffs for wildlife crime of consistent severity apply across borders so that there is no ‘soft touch’ for convicted criminals.

Thirdly, implement a complementary suite of legal sanctions to ensure that crime doesn’t pay and criminals do. Sequestrate their assets, confiscate their houses, clear out their bank accounts – make sure anyone aiding and abetting wildlife crime runs a high risk of losing everything.

Fourthly, prevail upon countries that are the end-user markets for wildlife products to declare that all trade – including legal trade where it is currently exists – in high value items from threatened or endangered species is banned. Agree that there will be no more exemptions for antiques or articles that were acquired before the species was listed by CITES. Close the loopholes, strangle the trade, choke the demand.

Finally, given the potentially damaging nature of illegal wildlife trade on social stability, public health, economic development and national and regional security in many countries – not to mention its direct impact on vulnerable wildlife populations – we need to link development aid to measures aimed at combatting illegal wildlife trade. In this way we can help deliver greater security to remote communities, increasingly threatened by insurgent militias such as Al Shebab and Boko Haram, a factor recognised by both the British and US Governments and set out in Born Free USA’s recent reports Ivory’s Curse and Out of Africa.

The funds currently committed to tackling illegal wildlife trade represent a tiny fraction of countries’ international development budgets. The UK has given £10 million so far but our overseas aid budget alone stands at £12.2 billion. These substantial resources, if carefully applied, can have a powerful, positive influence and help reduce wildlife trafficking, while bringing life-changing social, economic and conservation benefits to some of the world’s most disenfranchised communities.

The Kasane meeting provides an opportunity for delegates to review the state-of-play, assess the impact of actions taken so far, and identify those actions that still need to be implemented. It also provides an opportunity to encourage key countries, such as South Africa, Thailand and India – that were not signatories to the London Declaration – to ‘step up’ and be counted.

Twenty five years ago I was in Switzerland. On the 25th of March I will be in Kasane and once again the world will be watching.

Blogging off,


Whalefest 2015 is over – or is it?

Thursday, March 19th, 2015

The incredible buzz of the 10,000 – 15,000 people who turned up at the Brighton Centre over the weekend still lingers and may well sustain me through to Whalefest 2016!

It really was something special, from the graveyard of cetacean crosses on the beach to the Whale Tails, to the fabulous presentations by an inspiring cast of passionate conservationists and animal protectionists (Steve Backshall, Ric O’Barry, Adrienne Wandel, Michaela Strachan, Gordon Buchanan, Monty Halls, John Hargrove, Mark Brownlow, Captain Paul Watson, Steve Greenwood, James Brickell, Simon Pickup, Daniel Turner) and hats off to Ian and Dylan who created this extraordinary event.

Then there were all the stallholders representing companies that care and charities that campaign and every one of them fully participating in the biggest event of its kind in the world.

Some of the highlights for me were the Question Time debate hosted by Donal MacIntyre with Norman Baker MP (LibDem), Graham Cox (Con), Caroline Lucas MP (Green), Angela Smith MP (Lab).; the panel discussion about the future of captive dolphins and dolphinaria; the stories from the frontline as told by Ric O’Barry and others (what an honour to interview Ric!) and who could forget the pro-captivity banner that suddenly materialised in the main auditorium as John Hargrove was telling his story or the two clearly planted individuals who tried to assassinate his character and good-standing!

No-one ever said this was going to be easy but as I said in my presentation, it is not a question of if the keeping of cetacean in captivity will end, it is simply a question of when.

So, if you went to Whalefest 2015, I hope that you had as brilliant a time as I had and if you did not then I would suggest you book early for next year.

I should end by thanking the Born Free team who put their heart and soul into supporting this extraordinary festival.  So hats off to them as well.

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A letter from Nicky Campbell

Wednesday, March 11th, 2015

Hi All,

This week, rather than words from me, I thought it vitally important to reprint a letter from my good friend, journalist and wildlife champion Nicky Campbell to Deyu Miao, from the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China, London.

It is a powerful and heartfelt appeal to China to take a bold, principled and compassionate leadership approach to the bloody ivory trade that is steadily wiping elephants from the face of the earth. As a journalist, Nicky asks some searching questions. I hope he gets the answers.

Best and blogging off


From Nicky Campbell:

Your Excellency,

I read your letter to the Guardian (Friday 6th March) about the ivory trade with huge interest. As a journalist, if I were ever to have the privilege of interviewing you, these are some of the questions I would ask.

Do you agree that as long as China insists on permitting such a high value and valuable ‘legal’ trade, there will always be a flourishing illegal trade? To what extent does this lucrative illegal trade contribute to the rapid decline of elephants in the wild? Is limiting and regulating any highly sought after product sustainable in an ever-expanding 10 trillion pound consumer economy? Do you acknowledge that the majority of Africa’s illegal ivory ends up in China?

You say the whole process scale is subject to the toughest regulatory and monitoring measures. If that is the case then why are new carving factories opening all the time?

Do you agree that elephants are self–aware, highly complex social beings with an extraordinarily wide range of emotions? If so, you are in line with every scientist and researcher working in this field. Have you ever seen an elephant mourn its dead?

You talk of China’s ‘intangible cultural heritage’ of ivory carving. With all we now know about elephants, is this cultural heritage morally justified? How can it be justified, given that whatever its scale, it entails the slaughter of sentient and now endangered animals? Why should it not, like so many other ‘intangible cultural heritages’ the world over, become a relic of history?

If a far away country, had a cultural heritage involved panda skin accessories, would you be happy if that country were to argue for a ‘limited’ legal trade (with the inevitable parallel illegal trade) or would you be prevailing upon them to put an end to the practice? If the Chinese government were to impose a complete ban on ivory, how do you think the world would react?

Lastly Sir, to what I really do feel is the most important question of all. If you answer none of the others please do address this one. Which to your mind is more beautiful – a family of elephants by a watering hole at sunset, safe from the Kalashnikov and chainsaw, or an ivory ornament?

Nicky Campbell

Read about Born Free’s work to fight the Ivory Trade

Find out more about the illegal ivory trade supply chain

World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing!

Wednesday, March 4th, 2015

The second World Wildlife Day got people thinking and doing! I call it a success.

WWD2 touched millions of people around the world and stimulated some amazing activities – large and small.

In Kenya, the President, Uhuru Kenyatta, torched 15 tonnes of ivory (that’s the remains of around 2,000+ elephants) and promised that the rest of Kenya’s substantial ivory stockpile would be destroyed by the end of the year.  Amazing!

That has sent the most powerful smoke-signal to the rest of the world that it is time to make the ivory trade history – new ivory, old ivory, carved ivory, raw ivory – ALL IVORY.

In the UK, former Minister, Norman Baker MP, along with his band The Reform Club, released an EP entitled Animal Countdown, which is his contribution to raising awareness about the plight of some of the world’s most iconic species. His message: if we don’t do something fast, they could disappear on our watch.

Around the country and, indeed, around the world, Born Free supporters wore their Born Free Wildlife Ribbons with pride.  They took photos, they sent in selfies, they raised their voices and made a difference.  You can still buy a Ribbon.

But here’s the thing.  We should not just focus our attention on the plight of wildlife on one single day a year – World Wildlife Day, good though that is.  We have to make sure that we are doing something to protect and conserve wildlife – and reducing wild animal suffering – EVERY SINGLE DAY OF THE YEAR! That’s the Born Free Foundation’s Compassionate Conservation agenda.

So, as they say in the movies, ‘Two thumbs-up’ for the UN’s World Wildlife Day but let’s – each and every one of us – start by making wildlife a feature in our busy lives, not a ‘once a year’ exception.

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