Archive for May, 2015

Global Initiative Against Transnational Organized Crime

Friday, May 29th, 2015

Dear All,

I recently returned from South Africa where I took part in a fantastic series of evening debates and presentations at the University of Cape Town under the auspices of the Global Initiative against Transnational Organised Crime, the Centre of Criminology and in association with the Wildlife Action Trust.

Far, far too much for me to try and put into a blog but, thankfully, each evening presentation and debate was filmed by the brilliant Julian Rademeyer and they are all available here.

Just to help you a bit, the first session on Monday 18th May was entitled ‘People and Wildlife; Status report’.  The second session on 19th May was entitled ‘Towards a Solution’. I am the last speaker, coming on at about 1 hour, 5 minutes into the film.   I would also draw your attention to the excellent presentation from Professor Alejandro Nadal, Professor of Economics, who simply dismembers the pseudo-economics that are currently driving the process by which South Africa may try to legalise rhino horn trade.   The third session on 20th May is entitled ‘Enforcement and Justice’ featuring John Sellar, the former CITES Law Enforcement Chief, Dr Paula Kahumbu from Wildlife Direct and a most interesting series of additional presentations.  It really is an incredibly important series of discussions.

I hope that the decision-makers in South Africa take time to listen to and watch these presentations and to understand that the course they are currently embarked upon – to legalise rhino horn trade – may well turn a disaster into a crisis and increase not decrease levels of rhino poaching.

Anyway, enough from me.  Pour yourself a lemonade, plump up the cushions and see what you think.

Blogging off,


Working for Change

Thursday, May 28th, 2015

Dear Friends,

As the summer approaches here in the UK, many people prepare for a well-deserved break, a holiday, time to recharge the batteries and reconnect with friends and family.

My colleague, Daniel Turner, reflects on these themes in his Guest Blog which follows.

He is right – it is a struggle but we are making progress.

So over to Daniel.

Blogging off


Working for Change

Let’s face it, working for an international animal protection NGO is hard. Working long hours striving to achieve what is often regarded as an impossible task: to improve the lives of individual animals. At the Born Free Foundation one of our short and medium term objectives is to improve the conditions for wild animals housed in captivity and our focus is the millions of wild animals in zoos, circuses and the individual animals kept as private ‘pets’ – all exploited in one way or another to provide entertainment. Ultimately, we believe wild animals should not be kept in captivity, but whilst we continue to challenge the concept, much of our work focuses on the welfare of the individual animal and the laws that should be providing for their protection.

Fueling our onward momentum are the momentary successes which have recently included an end to the purchasing of wild-caught dolphins from the notorious Japanese Taiji dolphin hunt by the 1000 members of the Japanese Association of Zoos and Aquaria (JAZA), a successful campaign to end the production of ‘Dolphins with the Stars’, a reality TV show exploiting dolphins in a Portuguese zoo, and the agreement by individual travel companies to stop offering holiday activities that may involve any cruel treatment of animals. Successes that make all the hard work worth it.

Our struggle to bring positive change for animals and to develop compassionate policy continues, but what is obvious is we are not alone. Millions of people support our work, thousands of people send us reports of animal cruelty and neglect seeking our support and help, and those that can, send us donations so we can continue our work. As I enter my 15th year working for the Born Free Foundation, it is clear to me that despite the hard work, there is change, life for animals in captivity is improving, better laws now exist to protect animals and increasingly more people support our belief that wild animals belong in the wild.

Thank you for believing in Born Free.


Daniel Turner

Programmes Manager, Captivity Policy.

Can we save the rhino?

Monday, May 11th, 2015

Just when you thought it could not get any worse…

In just over a week’s time, on 18th- 20st May, I shall be in Cape Town taking part in a meeting at the University of Cape Town on wildlife trade-related issues.  How sadly prescient that the latest figures for rhino poached in South Africa were released today, Monday 11th.  They make shocking reading.

Despite all efforts, so far the number for the first four months of this year exceeds the number for the same period last year – by a massive 18%! – In the first four months of 2015, 393 rhino have been poached compared to 331 last year. Does this foretell yet another record year for rhino poaching, following on from last year’s abysmal total of 1,215 slaughtered?

It is worth remembering that in 2007, just 13 rhinos were poached in South Africa.

For some this will reinforce their assertion that legalising rhino horn trade could be the answer:  Flood the market, secure massive levels of income, create a fortress conservation model so that rhino are better protected and poachers deterred.  For others, including myself, it means that we need to take this to a far higher level politically, including  in consumer countries.  We cannot ask more African citizens to lay down their lives to protect rhino while consumer markets do not take full and effective measures to end demand. Nor should we ask rangers to put themselves in harm’s way when their own government seems willing to risk an escalation in poaching by seeking to legalise rhino horn trade, against all logical advice.

Meanwhile in Vietnam, it has just been reported that police in the north-central Province of Nghe An have seized 31 rhino horns worth millions of dollars and arrested two men.  This is further evidence that efforts to re-educate consumers have yet to make the difference we all seek. Apparently a recent survey found that 75% of those interviewed in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City believe that rhino horn has health benefits and that one-third of people surveyed think that rhino horn cures cancer.

Vietnam has begun to take measures to try and address the situation.  For example, the commercial use of rhino horn is outlawed but rumour and superstition still persist. They are driving the illegal trade and the poaching.  Apparently there are also those who see the ownership of rhino horn as a status symbol.  The only status owning rhino horn should confer on anyone is an extremely long custodial sentence and the loss of all their assets!

I do not know what next week’s conference will deliver.  I hope, at the very least, that there will be a better understanding by more South Africans that promoting the sale of rhino horn is almost certainly going to lead to the death of more rhino but we shall see.

I will let you know how it goes.

Blogging off.


What do Zoos do for Conservation?

Friday, May 8th, 2015

A guest Blog from Born Free Foundation and Born Free USA CEO Adam M Roberts.

The Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) was established to conserve the world’s biological resources and is supported by 194 States who have signed a legally-binding treaty. The CBD introduced the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020, made up of 20 “Aichi Biodiversity Targets” under five Strategic Goals. Aichi Target 1 is that by 2020 at the latest, “people are aware of the values of biodiversity and the steps they can take to conserve and use it sustainably”.

A recent paper published in the journal Conservation Biology claims to evaluate the contribution of zoos and aquariums in relation to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1. The study evaluated whether zoo visitors gained an increased understanding of biodiversity and knowledge of actions to help protect biodiversity during their visit, using data from 26 zoos and aquariums across 19 countries. According to the accompanying press release, “the study found that visiting a zoo or aquarium has a measurable positive impact on people’s biodiversity knowledge”.

But before we accept this conclusion, let’s look more closely at the evidence. What do visitors to a small number of zoos and aquariums have to do with whether countries can fulfil their obligations to Aichi Biodiversity Target 1?

Firstly, the authors appear to overlook the fact that at least 1 of the 19 countries included in their study – the United States – is not a signatory to the CBD and are therefore under no legal obligation to uphold the strategies or action plans.

Secondly, the study reveals that just over half the respondents (56.5%) reportedly saw or heard biodiversity information during their visit. But what about the 43.5% of zoo visitors who apparently did not see or hear biodiversity information during their visit? Let’s stop and think about that for a minute: Almost half of zoo visitors in this study did not acknowledge being exposed to biodiversity information. This makes the educational and conservation claims of zoos start to look rather shaky.

Furthermore, the study indicates that the most noticeable effect on changing biodiversity understanding was on visitors with a formal education and/or who were already a member of an environmental group. Hardly surprising that respondents with a higher level of education and those who were already interested in environmental issues are more likely to spend time looking at and digesting biodiversity information in zoos is it?

Finally, all the zoos and aquariums included in the study were members of the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA). While there are over 300 WAZA members worldwide, these zoos represent a tiny proportion of the many thousands of zoos that exist globally. WAZA member organisations simply cannot be considered representative of zoos and aquaria worldwide.

So, overall, much more evidence is needed before we leap to the conclusion that zoos are integral to fulfilling our commitments to increasing biodiversity awareness.

But what of captive breeding, that apparently key activity that zoos undertake in the name of conservation? Another paper published in the same journal in November 2014 looked at the captive breeding of mammals in zoos. The main aim of this paper was to assess whether coordinated breeding programmes in zoos have succeeded in increasing captive populations.

The study suggests that too much effort is expended on species that are not threatened in the wild, or are otherwise poor candidates for eventual release to the wild. These species are often larger mammals such as primates and carnivores; species which may encourage visitors to the zoo but are very expensive to maintain in captivity.

The author concludes that “there is literally not enough space in the world’s zoos right now to substantially increase the number of truly successful captive breeding programs”.

So, if the success of captive breeding programmes in zoos is likely to be limited, and zoos are not effectively making the public aware of biodiversity, it begs the question: just what ARE zoos doing for conservation? Are their claims to be contributing to conservation just smoke and mirrors? The Born Free Foundation is convinced that the time has come for the zoo industry to come clean, and to be transparent with their visitors and the wider public about just what exactly zoos do – and don’t do.