Archive for August, 2015

A Message from Kenya

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

I was 38,000 feet above the earth on a Kenya Airways Dreamliner, on the anniversary of George Adamson’s murder, 26 years ago.  I was flying to Kenya and it seemed incredibly appropriate.  I was to join the Born Free team and our colleagues at Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) in Meru National Park, to the north-east of Mount Kenya, the very area where George and his wife Joy, returned Elsa to the wild.  It truly is the home of Born Free. Elsa is buried there, under a tree near the river.  I was flying out to help the Born Free and KWS teams with a Land Rover sponsored effort to count lions.  I think George and Joy would have approved.

Lion numbers across Africa have tumbled by more than 50% in the last 30 years. Some suggest that as few as 20,000 now survive across the entire Continent. However, in Kenya, there may be 2,000 or so individuals and there is still a very strong possibility that with effective conservation measures, wild lions will still roam Kenya’s National Parks and Reserves long into the future.  But in order for us to understand the pressures on lions and to mitigate conflict with local communities and livestock, for example, we need to know how many lions there are and measure our success (or failure) based on real numbers.

I won’t go into all the details of what we saw or what we did because this will be revealed, I hope, later in the year in a short film that Chris Scott and I made on this trip.  However, I can tell you that on Night 1 we saw three lions; on Night 2, we saw a solitary lioness and, in the glorious, golden evening light on Night 3, we saw four adult females resting on an ant-hill as the sun dipped below the horizon.  Could they have been the descendants of some of the lions that featured in the film Born Free - Girl, Boy and Ugas?  Impossible to say, but I would like to think so.  Again, I think George and Joy would have approved.

Mum summed it up very well when she wrote on our website recently I wish everyone who cares about animals could have met him (George) as he was someone who opened his arms to all individuals, people and animals and – from my knowledge of him – was without prejudice and, in spite of his strongly held views, was a man of great tolerance, humility, understanding.  And humour.

My memory of sitting in camp with George and Bill at the end of the day – sometimes talking, sometimes just sharing the silence, sometimes watching a lion or two contentedly lying outside the camp fence – is one I shall never forget.

We must always remember him, cherish his memory, try and follow his example and follow our hearts as he did, keep alive his deep respect for the individual.

I know I will.”

We will never be able to live-up to his example in full, but if we try then, together, we can help ensure that lions, the symbol of Africa in so many ways, remain wild and free.

That is George’s legacy.

Blogging off


SeaWorld’s Profits Flop like the Drooping Dorsal Fins of Captive Orca

Thursday, August 13th, 2015

Some predicted that the impact of the ‘Blackfish Effect’ would soon pass, but it seems that public disaffection with SeaWorld continues and is beginning to really bite where it hurts – the bottom line.

The company’s latest Financial Report, released on the 6th August, reveals that net income in the second quarter dropped from $37.4m in 2014 to $5.8m in 2015, a staggering decline of 84%.

It seems the troubled captive animal entertainment company just can’t shake off the bad news:

  • Attendance is down by more than 100,000 compared to last year.
  • SeaWorld shares have lost more than half of their market value on Wall Street since the 2013 release of the film Blackfish.

Announcing dismal half year results, SeaWorld CEO, Joel Manby, was forced to admit that the company is still struggling to convince the public that it treats its whales well. He did, however, sketch out SeaWorld’s vision of the future, with further details to be announced at an event on 6 November 2015.

Known future SeaWorld projects include plans for a new captive shark exhibition in SeaWorld Orlando, a “naturalistic”, captive swim-with-dolphin experience at SeaWorld San Antonio and, of course, the Blue World project, which seeks to increase the size of the orca tanks at SeaWorld San Diego.

Despite these plans, The Born Free Foundation is adamant that orca, as well as all dolphin and whale species, do not fare well in captivity and, no matter the size of the tank, captive public display facilities are not appropriate environments for these animals.

SeaWorld may continue to try and persuade the public that they can successfully keep orca in captivity but you only need to compare the vast difference in the space and complexity of the natural marine environment with existing or proposed captive facilities to conclude that SeaWorld have not fully understood the reason millions of people increasingly object to the continued exploitation of sentient, socially complex, highly intelligent species for entertainment and commercial gain. Bigger tanks are not the answer!

I believe that SeaWorld must either take this opportunity to fundamentally rethink its priorities and align its vision with the public’s desire to support the protection and conservation of wild, free-living marine species – or it will continue to sink like a stone.

Either way, the Blackfish Effect will triumph.

Blogging off


On Cecil: The African Lion is Endangered. What is the Government Waiting For?

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

Guest Blog from Adam Roberts CEO Born Free

The very symbol of wild Africa is under threat. Lions are in the firing line. This week’s powerful Guest Blog is from my friend and colleague, Adam Roberts, CEO of Born Free. This really nails it!

Blogging off, Will

2nd August 2015

‘I don’t recall the last time I saw/read/heard such global outrage at the killing of one animal. I’ll take it. We need all the help we can get calling attention to the plight of wildlife across the globe.

The killing of Cecil, a proud lion of Zimbabwe, is a tragedy. A pathetic, selfish killer stalked him (with paid help), allegedly lured him from a protected area (as though geography would have stopped the slaughter), and shot him with the arrow of a crossbow (shot, not killed, because this hunter, while called a crack shot, couldn’t even kill a lion who neither feared nor threatened humans)—and Cecil suffered for 40 hours before a rifle bullet took him from this world. Massive anger at this atrocity is well-founded.

But, let’s please all be very clear; there is a scenario in which no one is talking about the killing of Cecil. In March 2011, Born Free USA and others petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list the African lion as “endangered” under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. If approved, lion “trophies” could only be imported into America with a special permit that would be granted if the applicant could prove that killing that lion would enhance the survival of the species. (It happens, but it is not standard.)

For four years, we’ve waited. Well, what is the government waiting for?

The African lion is estimated to live on a fragmented 8% of its historic habitat across Africa. The African lion is estimated to have suffered population decline of more than 50% since 1980, falling from some 75,000 animals to somewhere around 30,000. Is this not an animal in danger? The African lion could go extinct in my lifetime.

The African lion is endangered. What is the government waiting for?

The African lion has not only lost its habitat, but as it loses habitat, it loses access to prey and is forced to feed on livestock. This results in retaliatory killing by livestock owners by the spear and by horrific poisoning. The African lion succumbs to disease. The African lion is killed in countries like Nigeria for its organs, fat, tissue, blood, and its body parts to be used in traditional medicines. And, hundreds of African lions are killed every single year by trophy hunters—more than half of whom, I’m ashamed to say, come from America.

The African lion is under perpetual assault throughout its range. What is the government waiting for?

What makes me angriest is that we know this happens. We said it. We shouted it from the rooftops. Lions are endangered; they need help!

So, what’s the problem? Do loss of habitat, serious population declines, and massive threats not support providing this incredibly beleaguered species protection?

Ah, there are other stakeholders’ opinions to consider… The Safari Club, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the “wise users,” all of whom think wild animals should pay their way; who think they are the true conservationists; who have all the answers; who once called me a Banana Republic conservationist because I go on humane, non-consumptive wildlife safaris, devoid of their wasteful thrill-killing.

I have written this line so many times… We, in the animal protection movement, are so often called “chicken little”: running around, crying that the sky is falling, every time we want to protect animals from cruelty, suffering, abuse, threats, and extinction.

Well, the time for change is now: in the name of Cecil and every other animal subject to cruel, unjustifiable exploitation.

Give animals and their advocates the benefit of the doubt. Stop waiting. Stop this insane allegiance and deference to the hunters of the world. Stop calling us emotional and unscientific.

Had the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service listed the African lion as “endangered” three, even two, years ago, perhaps Cecil wouldn’t have suffered and died. Perhaps the lion would have been protected from the American wealthy hunting elite and they would have had to spend their money and satisfy their blood lust in some other way.

It’s time for change. It’s time to stop making us wait. When we scream from the rooftops that lions are endangered, that the ivory trade is out of control, that rhinos are being poached to extinction, that pangolins are being traded to death, that furbearers are suffering miserably in steel jaw traps, that elephants don’t belong in zoos and orcas don’t belong in cement tanks, that primates don’t make good pets, and that people shouldn’t have the opportunity to pet a tiger for a photo… Maybe, just maybe, U.S. government decision-makers should listen to our voices over the self-interested, self-justifying wildlife traders, or the hunting and captivity and pet and trapping industry apologists.

More than 500 Cecils are inexplicably slaughtered every year… for fun.

This isn’t an “I told you so” blog. I don’t want to be right; I want to get it right. And, until the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acts to protect the lion… Well, they’ve got it wrong.

Cecil didn’t have to die. Will we act before it happens again?

Keep Wildlife in the Wild,