Archive for October, 2015

Saving the World’s Wildlife: It’s up to us all

Wednesday, October 21st, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

We are all responsible and we can all do something about it”.  That was the message delivered by HRH Prince William in an address marking the start of China’s President Xi Jinping’s visit to the UK on 19th October 2015.  That same message will be transmitted (once it has passed the Chinese censorship rules) to an estimated 100 million Chinese television viewers in about a week’s time.   And, as I said on Sky TV immediately after his speech, William is right.

We really do all have a role to play.  Governments in countries where species such as elephants and rhinos are being poached have a responsibility to increase their investment in greater security and wildlife law enforcement.  They also have a responsibility to ensure that the judicial system is both effective and efficient and that it delivers deterrent sentences to those convicted of committing wildlife crimes.  No-one is above the law.  No matter what position they hold.  No matter how high-up the political ladder they may have climbed.

The international community has a responsibility to make sure that the globalisation of international trade is not seen as a soft touch for ‘criminal syndicates’ trafficking in wildlife products.  If ports of export along the East African seaboard need more equipment, better training for officials, sniffer dogs and x-ray machines then we have to step in and help. If intelligence gathering agencies, already working to tackle terrorism, drug cartels, people trafficking and arms smuggling, must include organised wildlife crime as well, then so be it.

“Consumer countries”, the markets for ivory, rhino horn, lion bone, tiger and bear body parts, pangolin scales and more, need to raise their game.  The illegal wildlife trade is now regarded as a ‘serious crime’ as described by Ban Ki-moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations.  That means it should carry a minimum four-year tariff for anyone caught trafficking.  It is also now a predicate agreement which means that wildlife law enforcement authorities can use all measures at their disposal, including the confiscation of the assets of crime, to ensure that criminals are severely punished rather than getting away with a short sentence and a big bank account.  The ‘consumer countries’ also have a responsibility to educate, to explain why for the sake of saving species currently being driven towards extinction, consumption must give way to conservation and traditions (activities rooted in the past and often based on spurious medicinal claims) simply cannot endure.

We, the individual members of the public, can play our part.  We must make sure that we do not buy wildlife products and unwittingly contribute to the growing crisis.  I cannot imagine that anyone reading this blog would ever consider buying ivory or rhino horn but what about seashells, tropical hardwoods (that lovely carving you see near the beach) and coral?  I was in Italy recently and was appalled to see the tidal wave of coral jewellery in just one city.  Shop after shop!  The cumulative impact of the coral trade on the world’s remaining and threatened coral reefs can only be imagined. Wildlife products are neither souvenirs nor status symbols.

And we can put our money where our mouth is.  Born Free is committed to helping the Border Agency in Ethiopia, the Kenya Wildlife Service in Kenya, the authorities in Malawi, Sri Lanka and many other countries, to carry out their duties as effectively as possible and so I make no apology that we do ask for financial support from companies such as our partners, Land Rover and Kenya Airways, and from the British government, from the EU and from our supporters everywhere.

Prince William said that “This is a battle that we can win”.  I agree.  But we can only win if we all become guardians of wildlife and make sure that those who would exploit wildlife, sell its body parts and make a killing, have nowhere to hide.

Blogging off!


Will the Queen of Ivory reveal her hand?

Thursday, October 15th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

The recent arrest in Tanzania of Chinese national, Yang Feng Glan, the 67 year old Vice-President of the Tanzania China-Africa Business Council, could prove to be a tipping-point for conservation in that country.  According to The Elephant Action League (who call her the Queen of Ivory) Glan has been trafficking in ivory since at least 2006 and has confessed to being the mastermind behind the deaths of 30,000 or more elephants and the trafficking of hundreds of thousands of kilos of ivory.

Tanzania has apparently lost 85,000 elephants to poaching between 2009 and 2014.

Is her arrest good news?  Maybe – maybe not.

It would appear that Glan has confessed and intends to offer no defense during her prosecution. She takes sole responsibility for the elephant slaughter that has swept Tanzania for so many years.  That means that the names of all those who have either assisted her, supported her or protected her may never come to light. She will take the rap for everything and the corrupt individuals, institutions and officials that are complicit in one of the world’s biggest wildlife crimes may never be brought to justice.

Aristotle said, “One swallow does not a summer make.”  By the same token, Glan’s arrest and possible conviction will not necessarily get to the root-cause of the malignant criminality that has pervaded the wildlife sector in Tanzania for so long, nor mark a new and more positive future for conservation.

Can anything be done about this?  I recommend an international committee of enquiry (a sort of International Court for Wildlife Crime, modeled on the ICC) be established to follow every single lead wherever it takes, however high, in this and all serious wildlife crimes.

If Tanzania is to regain credibility with the global community in terms of its wildlife conservation agenda, all those who have helped make Yang Feng Glan (she faces 20-30 years in prison if convicted) the ‘Queen of Ivory’ are brought to book, her ‘court’ is dismantled and her ‘courtiers’ imprisoned.

Oh and, by the way, let’s mysteriously lose the key!

Blogging off


See for more information on the ivory trade

Not Again! Are More Swazi Elephants Heading for US Zoos?

Thursday, October 8th, 2015

Dear Friends of Wildlife

It is like a nightmare repeating itself!

Back in 2003, and despite strenuous efforts by Born Free and others to prevent it, the Kingdom of Swaziland sold eleven of its elephant herd to two zoos in the USA.  The declared reason? Over-population.  At the time, Swaziland had a population of less than 40 elephants, many of whom had originated as orphans from South Africa , following a culling programme in Kruger National Park.

I remember well, as we argued in court for the importation to be denied, hearing the authorities in Swaziland declare that if the animals were not taken by the two US zoos “refrigerator space had been reserved for their bodies”.

The judge folded under such intense emotional pressure.

So, you would have thought that, subsequently, the Swazi authorities would have carefully worked out just how many elephants could be supported in the tiny country and its National Parks and then carefully managed their population through birth control to ensure that numbers were stable.

However, now Swaziland is preparing to ship a further 18 elephants (from its national herd which still stands at less than 40 animals) to the Dallas Zoo in Texas, Sedgwick County Zoo in Kansas, and Henry Doorly Zoo in Nebraska, for an undisclosed sum and a promise of a million dollars for black rhino conservation in Swaziland.

First the proposed shipment must be approved by the US Fish & Wildlife Service but I understand that zoo officials anticipate that the agency will approve the application within the next month or so.

The Parks Authorities in Swaziland claim that the elephants are degrading their environment and that supplementary feed, in the form of hay, has had to be brought in from South Africa. The situation is exacerbated by a severe drought.

Apparently they also claim that there is no option but to ship the animals out and that there are no suitable places for them to be relocated to in Africa.  Can that possibly be true?  Can it be that there are no private reserves in the whole of Southern Africa that could take these animals and thereby allow them to live as wild a life as possible in their natural habitat?

The zoos must be praying the import is approved since the captive African elephant population held in US zoos is currently in terminal decline due to low breeding rates and compromised longevity – basically more elephants are dying than are being born.  Without an injection of ‘new blood’ with breeding potential, experts predict that the US captive elephant population will cease to exist within the next few decades.

The zoos are seeking to represent this import as a ‘rescue’ and are critical of those who are opposed.  According to Gregg Hudson, President and CEO of the Dallas Zoo, “Some people would rather see these elephants die than live in an accredited zoo”.  I strongly disagree. I would rather see these elephants live in the wild – where they belong!

With my sceptical hat on, I suspect that another reason for the zoos’ desire to import elephants is not only to bolster their dysfunctional captive breeding programmes but to populate new, expensive and yet meagre facilities.  The new $75m African Grassland Project at the Henry Doorly Zoo features a 4.5 acre elephant facility costing about US$15m; the Dallas Zoo’s Wilds of Africa confines its elephants to about 4.2 acres; while Zambezi River Valley at the Sedgwick County Zoo covers 5 acres at a cost of $10.6m (and features a boat ride…). These costly facilities don’t even begin to compare to the range of a wild elephant family which can extend to hundreds of thousands of acres.

This is wrong on so many levels.  The decision of Swaziland to have elephants in the first place; their decision to export elephants again; the involvement of American zoos in this transaction; the compromised lives that these animals will now endure, thousands of miles away from their natural habitat; the ostentatious levels of zoo expenditure on tiny postage-stamp sized “habitats” (with grandiose names) which consume tens of millions of dollars, money that elephant conservation in the wild is crying out for……..

You can probably tell I am outraged by this news and I can only hope that the US authorities see the bigger picture and recognise that this really is not good for elephants.  Quite the opposite.

Blogging off!